Harun Farocki – Some thoughts on Immersion

I was impressed by the diversity of the work by Harun Farocki in his exhibition Against What Against Whom? Which spans a number of years dealing with many mediums and genres. I was intrigued to see examples of moving images that we would rarely have an opportunity to see,

Eye/Machine III, 2003, Video, 2 screens, 25 minutes

‘…explores ‘operational images’ made only for technicians, or not for the human eye at all. Cruise missiles are programmed to find their way…’*

Farocki gave many examples of where moving image technology is being used in a wide variety of areas (construction, army training, rehabilitation, surveillance etc.) and is no longer just a form of entertainment.

It was interesting to see the depth of history in the pieces not just in the content but also in the formats/mediums as well. The Leaving the Factory was a good example as it documented the progression of the cinematic image. What I found interesting was that all the clips par one were in the aspect ratio 4.3, the one on the far right represented the latest depiction of workers leaving the factory and was 16.9. I felt it looked quite odd as it didn’t fit with the rest. For me it was clarification on how much the medium of the moving image has changed in just a few short years. Is it fashion that has changed our viewing format from a more traditional square shape to rectangle? Photographs have gone through the same formatting, is it a question of aesthetic? For me I really enjoyed viewing the pieces partly for the nostalgia of the older format.

I was especially interested in the piece: Immersion, (2009. Video, 2 screens, 20 minutes) described as a‘workshop for the US military which demonstrates how the virtual reality scenarios of computer games can be used to treat post-traumatic stress.’*

I think the title Immersion is very apt. In this piece the viewer is almost immersed in the situation. On the 2 screens we can see the soldier wearing the virtual reality device and describing a situation he has gone through while live programmers create the scene as he describes it. He becomes upset and wants to stop but is told to keep going. The audience becomes engaged by both the soldier’s story and the digital recreation of it and also his current situation. In her essay Translating the Essay into Film and Installation by Nora M. Alter, the author discusses Farocki’s work. She claims ‘Farocki’s use of the split screen produces what he refers to as a ‘soft montage’, which allows for an increased flexibility and openness of the text for the spectator – associations are suggested but not formally mandated.’ When comparing the video essay to the traditional written essay she also looks at Benjamin’s theory of translation,

‘Translation was above all a ‘mode’, meaning a variety of expression, a new arrangement or a new form. Only works that have a certain ‘translatability’ can be translated with any degree of fidelity to the original. ‘Translatability’, Benjamin observes, ‘is an essential quality of certain works’, by which he means that ‘a specific significance inherent in the original’ can be put into the words of a different language. This ‘specific significance’ is related to ‘pure language’, or to the theoretical or philosophical core of what is to be translated.’

I feel that when it comes to translating the subject of the piece Immersion, Farocki couldn’t have chosen a more apt format. To try and achieve the same response by writing a traditional essay on the topic would never compare to actually seeing the real and ‘unreal’ footage of the soldier.

I find it interesting that soldiers are being trained through virtual reality but also rehabilitated through it. The ability to be ‘immersed’ mentally in an unsafe place while being in a safe place is almost akin to dreaming. Another example this piece reminded me of is the Israeli animated feature film Waltz With Bashir. It describes director Ari Folman’s efforts to fill in the gaps in his memories of his military service during the First Lebanon War. In the film the director uses recurring images and voiceover to piece together experiences that he has blotted out. Although an animation it feels very much like someone’s memories and in that sense, quite real. Another example of virtual reality and war is the video game Darfur is Dying. The player is a refugee trying to collect water in a hostile environment. The game highlights awareness of the current situation through immersing the viewer.

I think with the array of technologies that we have available the most important thing is choosing the best format for your chosen topic.


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