Die allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit – ReduPers


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The all-round reduced personality

Bojana Kunst on Helke Sander and her film Die allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit – ReduPers

Helke Sander is a well-known figure in Germany’s feminist movement, the founder of the Aktionsrat zur Befreiung der Frauen (Action Council for the Liberation of Women) in 1968, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s she was strongly involved in feminist activism. She is also an inspiring filmmaker, the author of many works in which she deals with the living and working situation of women and their emancipatory fights and desires. 

Her film-making is in-between document and fiction: mostly filmic essays concerned with the political and existential situation of women, always located in the changing urban landscape of cities. Her films show the situation of women in the period of rapid post-industrialization (still ideologically defined by the split between East and West), confronted with the disappearance of public space and simultaneously occurring emancipatory feminist movements. Her unique focus on the living situation and labor of women artists, on the politicization of their private life, can still reveal a very accurate analysis of the crucial role of labor and new modes of the production of subjectivity today. Since her work deals with the paradoxes of the politicization of the private, it shows life out in the open, in the public space, in the city, on the street. The women in Sander’s films challenge very deeply what the notion of the public feminist (artistic) work is. In them, we watch a particular exhibition of artistic subjectivity and observe how female artists are living. The films are a performance of life and work, in which her actions, her labor, her desires, are related to the infrastructural surrounding of emancipated female subjects at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Her films observe and analyze how women live their emancipated life and how this life, in all its dimensions, becomes visible in public.

An emancipated, self-organized and independent subjectivity, which we can find since the feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s, shows, in the examination of Sanders, many of the problems which can be detected when analyzing the contemporary subjectivity of the artist: emancipation, independent work. These qualities do not necessarily mean a better life. The analysis from this time connects to the observation of the contemporary of the artist, who works mostly independently and from project to project, in what can be termed project culture. The similarities in the articulation of political problems suggest other ways of addressing and politically grasping the precarity of artistic labor today, of rethinking the politics of emancipation. Artistic and professional emancipation does not necessarily mean emancipation from traditional stereotypes and expectations, and nor does it enable a better economic status. The disappearance of the border between life and labor is part of the contemporary development in the exploitation of artistic labor, very much present in the expansion of service work and affective labor in the development of late capitalism. 

Sander’s full-length film Die Allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit – ReduPers (The All-round Reduced Personality – ReduPers) (1978), emphasizes the socio-political situation of emancipation of the female artist. The film shows the shift to a more self-defined and self-managed life, which brought changes to the way that reproduction is organized. It also shows how self-managed life produced new divisions and hierarchies, which deeply influenced the ways subjectivities are managed and organized, and how, in their daily lives, women became precarious, depended and isolated. In the film, Helke Sander plays a young independent single mother, a photographer, an artist and activist named Edda, who is unable to manage her self-organized life, switching amongst many jobs to maintain her autonomy, to live the life she has chosen for herself, and to give this life a social, political dimension. She lives with her ten-year-old son in an apartment in Berlin, which she shares with a roommate, her friend. Involved in many projects, she is active and politically aware of the situation of living and working as an artist in a city split between two political systems. In the film we observe her daily life: how she moves between many occupations, from voluntary jobs and the occupations of childcare, to the work that she does for survival and the work she performs with her artistic collective. For survival, she works as a photographer for the local newspaper’s night chronicle, for which she must often wake up in the middle of the night. She is also a member of a collective with whom she takes part in the competition for the best political public artwork in the city. We see how the idea of an emancipated life has slowly turned into its opposite: a precarious, accelerated and scattered dependence on projects, local politicians, part-time jobs, simple life demands, running between different locations, engaging with the organization of daily life. In this exhaustive rhythm, which Edda somehow stoically embodies, even the strongest political and social desires are drowned in the daily management of the preoccupied life. But Edda never loses her strong-willed persistence, even if there is less and less public space and visibility for her ideas and less time for her life. Sander, in this way, tackles the paradox of a famous feminist political dictum of her time, the personal is political, and shows how the pollination of the private, the reorganization of life, must also be thought of as a sphere of labor if we really want to politicize it. In this sense, women are emancipated subjects but are caught in the paradoxes of their emancipated position, which goes hand in hand with the dissolution of their political hopes and desires. The sphere of reproduction, for which women fought to be differently organized, combating against old hierarchies, turns itself into another form of dependency. This time the dependency lies on continuous work, which erases the differentiation between different spheres of life and the possible politicization of such difference. Curator and researcher Marion von Osten, in her response to the film, describes this situation: “The emancipatory struggle that had the good life as its objective now reappears in the unsatisfied longing for change and the struggle to survive.” (Marion von Osten, Irene ist Viele. Or what we call productive forces, E-flux, 2009, 7) The subjects are precarious and flexible, investing deeply and taking care of what they do. They are self-organized, self-managed, but increasingly dependent on the precarious conditions in which they live. The subjectivities are progressively isolated and divided, and instead of belonging to the commons, reproduction becomes the sphere of individualization and isolated time management. 

In ReduPers, the photographer Edda, the main character, experiences her emancipatory dreams as they turn into dependence, invisibility, and marginality. This portrait of a feminist artist reminds us of the contemporary artistic subjectivity, on the dependence on too many different projects on a daily basis, and on the organization and acceleration of time. Like Edda’s, our subjectivity is scattered among an affective dedication to collaborators, friends, and in tandem, on the continuous demand for professionalization, self-organization and competition in the market. The biggest problem of such subjectivity is not actually the individual course of her life, but how such structures are also disintegrating the formations of the commons, disabling the time for political and social activities and thinking together about how such a life dissolves the space and time for politics. In this sense, such a daily life also shows the collapse of relations, the collapse of infrastructural environment. Collaborations turn into professional networks, public visibility is organized institutionally and mostly through intermediators (like curatorial decisions), the infrastructure of the artist becomes more and more a net of paradoxical and destructive relations, based on friendships and investments which, at the same time, linger in-between the private and professional sphere. Most of the emancipated women in Sander's films are struggling for public visibility, but in a different sense than exhibiting their work in an art institution. Instead, they are struggling for the public visibility of their life and work, they want to leave a trace and mark a territory, (this can be, for example, in the form of an affordable apartment in the city or a place to exhibit photographs). The struggle of these women is close to the claim of the feminist initiative Precarias a la Deriva (Precarious Women Adrift), a feminist initiative situated between art, activism and research in Barcelona from 2002, who nowadays observe how neoliberalism has to change the feminist responses and shift the focus from subjectivity to the general infrastructural problems (Precarias a la Deriva, 2004). Here, especially their observation about how the process of precarization has devastating consequences for social bonds, is important: “The territory for the aggregation (and perhaps combat) for mobile and precarious workers is not necessarily the workplace, but also not the home, but rather this metropolitan territory we navigate every day, with its billboards and shopping centres, fast food that tastes like air, and every variety of useless contracts”  (Precarias a la Deriva, 2004). This is exactly where the women from Sander’s films are moving and discovering the contradictions of their life, and where many of today’s contemporary artists, not only women artists, are mostly living and trying to show, open and exhibit their practices, works and performances. 

Ausschnitt aus: Die allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit – ReduPers. Deutschland 1977.
16 und 35 mm, s/w, 98 Minuten. Produktion: Basis-Film-Verleih Berlin; ZDF. Regie und Buch: Helke Sander. 


Text: Bojana Kunst
Dieser Kommentar ist Teil einer längeren Version eines Essays veröffentlicht in: The Methuen Drama Companion to Perfomance Art, 2020, edited by Bertie Ferdman and Jovana Stokic, Methuen, 220, pp.148 – 164.