Sven Johne and Jumana Manna

Sven Johne and Jumana Manna

Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art

Top: Sven Johne, Elmenhorst (still), 2006. Courtesy of Sven Johne. Bottom: Jumana Manna, A Sketch of Manners (Alfred Roch’s Last Masquerade) (still), 2013. Courtesy of Jumana Manna.

February 17, 2015

Sven Johne and Jumana Manna
The Doubt of the Stage Prompter

20 February–19 April 2015

Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art
Katharinenstraße 23
26121 Oldenburg
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 2–6pm, 
Saturday–Sunday 11am–6pm

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The title of this dual exhibition by Sven Johne and Jumana Manna evokes an image just like a haunting cinematographic icon: a stage prompter sitting in a claustrophobic box in front of and slightly below the theater stage. A small desk lamp casts light onto the page he is staring at while the reflection from the paper illuminates his troubled face. Something in the script is not quite right. Something is missing and the causal connections between events and characters seem out of joint, forging skepticism towards the coming pages… 

The prompter’s doubt as to the accuracy of the given script—a theater piece in its master narrative totality—is mirrored in the artistic practices of both Manna and Johne. This elementary doubt, fuelled by inquisitive curiosity, is that which gives way to alternate stories, opening up a space where history can be retold.

The Doubt of the Stage Prompter is the first comprehensive exhibition of selected video works by the artists, whose inventive languages engage in dialogue on storytelling, as well as the relation between history and fiction. Their works broadly question the construction of history; often an incomplete history missing countless voices and pages from the “script.”

Both Jumana Manna and Sven Johne are enthralling storytellers with exacting skill to unravel expansive plots from within the tiniest of narrative details. The passion and dedication to the way history is narrated is further driven by their particular biographical perspectives. The artist’s memories, lived experiences and historical knowledge can be said to “mature into fiction,” in the words of the Bosnian-American author Aleksandar Hemon. This notion serves as an essential literary reference to The Doubt of the Stage Prompter in relation to the poetic ways Hemon deploys the complex relationship between truth and fiction without necessarily clear borders between the two.

Besides the general interest of Sven Johne and Jumana Manna in the relation of ideological constructs to history and its contemporary relevance, afforded through their personal backgrounds, there is another methodological notion that brings the moving-image oeuvre of both artists in dialogue. Both share an enthusiasm for exploring a variety of cinematic, theatrical and even television techniques in the unfolding of narrative. They investigate the potentials of a casting interview as a frame, the illusion of intimacy provided by a documentary interview, the imagination opened up by a group portrait, the awkward strength of a filmic monologue or the confessional speech. These formal devices provide a structured way through which their stories cascade, and multiple layers of meaning are introduced by referring to these conventions.

Johne and Manna are meticulously searching for precise moments in history that alter the way we imagine things. Nevertheless they avoid the fetishism or nostalgia for lost details, but focus, rather, on their recollection to use them for a better understanding of the present. As the master of the ceremony from Sven Johne’s video Greatest Show on Earth concludes: “She is still circulating above us: Nadjeshda, the great hope. The Soviet space probe once destined to reach Mars, but it remained in earth’s orbit. General Gorodki, its engineer, lost his position back then. Tonight he is with you. He will try, live from this stage, to establish contact to Nadjeshda. What will the two of them have to say to each other?”

Curated by Edit Molnár & Marcel Schwierin

We launch the publication The Doubt of the Stage prompter in relation to the exhibition with an essay by Edit Molnár and Marcel Schwierin, and two conversations: between Sven Johne and Nataša Ilić, and between Jumana Manna and Aleya Hamza. 

Sven Johne and Jumana Manna at Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art
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Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art
February 17, 2015

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