Von Herzen / From The Heart

Video installation, 2007, HD, format 16 : 9, colour, stereo, 5 min. 12 sec., German with English subtitles

An Incredible Picture.
Show and Tell in Aurelia Mihai’s Video From the Heart


A pretty young woman in an immaculate Mediterranean garden: in concise words she describes the simply unbelievable events of her young life – about how she had cancer as a child, and a heart transplant when she was only nineteen years old. “When I was five years old, no four, I got cancer...”. Already her first sentence betrays nervousness and strain, yet outwardly the young woman looks completely calm and unscathed. As an actress playing herself, who not only tells her story, but literally embodies it, she wears the fantastic costume of a Renaissance princess. The fairytale costume cloaks a body racked by the illnesses mentioned in the video, yet at the same time the billowing material of the dress also accentuates the body, embracing it like a treasure, like a frame. Only by looking very closely can one discern the vertical scar on the breastbone left by the heart transplantation surgery. As though it had fallen there by chance, a strand of hair points exactly at the scar, which marks the culmination point of her medical history – the heart transplant of only two years ago.

In Aurelia Mihai’s video, which in just five minutes builds up a curve of suspense that outclasses many a feature film, several very different levels of depiction overlap. Because that which is authentic and real undergoes an aesthetic reshaping, the limits of conventions of portrayal (from shame to candour) are touched. The storyteller, actress, and the subject of the story converge in one person, who seems at once authentic and a composition. There is a large gap, however, between the images and the words spoken. The sobriety of their delivery, the austerity of the text, and the use of medical terms such as immune suppressors or high-urgency list, form a strong contrast to the colourful costume and the idyllic location. But the visual image is deceptive: it is not some fairytale that is being told here, but an account of tragic blows of fate: cancer and chemotherapy as a child; as a teenager, heart problems, diabetes, asthma, a stroke, and finally the life-saving operation when the girl received a heart from a donor. In sharp contrast to the dramatic events that are related, the tone of the report is kept calm and quiet. (...)

With From the Heart, Aurelia Mihai goes a step further in the use of filmic techniques of representation, from documentary to staging, and this is revealed most clearly in the specific construction of the film’s sound. On the one hand there is the spoken word, the confessionlike report of a young woman, who reveals her real name in the final credits. What is heard is the telling of a story, which comes over as documenting the actual fate of an individual, including seemingly natural slips of the tongue, incomplete sentences, and stumbling over words. On the other hand, the film is obviously a composed and artistically enhanced picture. The doubling of the performer as both storyteller and actress makes From the Heart alternate between reported story and staged performance, the diametrically opposed techniques of literature and drama known since Plato. Although the extemporised account delivered is realistic, direct, and spontaneously improvised, it nevertheless exhibits all the characteristics of elaborately conceived speech dramaturgy. Like stories from literature, parts are skipped and subjects of importance left out; stumbling and searching, the story proceeds from one event to the next. Particularly in comparison with the sculpturesque quality of the images the delivery of text with its linear enumeration turns out to be the characteristic factor of the time-based artwork. In addition to the direct speech of the main figure and the short offscreen voice passage in the middle of the film, in From the Heart the other acoustic elements in fact do play a meaningful role. Conspicuous are the dominant ambient noises, the sounds made by cars and aircraft which can be heard in the garden, that disturb the speech significantly, drowning out some words and even whole sentences. With this unedited soundtrack which has been left “rough”, From the Heart asserts that it is an impressive and unique video document, in which the filigree relationship of real experience and artistic presentation is redefined. (...)

Excerpt: DORIS KRYSTOF, An Incredible Picture. Show and Tell in Aurelia Mihai’s Video From the Heart, Ansichten / Views - Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld, 2008