The artist Thomas Altheimer has filmed, cut and presented a movie about his wife Mette Høeg. You can read Macon Holt’s brilliant recap and review here.
I watched the movie when it premiered in Cinemateket, out of curiosity after having read Altheimer’s essay on the self-invented term slyngelæstetik or rogue aesthetic, written for Charlottenborg’s Spring exhibition in 2016. The movie was interesting in many respects, both in terms of who gets to have the last word and how. Especially, how…
While trying to watch this movie as something separate from the debate and the public persona Mette Høeg, all I could think about was “blink twice if you want us to save you”. Mette Høeg was not exposed in any way during the movie, but seemed extremely cool, poised and very aware that she is in front of the camera all the while her husband blurs the camera while she speaks, focusing on stuff behind her and asserts his comfortableness on the flip side of the camera while constantly in need of seeing her naked in what can be described as a prime example of the male gaze. Enter the critique of Macon Holt, who noticed this (among other things) and commented on it.
This Altheimer, whoever he is, has made a movie and put it into the world with the intention of it being watched but, rather than let it be, he has plunged into commenting every word being uttered about the movie.
But a short digression, leading to the question of this created character “Thomas Altheimer” with the civil name Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech. He now goes by the name of Altheimer, has made this movie. A look at his fb-page makes me think that he suffers from digital Tourettes, definitely has a thing for Ashton Kutcher and has received a PhD from Goldsmiths. It’s a mix of ironic stuff that signifies an arm’s length, family photos and now a zealous critique of the critique of his movie. While the movie grants him a triple identity, as husband, as an anonymous cameraman and as the pseudonym Altheimer, the latter cannot refer to anything with certainty and becomes a shield against any sort of critique. Nothing can be traced back to any real person and it makes any criticism difficult, since everything in the end justs points back to the critic himself. This Altheimer, whoever he is, has made a movie and put it into the world with the intention of it being watched but, rather than let it be, he has plunged into commenting every word being uttered about the movie.
Back to Macon Holt. In the Ark review 24/3-17 he summarizes what preceded the movie and sparked the debate in the summer of 2015 when Mette Høeg wrote a piece in ”the incredibly bourgeois newspaper Weekendavisen’’ (lol). Holt writes:
”On reading the article, what I found troubling was the way Høeg engaged the lazy cudgel of political correctness. And while Høeg does define this as the “aggressive performance of politically correct, boring and predictable queer-, gender-, anti-racism and feminism views”, the iterations of the term through the text almost becomes a form of performative virtue signalling of its own. Obviously, this is not meant for those she derides, rather, if I were to speculate wildly, Høeg’s denouncement of political correctness is in fact and attempt to produce the “correct” political positions for winning the favour of the wealthy older male audience of Weekendavisen.”
According to Holt, who is speculating wildly, Høeg wasn’t against a repressive one-sided view of what is correct, she merely wanted to have a say in what we define as correct.
On the same day as Holt’s article was published in the Ark Review, Altheimer shared it on Facebook with the comment:
”Copenhagen-based Macon Holt ‘performs’ a thorough reading of The Sun Also Rises from a non-Danish speaking vantage point. On the surface, the reading is intelligent and capable and at points flattering – at least for me. Less so for Mette Høeg – He predictably toes the line of critiquing a supposedly voyeuristic male gaze while reluctantly admitting that it’s nuanced. But he has no awareness at all of how problematic it is for him to pronounce on a woman’s psychological state from his male position of profound ignorance of language and context.
Holt to a great degree understands what is going on but fails to have any sympathy and is unable to see beyond the management line he has swallowed. He shows in comment after comment about how the film works that he can’t really hold on to the argument that it’s paranoia. He’s smart enough to see the case for what it is, but because of his attachment to thinking the world as all peaches and Danish ice-cream he cannot let the logic of his analysis allow him to admit a conclusion that crosses his investments.”
Altheimer refuses to accept Holt’s critique, and instead finds a way to use it as a way to extend the narrative of the film. To do this he identifies two points of miserable failure in Holt’s analysis. Firstly he (Holt) allows himself to comment on a work of fiction with the subject being female, while male himself. Holt is thus disqualified from saying anything because he has not experienced himself what it’s like to be a woman and he has probably never experienced being a fictionalized woman either, thus Holt’s male gaze on another male’s gaze on a (fictionalized) woman is not valid.
A solution could be to criticize the format, not the work itself with everything that is said contributing to the creation of the work, i. e. a discursive event, the work no longer exists but becomes an occasion. The consequence of this is that the movie is no longer a piece of art but a work of truth, which only this character Altheimer knows and is qualified to comment upon.
Holt’s second failure is that he was lobotomized some years ago and now only sees the world as peaches and Danish ice-cream. Or maybe this isn’t the problem, but rather the fact that Holt isn’t Danish, he’s actually British and thus has no idea what the world is really like (he hasn’t been to Mexico either – fact).
So essentially, Holt fails for being male and being a foreigner.
But what all of this means is that with this movie two characters were born (or maybe born again): Thomas Altheimer and Mette Høeg whose roles are now reversed in the afterplay of the movie, which has largely continued on Facebook. Altheimer becomes the critic, who won’t let go and Høeg becomes the artist. The constructed characters are defended on the basis of the movie being true thus not allowing a critique that doesn’t come from the same point. Luckily for us, Altheimer has written a review of his own work on Foljeton.dk, which can be taken as either a template of the only criticism he will accept, or becomes a move in the game of expanding the work, which forces the critic to read this as an ironic extension of the movie itself, with Altheimer becoming a fictionalized person and expanding the work into infinity. Where then can the artist and his work then be critiqued? Isn’t this an immunization of the work and the artist? Whatever is said about the movie just seems to keep expanding it as a work of performance art. This seems to call for the invention of a new criticism.
A solution could be to criticize the format, not the work itself with everything that is said contributing to the creation of the work, i. e. a discursive event, the work no longer exists but becomes an occasion. The consequence of this is that the movie is no longer a piece of art but a work of truth, which only this character Altheimer knows and is qualified to comment upon. This, in turn, is incorporated into the work and immunizes it and the artist and makes this whole thing a question of the critique of the critique. What ends up being illustrated with this movie is Holt’s point above about critiquing the established not because of it’s establishment or implicit fascism but a simple wish to reverse the hierarchy. Me on top now: the consequence isn’t a new fascism of what is right, but the question of what is “a work’’.
I initially wanted to write about the impossibility of viewing this piece of art as a piece of art since the artist claims to be the only one who knows what is actually going on, while the work keeps expanding in accordance with the extension of the characters outside of the cinema screen. But instead, this requires the invention of a new critique, if one is not able to critique the work itself without being active on Facebook and one is incapable of criticizing the artist behind the work or engage in discussion, since this is only an ironic dummy made for this exact purpose. I’m not sure what this new critique consists of, but a proper response to Altheimer’s own review in Foljeton.dk could be an unbiased appraisal of his movie, of the aesthetics, of the poetics and “referentiality’’ of the original woman, Mette Høeg, to whom he coincidentally is married. A proper answer and a good play along would be to do exactly this: Highly praise the movie that really isn’t anything anymore.
PHOTOGRAPH: ELSAMUKO/CREATIVE COMMONS