Hannes Böck


New Hefei

The Galerie Krobath Wimmer presents the Vienna-based artist Hannes Böck with his first solo exhibition showing his latest work New Hefei as the conclusion of a two-year-long project. The exhibition consists of a ten-minute-long 16 mm B/W film projection together with color photographs taken at the same location the year before. New Hefei was shot in Hefei, the capital of the eastern Chinese province Anhui and depicts radical economic development and the many different kinds of spaces which it engenders.

New Hefei begins showing a street scene in the center of the city with loud voices and traffic noise. The camera focuses on one of the passersby, a young man whose itinerary will structure the film’s journey through the many urban development projects under construction. The soft black and white contrasts, the interaction staged by the camera between the persons involved and the surroundings, the choreography of the image made with slow panning and tracking shots, intermittent close-ups and finally the images of the urban landscape all establish a direct reference to Michelangelo Antonioni’s portrayal of the postwar Italian economic recovery – “il boom.” This indirect back-and-forth between urban spaces in Italy and China does not concentrate on the many disparities but rather the many parallels between these two geographically and historically distinct models of urban and economic growth.

New Hefei makes use of cinematographic and narrative strategies which are most commonly associated with Italian Neorealism and the heirs to its legacy. The protagonist’s solitary exploration of the city is a reference to Jeanne Moreau meanderings through Milan’s periphery in Antonioni’s La Notte from 1961, while at the same time referring to the several-minute-long final scene of L’Eclisse, where the streets of the EUR district in Rome are shown devoid of protagonists, as a kind of unspeaking witness to the total transformation brought about by this large-scale urban project.

Hannes Böck’s cinematographic and photographic works represent what Roland Barthes referred to as an “art of intervals.” Where the camera begins to follow the figures after a short delay only to lose them again, the scenes continue even though the actors have left the stage, the space changes from the background to the protagonists, and from the matrix of the narrative to the subject of the plot. The main character of New Hefei inhabits a complex realm of temporality which on an abstract level resembles a process of historization. The camera’s gaze functions in a way similar to Walter Benjamin’s Angelus Novus as “an angel who seems about to move away from something he is staring at.”

Through trying to find a point of convergence between historical moments, Hannes Böck introduces an altered perspective on both the present situation in China and the history of European and Asian film. This image of radical upheaval in China converges with these documents of the European experience of modernization in the lived moment of the present, in a collision of contemporary transformation and repetition of the past.