In a scene in the Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver (1976), Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle stands in front of a mirror in his small, shabby apartment and “plays” himself getting provoked by his own reflection while holding a gun: “You talkin‘ to me? You talkin‘ to me? Well I‘m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you‘re talking to?” The scene has achieved cult status and has been adapted, spoofed and artistically treated numerous times – in films such as La Haîne (1995), in TV shows such as South Park and The Simpsons, but also in Douglas Gordon’s installation through a looking glass (1999).
Using this scene as “found object” for his work You Talkin’ To Me? / 01:04:04, Urs August Steiner not only examines the dense network of references in popular culture that comes together in this film fragment; at the same time, he initiates a reflection of the medial conditions of sound and/as image. “You talkin’ to me?”: The sentence, which De Niro utters several consecutive times in Taxi Driver and acts out bodily – and thus visibly – through his nervous play, is isolated by Steiner in his work and turned into an acoustic building block. Using the program Photosounder, this was converted into a spectrograph – an image representing the temporal progression of the sound in its frequencies. With further image processing, this “sound image” was stretched, abstracted, and screen printed onto a glass plate.
By way of these processes of abstraction and translation, the acoustic event “You talkin’ to me?” creates an image that can still be read as an encoding of the audio signal. Just like a music score it inspires to inwardly voice out the “You talkin’ to me?” and to assign it to the individual image phases; at the same time, the code with its sensual and material properties is brought out. The dark, paranoid atmosphere of Scorsese’s film thus is dissolved into geometrically abstract patterns and shades of black that still contain traces of the scene, but mostly evoke it in an implied fashion. The translucent quality of the glass surface emphasizes the transparency of the audio image and allows the viewer to see the wall behind it, on which the beam patterns are multiplied in the shadows. In a very sensual-material sense, the glass also incorporates the mirror in which Travis sees and provokes himself. Depending on how the viewer stands in front of the work, the reflection on the glass surface suddenly will show them their own reflection. In this way, You Talkin’ To Me? / 01:04:04 reunites seeing and hearing in the exhibition room and reinforces the “You talkin’ to me?” with an equally provocative “You lookin’ at me?”.
The text was written in collaboration with cinematologist Kristina Köhler.