Through March 3, the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow is presenting an exhibition devoted to the work of filmmaker Harun Farocki. The show includes workshops, seminars, screenings, discussions, and three of Farocki’s two-channel video installations, I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts, 2000, Comparison via a Third, 2007, and Immersion, 2009, as well as a selection of thirteen other works spanning his career. Here, the artist discusses Immersion and In Comparison, 2009, his most recent film and a companion piece to Comparison via a Third, employing overlapping themes and footage.
BOTH IMMERSION AND IN COMPARISON use repetition in their formal structures. As early as my first film, Inextinguishable Fire, 1969, I worked with repetition and variations, probably influenced by reading books, including Brecht and Beckett, and listening to classical music. Because I love to work with few elements, I have to combine them in various ways. A language with a large vocabulary, like English, can make do with a simple grammar, but a language with fewer words has to find more ways to combine them. Even from watching narrative films, one can learn how important repetition and variation are: Most locations appear at least twice. This occurs for economic reasons, but it also structures the film, and makes you compare scene A with A¹.
For In Comparison, I wanted to make a film about concomitance, and about contemporary production on a range of different technical levels. So I looked for an object that had not changed too much in the past few thousand years. This could have been a shoe or a knife, but a brick becomes part of a building and therefore part of our environment. So the brick appears as something of a poetic object. I follow its mode of creation and use in Africa, India, and Europe. The issue of labor and production is something I’ve often pursued. In recent years I’ve made a number of films about the immaterial work we find in our own postindustrial countries. My work is also quite immaterial.
The concept for Immersion began when my collaborator, Matthias Rajmann, sent me a newspaper clipping about the introduction of a computer program called “Virtual Iraq” in the US. When using the system, veterans and traumatized soldiers watch a simulation of the scene that traumatized them, and then verbally repeat what happened. Because I knew from my research for earlier works that soldiers use similar computer animations for training, I thought this would be a striking similarity/opposition: The same kinds of images are used both to prepare for the war and to deal with its aftermath. However, the animations for therapeutic purposes are made a bit more cheaply, so no people or things in them cast a shadow. But does imagination need shadows?
Immersion is presented on two screens. Since 1995, when I was first asked to produce something for an art space, I have often worked with double projections. Here the situation is quite simple: We see a person on one side, and what he or she sees on the system’s head-mounted display appears on the other channel. This can also be done with two images on a single screen in a theater, and I have in fact shown Immersion in cinemas and at festivals. One could say that art spaces have appropriated cinema—but the reverse also happens.