She runs through the volcanic landscape, wearing nothing but a dress. Her model body looks fragile in comparison to the immersive and rough impression of the scenery. The opening scene of Ursula Mayer’s (1970) newest work ‘Gonda’ (2012) starts as a poetic feature film but then evolves quickly into a dazzling montage in which staged dialogues and close-up shots of colourful paintings and exotic objects and gems (that are presented as objects in the gallery as well) come together. The staccato voice-over becomes a leading element. Her name is Gonda, after the actress in Ayn Rand’s play ‘Ideal’, and together with a group of young transgender characters she discusses female identity and representation.
Significant for Mayer’s work, the 30-minute film is interweaved with references to cinema, art and philosophy. While she usually writes the scripts herself, ‘Gonda’ is written by the London-based author Maria Fusco, who based the text on Rand’s play and Felix Guattari’s unrealised proposal for a television series on Kafka (1986). As a result the film shows influences from both the more rigid structure of a traditional theatre play and the appealing style of television commercials. The camera zooms in on the luxurious accessories of the characters while they pose. In the 30-minute film these staged scenes are accompanied by more poetic shots of the landscape. Hereby Mayer presents a complex combination of a distancing and a very personal and subjective perspective. In addition the voice-over confusingly represents Gonda, while it simultaneously comments on the film structure as a whole (‘comma-comma-full stop’). It becomes impossible to truly grasp and understand her.
The glamorous style of advertisement celebrated in the film should be seen as a critical approach to the objectification of female identity in media representations, a characteristic topic in Mayer’s oeuvre. Yet, unlike many of her other films (most of them in black and white) ‘Gonda’ refers to contemporary media rather than film and art history. This is the kind of film that looks appealing when you watch it the first time, but becomes more interesting when you watch it again.
by Tessa Verheul