The Alchemy performance is a film and sound projection with the duration of approximate 45 minutes. The source material of this work decomposes itself during the show. Each Alchemy is thus an unique event. The work unfolds from a prepared film loop of 10 meter length. It is treated with chemicals during its projection. In the beginning there are hardly recognizable forms fading in from black. The rare spaces of an "inbetween reality" becomes visible by degrees. Continuous chemical treatment intensifies the fragility of the material and leads to a final conversion of the precious metal to dust. The molecular sructure of the film emulsion dissolves in an increasing abstraction. In the end remains only the dance of the elements. The destruction of the film is irreversible. It takes place at the performances climax: The heat of the lamp burns the images base and creates its own end. The chemical treatment produces sounds that are used for the creation of a musical process. The harmonic spectra of the projector, vibrating and the hiss of the chemicals which are collected with microphones. Treated in synchronism with the process of the images sound colours are slowly transformed to a powerful and irridescent composition.
Live Recording: 1994.10.13 - Sydney, Australia, Performance Space, 3:32 min.
Live Recording: 1997.10.03 - Stuttgart Filmhaus, Wand 5, 4:20 min.
Die Aufführung von Alchemie umfaßt eine ca. einstündige Film- und Klangprojektion. Das Grundmaterial dieses Werkes zersetzt sich während der Alchemie, es vergeht. Jede Aufführung ist daher einmalig und einzigartig. Während der Projektion entstehen zunächst kaum wahrnehmbare Formen, aus dem Nichts hervorgeboben und langsam pulsierend. Allmählich sich offenbarende Strukturen werden brüchig, gewinnen mehrdeutige Form, streben in die abstrakte Metrik der Filmemulsion. Die Auflösung des Filmträgers ist unaufhaltsam und trifft die Performance auf ihrem Höhepunkt: die Projektion verbrennt die Bilder und beendet sich selbst. Das Material, aus dem das Werk sich entfaltet, ist eine vorbereitete 10 m lange Filmschleife. Diese Schleife wird während ihrer Projektion zunächst mechanisch bearbeitet und anschließend mit verschiedenen Chemikalien behandelt. Ihre Gestaltung und Auflösung ist sichtbar. Die damit verbundenen Geräusche führen zu einem musikalischen Prozess. Positioniert im Klangraum: die harmonischen Spektren der Projektionsmaschinen, vibrierend. Das Zischen und Dampfen der Chemikalien, durch Mikrofone verstärkt, formbar gemacht durch Eingriffe in die Binnenstruktur des Klangs. Klangfarbe, als fließendes Relief den Bleichungen des Bildes konform, schließend zersetzt in spröde Partikel, zu Staub.
History / Selection of Events
This work emerged from the Schmelzdahin Performance "Wir lagern ums Feuer". I took over the setup with the Super 8 projector including the process and did several solo performances between 1991 and 1992:
1991.09.17 - Berkeley Pacific Film Archive
1992 I came into contact with Thomas Köner and we decided to play that piece together. I changed my setup to 16mm and made some modifications in the process. Thomas decided not to add recordings but to work with the sounds originating from the prrojector, the handling and the chemicals. This is until today the strongest version and unsurpassable for me. (Jürgen Reble 2019)
Collaborations Reble & Köner:
1992.05.15 - Bonn Tapetenfabrik, Poème Interactif
Hybrid, Issue 3, July 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, freelance writer