*The Land of the Unknown: Roberto Minervini on What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? By Jordan Cronk. “Poetry floats up in my memory like sailboats in the fog”:Alexei German’s Khrustalyov, My Car! By Daniel Witkin. With Forever Presence: Jonathan Schwartz (1973-2018). By Max Goldberg. *Soft and Hard: Claire Denis on High Life. By Adam Nayman.
By Andréa Picard
“You have to rack your brain to know how to film a location…You have to walk around it for a while if you want to find, to use a military term, a strategic lookout. There are not many. When you explore this question often enough, you see that, most of the time, there is only one possibility.”
—Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet
In typical Straub-Huillet fashion, this quote on how to compose an image (“faire un plan”) seems very matter-of-fact. Yet for all of its candour and practicality, this statement implies the fundamental principle of the couple’s incomparable cinema, one similarly invoked by Max Ophüls and Godard in their own ways, however more ambiguous, and at a certain juncture in their respective careers: that cinematic point-of-view (and its delivery) is weighted far beyond aesthetic value, includes taking a stance beyond the physical, and surely has something to do with love and complicity, however unspoken. Surveying the landscape, like Cézanne’s eternal fascination with Mont Sainte-Victoire, or Etel Adnan’s obsession with Mont Tamalpaïs, was a constant for Straub-Huillet as their close observations of the land so often breathed life into the plays, novels, operas, poems, and political texts with which they meticulously engaged—formally and morally, and not without a sly sense of humour lurking behind what has too often been called an austere style. Intermittently labelled Marxist, materialist, rigorously intellectual, forerunners of the global trend on austerity measures, their work has always been, above all else, sensual. In some ways, we see this now more clearly since the death of Huillet as Straub searches the earth for them both. Pedro Costa’s invaluable, pitch-perfect documentary, Où gît votre sourire enfoui? (2003), left no question about the melding of art and life, with Huillet’s all-consuming search for choice edits (“the only possibility,” again)—the heart-stopping cuts in Sicilia! (1999) which awaken rather than blunt the senses—and Straub’s coy regaling, while avoiding the lure of mythologization. That the film flirts with screwball comedy and a flatbed structuralism—an endless rewind—makes it all the more revealing.
Their “landscapes of resistance,” to borrow from the title of Barton Byg’s book, provide an apt starting point for considering the work of another duo working in a parallel field, Dutch artists Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan. The two have been collaborating for over a decade on installations, films, texts, performances, and curatorial projects, many of which cohere around the shifting politics of representation. Their practice is largely research-based, with personal incursions into the complicated terrain of governmental policy (especially that of the European Union), institutional rhetoric, and worrisome bureaucratic hindrances of all sorts, including the near absurd. Theirs is a steadfast and ongoing commitment to freedom of expression and civil liberties, hewing close to the land, in all of its beauty and contradictions. Their institutional critiques often lead them down sinewy and labyrinthine paths of resistance, both physical and metaphorical. Perspective, point-of-view, and position are tantamount to their socio-political investigations—ones that use works of art (their own, and others) in order to explore issues of heritage, contemporary and historical appropriation, and the blurring that has inevitably resulted along the way. Adaptation and re-interpretation are thus, as in Straub-Huillet, the conditions of contemporaneity in which the act of really looking at the world insists that we look back so that we see ruins and monuments in conjunction with a stunning spray of cumulus clouds across an open sky or a forest that seems to be painted in a sfumato green but breathes oxygen into the world.
Van Brummelen and de Haan shuttle not only between media, but also between the boundaries of what is permissible, possible, and porous. They’ve become quite adept at circumnavigating obstructions (Obstructions being the title of one of their early films, from 2003), blockades, and congestion, and making these very conditions not only the subtext of their art-making, but the subjects themselves. While this may sound dense, deeply philosophical, and ideologically charged, the astonishing beauty of their films arguably transcends the framework in which they impressively participate, both within and outside of the gallery setting. A unique blend of documentary realism, lush landscape, sculptural abstraction, and narrative suspense, the films display as much formal precision as they do a generosity of vision. Ambiguity is never ruled out, threatening to subvert the long path already taken (always steadfast and termite-like, and, yes, paradoxically, monumental).
With a predilection for triptychs and diptychs, van Brummelen and de Haan’s work is indeed grand but never imposing. The work is filled with questions, hesitations (pentimenti as swirling grain), admiration, and frustration—they exude a sort of modest confidence rather than a grandiloquence. “Autonomy as strategy,” the title of one of their essays, aptly sums up the duo’s readiness to go beyond aesthetic, geographic, conceptual, and restrictive boundaries, but also to step outside in order to make work that is as beautiful as it is urgent. And for it to be considered in different contexts and configurations—not unlike the conditions of their subjects. Having exhibited internationally in museums such as the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam, their films have rarely shown in festivals, though I first encountered their work (Lefkosia, the third part of Grossraum [Borders of Europe]) in 2006 at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in Akram Zaatari’s extraordinarily rich and expertly curated program, “Radical Closure: Send me to the seas of love, I’m drowning in my blood.” I’ve admired everything since.
On the occasion of their latest film, View from the Acropolis, wending its way through the festival circuit after its premiere in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Wavelengths section, I conducted this interview with them, in the hopes of introducing their work to a larger cinephile audience—especially those who are admirers of Joris Ivens and Guy Debord.
Cinema Scope: What is View from the Acropolis?
Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan: View from the Acropolis is, so far, the final part of the series of works that we titled Monument to Another Man’s Fatherland. All works from this series have the Pergamon Altar as their subject. Nowadays a Berlin highlight, the altar was built around 200 BC in current-day Turkey. In the 19th century, German archaeologists excavated the monument. Three-hundred-and-fifty tons of marble were put in crates, dragged down the hillside, taken to the coast in ox-drawn carts, and shipped via Smyrna (Izmir) to the free port of Trieste. A steam train brought the altar to Berlin.
The altar is now housed in one of the five so-called universal museums on Berlin’s Museum Island, in the Spree River. It surprised us that some years ago, UNESCO declared the entire Museum Island a world heritage site; so it seems Berlin’s appropriation has been successful.
The film View from the Acropolis shows the site from where the monument was taken in present-day Turkey.
Scope: How does View from the Acropolis fit in with the other two works in Monument to Another Man’s Fatherland? What was the genesis of the project?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: When the Irish economy was still booming, we were asked to produce a new work by Project Arts Centre. The cultural centre is situated in Temple Bar, an area that is promoted by the city as “Dublin’s cultural quarter.” The commission was open, but the Celtic Tiger was mentioned as a possible starting point. As you probably know, the term is derived from the Asian Tigers and indicates the rapid economic growth of Ireland in the decade preceding the current economic crisis. Ireland had used tax breaks and subsidies to attract foreign investment. In a previous piece, Monument of Sugar (2007), we had investigated governmental intervention in the international commodity market. However, we felt uncomfortable submitting to the wider trend that “international artists” contribute to city and nation branding by producing works that have the hosting city or country as their topic. Therefore we let ourselves be distracted by the hybrid: half Celt, half tiger.
The work for Dublin was preceded by a long period of artistic research during which we followed ancient Celtic migration throughout Europe and the spreading of its representations. We learned that the Celts did not write about their culture, but passed it on only orally or indirectly via their aesthetics. They did use a script for their business correspondence, resorting to the imperial languages of Greek and Latin. As artists in an era where writing one’s own press release is a prerequisite, we were intrigued by their reticence regarding the inscription of meaning. And did we not use English as a lingua franca in a similar way?
The research led us to the Pergamon Altar, a monument founded by the Pergamese to celebrate a victory over the Celts, who, on the monument, were represented as Giants. These are hybrids: half human, half animal.
We described how this monument from present-day Turkey became a Berlin highlight, but also in antiquity it was instrumentalized for city branding. To legitimize their leadership and to inscribe the city in the history of great empires, the leaders of Pergamon, who had little Greek blood in them and ruled a people that were largely of Anatolian origin, appropriated Greek habits of commemorating. To give Pergamon a lasting record in the annals of civilization, they made donations to famous Greek temples such as those in Delphi and Delos, which guaranteed the inscription of Pergamon’s name at these sites, and they had an acropolis built with sanctuaries and a parchment (pergamena) library. In accordance with Greek tradition, the Pergamese victory over the Galatians was paralleled to one from Greek mythology: the gigantomachia, dialectic between gods and giants. The myth was sculpted on a frieze of 400 feet surrounding the altar.
Scope: What responsibilities does a museum have toward its collection?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: During our visit to the Pergamon Museum we noticed that the monument’s layered history of displacement and appropriation, which made it so interesting for us as contemporary artists, was completely absent. It seemed as if the history of the artifact had ended when it entered the museum collection. Could we re-appropriate these artifacts once more and reclaim a space for interpretation?
In many of our projects we explore how institutions operate by interacting with them. Hoping to reclaim a space for contemporary re-interpretation, we proposed to the Pergamon Museum that they collaborate on a film that would continue the narrative where the art-historical one that was presented in the museum stopped.
But the museum did not want to collaborate with an art project that addressed the fact that the monument originated from somewhere else. This might “stir the debate about repatriation,” something the museum was “not interested in.” We were not allowed to film in the museum, nor use the image archive of the Foundation for Prussian Possession of Culture.
Scope: Were you surprised by the hostile reaction of the Pergamon Museum to the project?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: We were aware that heritage museums tend to be restrained. We also knew that the Pergamon Museum was one of the 20 heritage museums that in 2004 signed the “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums.” The Declaration states that objects were in the past acquired under conditions that are incomparable to the current ones, and that these objects meanwhile have become part of the heritage of the nations which house them. The hidden goal of the Declaration was to support the British Museum that was pressed by the Greek government to repatriate the Parthenon marbles that are in the former’s collection, to a newly built museum in Athens. Lord Elgin removed these marbles from the Parthenon in the short period that Athens was part of the Ottoman Empire.
In our proposition for collaboration we referred to certain ambitions that were stated in the Declaration; for instance, that museums are “agents in the development of culture, whose mission is to foster knowledge by a continuous process of reinterpretation.” A befriended German collector, who personally knew the director of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, delivered our proposal. All in all we expected that we would at least be able to have a discussion, but despite our efforts, the response was dismissive.
Scope: Did you attempt to persuade them, and if so, what were your arguments?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: The director gave us no opening to even start a discussion. To circumvent this control over interpretation, we produced our own version of the monument, a portable and fragmented version. In books and guides that were printed throughout the years, we traced hundreds of images of the battle scene that was sculpted on the frieze surrounding the altar. These we used for a photo reconstruction. We filmed the reconstruction (Revolt of the Giants, 35mm, 2008), and further disseminated it on an index poster, listing the image sources we used, and as a series of framed photo prints. In an improvised film studio at the Goethe Institute in Istanbul we filmed aspiring migrants, reciting, in their fledgling German, a description of the sculptural battle scene that travelled ahead of them. And we visited the site in Turkey where the altar was taken and filmed our spiralling walk up the mountain, haunted by the wind.
Scope: You’ve written that View from the Acropolis is about a “non-site” of cultural heritage? In other words, a site that has been stripped of its cultural heritage?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: Actually, we didn’t refer to the acropolis as a non-site of cultural heritage, but we referred to the so-called “Universal Museum” as one. The acropolis is, to us, a site rather than a non-site.
The artist Robert Smithson, who also made films, such as Rundown (1969) and Spiral Jetty (1970), which both document the creation of land-art pieces, introduced the terms “site” and “non-site” in his writing. “Site” refers to the landscapes, where he collected materials; “non-sites” to the institutional spaces where these materials were presented. Several artists have taken over his terminology. Even though we like the dichotomy, we wondered if the non-site is so very different from the site, in the sense that also in an institutional space, history and politics continue and change.
Scope: Could we perhaps say that in some ways the film is an embodiment of this non-site, which comes alive during projection? I like this potential of a film to harbour the in-between—neither original, nor institutional, its material and metaphorical value largely depends upon it being projected.
Van Brummelen & de Haan: That is a nice interpretation. One could say that the in between space of site/non-site is created by the screening, that the artifact, or in this case the film, is a mediator between the two spheres.
Scope: The first time I saw the film, I immediately thought of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s L’itinéraire de Jean Bricard (2008). The films are very different of course; one is an “itinerary” (a circular one, both terrifying and beautiful), the other a “view,” but both provide a meditation in movement of a land imbued with a complex and tragic history. Was this a source of inspiration at all, whether for its content or form?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: Trained at a time when the ideas of Gramsci, Bourdieu, and Foucault determined the cultural climate, we learned to see Impressionist paintings as status goods; art museums as prescribers of good taste; and classical Greek culture as the ultimate representation of values imposed onto the subjugated classes by a dominant elite. It was actually through the work of Straub-Huillet, and more particularly films like Moses and Aaron (1973), Class Relations (1984), and The Death of Empedocles (1987) that canonic works of art and literature became accessible to us again. So their work has indeed influenced us. But due to a strange course of events, View from the Acropolis was filmed in early spring of 2008, and finished only in 2012. So their Itinéraire and our View were made more or less simultaneously. We’ve actually still not seen it. In the Netherlands the films of Straub-Huillet are hardly shown, unfortunately.
Scope: I was initially surprised by the soundtrack. I don’t recall any of your other films having non-diegetic music. It’s a very dense, layered and complex electronic score. Can you talk about this decision and working with the composer?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: The soundtrack was indeed artificially created: no diegetic sound involved. And it is something we have not done before. Actually it was a chemical process that guided us to this decision.
We recorded View from the Acropolis on Kodak Plus X, a rather fine-grained black-and-white 35mm film stock. Two years ago Kodak stopped producing it. On location, we recorded four rolls of 120 metres and had them developed by a local Turkish lab. The developed negatives turned out to be so dense and opaque that they could not be printed. It was later confirmed by Kodak that the lab had used a dated stop bath that had caused our negatives to over-develop.
A couple of years later we discussed the issue with a lab from Belgium. They told us we could still print the footage, if we would scan the negatives digitally, grade the scanned material to a normal density, and then record the images back onto negative. So it turned out that the footage was not completely lost, as we had presumed. But we needed a digital intermediate.
Due to the over-developing of the camera negative, some of the scenes showed “streakiness,” storms of silver halide crystals, tempests of film grain. A historian who was present at one of the screenings could hardly believe that we recorded all the footage ourselves and was convinced that we had used film material from the days that Humann excavated Pergamon and Schliemann Troy. Although recorded with the idea of creating a silent film, we decided to dedicate the film to the swirling grain, which today has become almost absent in cinema. Since the idea of our portable monument had been to create alternatives for the “original,” and we had needed to replace our camera original for a digital copy, we felt that it was appropriate to artificially create a soundtrack to the filmed images of the site of origin.
Painter and sound artist Arnout Killian generated the tones of wind, landmasses, and the humming of encroaching urbanity with a Nord modular synthesizer. The rather baroque soundtrack and swirling grain make View from the Acropolis quite an unusual film work for us, even though subject, framing, point-of-view, and rhythm are similar to our other films. Unplanned, View from the Acropolis became a sort of dialectic of original and recreation; of matter and the virtual. Having said all this, we’re still figuring out what the film is about.
Scope: How does the land itself permeate with such a desecration or pilfering (and so many centuries later)? How did you feel looking down from the former site of the Pergamon altar? And what drew you there? How best to represent such an absence?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: To us, the looted acropolis presents the hidden side of modernity, the inextricably linked counterpart to the neat and clear order in the museum. What we like about landscapes is that they defy categorization. At the acropolis of Pergamon, in Bergama in current-day Turkey, history merges organically with the contemporary. An army base with troops performing a choreography evokes Pergamon’s military past. The river Caecus, at the banks of which the skirmishes with the Celts had taken place, was transformed into an artificial lake. The urban sprawl surrounding the acropolis seamlessly blends into the antique fragments.
Scope: You’ve recently shown View from the Acropolis at TIFF and the Berlinale, thus in a film-festival context. Does the film suffer from being shown on its own, without its constituent parts that make up Monument to Another Man’s Fatherland? Does it take on another meaning, a more mysterious or ambiguous one for example?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: We’ve shown the other parts of Monument to Another Man’s Fatherland separately as well. Meaning indeed is influenced when parts are shown together or individually. Different contexts bring some layers to the fore whereas others become more difficult to grasp. But one of the reasons for making the monument portable and fragmented was that our “monument” could be re-contextualized, combined with other works, shown in different settings, and in this way create new connections.
Heritage museums often want to control the interpretation of works in their collection. The Pergamon Museum is not unique in this; other heritage collections do this as well. For subi dura a rudibus (2010), a 16mm diptych of a 16th-century series of tapestries and their cartoons (designs), we collaborated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the Palacio Real in Madrid.
The tapestries show the Conquest of Tunis and were designed by the Dutch painter Cornelis Vermeijen, who travelled embedded with the troops of Charles V to make drawings of the conquest. The tapestries and cartoons depict battle scenes but also include self-portraits of the artist sketching in situ. The established art-historical interpretation is that the painter included the self-portraits to convince the viewer that his drawings were based on first-hand observations and were therefore true to the events. As contemporary artists, we speculated that the painter, by including himself in the battle scene, surrounded by opposing troops, could also have aimed to make the viewer aware of his embeddedness and thus raise the question: Can such a representation truly be objective? Whose truth is he presenting?
The institutions were not at ease with our deviant interpretation. They presented extensive contracts and insisted that we create a written scenario that would describe exactly how we would frame “their” patrimony.
Scope: Your work displays a strong authorial cohesion. This project appears closely related to Grossraum (the paradoxes and perils of an expanding EU), as much as to Monument of Sugar (relocation of artworks across geographic boundaries) and the aforementioned subi dura a rudibus. The political preoccupations are similar, but so is the style: your long fluid takes, the precise sense of rhythm, and the documentary aspects, which swell with the potential for fiction. There’s also a monumentality (no pun intended!) to your filmmaking so rare in general, but especially for work coming from visual artists. Do you have a technical film background?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: Although we do our own camera work, grip, production, editing, sound recording, etc. we were not trained as filmmakers, but have a background in art and philosophy. From painting we learned that a spectator can choose his or her own trajectory when viewing an image, and that’s why we prefer long, slow takes of layered landscapes. Philosophy provided sensitivity to the material ontology of filmmaking and some conceptual anchors.
Scope: How important is the research aspect of your “practice?” And how do you feel about the word “practice?” I have an allergy to it, perhaps stubbornly on account of its sudden and flagrant overuse, but also because it sounds so clinical for something that should be closer to a vocation, a calling, a passion…
Van Brummelen & de Haan: Producing films and artworks is indeed a passion, but so are fishing and farming. We understood from North American friends that in the Anglo-Saxon world the word “practice” is associated with dentists and lawyers, but we don’t share the aversion to the word. To us, practice is a counterpart to theory and denotes getting one’s hands dirty in the field.
Praxis is one of the three basic activities that Aristotle distinguished. It refers to political action in everyday life. Theoria is Greek for contemplation. Poiesis indicates a striving to create something that can exist outside of temporality. Philosophers can make such clear distinctions, but to us artists, domains are overlapping, and boundaries blurred. We shuttle back and forth between different domains, and in the meantime try to induce metaphors, create space for contemplation, and question the boundaries of today’s fragmented political landscape.
Scope: Has art become too theoretical with the ubiquity of institutionalized curatorial studies departments and programs? Does original thought still exist in the field?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: In disciplines around philosophy it is often suggested that practice should be informed by theory. We would propose to turn this around. Theoria, in Greek, indicates looking, looking at things.
What has been seen is nowadays rarely recounted by observers in their own words and connected to personal experience. Instead, works of art are reduced to content and used to illustrate current theories and political positions.
We already mentioned that artists and filmmakers are increasingly required to not only create artworks but also deliver an interpretation, pitched in a suggestive idiom imported from critical theory. Although studying theory can lead to new insights—and there is nothing wrong with concepts being smuggled from one domain to another in order to take on new meaning—it seems as if the imported vocabulary is primarily being used by many creators in order to place their work in the theoretical discourses that are currently in fashion. In other words: the language of theory principally serves to advertise the work to others.
Couldn’t makers come up with an idiom of their own, with their own insights, methods and propositions, based on their practice, to question and complement the contemporary theoretical discourse, instead of letting their practice become subservient to what is deemed to be theoretically relevant?
Scope: Can you give an example of how you’ve enacted this very proposition? I think specifically of the artist books that you’ve created that are an essential component to your film installations. Within these, one senses the importance of the descriptive, of the record, and of the necessary negotiations—whether successful or not—which ultimately become woven into the fabric of the works themselves.
Van Brummelen & de Haan: We developed an artistic practice in which aesthetics arise from research into sociopolitical fabric. Many of our films are accompanied by written material that expresses the research trajectory and gives some insight into why we opted for one route or perspective rather than another. Often we publish texts as supplements to films. Occasionally textual narratives are integrated into the films themselves.
Grossraum (Borders of Europe), for example, consists of a silent 35mm film and an accompanying publication. In the film, a sovereign wandering cinema-eye explores divided landscapes along Europe’s border in the way that a scrutinizing eye contemplates a painting. Instead of following the geopolitical boundary, the camera chooses its own trajectory and lingers on settlements of temporary infrastructure, vegetation, traffic, or clouds projecting shades on a landmass. The publication—comprised of a travelogue and a selection of correspondence with officials and collaborators—expresses the experiences behind the camera. It makes clear that the cinema-eye’s freedom was in fact conditioned, as camera viewpoints had to be negotiated, and soldiers, smugglers, and press-and-information officers, were watching over our shoulder during the recordings.
Monument of Sugar consists of a sugar sculpture and a film essay in which documentary footage and running titles alternate. The film essay shows and tells how the “monument” was produced. In this particular project one could actually wonder if the “art work” is the physical sculpture, or the film essay disclosing its production process.
Also, in addition to Monument to Another Man’s Fatherland, we produced some textual supplements. We recently published “Follow the Hybrid,” an essay about the artistic research preceding this commissioned work, but we also made an index to the photo montage of reproductions of the Pergamon altar. The index records in what publications we traced the images, what audience they served, what photographic techniques were used, in what setting the sculptures were photographed, the quality of the printed image, and in the cases where we found several images of the same figures, why we opted to use one image rather than another. The index, in short, traces the monument’s photographic and institutional history of representation.
Scope: Most of your projects include films that have either been shot on Super 8, 16mm, or 35mm. Will you continue to shoot on film? Why is this important to you?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: We indeed have a strong preference for working with film instead of digital media. Digital technology forces one into “blackboxing,” to slightly misuse a term by Bruno Latour. By this we mean that when you use digital technology you operate devices which you don’t understand how they work internally. Seeing how a film camera shifts a filmstrip covered with emulsion past the lens, one can imagine how the magic works. But what happens inside a Canon Mark II 5D? Inside an Arri Alexa? Or inside a 4K projector? Nobody really knows.
The analogue cinema apparatus is very suitable for filming matter, particularly matter in motion, mechanical transportation, working bodies, etc. But what sort of cinematic language suits a black box? That of mystification, like the Delphic Oracle? We haven’t quite figured it out.
We mentioned that we often disclose how works were produced in written material. It’s for similar reasons that we favour a presentation with projectors present in the space. In cinema, the equipment that produces the images and sounds is hidden in a booth, to maintain the illusion, to allow viewers to lose themselves in the cinematic experience. The exhibition space allows us to present the projector as part of an installation. A film projector transporting a perforated filmstrip with a series of still images past a beam of light discloses how illusion is created by the cinema apparatus.
On the other end, in museums, the regime of the painting and the video installation is imposed onto a fragile medium such as the film installation. This means that much of our time is devoted to building a two- or eight-person cinema in spaces that are not suitable for film projection; to adapting 16mm film projectors, so that they are able to project non-stop; to explaining to museum technicians that projectors were not made for these heavy- duty conditions.
Scope: What are you working on now?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: Some years ago we noticed that many of our favourite films were films on fishing. Perhaps it is something in our Dutch background. Visconti’s La Terra Trema (1948); Flaherty’s Man of Aran (1934); the wild nautical film by Grainger and Jones, Heroes of the North Sea (1925); Shoot the Nets..! (1951) by Van der Horst on herring fishing, etc. So, two years ago, we too, started working on a film on fishing. The film will be partly documentary, partly staged, and intersected with notes on fieldwork. It will premiere at the Kunsthaus Zürich in September 2013, although we will hold some previews at other places in May.
During our many talks with fishermen we discovered that fishing has many parallels to filmmaking. For instance, both filmmakers and fishermen are in the business of catching something slippery. And the old 35mm camera that we used turned out to have been produced in the same period that the fishermen’s ships were built; both go back to the time when things were big, bulky, and solid. While the fishermen lamented that their ships were being scrapped, Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection, Fuji announced that it was ceasing to make motion-picture film, and the last film lab in the Netherlands, Cineco Haghefilm, declared bankruptcy.
Scope: Are you confident that you’ll be able to continue working on film?
Van Brummelen & de Haan: We don’t believe in technological determinism, and would always prefer to be able to choose the medium that best suits a given subject or approach. But it is increasingly less certain that photochemical film will remain available to artists and filmmakers. We worked with analogue film for about 15 years. It was worth it, though always costing all our money and a lot of hassle, but recently prices have dramatically gone up, materials are more and more scarce, knowledge is rapidly disappearing, and being able to present on film is becoming more and more rare, particularly in the art context. We regret this, because we like the physicality of the medium, but the changed context influences not only the production conditions but also the meaning of works produced and shown on film. This all causes us to rethink our stance, and our practice—to once more use this contested word.