film stills, Les maîtres fous, Jean Rouch, 1955, 36 min, France. © Les Films de la Pléiade, "Avec l'aimable autorisation de la fondation Jean Rouch"
„All is open to participate. A ceremony, in which the participants become possessed and united with the gaze into one singularity. Inspired by Jean Rouch’s “ Les maîtres fous”.
The Mad Masters consists of various acts recorded during a celebrity impersonator and look-alike convention in Las Vegas. The protagonists of the video are professionals as well prospective impersonators. It stays open, in which gradations an actual identification by celebrity impersonation takes place. But rather it may show a desire of becoming the other according to media images. The work deals with impersonation as a revenat of popuar culture and opens up questions of power as well as relationships between celebrity culture, cinema and archaic rituals.
Sascha Pohle, The Mad Masters, 2008, video still
The Mad Masters, 2008, video stills
Pamuk starts his book “Istanbul (Memories and the City)” with reciting a memory of his childhood and he writes; “From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: Somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double. I can’t remember where I got this idea or how it came to me. It must have emerged from a web of rumours, misunderstandings, illusions and fears.” I think everyone at one point of their life has had fantasies suggesting more to their being. Like Pamuk the thought of the double or twin out there is one that occupied my mind through out my childhood. Theories of a possible baby switch at the time of my birth by my elder sister in her quest to state my unwelcome position in the family just complicated and added another abstraction to the fantasy. The hours spent of desiring, longing and fantasizing to exchange home with my double were unlimited. In the fantasies I was always understood, I was far away from the woman with serious eyes, away from my sister’s confusing theories. I can’t place how these thoughts started but probably from some illusions and fear. I had convinced myself strongly about everything going on my in mind, up to date my mind can easily trip and go far away to those world of things and words happening. Hence taking somebody’s persona would be a huge mind collision.
I have been intrigued with the characters in Sascha’ video, who somehow have managed to dispose their double and embody another persona. Watching his videos my mind is confronted with the idea of having to meet the double I have always fantasised, what kind of reaction will I have. Will it be ‘Oh this is exactly how I have been thinking of me.’ This will probably not be the case, because the impersonation that Sascha’s characters embody has nothing to do with the impersonated but with the impersonator.
The Mad Masters
2008, HD video, 15 min, color, sound, English
People think of themselves differently from what they are in reality, so to have someone imitate exactly what one does makes no sense. In the case of Sascha the impersonators in his videos have assimilated two kind of impersonation, the one impersonation of the real physical character of the impersonated and the job (acting) of the impersonated. The impersonated at work have always been exhibited as heroic characters and even if they are not playing as heroic, the mare fact that they made a picture that shows worldwide make them heroic. The fact that the impersonated’s work is not a reality does not make difference to the impersonator since the impersonated exist in reality this in itself gives assurance to the impersonator. As much the impersonated’s character she/he plays is act, it still brings out several phenomena that ignite longing and desires of being other or character in the specific picture. Which again brings us back to fantasy of my childhood; those of wanting to be different from what you are or the surrounding you have at that moment. In my case the thought of my double was an opening to world of freedom and words, hiding in-between the wall and sofa with a stolen scheme book for mum’s lessons plans and drawing in it with my colour pencils. Off course when found out I received good punishment, two slaps on my naked small buttocks.
The longing, fear, need to change one’s identity, desires of being the other can create an act within persons, an expression that could be said to be fulfilling or even therapeutic. Before writing a text in relation to his work Sascha had advised to watch a documentary film which inspired him by Jean Rouch entitled “The Mad Masters” 1956. The Mad Masters which is filmed at a crucial time of colonial rule in Ghana, the film records a ceremony during which cult members of the Hauka are possessed by their gods, who have taken the form of French and British authorities. The documentary starts with a caption saying
Who are the mad masters, the possessed or the impersonated?
The title refers to the documentary Les Maitre Fous (1955) by Jean Rouch, which is about a ceremony of a religious sect, the Hauka, which was widespread in West Africa from the 1920s to the 1950s. During this ritual the Hauka entered trance and were possessed by various spirits associated with the Western colonial powers: the governor-general, the engineer, the doctor’s wife, the wicked major, the corporal of the guard.
Furthermore the production of The Mad Masters is also inspired by Rouch’s term ‘cine-trance’; a possession like state induced through the ‘eye’ and ‘ear’ of the camera, in which the filmmaker physically enters the stage to involve with the subjects.
“The producer warns the public that this document with no concession or dissimulation contains scenes of violence and cruelty, but wishes the spectator to participate completely in a ritual that is a particular solution to the problem of the readjustment, and shows indirectly the representation that some Africans have of our western civilization”. I followed the documentary with curiosity and interest. The impersonation in Jean Rouch’s film take upon a form of godly beings and in cult rituals the possessed is completely captured by a god that expresses itself through him or her. The possession in Rouch’s film emulated the colonial masters in a degrading manner, exposing them as violent figures, the rituals could also be seenas metaphorical way of portraying the atrocities of imperial colonial rule. Before rituals exposure to the impersonated they remained as therapeutic solution to the problem of readjustment (as caption says) and also coping with colonial rule. After it’s exposed to the impersonated it then took another form, that of retaliation to colonial rule. In this case the impersonator accumulates freedom and power over impersonated. The impersonators in Rouch’s film exhibit the desire of freedom and power over the impersonated. Sascha’s exhibit desire for the other, obsession and even a wish of attaining firm, probably to live in that leisure of fantasy because unlike in Rouch’s where you see the filming of the impersonators in their sober mood, Sascha’s are only living as their characters. On the other hand the impersonators in both videos share the same desires of expression and fulfilment of some sort of therapy. Both documentaries encourage some kind of participation. In Rouch the spectator is directly confronted aggressively as the images in the film whereas in Sascha’s the confrontation are rather subtle yet cultivating some kind of disbelief in the characters, raising questions probably wishes to want understand the character.
Text by Anawana Haloba