Wednesday 22 May 2013

Melanie Manchot: Leap after The Great Ecstasy

Leap (videostill), 2011

Melanie Manchot’s exhibition at Carslaw St Lukes gallery in London takes us into the world of professional ski jumping, revealing scenes of control and perfectionism alongside the odd humorous moment.

Manchot is known for her portraits of individuals and groups, but here she extends this to create a portrait of an event. Titled ‘Leap after The Great Ecstasy’, the work (from 2011) is a three-part video, presented at the gallery in a specially constructed installation. It contains three different views of the annual ski-jumping world cup held in Engelberg, Switzerland, taking the viewer through the detailed preparations for the event, and then behind the scenes of the competition itself.

As its title acknowledges, ‘Leap’ is inspired by Werner Herzog’s 1974 documentary, ‘The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner’, which also explores a quest for glory on the slopes, in Herzog’s case focusing on the career of carpenter-cum-ski jumper Walter Steiner. While Herzog’s film contains much footage of the performance of jumping itself, however, Manchot instead focuses on life backstage, allowing the viewer a glimpse into the intense amount of work that is required to bring the event to life.

Leap (videostill), 2011
Trailer for 'Leap after The Great Ecstasy'

The largest video, displayed in the gallery’s main space, reveals the majesty of the natural setting at Engelberg, before exposing the manmade interventions required to make the slope perfect on the day. Preparations ranging from the epic – giant machines blowing out fake snow – to the tiny – a man carefully sweeping down the slope – are all shown in Manchot’s elegant, hypnotic film.

Moving into the other rooms, we are drawn into the event itself. A second film is laugh-out-loud funny as it hones in on a group of judges, each in their own box, who watch each skier perform his leap into the unknown. The dramatic moment of flight – recorded here only by the whooshing sound produced as the skier whizzes by – is reduced to banality as each score is dutifully recorded.

Leap (installation view), 2011
Leap (installation view), 2011

A final film shows the skiers themselves, not in performance but in a ramshackle cabin where they wait anxiously for their moment in the spotlight. Dressed like brightly coloured advertising billboards, the familiar brand names on their clothes seem faintly ridiculous, and totally irrelevant, in this dingy space. Instead the focus is on the internal, on the intense psychological preparation required by the athletes, and the handling of cold feet, both of the physical as well as, presumably, the mental kind.

In this context, the results of event itself – usually the climatic moment of a sporting documentary – are unimportant. Instead Manchot’s film shows the sense of perpetuity that is central to sport: that while the athletes are always intensely in the present there is always another event to follow, another opportunity to shine. In this final film, she also manages to capture on film the obsessive focus that professional sport requires of all its participants. For while ‘Leap’ is rooted in Engelberg, and of course in ski-jumping, if the costumes and setting were altered, these moments in the cabin feel they could be drawn from almost any locker-room at any sports event, exposing the tension and intense concentration that radiates from athletes while they wait patiently for their moment on the sporting stage.

‘Leap after The Great Ecstasy’ is on show at Carslaw St Lukes until June 1. More info is online at

No comments:

Post a Comment