The Swimmer, video stills
The Swimmer, Frank Perry, 1968, film still
The Swimmer, Frank Perry, 1968, film still
The Swimmer, Frank Perry, 1968, film still
Two sources were used for the video: the movie The Swimmer by Frank Perry, 1968, starring Burt Lancaster and a common travel brochure.
In The Swimmer I take over the protagonist’s role by reenacting his swimming performance through a series of successive pools. The adapted version is set in a tourist world. As a script, I use a Thomas Cook travel brochure as a method of formulating a precise visual route.
The Swimmer, 2014, Sascha Pohle, video still
exhibtion view, 'All Inclusiv: A Tourist World', Kunsthalle Schirn, 2008, Frankfurt/Main
exhibtion view, 'Terminus', ParaSite, 2008, Hongkong
exhibtion view, 'Beyond Paradise', SMBA Stedelijk Bureau Amsterdam, 2008
exhibtion view, 2003/04, Forum 1822, Frankfurt/Main
I CAN SWIM HOME....
Coming from the woods, Ned Merill, who is wearing only bathing trunks, suddenly pops up in the garden of an acquaintance. He jumps into the pool, swims a few laps, and is then greeted by his friends: “Where have you been keeping yourself?”... “Oh here and there, here and there... what a day... have you ever seen such a glorious day?”
During the course of their conversation, Ned Merill comes up with the idea of swimming along an imaginary river, made up of a series of swimming pools located on various properties in the State of New York, all the way to his home. And so he sets off on a journey from pool to pool. The paths he chooses between the individual swimming pools are kept as short as possible. “If I take a dogleg south, I can swim home...”
Ned Merill’s itinerary through the properties and pools of his neighbours, friends and foes, resembles a rambling through the absurdities and perversions of a North American upper-class for which the private pool in one’s own backyard not only represents the promise of physical recreation but has meanwhile become the status symbol and the site of representation per se. On his trip across the “Lucinda River”, Ned Merill not only winds up in one pool after the next, he also attends party after party, one cocktail reception after the other. Here, a social class is depicted that is in love with itself and stupidly celebrates its own decadence. In this respect, Ned Merill’s endeavour of traversing each pool just once in a straight line is considered an affront.
“The Swimmer” by Frank Perry from 1968, featuring Burt Lancaster in the leading part, is the pivotal point of departure and, above all, the model motif of Sascha Pohle’s video film of the same title from 2002. In it, he again takes up the notion of a long river consisting of a series of pools. Sascha Pohle’s script, however, is based on a commonly-known catalogue of the Thomas Cook travel agency. The brochure for the 2001/2002 winter season starts with hotel offers on Tenerife, and then continues with Grand Canary, Fuerteventura, Lanzerote and Majorca, all the way to Morocco and Tunisia. If you browse through the catalogue, all pages appear quite similar: the advantages and prices of the hotels are offered in short descriptions and tables, a few photos additionally give an impression of the grounds or the apartments. What strikes one is that with all contracted hotels the swimming pool stands at the centre, to such a degree that it is presented in a larger view and in several detailed views. The pool always seems to be the heart of the entire grounds, serving to manifest and transport the holiday feeling. The image of the pool conveys a notion of luxury and exclusivity aimed at luring the future holidaymaker.
Helen: ( purring ) Neddy, ... where’ve you been keeping yourself?
Merril: ( marvelling at the sky ) Oh, here and there, here and there, what a day ... have you ever seen such a glorious day?
.... he stands sipping his drink, glimpses other yards, other pools in the cascading landscapes of forest and dale.
Merril: If I take a dogleg to the southwest, I can swim home...
Helen: How? Why?
Merill: Pool by pool they form a river...all the way to our house...I’ll call it the Lucinda river, after my wife.
2004, video, 60 min, color, sound, travel broschure
In his one-hour video film, Sascha Pohle himself sets out on a trip from pool to pool. In accordance with the travel brochure, he starts with the swimming pool of Studios Palmeras Playa in Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife, and from there goes on to the Hotel Tenerife Playa, then to the Hotel San Telmo, etc., until, after 44 swimming pools, he traverses the pool of the Apartements Ten Bel Maravilla, the last hotel on Tenerife offered in the catalogue. The film then ends, but the end is more like a caesura, because the odyssey through the various pools could of course immediately continue on Grand Canary.
While the motif of swimming through a series of pools (based on a short story by John Cheever) strongly determines the actual narrative frame in Frank Perry’s film, guiding the protagonist from one stop to the next and ultimately confronting him with his own reality as well, Sascha Pohle’s adaptation almost entirely formalises this frame. Apart from a few exceptions, Pohle works with a fixed camera, usually even from a bird’s-eye perspective. The motionless camera renders a total view of the pool. Then, the figure of the artist appears at one edge of the picture, he walks to the pool, jumps in and swims one lap, and in the end walks out of the frame in the opposite direction. The procedure is then repeated at the next pool.
In a quite unique way, Sascha Pohle succeeds in evoking a subtle disturbance by means of this simple and repetitive narrative structure, and especially through his performative stringency on the locations. Even more so than in Frank Perry’s original, the targeted traversing of the pool and the social space belonging to it – without making contact with other guests – bluntly contradicts the actual characteristic of a pool area. As one can gather from travel brochures as well as from Sascha Pohle’s shots, all pools try to arouse the feeling of a secluded and thus cultivated and safe place, as opposed to the ocean which is nearby but wild. The small holiday cosmos surrounding the pool is put in question by Sascha Pohle’s intervention.
According to the order of the catalogue I swim one lap, pool by pool, page by page. The video is made on Tenerife and concludes with the 52nd pool, open- ended, pointing to an infinitive number of places, or nowhere. The reality of holiday has to resemble its image – reality becomes uniformed in order to conform the image. The video is like a topographic journey through a catalogue’s tourist world. The typology of the pool architecture, the swimmer’s loneliness in a leisure ambience, and minute-long sequences impose a melancholy and repetitive narrative over the documentary footage
Thomas Cook travel broschure
Sascha Pohle already dealt with travel prospectuses in earlier works, in particular with the phenomenon of the hotel pool. In a series of photo-collages, he examined the shapes of various swimming pools, for instance, and, in the process, developed a genealogy of freely-designed pool landscapes which he traced back to the archetype of a clover as the symbol of happiness. When viewing “The Swimmer”, however, one starts to recognise the pool in all its absurdity: Why does the swimming pool appear more attractive than the sea? Why are some pool landscapes laid out as lavishly as if they were meant to replace Tenerife’s original landscape, which has indeed made way for the huge hotel complexes? Why do fresh-water pools appear so luring, refreshing and invigorating, although their chlorinated and cleaned water is in fact dead? Why does one travel to Tenerife, if the pool in Cypriot Paphos really looks just the same?
In addition to this critical questioning of the holiday situation by the pool, Sascha Pohle’s film possesses a further narrative dimension. Shot long before the main season, one often sees in the video the artist himself as the only guest. But yet everything is to a large extent set up to attend to the awaited crowds. And so the film and its protagonist, who has made it his absurd task to swim in sequence through all the pages of an arbitrarily chosen travel prospectus already outdated once the season is over, is characterised by a sad mood. The motif of solitude in Sascha Pohle’s performance and in the resulting film – with its endless and equally senseless mission – becomes the melancholic allegory of the work of the artist. Pohle is successful in revealing with particularly fine irony the artistic working method in his film: He swims through the pools that indeed invite one to linger, but hardly anyone will have noticed his strategy, as pools are usually made for swimming. He works on making his project a success, while the other guests by the pool relax from work, but no one will have perceived his work as work, because swimming in a pool is indeed associated with holidaymaking.
text fragment, Jochen Volz