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Harun Farocki


October 19, 2005

Still Life, 1997

still_life.gif The convergence of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's A Trip to the Louvre and experimental filmmaker Mark LaPore's transfixing ethnography Kolkata at this year's View from the Avant-Garde provided the proper frame of mind to revisit Harun Farocki's meditation on the art of consumerism, Still Life, a film that on the surface seemed to be a corollary to his interior monologue, self-confessional in Between Two Wars: part conceptual apologia on the necessity for artistic compromise (Farocki had accepted commission work for print advertisement in order to finance the film), and part de-exoticism of the creative process and ritual of aesthetic (re)presentation that underlies all commercial production. From one perspective is Kolkata in which LaPore's stationary camera takes on the characteristics of pre-Renaissance art, creating a composition in which the subject remains fixed while the peripheral frame becomes the dynamic element (an aesthetic similarly employed by Amos Gitai) as objects transect, ornament, or otherwise distract from the foreground, creating complex, seemingly oxymoronic juxtapositions of youth and aging, poverty and opulence, decay and vitality that reflect the state of perpetual transformation in modern-day Calcutta. Similarly, the opening image of the precursor still life painting in Farocki's film contains its own richly textured, baroque, self-encapsulated constructed world where humans and inanimate objects compete on equal footing (or rather, canvas space) for the viewer's attention - each composition revealing an inherent duality (or even multiplicity) of meaning.

From a corollary perspective, the process of engaging the viewer towards decoding meaning by challenging conventional perspective and "ways of seeing" defines the nature of image presentation in A Trip to the Louvre where layers of sub-frames present a logical progression that spirals outward toward the resolution of overarching image. In Still Life, Farocki proposes that contemporary society has become attuned, not to see this structural complexity of image presentation, but rather, to the coding of associative images that converge towards a consumerist ideal. Therefore, in this context, a painting of an open market booth that juxtaposes a vendor selling assorted fruits vegetables in the foreground as two lovers steal a kiss in the background does not serve to convey a richness of ancillary, quotidian detail and sense of realism to the constructed image, but rather, to present a consumer-programmed associative link between inanimate objects and human beings where the consumption of goods (the marketed produce) provides a gateway to pleasure (the lovers' rendezvous). It is this ritualized pursuit of the precise moment of balance between visual composition and image-embedded coding that defines the heart of Farocki's exposition - a visual state in which the synthetic production of images the delineation between art and commercialization is blurred - an aesthetic point of convergence towards a singularity of manufactured illusion.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 19, 2005 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2005, Harun Farocki


June 10, 2005

Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Work...

...on a Film Based on Franz Kafka's Unfinished Novel 'America' (Harun Farocki, 1983)

The French word répétition - rather than the English word rehearsal - more closely captures the implicit connotation behind Straub and Huillet's rigorous and exacting method of preparation for the shooting of Class Relations. A seated Straub asks the actor Christian Heinisch (who plays Rossmann) to deliver his lines over and over, each time, subtly modulated from the last - muting intonation, eliminating traces of colloquialism, and controlling the pace of enunciation - to better reflect the transcription of the written text.

The attempt to elicit a certain decontextualization and particularity to the actor's manner of speech is coincidentally similar straub.gifto the black screen rehearsal opening sequence of Chantal Akerman's contemporary film, The Eighties. On one occasion, Straub makes a meticulous observation that the duration of Heinisch's pause was equivalent to that of a period rather than a comma as defined by the manuscript. The reference to meter and speech also introduces the idea of rhythm and musicality in their methodology, and is reinforced in the repeated image of Huillet replicating the sound of a clapboard at each simulated take. In another occasion, Heinisch is given instructions to flatten the delivery of his lines when approaching another off-screen actor who is directed to collapse on cue, explaining that his character is motivated by curiosity and not concern.

In another sequence, Harun Farocki (in the supporting role of Delamarche) is directed to straighten his bent leg when responding to Rossman's inquiry over a missing photograph, an action that Farocki performs with the inertial awkwardness of discontinuous motion, and repeatedly rehearses to the point of fluidity.

Huillet: The final question is, does Harun sit or stand?

Straub: If Harun stands, he will look in a different direction. You leave him seated.

The final sequence of the actual location shoot underscores this methodical rigor, filming the same scenario beyond the realization of his acknowledged "best take":

"It's improving all the time so you don't need to worry...Thank you. That was very good. A final one. We still have 20 meters left, continue in this way..."

Posted by acquarello on Jun 10, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Harun Farocki