Spike Island are proud to have been involved in the production of a major new video work, Prince of Homburg by British artist Patrick Staff, co-commissioned by Dundee Contemporary Arts, and IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art).
The Prince of Homburg reinterprets 19th century German writer Heinrich von Kleist’s play of the same name. Opening with a disoriented Prince sleepwalking in royal gardens, the original play, written in 1810, develops by swift degrees into a personal nightmare that draws together questions about the limits of state control versus individual freedom. While often interpreted as an assertion for the might of authority, many consider Kleist’s work to be a passionate defence of free will. Kleist’s death by joint suicide with his close friend Henriette Vogel in 1811 contributed to an ongoing fascination with this complex play that continues today.
In their new body of work, Staff reconfigures the play to focus on the symbol of the exhausted, sleepwalking figure as political dissident. Presented within the gallery space as a video installation with accompanying sculptural and print works, The Prince of Homburg considers cycles of violence, desire and repression that are embedded in contemporary cultural and political crises. Staff explores dream-like transgressions of law and order and the fraught spaces where queer desires manifest using unconventional filmic structures and experimental techniques. The video cuts together a narration of Kleist’s play with interviews, conversation, found footage, hand-painted animation and song.
In a series of fragmented ‘daytime’ sequences, a range of artists, writers and performers reflect on contemporary queer and trans identity and its proximity to desire and violence. Intercut with flashes of the sun and sky, city streets and text, subjects include Macy Rodman, Debra Soshoux, Che Gossett and Sarah Schulman. Each of these segments is punctuated by ‘night-time’ diversions, narrated by genderqueer writer Johanna Hedva in the dual role of both narrator and Prince. Loosely following the structure of Kleist’s play, the sleepwalking Prince struggles with his somnambulant habits, and the invasion of the unconscious mind into flesh and bone. In half-remembered dream images, the narrative unfolds through flashes of nocturnal gardens, high visibility reflective clothing, neon signs and a lugubrious ballad.
Much like Kleist’s original play, Staff has crafted a space in this new work where nothing is stable or fixed: any sense of linear narrative or other grounding structural devices are punctured and collide throughout with abrupt flashes of psychedelic uncertainty and unease.
Patrick Staff (b.1987, Bognor Regis) lives and works in London and Los Angeles. They have exhibited extensively, gaining significant recognition and awards for their work which is held in private and public collections internationally. Staff received their BA in Fine Art and Contemporary Critical Studies from Goldsmiths University of London in 2009. They completed the LUX Associate Artists Programme and studied Contemporary Dance at The Place in London, in 2011. Their work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2017); New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2017); Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2016); Serpentine Galleries (2015); Chisenhale Gallery (2015); Tate Liverpool (2014); Monte Vista Projects, Los Angeles (2012); Tate Modern (2012), and Whitstable Biennale (2012), among others.
The Prince of Homburg is in exhibition at Dundee Contemporary Art Sat 22 June — Sun 1 September 2019 and IMMA (Irish Museum for Modern Art) 21 Sep 2019–22 Mar 2020
Supported by Arts Council England, Elephant Trust, UK, and Commonwealth & Council Gallery, USA. Video work produced by Spike Island, UK.