Agent of Doubt
A film by Isabel Mehl and Alina Schmuch.
A hotel under construction opposite Delphi Filmpalast, the dusty flair of old West Berlin. This is where Nan Goldin photographed Amanda in the sauna in 1993. Goldin also took the authors portrait for New York writer Lynne Tillman’s first novel Haunted Houses (1987). These entanglements of temporality, coincidence and levels of reality fascinate art historian Isabel Mehl in her exploration of Tillman's fictional art critic Madame Realism.
Madame Realism is a cipher created by New York writer and cultural critic Lynne Tillman (b. 1947 in Woodmere, Long Island). Since the first public appearance of this fictional art critic in 1986 in the magazine Art in America, 17 Madame Realism stories have been published. As the protagonist of the stories, Madame Realism drifts between fact and fiction, between her East Village apartment and the metropolis that surrounds it, between artworks and contexts, society and its margins, representation and the unrepresented. She is an agent of doubt, of constant movement between possible points of view. In the midst of self-reflection, sensory overload, and a male-dominated art world, Madame Realism reexamines what position a looking and writing subject can take. Who recognizes themselves in art, and why? The question of representation that Madame Realism raises and explores has lost none of its presentness.
Art scholar and critic Isabel Mehl explores the interplay between critique and imagination in the Madame Realism stories and shows what it means to practice fiction as a critical form of thinking. In a fragmentary reading from her book "Im Zeichen des Zweifel(n)s. Madame Realism or: The Function of Fiction in Art Criticism" she traces some of the tracks of her text together with artist Alina Schmuch.