Im Freien (2011)
Interview for TIE
NM : One of the principal features of your body of work has been an exploration of the human subject (body) within the confines of an introspective contained synthetic space. You break from those specific parameters in the landscape sequence featured in Vom innen; von aussen, where the human subject (you) is momentarily situated within a noticeably pristine presentation of the natural world. The context of your new film is self-consciously external. Can you comment about what motivated the dialectical change of setting for the "events" that populate Im Freien (In The Open)?
In my earlier films I focused on the human subject by total elimination of its surrounding space. The body was set free in a neutral black box, only referring to the camera and to itself. Thus the human was acting in a solely filmic space. Through partly integrating the real world in Vom Innen; von aussen the human being became a mediator between the abstract and the real spaces – coming from synthetic emptiness and shifting to pure sunlight and sheer natural scenes. The initial idea for Im Freien came from having led the body outside in the former film. In my first concepts, I was thinking about using my body for major parts of the film again – this time permanently being outside - and occasionally introducing artificial elements as synthetic backgrounds for the body performances. The landscape should have been flat and endlessly wide – like a giant stage. From this starting point, the process developed in a direction that made the interaction of camera and landscape, the shape and character of the scenery and the special shooting process itself much more important than the acting body. As it turned out, the outside location is no longer a restrained stage. It is the center of the film. Everything that happens in Im Freien is necessarily happening there. It is inseparable from that distinct venue.
I think your change of focus is quite evident in Im Freien, which results in the totally distinct feel and tone of the film. The new external setting, in addition to becoming the principle character, also seems to provide a new thematic focus – Time. My perception is that the sense of linear time in the film gives it a much more narrative quality, which is ironic because of the comparative lack of human presence. The sense of narrative is punctuated by the structure of the film where “events” are bookended with images of the raw setting. From your description, it sounds like the film coalesced somewhat organically within the general parameters you approached it with starting out. Were you aware of an emerging narrative as the film was being made? Was a linear sense of time something that you thought about in advance of making the film?
An organic flow was essential in producing the film – without it Im Freien could not have been made. A variety of flexible determining factors had to be taken into account during the shooting period. From the time of conceiving the initial ideas for the film to the time that we started production, I developed several more or less precise scenes and general progressions that I wanted to take place in the film. Shooting was a continuous uninterrupted process that lasted for three months. We shot one single frame every three minutes for three months. That was the basic principle that defined the whole production. There were the three of us working the camera in shifts – all day and night, meanwhile we maintained our camp, and the other things we needed. Circumstances like the frequently challenging weather and our general fatigue had a serious impact on our ability to continue. I regularly had to change plans more or less significantly because of unforeseen elements on location. The goal was to let strict ideas meld with effective possibilities. It was a steady learning process. Because of our will not to stop the production, the film strongly represents itself as being a document of its own production - the act of making the film becomes one of its major themes. (Actually, we had to stop the shooting twice for a few days, once because of extremely bad storms and once at the very beginning because of my own mismanagement with my physical and psychic powers.)
Initially, I was never thinking of the film in terms of narration, but I became aware of the kind of narration that is produced by the particular arrangement. I generally think of the structure of my films in terms of a “vessel” or a “grid” - the structure becomes the grounding for my films. Looking at the basic structure as a grid, I had the notion of placing all the elements into it – by following the timeline from beginning to end. Im Freien was done in a completely linear way. The succession of images in the film reflects the actual continuity of time while shooting at the location. The linear sense of time was a crucial matter for the conception process. It was very important for me that the film communicates a feeling of years passing. I thought that a quarter of the year would be a sufficient slice of time after choosing the specific location for the film. We went north to higher latitude, where the sun does not set in the middle of the summer. In the beginning of the film, it never gets dark, but as it progresses the nighttime becomes longer and longer. It becomes a more substantial part of the film. This was an important factor in choosing the location. The way the elements or events are placed one by one into the linear grid of time creates narration. Additionally, some of those elements seem to have a kind of narrative background by themselves.
Much of Im Freien is dedicated to an exploration of the real and perceived boundaries that exist between image and object. There are moments in the film where distinctions between the two become particularly ambiguous. Could you comment on the physical connection that exists in Im Freien between the tangible material of film and the tangible material of the geometric forms that populate the film? Specifically, the moments when color is used to destabilize the boundaries between the two. The mirror object also complicates these relationships in its own way. Can you comment on your thoughts behind its presence in the film?
The monochrome colored frames show up quite surprisingly. When you see them for the first time you can’t understand their origin. It seems as if the appearance of this new element does not fit into the language of the film and at this point it really doesn’t. A little later you see the colored cube and are able to make the connection. At that point, you understand that the earlier synthetic seeming color is actually the surface of the object placed into the landscape. Therefore, the monochrome frames originate visually in the same way as the rest of the images in the film. This on the one hand destabilizes the boundaries between image and object as you describe it, but it also produces a new kind of trust in the film. It shows that the origin of everything you see in the 23 minutes is constant and the same – an exterior frame photographed every three minutes – the film is always “speaking the truth“ about itself. As the viewer finds out, the parts that seem unfamiliar at first are produced by the same linear time-lapse, they might be more able and willing to follow the film in a way that lets them get the most out of it. For me it is an example for how reliance is created by going through uncertainty. Everything I work with is tangible – the recording media of film is tangible and what it records is also tangible. So are the geometric forms, which are different elements of an object that at the end appears as a solid cube, a house or a projection space. The object was designed to portray a variety of possible appearances. To accomplish that, we had to use our hands and our body – our physical strength. We had to carry and to hold the objects, to carefully place them etc. Often for every single frame, or every few frames, we had to change something. That meant we had to physically manipulate objects and camera-settings. Not by pushing a button, but raising, carrying, placing, correcting everything by hand. Because of the style and method I used to shoot the film, it was often necessary to change settings like camera-angle, exposure or lenses, by hand, every three minutes. It is a handmade film, although in a different way than working in the dark room or directly on the film material. The mirror is one of the “strangers” in Im Freien. When it first appears, it is placed in the water on the sandy ground of the creek. The surface of the water reflects the hill and the sky – so does the mirror, but it shows the setting in different detail – in a different kind of clarity. The little waves, the refraction by the water, the sand covering the mirror, the changing daylight – together they produce diverse layers of views, united in the viewfinder. A photographed mirror might in one way always reflect the act of seeing through something else than the own eyes – it does here too. Additionally, this mirror-scene for me, more or less, is a conscious reference to Maya Deren. The monochrome colors are references to Paul Sharits. Various other scenes reference films by other authors. The works of people like Snow, Kren, Dekeukeleire or Markopoulos had a big influence on my general approach. Aspects of Im Freien hint at parts of film history. Of some of the references I was not really aware while shooting. I discovered them after the fact.
It’s interesting how things like that can be more clearly understood retrospectively…. Another destabilization occurs through the contrast between the performance by the manikin character and the “bodyperformance”. It is another iteration of the idea of natural and synthetic we’ve been talking about. To me this element projects a very different feeling than the objects. Its intention is not simply optical or material. I think the same feeling was concentrated in the white mask that appears. It then appears on the “bodyperformer” as a flesh-tone mask. It makes the film feel primordial, and a little terrifying.
The contrast of natural and synthetic is a major subject in all of my films. In my earlier works, I used to force the human body into artificial parameters, in which it often had to act more in a machine-like way, than in a genuine human way. Some of the brief “bodyperformances” in Im Freien are also done in this forced manner that makes the body act with clock-like accuracy. But, there are other moments, which have a more human intention and expression. For example, when the hands touch the ground to get in contact with earth and stones. The appearances of the manikin and the mask add more facets in the range of contradictions between natural and synthetic. Concerning the human being, those oppositions can also be seen as representing life and death, instead of natural and synthetic. The silicon-mask is made from a cast of my own face, like a death-mask. In the film, you see the white solid (positive) cast which replaces my face, you see the silicon-mask on my face and you see the silicon-mask on the white cast. These elements and their combinations are literally about “facing“ death. The presence of the manikin is located in the same area of meaning. It first appears in the night in a scene that might have a spiritual connotation. This is also the first time when artificial light is used at night and the gloomily lighted torso in the triangle in the cave to me gives the scene a “lord of darkness“ feeling. Soon it reappears, ”falling down“ a rock slope, briefly rearing up and then staying still and lifeless. It’s as if we are witnessing it in the act of dying. Only in the last scene of the film, when the puppet is used for a cinematic shadow play that alludes also to „Vom Innen; von aussen“ its impression is not on the dark side anymore.
Your film exhibits qualities that could be described as epic, mythic, pagan and even occult. Points in your last response, to me, verify that perspective. The film also utilizes the language of allegory, which gives it a literary tone. Your focus on pure geometries could be understood as Modernist, or a comment on Modernism. Could you describe some of your influences that are not specific to avant-garde film?
There are a variety of influences from, and references to, things that do not have any relation to film. Obviously, the geometric forms and objects in the film look like a reference to Modernism or Minimalism. In the way they populate the landscape, they might also make you think about land-art. All those references definitely exist for me, although I did not specifically want to comment on, or relate to, them. In the process of conception, I was thinking about a simple basic object that could have a variety of different appearances. The original idea for the object was a “mobile stage“. Later, I gave it more functions. I tried to design it in a way that the individual elements were useful too – as man-made elements with synthetic rhythms contrasting the rough nature and its organic rhythms. I was studying at that time with Heimo Zobernig who concerns himself a lot with the history of art, specially sculpture of the last century. That definitely had an influence on how I was thinking about that. My earlier studies with Peter Kubelka of course had a major influence on how I think about film in general. The photographic ancestors of cinema, notably Etienne Jules Marey, are crucial for my approach. In addition to a range of various periods and artists in art history, I would also name musical influences to be very important for how I construct scenes and progressions, for example, J. B. Bach. My films never have sound because for me they produce their own sounds visually through the succession of images.
Like synesthesia? Can you describe what you mean in more detail? Is the sound in the film an auditory byproduct of the Eisenstein’s idea of the collision of images (editing as collision)? Is it based in color, form? Do you think (or expect) your audience has the same response?
It's a bit of everything you name. I think you partially could call it an auditory byproduct of the collision of images. What I am speaking about mainly is the sound that comes through the differences of succeeding images, which in my films does not necessarily signify a cut. A cut between two different scenes or camera-views produces a clear punctual beat. Also an abrupt variation of one specific element in an otherwise steady frame produces a similar beat, maybe less loud. There are a lot of scenes like this in Im Freien. Vom Innen; von aussen was entirely done like this. The camera-view is still and steady but inside the frame there are permanent rhythmic changes of specific elements, frame by frame. In the former film it was my own body, here it's mainly objects that change positions or colors. Every modification produces a part of the rhythmic "score" of the film. In addition to those rhythms, every scene has its own special acoustic color, depending on forms, colors, lights etc. In "Im Freien" this timbre constantly floats and changes because of the changing lights and moods. And there also is the subtle sound that only comes from the very tiny differences in totally steady scenes that occur for example from wind-movements. All those layers combine to produce the acoustic score. It is not exactly the same score every time I see the film, but in general it stays the same each time. I am not sure if the audience has the same response. I know friends, musicians and filmmakers who have responded similarly - not only to my films of course. Every time I see a film that has no sound, an audible score is produced that way. In my films, I put intense effort into this kind of score, always being mindful of the effects on both the eye and ear. Don't know if that's got to do anything with synesthesia, but it’s definitely the reason that I never feel the desire to have sound in my films after having finished the shooting.
I feel like my last question is unabashedly predictable. I guess it is also important to finally address what this interview is intended to be about – Cinema and Sculpture. Im Freien strikes a new direction for you. It is evidenced by a number of aspects in the film that we’ve discussed. Chris also told me that you’ve recently completed graduate study in the discipline of sculpture, which is also evidenced in the film. What do you envision for your creative practice in the future? How do you see your interest and practice in sculpture intersecting with your dedicated creative practice as a filmmaker? How do you neatly, or not so neatly, satisfy and sustain your manifold creative impulses?
I did graduate this summer in a class for "textual sculpture" in Vienna, that's right. My diploma project was the discussed film, presented as an installed projection. That means that Im Freien was shown on 16mm, projected into the same cube which appears in different forms in the film. The last scene of Im Freien that I mentioned above, when the torso is making a turn through the whole screen in a cinematic shadow play is a direct clue to that form of presentation. The installation version is a different kind of appearance for the work, but it has the same value as the cinema-projection. In the installation, the film itself on the one hand looses some focused attention, but the work taken as a whole on the other hand also wins by the additional aspects. You see all the marks of the shooting process on the object, like the demolitions from the wind. The entire big cube was blown down the hill after we finished shooting the film. You see the painted titles. You can recognize the individual elements – the geometric forms in the film are the structural elements of the "cinema cabin". Besides this film, I really did not work on anything else during the four years I studied in that class. I did one Super-8-installation referencing McCall's "Line Describing a Cone", but no sculptures or anything. In the Viennese Academy for Fine Arts, it is not necessarily the case that students work in the media the class is named after. Studying there definitely was an artistic enrichment, though I have no desire work as a sculptor. The way that the object in the film developed and conceiving it as an installation are proof of the special impact my studies had on me. I will hopefully be able to go forward in a way that lets me unify different interests in one single work. Obviously, I'm not the kind of guy who produces a big number of works, so it is inevitable that I will put more than one special aspect of my ideas and imaginations into a film. I often wish that I made art in other medias, but in the end it always manifests into a film. Film obviously gives me the chance to put most of my personal aims into. I am happy to be able to say – without being modest – I really like and enjoy my films, especially the two that we have discussed. I feel "at home" in them, and I can learn about myself from them. Of course I hope they show their merit in a similar way to an audience other than the author himself.
Vom Innen, von Aussen (2006)
Vom Innen, von Aussen is a wonderfully unnerving, scrutinized, study of the human body within the context of its environment. The film opens with an empty apartment set in motion, revolving around a fixed point. This introduces the kinetic fixation that Sackl explores thoroughly within the film, the revolution. Implications of the revolution within man's own self-image and man's historic worldview seem to be the larger conceptual concerns of the work.
The revolution is then applied to man, himself, where Sackl plays out in a score of variations on the theme. At first, we see an unidentified nude male subject revolving clockwise on his central axis in front of a black background. It is evident that the backdrop is part of the apartment, but it clear that Sackl intends it to be an empirical environment for one portion of his study. Sackl then sets the revolving man in motion back and forth across the face of the backdrop. Sackl continues his formal investigation sending the revolving man back and forth in space. The next major development is that the image splits and we view the man in stereo. The two men's revolutions are synchronized at first, then each takes on his own timing and direction.
At this point the viewer could easily define the film as simply a visual analysis of the male figure in highly ordered motion, but then Sackl presents the environment as variable. Suddenly, the black background is lifted and anonymous natural background is presented. The landscape is initially vacant, but the spinning man soon enters stage right and makes his way back and forth, revolving all the while. The film soon cuts back to the black background where more variations are played out, the most noteworthy being the superimposition of the man's front and back. The visual biomorphism is totally bizarre. Throughout the remainder of the film, the environment continues to shift between the apartment, natural landscapes and the black backdrop. In the end, the empiricism of the blackened space is beautifully tainted by rays of sunlight that are projected onto the scene from a window behind the camera.
Ultimately, the film has a truly meditative quality, a meditation that encompasses our notions about our bodies and the rules that govern it, both environmental and self-imposed. The precision of the filmmaking is overwhelming, in a way that is echoed in the movements of the male model. Something within the tight order applied to the man's body brings to mind the iconic work of Leonardo de Vinci, which imposes perfect geometries atop the human form.
TURRET (2011) / GYRE (2009)
Interview for TIE
The forthcoming interview will focus on your two recent works TURRET (2011) and GYRE (2009). I'd like to focus first on your newest film, TURRET. The film situates itself on a very specific boarder between abstraction, representation and illusionism -- in a very particular way in which dedicates itself somewhat equally to each mode. At times the films appears as like an animated monochromatic Minimalist painting. Just as quickly it reasserts itself as a carousel frame revolving in some austere re-envisioned Hall of Mirrors. What I find particularly intriguing is how the film continually restates its literalness in opposition to the many ways that the image invites the viewer depart from the literal. Why is this such an important focus for you in this work?
One of my intentions to make TURRET was to make a film which is abstract (almost like a 3-D animation), but not. The Film is in many ways an experiment, the setting was clear, the format and the material as well, but the timing and the "Dolly-Track" was changed many times while the 3 days we were shooting the film. I knew that I wanted a lot visual information's in the beginning of TURRET, so that the fast rotating windows and the reflection of the glass could almost close the image (no back round). With the black break I had the possibility that two windows can rotate in the same direction, so that the movement of the reflection gets different in this part of the film. In the end the film shows parts of the construction (as you know) but just in the glass which even changes the image because of it´s age....
Both TURRET and GYRE, focus on spaces that are set in motion. The motion is very specific – continual seamless revolutions on a vertical axis. The root concept of space (architecture) in motion is intriguing, as it’s almost exclusively experienced as something static. Do you have certain intentions involving the type of movement you used in these films? What are your thoughts about animate architecture?
I guess I got inspired be many different things before I was shooting GYRE. There was this idea of an rotating house, which gives the viewer the possibility to observe the room inside, without knowing about the observation (in the first half of the film). My main interest was, to create thru the revolving architecture and the camera-tracking a kind of an "inside-out-panopticon".
For me the GYRE even has a "story" (for example from black to black), where TURRET is more a fragment and also the impression of the image (by the rotation) is very different. Both works are shot on 35mm film, so that the movement and materiality of the "found footage", like the grey wood of the house or the old glass of the windows could expose there analogue character very clearly.
So your films are more centered around viewership than the material quality of the enviroments you designing? I’m intrigued by your revision of the survaillence trope, particularly because the only thing viewable in the space is the space itself. Can you talk about that idea in more detail? You also describe a narrative component in GYRE. Can you explore that in a little more depth, too?
Even if the ground plan of the architecture of GYRE is polygon the shape still reminds of a house or a floor. The windows, the door (inside) and also the outside structure are creating a “real” space. TURRET is for me the more abstract film, also because it starts somewhere and it ends unexpected and except for the windows the space itself doesn’t reefer to any construction. I intend to be very precise in my work, but I also want to carry many “layers” and ideas in those films, for example the choice of the media, which “clears” at some point the artificial character of the images.
Despite their simplicity, your films do communicate “layers of ideas”. What other important ideas exist in the film that haven’t been considered? Do you consider your films to be Structuralist?
A door that cannot be opened towards the outside or a bright white rotating cube
in a black space, i would consider: paranoid film space, the uncanny or visual control. In TURRET transparent objects work in the oppositeway of what they are made for, so the windows are losing there function because of „too much visual information“.
I don´t know if my films are structural, but i hope they are conspicuous...
I think they are both conspicuous and slippery. Evident and non-evident. Shapeshifting. Can you talk finally about the relationship between Fragment_09 (Sculptural application of Cinematiclly Intentioned Sculputral Device[CISD]“) and GYRE (Cinematic represetation of Architecturally Informed Sculptural Object [AISO])?
I said once in an interview that the exhibition of FRAGMENT_09 was the teaser for GYRE. The house as the setting was partially visible in GYRE, though being exhibited separately it did not explain much about the film. Nevertheless, I would not show the
Set and the film together, because I don´t like to be didactic. Both work as fragments
in their own ways.
7 Super Violent Films (Various)
7 Super Violent Films is a small anthology of Fleisch’s early work in Super 8mm. Despite the blunt nature of the title, many of the films contain more nuanced implications concerning the nature of violence in society and in art. Each film has a unique stylistic and formal approach to the subject including: Claymation, found imagery, stop frame animation, and something that mimics a home movie. The collection as a whole is an exciting look at a filmmaker’s growth from his early filmic explorations to work that sets the stage for his award winning 16mm films, Bloodlust and Skinflick.
1. Untitled: In a simple Claymation, Fleisch distills violence to its most total and most horrific form, the homicide. The film, entirely devoted to the act itself, presents an interesting twist. An omnipotent hammer smashes both the victim and the perpetrator leaving us to wonder about the role of divinity in ongoing practice of human violence. A lighthearted humorist tone relieves the grim nature of the subject.
2. Guten Appetzugler: This short has the air of a didactic medical school film, complete with sterilized surgical gloves. A mouse is disemboweled and the meaning of the title is revealed.
3. Untitled (People Keep Asking Me ‘Bout My Influences): In the form of a visual montage, Fleisch presents a grotesque array of violent images from both “low” and “high” sources. En masse, the images comment on the pervasiveness of violence in our cultural representations, in a way that leads us to consider their influence on all of us.
4. High Tech Heimwerker: The first of two films in the collection where Fleisch acts as the perpetrator of violence. The victim, in this case, is technology. An array of high-tech devices disintegrate beneath Fleisch’s crashing and smashing. The film could be assessed as a Luddite’s call to arms, but the filmmaker employs high tech “weaponry” in his attack.
5. Untitled: Fleisch turns his aggression on the camera in this short film. The eerie effect is that the camera assumes the first person point-of-view, implicating the viewer as the attacked. The hazy images of the film become more and more haunting as the optics of the camera break down under Fleisch’s forceful blows.
6. Eiskalt: Perhaps the most chilling work in the retrospective. The film portrays the benign pathos of an amateur home movie, the record of a winter holiday. Darkness quietly shatters the lighthearted pastoral scene.
7. Untitled: The final work of the film presents a wonderful visual marker in the career of the artist. The film synthesizes subject matter explored in Fleisch’s later work. The film acts as both a handsome bookend for the retrospective, and as introduction to Fleisch’s “mature” work.
Careless Reef-Abu Kiffen (2004)
In a static underwater adventure, award-winning Dutch filmmaker Gerard Holthuis presents an unusual revision of a traditional aquatic journey. Oceanic films generally focus on the explosive life force of coral reefs. They are typically defined by the frenzied darting of fish, and the bizarre movements of coral. This film subverts these time-honored tenants through visually presenting the reef in ultra-slow motion. Movements are so slow that the entire order of the aquatic world is changed.
The dynamic of the school is also called into question within the film. It opens with a retracted point-of-view where the entity of the reef is visually defined as a collective. This focal point shifts to an individual fish that emerges from the anonymity of the collective. Holthuis presents this paradigmatic shift in a way that is richly ambiguous.
Blocking brings together two of the Avant-garde’s favorite preoccupations: found footage film, and physical manipulation of the medium itself. The found footage in Blocking, comes from a theatrical trailer for a large budget feature film. Subtitles contextualize the footage as originating in a non-Spanish-speaking country. To achieve its wonderful optical quality, Marin soaked the film in water long enough for it to start breaking down. The effect is visually sublime. The image in the film is almost totally obliterated, freeing the dyes to wash over the celluloid. The effect bears a remarkable resemblance to the painting technique developed by Max Ernst known as Frottage, in its web-like formations. Inexplicably, the subtitling of the film somehow escapes total erosion. Spanish phrases flicker in and out of the ominous oozing color formations, adding elements of human structure to the nebulous articulations of form and color.