A comment on the Harun Farocki exhibition at Raven Row “Against What? Against Whom?”
The galleries homepage gives in my opinion a good description of what was presented in the exhibition. It states among other things that the exhibition is: “ the first UK exhibition of the two-screen and multi-screen works of revered German filmmaker Harun Farocki” and that Farocki since the sixties: “has reinvented what can be described as the film essay” The homepage further explains that Harun Farocki thematically addresses questions of capitalism, consumerism and war and his works can be seen as non-polemic and open for interpretations. (http://www.ravenrow.org/exhibition/harunfarocki/ date 08.02.10)
In the essay, “Translating the Essay into Film and installation” (Journal of Visual Culture in 2007) Nora M Alter places the work of Harun Farocki in what she calls today’s “hybrid medium” of Audio-visual essays. Today’s hybrid-practice, is seen by the author as a combined result of the last “quarter of a century” problematization of the genre of” Documentary film” in combination with the increased number of Audio-visual essays produced by artists and filmmakers. Nora M Alter state that the genre of the Audio-visual essay to be a genre which is known for crossing boundaries of styles and with tendencies of: “…traditional filmmakers are exhibiting their works in galleries and museums, and artists are showing their films in film festivals and cinemas […] the site in which this new medium is the most innovative is the gallery or museum, where the audio-visual essay has increasingly taken the form of the projected image installation” (Alter, p: 53)
Several of Farocki’s works fits into many of the descriptions presented by Nora M. Alter. I had not read the essay and if I had read it in advance the essay would have created a great supplement to the experience of the works. Instead I gained a deeper understanding retrospectively. One example from the exhibition that I enjoyed was the three-dimensional installation “ Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades from 2006” This work consisted of a 12-monitor video-projection, which showed clips from different movies from the history of cinema as for example Lang’s Metropolis. The monitors where placed on straight line on the floor out from the wall and gave associations to a sculpture. The work is an example of Nora M Alters description of what she calls a resent development in Audio-visual essay works that: “take the form of three-dimensional installation” (Alter, p: 53) The movie clips went in loops and where sometimes interfered by text of certain dates. For all of the clips shown, there were attached 12 separate headphones. This created in my opinion a type of intimacy to the work. The cables to the headphones where mixed together which in itself created a form of interactivity. It was to time consuming to sort out the cables and instead I tried concentrated on the listening to make connections between audio and visuals.
Nora M Alter writes that Harun Farocki uses the word “Soft-montages” to describe his work. This type of montage can be described as: “A form of montage in which two separate images are juxtaposed with, and occasionally superimposed upon, one another, resulting in a ‘general relatedness, rather than a strict opposition or equation’ “ (Alter, p: 53) Nora M Alter explain how this type of montage is different from the linear montages with “sharp cuts” and how this gives the viewer greater possibilities of association and to make connections and meaning between the images “Associations are suggested but not formally mandated” (Alter, p: 53)
Since I was presented with 12 visuals and one audio it was possible for me to make new connections between audio and visuals. So after placing the audio with the right screen I started making my own combinations. I found it interesting that the work made it possible for me to make my own connections and listen and watch different “wrong” combination. This created for me feeling of what if; this movie had this type of dialogue instead of the original.
Another description I find interesting both related to use of montage and content of the work is found in a text by Lev Manovich. In the Prologue: Vertov’s Dataset from, The Language of New media 2002, Lev Manovich describes, “Spatial-montage” as an alternative to the traditional “Temporal-montage” used in cinema. The Temporal-montage is constructed by sequences and Manovich exemplifies this with Fords assembly line which: “relied on the separation of the production process into sets of simple, repetitive, and sequential activities” (Manovich, 2002 p: xxxiv) Manovich explains that the cinema follows the same logic of “industrial production” by replacing: “all other modes of narration with a sequential narrative, an assembly line of shots that appear on the screen one at the time” (Manovich, 2002 p: xxxiv)
“Workers Leaving the Factory” gave me associations to the 20th century assembly line in the content of the work. Many of the movies depicted workers or and modernist society. This creates in my opinion a nice contrast to the form of montage used, which I find to be of a spatial kind.
Another association I get to the work and its use of montage is in relation to Walter Benjamin’s text “Author as Producer” and the description of The Newspaper. Here Walter Benjamin describes the fragmented non-linear form of the newspaper that makes the reader able to choose what to read when he wants. This makes the reader according to Benjamin a type of ‘co-worker” in the construction of meaning“ Its content is “material” which refuses any form of organization other than that imposed by the reader’s impatience”