Rainer Metzger

The Homey and the Uncanny

Petra Sterry’s Art of Defamiliarization

1. St. Aigenheim1

The camera’s shaky picture records a most familiar afternoon idyll: a patch of woods, a path, a field in the sunshine, two girls playing, a little dog too. Summer Tale is the title Petra Sterry has selected for her short film, and even though a thunderstorm seems to be brewing, the friendliness of everyday life has this summer tale fully under its sway. As is usual for the medium, there is a soundtrack, and its narrative is quite in accord with that of the images. That is, if it were not for the mention of a scene that remains off screen and involves a mother, a coat hanger, and a dog cowering in the corner with a bloody nose. This story within the story can only be followed acoustically, and yet it may have crept into the blurred sequence of images. Thus the message transmitted by the final sentence of the eight-minute minidrama very suddenly becomes plausible: “The afternoon had lost its innocence.”
Ambiguity, such as that displayed by Summer Tale, is what makes Petra Sterry’s work unmistakable. This is not a summer tale from Eric Rohmer, but from David Lynch. The surfaces of the artist’s scenarios show dents and are marked by cracks and scratches, an inheritance that has injured the epidermis from below and from above, from within and without, psychically from the soul and physically from the surroundings. Nothing is as it is, these surfaces seem to be trying to articulate, and precisely this evidence has its cryptic significance and its underlying message. In one of her paintings the artist makes it clear that “St. Aigenheim” is a cold place; the one-family home is sacred, and yet under this St. Aigen one must reckon with sanctions at any time. Minute displacements, subtle fractures, a jumbled letter in a word or a shifted motif in the sequence of depicted objects is enough to expand homeyness (das Heimelige) into the dimension with which German etymology already has outfitted it, into das Unheimliche, i.e. the uncanny. >>