Marcel Odenbach

Marcel Odenbach Marcel Odenbach is one of the most important video artists. During the last 35 years, he has developed a specific iconography for dealing with a well-defined range of topics. His videos often examine the construction and definition of individuality which is constantly seen in the context of historical processes and cultural identities. According to author Kobena Mercer, “Odenbach’s video art insists upon an attitude of openness towards uncertainty about the world. In this respect, his art criss-crosses the structural hybridization of video-based conceptualism with reflection on the lived experience of globalization.”

On Air: Marcel Odenbach

Marcel Odenbach's works paradigmatically criticize the specific conditions of the German society for which he usually finds literary titles referring to puns or traditional sayings. The ikono On Air Festival is showing the following Marcel Odenbach selection by curator Kathy Rae Huffman: Die Angst des Tomannes vor dem Elfmeter (1980, 15.46) Produced under the label ATV, it is an installation and performance named after the 1971 film by Wim Wenders, roughly translated as The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (which was also a 1970 thriller by German author Peter Handke). work, Odenbach intercuts televised politicians speaking against Auslanderen /outsiders or immigrants, with scenes of Western shoot-ups, bar fights and a cattle stampede. This cultural clash represents the differences of opinion televised at the time, which were about as far apart as can be imagined, and questions the conclusion: will the good guy win, as usual in the Western genre? Als ein totgeschossener Hase auf der Sandbank Schlittschuh lief / Life as a shot rabbit skating on the ice sandbank (1980, 20.29, B&W) Odenbach intercuts images of his eyes isolated and framed in black, as if a voyeur, with scenes from the street, his apartment in Cologne, and from off-air television news (ARD’s Tageshau) showing the political situation in Poland. Using the TV news as his reference point, Odenbach uses this ‘truth’ (the TV events are perceived to be real) and places them next to his own narrative reality (which is actually ‘the truth’). His interior video sequences show him pacing alone, restlessly, while the street is full of people coming and going, and scenes from the student opposition movement APO, leaving the viewer to wonder what this suspense is all about. The reoccurring sequence of personal and public, truth and drama, is revealed with his eyes, and is a reflection on waiting. Versteck der frühen Verbote / Hiding the early prohibitions (1981/82, 8.03 min.) Again, Odenbach presents another mystery theme, backgrounded by the soundtrack (and with visual excerpts) from the classic Hitchcock film Psycho. Images of the artist himself are intercut with documentary film footage, Parliamentary proceedings, ominous footsteps (pacing), and seemingly ordinary movements and actions, clouded with long ‘takes’ full of suspense. Das im Erwischen erwischte / Caught while escaping (1983, 16.25 min.). Partially visible images are arranged against a black background, leaving the main part of the screen black. Tibetan ritual imagery, chanting, film scenes, and brief episodes of TV sports (with men in shorts) are inserted against scenes of the artist pacing and private moments in the artist's home: at the fridge, the toilet, in bed, and with legs in sensual repose. A light bulb becomes the signifier of ‘on’ and ‘off’ with what we see. This is a completely new structure for Odenbach, and takes him one step further away from the typical TV format, but it is all the more meaningful for this. Die Einen den Anderen / The Ones to the Others (1985-86, 21.13 min., b&w and color). Produced by Brigette Kramer, TV Frankfurt, for ZDF’s Das Kleine Fernsehspiel. This work builds on previous structures and symbols, but is unusual because it is clearly autobiographical, and also because it is both a single-channel videotape and an installation (a pattern that Odenbach would use in the future). The production value of this work is exceptional, and the expert Steadicam footage allows for realistic observation, without noticeable jerky and distracting movements. In the work, you see the artist’s familiar surroundings, his living space (as seen in previous works) but this time in a single take, with ambient sound. The camera follows the artist and pans the space quietly, observing objects, photos, books, and the artist's drawings. Meanwhile, he paces restlessly, moving from place to place. As if Memories Could Deceive Me (1986, 17.29 min.) Produced by Kathy Rae Huffman for the Contemporary Art Television (CAT) Fund, a collaboration between the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston, and The New Television Workshop at WGBH-TV, Boston’s public television station, in association with The Goethe Institute, Boston. His first American TV work, it is both a single-channel videotape as well as an installation. Odenbach produced the work in Boston in the springtime, and found the city to be a completely new experience, different from other American cities that he had visited, namely San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. A smaller city, yet with more than a hundred universities and colleges, it had a very traditional and sophisticated European flavor, as well as a large ethnic population. Boston was also a center for popular and classical music, the Boston Pops being among the most famous in the world for its radio and television performances, seen regularly on WGBHTV. With a focus on his own upbringing, music, and the bourgeois sophistication of the city, the work As if Memories Could Deceive Me was Odenbach’s personal response to the historic American city and his German heritage. Die glückliche Begegnung (Srecan Sunret) / The Happy Encounter (1987, 7.18 min.) Commissioned by Dunja Blazevic, TV Beograd. This work continues the artist’s exploration of local observation, alongside historic and current contradictions. Although it was during the open years of TV, and before the political split of Yugoslavia, and its ugly nationwide (civil) war, Odenbach sensed the fateful future and begins the piece by looking through his fingers, which partially obstructs his face (only his right eye is visible between his fingers). A foreigner in Yugoslavia, Odenbach’s first visit resulted in a work that was very different from the other pieces that had been created for the culture pogram TV Gallery, and contained more subtle critique and political reference. Stehen ist nicht Umfallen (Estar de Pie es no Caerse) / Standing is not Falling Down (1989, 5 min.) Commissioned by Jose Ramon Perez Ornia for the Spanish TV series ‘El Arte del Video.’ For Odenbach, this work (created at the end of the 1980s) shows the confusion and personal reaction to opening of the Communist bloc, and the breaking down of borders between East and West that brought a sense of new beginnings throughout Europe. But Odenbach is not at rest because, meanwhile, worldwide awareness of Africa, especially since the famine in Ethiopia (1984-85), South Africa’s growing racial tensions against Apartheid, and tribal wars and regional dissatisfaction with the remaining colonial rulers, had ignited his deep interest in African culture; a passion that would continue for decades to come. In this short television work, Odenbach begins by showing a military episode in Namibia, where Black soldiers patrol a town (and shoot someone already lying on the ground). This sets the tone of the work, which presents layered, superimposed political imagery from film and television, showing various incidents of civil unrest. African chanting reminds us of the international underlying tensions. Introducing himself getting a haircut, and prepping for a night out, Odenbach’s flair for combining fashion, sexual attention, violence and everyday observations continues. His signature vertical strips of imagery give way to full screen sequences, of pigeons in a square that leads to documentary footage showing the 1989 student violence at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China.


Marcel Odenbach was born in 1953 in Cologne, Germany, where he studied architecture, art history and semiotics between 1974–79. Marcel Odenbach is one of the most well-established and internationally known German video artists. In the 1970s, he formed the producer group ATV with with Ulrike Rosenbach and Klaus vom Bruch. In the late 1970s, he started using video work, tapes, installations, performances and drawings to probe the cultural identity of his native Germany. His ambivalence to cultural history shows in works such as "Make a Fist in the Pocket", a German expression for hiding one's rage. Odenbach was a professor of media art at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design between 1992–98. He is now professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and lives in Cologne.

On View: Marcel Odenbach - Works on Paper (1975-2013)

(at Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany - 19.09.2013 - 05.01.2014) The exhibition in Bonn, developed in close cooperation with the artist, aims at redressing this imbalance by presenting the artist as a drawer and collagist so comprehensively for the first time. The exhibition is going to include works from all creative periods, starting with works from the mid-1970s in which Odenbach describes his living environment and his relation to the world. These drawings prefigure the collages of the 1980s, which on the one hand are drafts for his video installations, yet on the other hand they function as autonomous combinations of text and image. Nothing is as it seems – Odenbach’s art requires a reflective way of seeing, an active viewer, especially when it comes to his latest papercuts. The viewers are asked to not content themselves with a general overview, but to pay attention to the details which sometimes reveal frightening and always ambivalent insights.. Opening: Wednesday, 18 September 2013, 8 pm More at the Kunstmuseum Bonn here.


- Marcel Odenbach at Galerie Gisela Capitain - Marcel Odenbach at Inter Media Art Institute - Marcel Odenbach at the MoMA - W - The Ghanaian home of artists Carsten Höller and Marcel Odenbach goes above—and beyond. Online Films - FILM: Marcel Odenbach's "Men Stories" (2005) - FILM: Marcel Odenbach's "In stillen Teichen lauern Krokodile (In Still Waters Crocodiles Lurk)" (2004/2004) - FILM: Marcel Odenbach "To Go Wild" (2012) - FILM: Marcel Odenbach's "Disturbed Places" (2007)


The SIP Video Talks: Marcel Odenbach Bantu - Nzogbu Bantu feat.Brother Resistance Directed by Martin Maiburg & Marcel Odenbach.

Curators' Special

Part of the curatorial selection of Kathy Rae Huffman