Judith Siegmund :: Visual Art, Conceptual Art, Philosophy

Too Little Too Much?

Experimental Documentary of André Piontek and Judith Siegmund

(DVD, 18 min) 2010

The central thread that runs through the film consists of the question: What does it mean to be poor, here and now? Although the subject concerns poverty in Eastern Germany, no one in front of the camera is explicitly identified as poor. A woman about whom we know little, and only see her apartment, guides us through the film without speaking. Her feelings are expressed to us by the manner of how and where she moves. On the one hand, she is a projection surface, while escaping simple explanations and attributions on the other.

The strategy for approaching the subject is comparison. “Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal” (The Unemployed of Marienthal) – a study about unemployment and poverty in a small Austrian village, which was published at the beginning of the 1930s – is read aloud by a male speaking voice. The voice-over simultaneously appears as writing on pixelated old photographs, in which poverty, as we would envision it in our heads, can be seen as a cliché. During this era, the poor went hungry and froze; they had no shoes and no extra clothes. Through the alternation of present-day images and the integration of clips of interviews, which we conducted with the non-poor about poverty, it becomes apparent that our generation’s problems caused by poverty are different than those at the beginning of the 20th century. Even the animation in the opening credits – flirting with revolution and a revolt of the poor – exposes a cliché, with which we can go no further.

In the end, loss of a sense of time, resignation and lethargy – conditions, which are also described in the Marienthal study – are what remain as findings about poverty. The film slows down and everything begins to blur.

Images of the non-poor, of the so-called norm, are shown again and again. As a group, they senselessly celebrate and consume. They repress and compensate by consumption. Today, this prospect of displacement through consumption is not available to the poor. This exclusion of the poor from society is not from a public space (which no longer exists), but rather from a consumer society in which people define themselves by their optimal consumption in private.

Judith Siegmund