At the beginning of the almost 30-minute video, lettering is zoomed into the glittering bluish background that initially recalls a horror trash movie: Diana. In Roman mythology this name stands for the goddess of fertility, of the moon, and of the hunt. She is thus a parallel representation of the creation and destruction of life - a personified icon, a binary principle almost prototypical of our cultural roots. In terms of motif and concept, this is the starting point of a video film that has long since become a classic.
In it, Koen Theys provides a collage of Super-8 material he filmed himself and found footage which he then processed while editing: we see orchestrated series of sequences containing banal and brutal scenes from a big-game hunt, a naked woman with a bow and arrow striding through Normandy's bunker-strewn landscape, a birth-like operation in open flesh, detonations, war images, flags and a torchlight parade - all attributes and representative events that can be linked with Diana's divine field of responsibility. Made even more intense by the oppressive slow-motion, the impression we get is one of electromagnetic tape running through a viscous emulsion out of which the figures appear before being swamped in colour again. This is supported by a soundtrack that interweaves enraptured synthesizer organ sounds with the howling of wolves and quasi military drum beats. Text passages are repeated, comprising an eclectic mix of Bible quotes, right-wing extremist speeches and black magic rituals whose impact is as efficacious and as vague as images. The atmosphere recalls films by Kenneth Anger, while the sound is surely reminiscent of Dario Argento. Both are artists who, like Koen Theys, regard kitsch and camp as equivalent approaches to reality.
Yet the obviously drastic nature of what is presented should not distract from the high degree of self-reflexivity that also characterises the film: everything that is to be seen in the film is formatted in red, green and blue - RGB, a colour filter that orders the respective sequences. These are the colours that make the technical image possible in the first place, if we consider the monumental video projectors or the matt television screens of media antiquity, before the advent of the flat screen. The private ownership and distribution of moving images only became a veritable mass culture towards the end of the 1970s. Hand in hand with it went image storage: archives, as important image-political places in our everyday culture, served both as sources and as fields of attack for artists like Klaus von Bruch and Marcel Odenbach. To a degree, Koen Theys also uses archives, although in his case it is more about the subcutaneous: it is the subconsciously located self-images of an old Europe which he draws into the light, and re-edits with razor-sharp precision. Theys responds with a kind of total affirmation to the aggression of a world permeated by mass media, a strategy which is sure to determine his future artistic work as well.
Spurred on by attitudes typical of European punk and the American Pictures Generation, Theys celebrates a theatre of the artificial in Diana, thereby also taking up the theme of the ultimate indeterminacy of images. He presents and over-flexes that very visual vocabulary that continuously stokes the cultural-historical fear of the image: sexuality, death, destruction. It is not just we who are looking at a picture, but the picture that is also looking at us, to allude freely to Jacques Lacan.
Thus the filmic end of Diana consists of an epic green sequence showing the female figure holding up a chalice and after some time slowly starting to empty it. In the waves of water this creates the figure turns out to be only a reflection. Given the elegiac organ accompaniment, this reads like an allegory of the Janus-headed status quo of the image: dissolving into itself, it reveals itself to be a chimera - an image never represents reality of the first order, but first and foremost always represents itself.
Martin Germann - catalogue ‘Home-Made Victories’