Manchester Film Forum 1st April 1993

For experimental film-maker Jürgen Reble, co-founder of the now defunct German super 8 collective Schmelzdahin, destruction is the main idea of research. His piece, Alchemie a 20 minute performance of cinematic disintegration using found and shot footage with corrosive chemicals, is an exploration into the visual vocabulary of decay.

Reble describes Alchemie as the act of painting with light, a sentiment that links him closely to Fox Talbot and Niepce, the founders of photography, whose work on the sensual interface of a new technological expression were to influence the basic representation of the art object.

Alchemie has been performed over 50 times, each event as unpredictable as the next. It is this raw impermanence that gives Alchemie its strength. We have only a short time to watch. Once it is over, it cannot be seen again.

For Alchemie, Reble ran a 10 metre film loop of juxtaposing images (figures passing through an anonymous architectural space, speeded-up two way traffic, a head moving slowly sideways, and images of Nosferatu emerging from his ship deck), through a 16mm projector, accompanied by a soundtrack by Thomas Köner made from recorded projector noises and unedited electronic notes. As the images passed through, Reble painted and sprayed the loop with the chemicals, loosening the gelatine coating, distorting and scratching the images. At a crucial stage the image is suddenly transformed; exploding and pulsating and finally annihilating the images in a warp of colours.

On the surface, Alchemie resembles Stan Brakhage's pre-Structuralist films such as The Horseman, the Woman and the Moth, where the film surface is dyed, painted and treated, allowing crystals and mould to grow on the film surface. It is Reble's direct human intervention that constitutes the cinematic act. He is not concerned with the structures of filmmaking, or the explorations of the limits of the camera that dominated so much of film works in the '60s and '70s. Reble's interest lies on the film surface. It is the vehicle for his expressionist delivery.

Although Reble is primarily regarded as a film-maker, it is only his current medium to explore the cinematic possibilities of visual "reality". Trained as a physicist, and without any formal art training, Reble's visual strength has not been gleaned from a chronology of film history, thus making him an unusual mixture of the researcher, the painter and, perhaps, the alchemist.

Simon Grant .