Harun Farocki – On Construction of Griffith’s Films 2006. Video, 2 monitors, 9 minutes.

Essays relate a narrative of ideas and evoke impressions of the sources which have influenced the writer. Architects in describing a building’s “circulation”, i.e. how people navigate from A to B, draw upon the natural “narrative” that the visitor will experience and therefore complete when they leave the building. In visiting a gallery with one artist’s works of art, this is an important consideration. In visiting an artist’s work who deals with his own audio visual language, this layout is vital.

The two monitor piece “On Construction of Griffith’s Films” is in the furthest room on the second floor of the exhibition. It should have been the first piece for a visitor to encounter upon entering the gallery because in this short visual essay, the basic syntax for Farocki’s visual language is demonstrated to us in precise, clearly stated and subtle terms. In aligning two monitors at head height with two chairs facing the screens, we are presented with a narrative in montage that results in a “general relatedness, rather than a strict opposition or equation” (Alter, Audio-Visual Essay Practice Today, 2007, pg. 53) as Farocki uses text to chart the invention of the shot and counter shot using the screens from left (shot) to right (counter-shot). In its simplest terms, when a man is seen to be looking at a woman, his eye line of looking from left to right in the left screen, we are naturally drawn as we would be in a theatre, to look to the right screen for her reaction, as she looks from right to left. This spatial reference to the question and answer format within a written essay for example, provides the juxtaposition of the three dimensional awareness that the two screens provide, as a method of “soft” montage does not “predetermine how the two images are to be connected” (Alter, pg. 53) and the viewer creates her own meaning from what she relates of the images and sound but also from what is not seen or heard.

This Visual Essay explains in text across  both screens how the early language of film editing was created from the meta language (logic) of painting’s composition, that in film is referred to as the mise-en-scene. With the advent of moving images and sound (where time was now a contributing factor) interpreting audio visual material necessitated a negotiation of our temporal experience. By using a two-channel installation to impart information, or to evoke an emotional response, Farocki has physically given us “open spaces for thought, interpretation and reflection, demanding new modes of perception”.

Perhaps this is the only way to begin an exhibition of a visual artist’s language and work. – JS

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