Torsten Lauschmann uses technological trickery to unpick the modern world, writes Moira Jeffrey
IN RECENT years Edinburgh has become overrun with road works and parking restrictions. But motorists in Cockburn Street this month may be scratching their heads at the latest regulations. For halfway up the street is a new parking sign that is pretty much indecipherable.
All will become apparent if they cross the road, into the Collective Gallery, for that rogue sign is not the latest outrage perpetrated by the tram works or the city council. It's an artist's project that only becomes apparent from the inside of the gallery, where Torsten Lauschmann has been experimenting with one of those early optical tricks, the camera obscura.
In a darkened room, Lauschmann's use of that simple contraption has turned the outside world upside down and suddenly the sign becomes legible – I won't tell you precisely what it says, it would spoil the fun, but it's brutally simple and simply effective.
This is a typically and deceptively straightforward work by Lauschmann, who studied at Karlsruhe in his native Germany and Glasgow School of Art. He's 40 this year, and there's increasing recognition here of his influence and innovation. His works can seem like jokes, but often involve the sly picking apart of our assumptions about the world, putting things back together with a new and skewed perspective.
I recently popped into his Glasgow studio and it's a tangle of cables and cannibalised carcasses of technology. His working method is to break down and reassemble, to rewire the accepted way of doing things whether in sculpture, film, photography, digital technology or ideas.
I can't tire of telling people that before Lauschmann settled on art he was once a professional basketball player, but he has had a number of alter egos, such as his DJ persona titled Slender Whiteman who travelled Europe with a solar-powered laptop. Then there was the brainy sounding Professor Hans Peter Niesward from the Institute for Gravitational Physics in Munich, an invented character who became globally infamous with the artist's internet hoax World Jump Day, the premise being that if enough humans jumped simultaneously the Earth's orbit would change and global warming might be avoided.
On the other hand Lauschmann is capable of making beautiful films, like his haunting 2003 work Misshapen Pearl, a mediation on city lighting and the pervasiveness of the consumer society, and Mother And Child, from 2004, a minute observation of the rhythms of his sleeping partner and baby son.
While he works across media and technologies, Lauschmann is increasingly thought of as a film-maker and the Collective show is a collaboration with the Edinburgh International Film Festival. This week the festival will host Lauschmann's Sideshow, a one-off screening and performance at the Edinburgh Filmhouse.
The artist, though, is pretty resistant to the classical cinema traditions; he is interested in cinema as a source of technological trickery, and by extension his emphasis on out-takes and glitches and interruptions of seamless reality suggest that we might also want to unpick the apparent seamlessness of the wider modern world.
Two other works at the Collective suggest that is so: there's Digital Clock (Growing Zeroes), an ongoing DVD projection where the red digital clock progresses not through the invisible hand of digital technology but the simple expedient of the real human hand moving the numbers around.
Stuntmen In Skirts is an ancient film still of what looks like a man in full 1920s drag crashing a motorbike. Nothing is what it seems, and as you try to puzzle out this curious scene, the motorbike headlamp flickers, a tiny animation reminding you that film and photographs are themselves a mere trick of the light.
Lauschmann's work is not a simple conceptual one-liner. A lot of artwork in this vein can feel a bit like the denouement of The Wizard Of Oz – you pull back the curtain and it's all smoke and mirrors. Lauschmann remains in love with his medium, and so while he reminds you that the moving image is a trick, he also tries to reinvest it with meaning.
Recently he's become interested in the early years of moving image technologies and the final element of his show is a tribute to the flicker books, line animations and kinetic trickery of early cinema. Patchwork Cinema is not set up in some clinical booth, but in a gallery that has been hung with home-stitched sheets and filled with a ragbag of old and comfortable chairs. This is cinema as a social event, something close to life, not an air-conditioned alternative to it. Early French film of an acrobatic troupe (look closely and it's all an elaborate trick) rubs shoulders with a Chuck Close animation, and there are interruptions and comic interludes.
The work for Sideshow looks to be a joy, a horror story crafted out of the title sequences of historical movies and voiced by a real US voiceover artist, intrigued enough by the project to offer his services for only a peppercorn fee. It's Lauschmann's enthusiasm as much as his quiet intelligence that gives his work its charm.
The exhibition continues until 18 July. Sideshow screens at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh, on Thursday at 8pm, as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival
• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday on 20 June.