Volker Schreiner produces both video sculptures and videotapes. His cinematic works are constructed according to the law of similarity and repetition, of which the viewer is made aware through rapid cuts and picture sequences. His subject matter are everyday actions and movements that are banal and mundane, and hence frequently repeated throughout the day, such as going upstairs or the opening and closing of doors. In his videos, the narrative pattern of gestures and mundane actions is explored in depth and with a detailed focus on the action. In the process, Schreiner formulates analogies and looks for small differences as he carries out a comparison that he visually presents through a quick succession of pictorial sequences. The stringing together of similar, almost identical pictorial motifs and actions serves to formally emphasise the contents. The serial principle and the principle of repetition he uses in nearly all videos as well as the clip-style sequence of events evoke an abstraction and minimalisation that is heightened by the rapid pictorial sequences of visual analogies.

But Schreiner is not going to show the identical. Rather, he examines structural similarities in order to illustrate common traits and differences and, for short moments, to add a poetic touch that aims to counteract the flow of images and occasionally gives it a narrative component.

In his 1991 videotape "Open Up", for example, various doors are opened one after another by different hands, but all we see is a detail of the area around the door handle. The quick succession of images means that we are not even shown the room behind each door, because already the next door is being opened. The doors are made of different kinds of material and furnished with different types of handles. Window blinds and office cabinet roll-tops are being opened as well. Only a vertical blind shows the room behind, opening the view of the trees outside, or of the roof tiles of the house opposite. Subsequently, a curtain that is repeatedly pulled to the side allows a look out of the window, where the same action is performed by another person, creating a kind of mirror effect.

In his 1994 video sculpture "Passage", Schreiner returned to this subject. Here, the action of opening doors is achieved through a sequence that includes all four monitors hanging on the wall, which are set in door panels. In contrast to "Open Up", the hand sometimes holds an object while opening the door: a bunch of flowers, apples, a key or a glass impede the access to the room, whilst creating short stories about the person, the before and after.

In the videotape "White Screen" of 1988, which Schreiner calls a "noise and material video", the subject are white screens of various materials that is torn over and over again in short sequences both vertically and horizontally. In addition, the cinema’s projection screen is attacked by breaking, cutting, sawing, drilling, and in one sequence is riddled with numerous holes. This destructive act is like that of Lucio Fontana who in the sixties became famous for the slits and drill holes he made in canvases, thus making the picture into an object. Cut and sound are synchronous, there always follows another picture, another sound, another action after the next. But in spite of the overarching theme, the viewer is meets with many surprises (what comes next, and where?), and is left in suspense.

The tape "Wipe Board", made in 1989, is composed in a similar fashion and its 2:58 minutes comprise 130 pictorial sequences, where countless different rolls of paper are rolled out and up with one hand at breathtaking speed. Constantly, new pictures emerge, from monochrome to patterned areas, though they can hardly be perceived with the quick succession of pictures.

In 1993, Schreiner created the temporary video installation "Roundabout". We see the detail of a few steps of some stairs. Behind the railing, another set of stairs appears, on which we see the legs of a number of people mounting and descending them. When a pair of red shoes comes into view, the course of events changes a little. A pair of gentleman’s feet comes to a stop, like the woman with the red shoes, in order to meet one another. A short story is told in the pictures though not a word is spoken. While the stairs at the front were set in the real room, the stairs behind it, though the same, were shown on three monitors in video. The double take of reality through film, the difference between the two, the sequence of identical actions performed by different people, the clip-style character of reality and of the film scenes are pursuing, rigorously and according to the serial principle, an everyday act we are made aware of through art in a poetic form.

Schreiner manages to build a convincing bridge between reality and art that hones perception and through the device of analogies and repetitions, creates an awareness of the small acts we all incorporate almost without thinking in our everyday lives. His videos, reduced to just a few colours, could be described as textbook examples about perceptual structures and action patterns, not least because they deal convincingly with issues of perceptual psychology.

Folder, 1998


All perception involves thought, all thought involves intuition, and all observation involves invention.

(Rudolf Arnheim, in: Kunst und Sehen, Berlin, New York 1978, p 6)

In German, a folder is a Faltblatt or Faltprospekt. The English verb ‘to fold’ can refer as much to a piece of paper as to an object. However, the title, which does not only identify an object but also indicates the appropriate movement of the hand, does not represent the only subject of this video. In contrast to his earlier works, Schreiner has not confined himself to an action pattern, but allowed himself to be inspired by the fold as a line and a stripe, creating surprising visual analogies on different planes. As in his other works, this collection of similar motifs is presented in a quick succession of individual pictorial sequences that show a chain of associations.

At the start, curtains are opened and closed – as in the cinema or theatre. Next, there is a wall of upright, folded-up cardboard boxes being pushed from one side to the other, and then the same happens with shirts (many of them striped) on hangers in a wardrobe. Paint is applied to a wood-panelled wall, a strip is torn from brown paper, the white pages of a book – photographed on edge – are turned over and then a book is leafed through with a picture of a shirt on each page. Each individual key is played on a wooden xylophone, an accordion is played and piano keys are struck. After that, a shellac record is pulled from a white cover. Suddenly, one sees the sketch of the filmstrip of the video, drawn by a hand in a striped shirt. Then slides wrapped in film are pushed into the picture, consisting in the main of photographs of striped shirts. The transparent wrap lies on top of a large picture of a striped shirt. A wall with books whose backs look like stripes is pushed from one side of the video picture to the other, and then zigzag lines are drawn with large movements.

Analogies in contents can also be made out in one sequence. A map showing a linear road system in a landscape is spread out, followed by a curtain with grey and white stripes and a leaf pattern. A black and white photograph of tree trunks in a forest is hung up, the wooden xylophone is played, and then a wood-panelled wall is moved to one side.

In this work, Schreiner follows the laws of perception. To see, says Rudolf Arnheim, means to grasp meaningful structural patterns. Perception is organised according to the same structural rules. The inundation with stimuli has to be countered by simplicity – which lies, for example, in uniformity, repetition and the reduction of structural characteristics. For structural equivalence, Gestalt psychologists use the term isomorphism.

In quick succession and in a humorous and imaginative way, he creates visual and thematic analogies and structural patterns that are amusing as well – due to unusual combinations and because they demonstrate Schreiner’s sharp eye for comparisons.

The tempo with which the images are presented is akin to the effect of commercials slotted into films on American television in a bid to reach the subconscious of the viewer. Schreiner’s pictorial dynamics means that even with great concentration, it is virtually impossible to take in every detail. Much that is shown probably penetrates to a different level where the eye for analogies can be "implanted" beneath the skin.

At any rate, in his video "Folder", Schreiner is challenging the viewer to comparative seeing which can be viewed as active research. He directs the viewer towards a more acute observation of details in his day-to-day existence and invites him in a subtle and playful way to carry out a comparative examination of structures, forms, and actions.

Ulrike Lehmann