Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
at Haus Wien, curated by Marijana Schneider,
in collaboration with Mary Wild
“When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes,” from a song by The Platters is buzzing around in her head when she wakes up. The fire is out, but the smoke bites her eyes. She has burned the whole house down. “Woman burns down house!” they’ll write. Only the chimney is still standing.
The fireplace is like a backbone when you think of the house as a body. The actress Jayne Mansfield (1933–1967) also had a chimney in her Hollywood mansion, which she had painted bright pink. After the demolition, the fireplace made of rough-hewn natural stone remained standing for the time being. It no longer marked the transition between the interior and exterior, nor was it a warming place of comfort, but a ghostly relic in a ruin.
The images of such scenarios have been burned into our memory by horror stories, melodramas, and psychological thrillers. Fireplaces frequently appear in the mise-en-scenes from films. They enhance the already crackling atmosphere and fuel the suspenseful foreshadowing of the narrative’s reversal. As if through a keyhole or a crack in a door, we observe the lustful, eerie play inside modernist glass palaces or gloomy stone mansions in Victorian style. For his movies, Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) constructed artificial architectures that charged the domestic with projections of the uncanny.1
Looking at the cinema screen or into the TV is like looking into Pandora’s box, wherein fears, secrets and desires are hidden: “Something here inside, cannot be denied,” the song continues. There is a proven connection between the projections of sexuality onto architecture and onto the female body in film.2 For the voyeuristic—usually the male—gaze from the outside, Hollywood cinema staged actresses as passive seductive surfaces. In moments of curiosity, however, the female protagonists actively drive the plot forward, for example when opening a forbidden door. Here, self-empowerment flickers behind the beautiful mask that has been put on them.
The examination of film and cinema has long played an important role in Melanie Ebenhoch’s artistic practice. With the installation Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, she provides for the first time a direct insight into this reference space. Alongside architecture and psychoanalysis, it forms the core around which her works and her thinking revolve. Painting and sculpture are at the center of her work, which she repletely combines. Since 2019, she has been developing a group of chimney sculptures, which previously were the painterly-sculptural framework for her paintings. In her new installation, she inserts the medium of film in the form of her own film montage and a selection of movies. On display is a spectacle of inner-psychic social conflicts that are ignited in domestic settings. With an ironic-affirmative gesture, Melanie Ebenhoch sets fire to the film images flickering in the chimney and thus to the projections of the subconscious generated therein.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (2021) is an installation by Melanie Ebenhoch, curated by Marijana Schneider and with a film program created in collaboration with film scholar Mary Wild.
Text by Marijana Schneider
1 Steven Jacobs, The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2007). For the uncanny in the domestic see Paolo Virino, “Familiar Horror,” in Grey Room, no. 21 (fall 2005), 13–16.
2 Laura Mulvey, “Pandora: Topographies of the Mask and Curiosity,” in Beatrize Colomina, ed., Sexuality and Space (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992), 53–71.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, 2021
Digital print on paper, wood, styrofoam, resin, acrylic paint, tv screen, film montage
Sculpture 180 x 130 x 65 cm, poster 85 x 59 cm
The Love Witch (2016) dir. Anna Biller
Vertigo (1958) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
The Money Pit (1986) dir. Richard Benjamin
The Invitation (2015) dir. Karyn Kusama
Secret Beyond the Door (1947) dir. Fritz Lang
The House That Jack Built (2018) dir. Lars von Trier
The Exterminating Angel (1962) dir. Luis Buñuel
Lost Highway (1997) dir. David Lynch
The Lodge (2019) dirs. Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Nostalghia (1983) dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
Images: Georg Petermichl