Spieker (S): This is an interview with Péter Forgács (F) on the sixth of June, 2001.
The first question I’d like to ask you Peter is about the notion of ““Mitteleuropa.” The question is whether this term of “Mitteleuropa” has any relevance at all for the films that he makes.
F: The physical division of Europe (by the fall of the Berlin wall) ended 12 years ago, but the spiritual did not. So there is still relevant meaning of “Mitteleuropa”, the meaning as follows: we are not united. I think for certain historic and cultural reasons Mitteleuropa includes Austria and also Germany. Are we talking about Mitteleuropa as a vast land between Minsk (or Kiev) and Cologne? Can we perceive it /define it/ today as a geographic zone? Or the phenomena and the distinctive conflicts in reality — the social, cultural, and historical problems — are still to find and should be there.
What caused the difference between the basic attitudes of the west Europeans and Mitteleurope-ans? Its a relevant historic fact that Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and of course large parts of Russia and all the Balkan countries in the last eighty years faced quite radical, tragic and different social, political, and economic experiences. If there is anything truly common in ”Mitteleuropa” - that distinguish the region from others - is not geographical, it is the almost constant identity crisis that makes the difference. I think ”Mitteleuropa” definition is more a kind of cultures in constant crisis. Of course it had its illusory golden times at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Later the different histories and the aspect variations of democracies versus totalitarian regimes i.e. nationalism – communism, had a completely different tectonic effect to the life of individuals and histories of communities.
I think this is could be a frame for our discourse.
I began my found footage research in Budapest, 1982-83, to establish the Private Photo and Film Archive. First with snapshots – home photographs and by ’83 the collection of films .
At that time I had a part-time job at the Cultural Research Institute as a fellow researcher, and had quite a free hand to develop the archive, because my director regularly renewed my three-month contract and out of the researchers community nobody really cared what I was up to. The director Mr. Vitányi was a good guy and covered several interesting “subversive” or at least honest verifiable research projects. More to that he offered fair work conditions and constantly bargained with the Communist authorities for the relative freedom of several non-conformist intellectuals and groups. Today he is a socialist member of the parliament. He is a wise guy and we find this kind of reformist commies in all these Middle - European countries like Poland and Hungary. That distinguish the latter communist systems that of Romania or Czechoslovakia and others.
Why is this interesting at all? They let me work and I didn’t bother too much. The reason why I was up to collect home movies was the distorted, censored and destroyed past and the inconsistent continuity of traditions and history. Lets say it was more a psycho-historical imprint I was looking for than regular observing the past, or a sentimental journey. My terrain is the non-official visual imprint of my culture and I soon realized this image collection might represent something new and fill some of the gaps of the vast, destroyed and lost past.
The past was destroyed and rewritten in an Orwellian way . The past is an always rewritten history: this is a common identity crisis in East-Europe or other words in Mitteleuropa. “Mitteleuropa”.
The mid-war Hungarian and German history in the 20th century, is full of lost wars and revolutions. The frustration of the Germans empowered Hitler to crush the Weimar democracy, and the world. The same frustration motive repeatedly happened in a operetta style in Hungary before WW2 and the following soviet escalation it lasted ‘till 1989. Vast part of the common history, memory and culture was completely terrorized, sank, suppressed, rewritten, shortly: destroyed. Some of those memories where preserved by the mid-war home movie imprints, and for me those sparkle, flash out from the past /lets say in a Jungian way/ and as a result my work speaks truly a different language from regular fiction films, or newsreels of the same period. .
The Mitteleuropean civil society, civil traditions are weaker than the Western ones, yet still stronger than in the Balkan or in the Russian Empire. This narrow Mitteleuropa path - well represented in the banal home movies - in the light of wars and radical social, cultural changes make a difference in representations. As for example in Soviet Russia the civil society and privacy was crushed; to the very bottom ground (no home movies for example until mid 1960- in the Khrushchev’s time).
I started to collect home movies (transferring the films to video) and interviewing the families as time archeologist. Meanwhile I was and still involved in video installations. For six years the film and photo collecting was just a kind of archivist mania: the archeology of the vanishing past. (In Hungary, as I mentioned before, eleven different political rules existed between 1918 and 1989, /including three revolutions and two counter-revolutions/ and two WW wars ruined us. The demonic Nazi influence crashed Europe and ‘till the fall of the Berlin wall and the Soviet Empire we where never really free. As a consequence any family home movie collection that covers more than ten — or for God’s sake more than thirty - years will show the unique sign of times, /even images made from the most naïve focus/ from a private history perspective of the citoyen (citizen). Why the middle class, citizen self-representation is interesting for us? Because the filming and snapshot ‘till the post WW2 era - was of the affluent, consuming society - stayed the habit of the middle classes, being expensive. It was not a cheap stuff like today the throw-away-cameras, or video camera for a few hundred dollars. The home movie culture revealed itself by the AMATEUR films, is definitely the phenomenon of the pre-television chapter of humanity. This period lasted from the first Pathé-baby 9,5 mm film camera /1922/ to the decline of the Super-8 mm film culture.
So the Private Photo And Film Archive collection focuses to the unknown Hungarian history registered on films from 1920 to circa 1980.
This Archive is the basis of my work. I’ve learned a lot meeting these families and the making interviews. Doing it so for years, not at all with intention to make a film by them. This is really an archive, providing a kind of discovery of hidden (sank forbidden etc.) cultural history through the home movies and the interviews. The families told us, by commenting the films who is who, what is what and where about in the home movies films. There is a kind of interesting juxtaposition of the narrative of the home movies and the meta-narrative of the interview.
From 1988 (“The Bartos family”) until today I created more than twenty video - films based on found footage. Thirteen of those are essentially about Hungary, and the rest are either video essays or stories from other countries (Holland, Greece), or video installations. “”
The second source of my work - I haven’t talked about yet - is performing art. Luckily I was a member of a minimal music ensemble as narrator,
recitativo: the “Group 180”, active between ’78 and ‘87. In this Group 180 I’ve met Tibor Szemző, my composer friend. It was a fruitful cooperation, as I never had a chance before to understand what is music about. Those with rehearsing and performing years the pieces of Reich, Glass or Rzewski, - the contemporary US and Hungarian composers, and not to forget the composition of members Group 180 – it was permanent revelation. This was a powerful period with the group I learned how music structures time, what is time base art. More to that, I think in the same years I started my performances and happenings in Budapest, mostly in art clubs and smaller private art spaces, and later performed with Tibor in West Europe.
In the arts scene where I had performances, from time to time I started to collaborate with Tibor Szemző. He performed the music (one may heard it from my films also) and I was screening some of the home movies found footage on stage with improvised text. In our laboratory performance series we worked out a new aspect of interaction between music and moving image. Questions popped up at work among other choice: which, route, path is important or redundant? What kind of music is meditative? What kind of image works with this or that kind of music? We had lot of experiments. First time in 1988 I was commissioned for a film , the image – v/s music experimental language was almost ready after a four yearlong experience on stage. And of course I didn’t have any intention making an orthodox documentary film as I had my music school in the Group 180, about 10 years of underground art and private studies in psychology. Those were the other sources.
S: My question is quite closely related to what you are talking about. One could make up such an opposition in looking at your films that would say, on the one hand there is an aspect to what you do that has to do with recovery, which is to say that you salvage these films that have not been shown in a long time, and you bring them back to light, you salvage them, you recover them for posterity. Maybe it is with this in this type of paradigm that one would say you locate the kind of meditative elements in your film making if that is the right word. It may not be the right word, but the sort of elegiac kind of elements. But there is also a very different part to what you do that has to with something that I would call construction. You put together these films. You edit them. You are a very active kind of worker at the cutting table. I wonder that this tension between these two elements—if it is indeed a tension—seems to kind of structure your work. That is to say, on the one hand an emphasis on a certain continuity that stresses the possibility of maybe bridging again the gaps with that which has been lost or which has been forgotten, yet which can somehow be recovered on the one hand. On the other hand, a very different attitude towards the past, which says that the past is something that in a sense I make out of the bits and pieces, that I construct, that I at the cutting table give you and it is for you to decide you know what this construct that I give you is. But it seems to me that it is very important to keep either side of these things in mind when one watches your films. If you just concentrate on the construction side I think you don’t do your work justice, but if you concentrate only on, let’s say, that side that emphasizes, you know, the sort of healing rifts, that recovery, the salvation or the salvaging would be a better word, then I think that would also be rather one-sided.
F: your question is pointing to the dichotomical characteristic of my work. For example the elegiac float is “for the viewers perception”, partly because that is primary “offered” by the film’s hidden values. In certain works it’s sometimes melancholic or it’s just poetic, but it’s always there to me. The structuring serves the elegiac texture too, for a deeper perception, to perceive the message from these “time capsules”. It is really the structure that provides the message it for the viewer’s eye. Filmmaking since Griffith, and the Russian avant-garde film is different than of the early cinema. It does not want to ‘cheat’ band tell you that the film-time is continuous. Like the ‘simplest’ montage in film, the counterpoint method (jump cuts, close ups and panorama varied dramatizing) Eisenstein is using, fills up the gaps of traditional storytelling’s linear and descriptive methods. From that moment of the early ‘20s we can see and sense through film the real and the imaginary time and this became the part of the new film paradigm.
In my films it is more emphasized, because they are created from fragments, bits and pieces. My films are not results of a script, but the re-composition of film acts, reshaping the hidden layers (I may call the the unconscious level of the footage) ‘intention’ of the amateur filmmaker. The home moviemaker, attributes a personal dramaturgy to those bits and pieces, collected on bobbins and rolls. They are just cut outs (slices) from the continuum of the personal, local time and certain life periods. For example, one of my heroes, Mr. Zoltán Bartos bought his camera in 1928 and then filmed for almost 30 years. This film collection is more than five hours long. All the things that are important to them, to the maker is concentrated in five hours, but those are the selected, and (mostly) happy moments. Now, how can we reread these things, events, moments, acts? That is the question. Here comes a big watershed.
Most of the doc filmmakers use archive material and home-movie stuff, they use these images for illustrating an idea, a problem, a sociological or historical fact for their film. For me it’s the opposite: it’s the message of the film fragments is important and my challenge is to put together a new story. The home moviemakers creating these as naïve film self-anthropological films, proving for them selves and for later times that they exist . Their film approach /perception/ is completely different than of the film “professionals”, or mine..
I want to compose, something that could be called as private history in front of the curtain of the public history. This dynamic relation between the elegy (of private saga) and the structure (of a historic perspective) with “Hitchcock-ian melody” is my message.
Most of the time we have do suppress our death instinct - as Freud put it - in the death and life instinct conflict. We are aware of it, though more or less little on the surface: when we are making snapshots or home movies we are striving for eternity. Eternity in this context means the memory of happy moments. Just like the happy moment mementos of the Etruscan tomb frescoes and terracotta or life presentations of the sixteenth, seventeenth century Dutch paintings and of course the snapshots of the 20th century.
The bits and pieces of the old home movies are more like parts of a dream work. My, re-contextualizing construction is more a kind of re-structure the dream-work and not illustrating with/by their lives. More, to open up the secret vaults of a personal, private history memory archive of those.
Now, a question of attitude arouses looking on my films that I did: It’s true some of them are melancholic …
A Polish film critic told me once that my films have a kind of Mitteleuropäische spleen. He felt the same mood appeared in my work as like in a István Szabó film. So, there must be a specific resemblance, nothing like an ironic Czech film, from his point of view . This kind of combination of spleen and the loss is not sentimental and not ironic. When we are talking about elegiac form of memory we are not sentimental, because sentiment is truly against the deep remembering. I think your question is relevant is because this dream work editing bridges the discontinuity of the fragmented film recordings. The home movie perspective of life, or time is very personal in each case and it is always private history.
When I am editing—back to your question—I always have in mind the whole stock what he (the maker) has. Drawing the history v/s storyline I know up head what will happen later with my heroes in their filmic life, but you, the viewer should be surprised, and have to wait for them. . You, the viewer have an acknowledged a learned history in mind.. On the screen, you see private story and juxtapose their local time events with historic landmarks, the years 1938, 1945, 1956, or whatever. Today we have our own, local event history, the time of present history. The time lapse between today (the viewing time) and the past, the film event time (historic time) this distance is full of tense. The bridging of two dates (today v/s time chapters) is a strong effect, because we know at today’s screening what will happen with them in their own film time by the future story. Its a Hitchcockian tension, the suspense: we know their forthcoming drama, and twists as we are aware of the would be victims future … but not able to communicate our knowledge. The tension between our present and their past is a hidden motor and the whole film works that way. I am not saying all my works like that, but in most of the works that cross the watershed of the Second World War is about to work with that dynamism of two different time perspectives.
Where is the focus point of the elegiac form and the inner structure? I guess, where the musical and historical narrative structures meet. This, I would say it is possible happening in the viewers mind. Not only the viewer have to ‘fill the gaps’ between different historical dates, (today it is Monday, but in the film it is Saturday). You know certain things happened between Monday and Saturday, or between 1932 and 1938, or the time laps as somebody’s coming in and leaving. We bridge the gaps of time and events. Not only of those banal things, but also we evaluate constantly what we see on the screen. What we see on my screen is mostly banality everyday. When we see “the smoking everyman” banally walking into the history [images from the Second World War – see: The Maelstrom, The Unknown War], one may have a feeling that there is something ‘bad’ that is maybe going to happen to him. That is the invisible suspense point when the elegy and the structure meet. They – on screen - do not know what we know: their future, i.e. our past!.
There is a very challenging thesis: the distance between us here and them, on the screen. Sometimes you are very near to the narrative screen and sometimes you are maybe very far away. That rhythm or oscillation, between the structure and the elegiac form is a key motive.
The variation of banality is also important to emphasize, because like in “Meanwhile Somewhere” I compose together more than ten different countries’ home movies… you that? You know some of (part of the Unknown War series). I made one episode in 1993. It does not follow one family saga, but several European families I used Hungarian, Czech, Polish, German, Belgian, Dutch, Greek, and French home movies of the war period. One can see –that is why the title is “Meanwhile Somewhere” , as almost banal as Greeks killed as in the [Second World War] in Athens, and in Belgium some others are heaving fun and drinking at the same time. Meaning that the dream work (and reality) of parallel history also recalls different memory of the same event called generally WW2..
Memory can be positively sentimental, and the negative memory is focusing on the loss (of those beautiful days). The loss or the gain of what we have colors, alters the memory. It can be historical memory or memory of memory (remember the remembering) or even anthropological memory. But of course the memory is a trace of the past. As an archaeologist puts together a vase of certain discovered elements, he tries to figure out how the vase looked originally, his work is like the trace of the memory, in the archive. What is the archive in this sense? The archive is (a film archive in our case) also the archive of memory bits and pieces connected to films and home movies. The question is how we are reading the signs, the trace to past?
Who is reading what? My reading of these amateur films is quite different than of the original makers. It does not mean that they would necessary disagree with the result. But of course they do put it and present it together by direct meaning..
Lets have an example:
For them a certain woman in the home movie is “the specific” and only aunt Dusi, just as the home is aunt her house. For us, the viewer, it is not just “the specific” aunt Dusi, but she is representing woman living in that certain space and time.
We have all family members and memories, so when we see these home movie bazaars and we are touched by our own archive memories. We are looking through a kind of kaleidoscope of the past on ourselves, as a kind of emotional projection for us. This is one of the reasons why inevitably Szemző’s music has a very strong role in these films. I am also playing with the banalities, like everybody has/had a mother and father so everybody has some family banal and serious memories. In a way these films are collective memory fictions, (I wouldn’t be dare to say that that’s the reality). I try to suggest with my films: I (p. f. ) suppose that’s how it happened; I presume it happened that way. I think their - the heroes - fate in through my film creates a novelistic – narrative - form, or a kind of archeological image, a one that is still under construction; we may put together (observe, summarize, render, select) certain aspects, allusions, mood and things of the past, but we will never be able to describe what was really the totality of life at that time. We can imagine Madame Bovary of Flaubert’s novel, but we will never know who was the real Mme. Bovary. On the other hand to turn reverse this story, I would say – following Flaubert’s identification with his heroine - I am Madame Bovary, I am Mr. Pető. Flaubert writing his famous suicide episode of Madame Bovary novel, he writes to his diary something like: “when I wrote this part I fainted today from the arsenic poison”. Of course it is Flaubert’s hyper sensitive neurosis as he felt exactly the same vomiting.
S: Are you finished?
S: I was struck by your mentioning of avant-garde filmmaking specifically Eisensteinian montage and how it might or might not relate to what you do. I wonder if you could maybe clarify the relationship a little bit more specifically with regard to time. Now, the way I understand avant-garde montage—and I certainly am often reminded of montage when I watch your movies—is that it has something to do with what in fact you said is very important for your own work and that is the interruption of the flow, that is both an allusion to narrative but also it is constant interruption. Montage appears to be about bringing about a certain moments of crisis with the help of the medium of film. Making things clash. Interrupting the elegiac flow. Bringing you to reflect upon what you see, rather than letting you immerse your self in a certain mood. I would insist in ways that you actually did not. It seems that you were much more interested in this mood creation aspect of what you do. But I am much more interested in the way in which your films—I mean are your films at all interested in interrupting that mood, in getting people out of their preconceptions about the historical process?
S: Avant-garde filmmaking, it seems to me, montage specifically, is about kind of getting people away from the idea that films are there to confirm the ideas about history and about the medium itself, I might add. Are there such moments in your films where you really do want to kind of—I don’t know—kind of jolt people out of the mood, out of the elegy, and out of this kind of very powerful sense that this is about what Barthes said about photography? When you look at a photograph you know the person you’re looking at is already dead. It is a very powerful way of talking about your films. Is it the only way?
F: No, no, no, your question draws our attention to the several layers of this problematic genre. First of all, an avant-garde film maker, like Maya Deren, for example, does not want to ‘tell me’ anything else what she wants to say. On the other edge of the film genre we have the educative “BBC type” of documentary that is explaining with ‘tautology’: this is the blue sky above us, what you see is the green grass which grows upward. From the tautology-film types on the one edge and Maya Deren-film type on the other, I feel my self to be somewhere more in the sphere of Maya Darren part, but with an effort to compose the story by not losing the other segments, allusions, dimensions of the historical, cultural, or just psychological context completely. Now, this contextual sensitivity is really important not only the editing, the montage technique makes a big difference, it is just a general example how the moving-image perception changed since Meliés, and Eisenstein. Also I would say that this is a completely different storytelling because it is neither Deren or BBC. My works are somewhere in between.
Whenever there is this loose historic sphere that you are in your own private life-- and that it could happen anywhere in Europe—lets say in that certain year. I really mark it and expose: this is 1938. Now you can connect with your historic knowledge what is 1938? You know it is one year prior to 1939, you may know that the (Nazi) Anschluss (of Austria) has already happened, and you know already that Czechoslovakia was broken up. One sign of a year (on screen) is enough for us to come out from the banal flow of the private history. On the other hand, there are other elements what we might able to separate now.
Apart from the collage and montage techniques we have the music, what I meant is a very strong part; as, of course, silent home movies cry for sound – texture, sound-scapes basically . And also mentioning an other channel: there is no voice-narration like usually expected and used to with regular or normal and entertaining or discursive doc or narrative films.
The slow motion technique and manipulating the film time, movement and the rhythm gives an opposite direction or an opposite possibility than of the photo example of Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. The frozen photographic second of the Barthes thesis is a good example why the photo is a tombstone, as moving image is not. Each photograph is a tombstone. If we’ve made right now a black-and-white photograph of us we could observe the event as already past time: history. Not like color images. But while we have the moving images of past we always have the fluxes of life, the contrapuntal notion between Barthes’ photo thesis and the movement (= life) on film, which proves for ever that we’re alive. So my viewers and you know that they (the amateur film actors, my heroes) are physically dead, but they are still moving. They are re-animated again and again by the film. Not like Barthes’ frozen second personal image example: his mother as a thirteen-year-old young girl looking in to the camera from the little bridge of a winter garden. Barthes is some how asking himself, (of the never published photo) “is this the best representation of my mothers self, or not?” The question is relevant; it is the sole true one photograph in itself – for Barthes – of her persona. With moving image at least I can try to create what is maybe missing from a photograph — let’s say, from most photographs: is TIME. The problem of time base art, we start somewhere and we end up somewhere. Like in one of my films “Dusi and Jenő” You see a beautiful young woman…..
S: What’s the English title?
F: Dusi and Jenő” . You see in the film a beautiful woman – Dusi- first in 1938 and then we see her around 1956 , when she is looks very old. The elapsed time, gives a different aspect to the whole life. Seeing her at the end of her life on screen, one presumes she might pass away soon - in the film-time - or maybe she is dead already in reality – I marked on screen she died in 196.
The difference between photography and film is simply not that one is moving and one is not moving, but that our basic death perception and conception is different. When you see her the film you are maybe in the middle of the same ambivalent feelings – hard to give voice to it, but most of the time one is hooked on the film’s time handing - and we all know: its about death. The viewer know what we see is past time, still as the viewing time also a sort of present time and her time, because they’re still moving, acting until this film lasts.
The other level, the set of my film language is tinting, coloring, and also the specific layer of narration. In two cases like in “Free Fall” the viewer hear the singed Jewish laws. This draws our attention on a structural question. There is always a kind of conflict, as you said in the material, which is moving. It is not always the same conflict driving each film or even in each film you have different conflicts or collisions, Hegelian collisions. A Dialectical collisions. Like in “ The Maelstrom”, I have two sets of ‘banalities’, the Seys-Inquart family home movie and the Peereboom family home movie. The Austrian Catholic family and the Dutch Jewish family home movies, both families have little babies or grandbabies and both of them have fun, joy, pastime etc., etc. But the hidden conflict is embedded in the history. Seys-Inquart is the butcher of the Dutch and the Dutch Jews. In “Free Fall” the conflict is with the banal, happy everyday life, and the Hungarian Jewish laws. Meanwhile, you think the repressions are terrible, yet they have happy times under the unbearable pressure.
In “Meanwhile Somewhere” I acquired different footage representing different countries, scenes, social and political situations. All through “Meanwhile Somewhere” I’ve broken up to nine episodes the racist punishment shaving event, when a young German man and a Polish girl was a punished for having love affair, In the Nazi amateur film, taken the miscegenation is taking place in a village of Opole/Oppeln county in Southern Silesia, a mixed populated region of Germans and Poles. It happens after the German occupation of Poland, and one can see the obscene punishment as their hair is publicly shaved off and burned. This event structures the whole film, like a rondo time to time, you see the different phases of the shaving . The same ritual shavings followed the Wehrmacht wiped out from occupied Europe. Those French or Belgian women have been shaved who had affairs with Germans, as all over in Europe at that time. That is another historic and personal counterpoint in my structure. That’s what I called dialectical thread previously. What you see is a family and the “ Kontrapunkt” has it’s varied paradigm: an other family /Maelstrom/ or the law /Free Fall/ it sneaks in ‘till the very end of the piece of the happening, like in music. You follow a symphony and suddenly at the very end you understand why in the beginning was composed this or that way or how deeply the piece is constructed.
I think the avant-garde collage technique of film making is just one part of this language. On other hand the psycho-historical dynamics or the counter pointing of the themes, and chapters; more to that in many cases the music of Szemző is “playing against” or mediates the image; or parallel stories are played weaved together or against each other is the method.. I would say that this is a larger vocabulary used by a limited palette.
S: Maybe, to use an analogy from information theory, one could say that what you are interested in the historical processes if you will, in the background noise of history. That is to say, the banality of history, in some sense, is that which is in the background which qualifies or might qualify as noise for most people is nothing but noise to the extent that somebody watches these home movies who has no idea who the people represented are, where the places are, when what happens, happens where it happens, then it really is a kind of background noise that allows you perhaps to filter out certain elements that will then be perceived as information. So you’re really playing with this difference between noise and perceivable signals, it seems to me.
F: I like it.
S: That’s one thing. The other thing is, we talked about the historical avant-garde, and I would like to jump maybe to the more contemporary avant-garde or the post avant-garde if you will, to minimalist filmmaking. And of course there are many postwar filmmakers or artists who made also films who are interested in banality, thinking of Andy Warhol, for example. In whose films of course the banal plays a very important role. But there seems to be a big difference, and I am interested in this difference and I wonder if this spleen that you mentioned before, the spleen of East or Central European artist and filmmakers is really this idea that history is banal where it seems, for someone like Warhol, history itself appears to really be a matter of a camera held up to a building for eight hours. I wonder if you can comment a little bit on this sort of differences, I mean banality seems to be an obsession with many, many contemporary artists, and specifically with regard to the attitude to history. But there does seem to be a certain confidence in what you do that in the noise there are signals, as it where hidden that need to be filtered that can be filtered out if only we take the right approach. A confidence that it seems to me as largely loss or completely lost in many of your contemporaries in perhaps outside Central Europe. I don’t know if I am putting this as lucidly for you to be able to understand it.
F: what’s the name of that French artist, who was quoted at the conference - who is also working with memory, a very good French artist.
F: Yes, yes. So it’s not only East European stuff.
S: Boltanski, of course his family comes from Central Europe. [Laughing]
F: Yes, but he is a French artist, without . . .
S: I know, I know.
F: . . .without the French context, cinema nouveau, and without Lacan, without the French avant-garde film, without Foucault, Bourdieu. I mean it’s a total culture that is providing for an individual artist what to select. You just pointed out, the first of all enormous difference between /whole/ Europe and United States. The United States did not have the recent blood of 20th century history—the last brutal history on US soil was the Civil War hundred and forty years ago. They haven’t seen war in this country since that time. So what distinguishes Europe and United States is that history has somewhat a different notion here.
S: Maybe, this is why Americans understand really well that history is banal?
F: Yes, yes. For Andy Warhol the event repetitiveness is and Andy Warhol’s new perception. Like 15 years prior to that La Monte Young’s avant-garde music had it. The post war West Coast minimalism had its philosophical influence on the arts and poetry. We have plenty good examples of North American artists whether the noise has /contains, transmits, express/ the signal or it does not, or just pure noise. That’s a great difference between Joseph Beyus and Andy Warhol both of them is fluxus artist. Beyus is historic, it happens with him, while Andy Warhol is indifferent – others play for him - and exclusively secretive at the same time. In a Beyus work I have /feel, get, acquire/ always the context. We have the surrounding noise, and the tangible distance, tension of the sacred-banal. The banality of the rabbit Beyus, the banality of grease Beyus, the banality of his self-mythology, and it is always placed /composed/, embedded or grounded very well in to the context. So I think /maybe I’m wrong/ , this is a quasi European tradition. Following this methodological track, it’s hard of course to classify myself as a Euro or American learner, because I would say: Bob Ashley’s video opera or Bob Wilson’s works at the time had influence on me.
Certainly I have somewhat common with the works of Boltanski as well. The cultural context of his memory is more a kind of the memory and lack and fulfillment of the loss. The irrational recovery when he /Boltanski/ is recovering young German’s fictious bio photographs. It’s a fiction in one sense, and it’s documentation = fictional documentation. I might say the same I am playing out, experimenting with in my works.
What Boltanski is doing—it is easier to talk about Boltanski for a second than of my work— it’s a call. It’s a call like a Rorschach test image: you start to project your own emotions on that screen. It’s a little bit the same with me. Whether we are looking at the noise /of the channel/ or we are saying that this and this have a separable signal and this has a meaning. How we work It is still an attribution of meaning t. These attributions can be multiple at the same time. The context of it, of course is a quasi-historical context, the same I feel with Ilya Kabakov’s total installation art. He is creating a common, but metaphoric place and the everyday level at the same time/space. For example there is a Moscow common housing project, where each room is a different person’s universe. They are fictions, but it has it’s very strong reality call, and behave as/again/ a Rorschach test plate. You project the person, project and almost see the person inside the space. Now, it is something similar of Boltanski and Kabakov and in with my work. In my installations and films work I try to offer the illusions that they are real (REAL) people and they’re real people, but still it plays in the imaginary space, where the noise of the channel is very strong. But you can still separate it with your antennas, with your “what is it about.” You don’t have to know too much about history. You have to know only that the war happened. It happened or Europe exists.
Andy Warhol’s films a cult of a subculture . It is concentrating on the individual, the marginal of that time of filming, but the marginal attitude is much more general event and of our time today. So, 40 years, that passed since Andy Warhol made his unique films and he was not alone, inspired by Brakhage or Mekas, so the whole N. Y. avant-garde is there in the background. While with Jonas Mekas films one feels always quite strongly the context. Same with Andy Warhol, but he is a rather different character. Warhol is for fun and success, he was cult figure and medium of the art at the same time as his attitude rules the N.Y. art scene since he re-formed it. Warhol grown up in the US, Mekas came as a Lithuanian émigré at his 20s. Mekas historic knowledge is always present. If one compares Brakhage “nothing is happening”, or Bill Viola video “nothing is happening”, and the Mekas oeuvre , one shall find that he is constantly connected to his European background . As Europeans, our backbones are almost broken by the heavy traditions. What you see here (USA) is the no-tradition, in a way or the re invented self. So I’m ready [ a bit more in the context] to visit a “European kind” of city like New York, than being here in Los Angeles land or sunny Santa Barbara.
S: The more you speak, the more I’m persuaded that my analogy between Warhol’s movies and yours or some of Warhol’s movies and yours is a good one. When you look at Warhol’s movies, first of all there is a very strong suggestion that they are home movies. You hear the camera. You hear the projector. There were sounds that the machine that is doing the recording is making. There is this flickering of the light. It is a bad recording most of the time. The big difference, of course, is time elapses so there is a certain history covered while the camera is recording the film. In fact, it is quite a long time. You are very aware of the elapse of time as you watch these movies. The big difference is of course that you’re not shown anything. Nothing moves. So it’s a paradox. It seems to be time, time that elapses, time that goes by a very long time, but that historical time shows you nothing. It is empty. It is empty of images. Whereas your approach—and it seems to me that perhaps that is a characteristic difference perhaps between Europeans and Americans I am not sure how to contextualize it, between Central European and other Europeans I am not sure. But there seems to be a sense where history for Europeans is, never mind how noise-like these images are, but history has to do something with images. There is something to recover from images. There is a sort of faith in however layered these images may be, however difficult it may be to reach through the noise, to whatever there may be hidden the signal whatever you want to call it. A faith that I think for Warhol simply isn’t there. I wonder, since we were talking about Barthes when he talks about photography he talks a lot about the past and the melancholic feeling that photographs give him, but he also talks about this moment that he calls the punctum, which is