Frost (!) Cracks and ruptures by Branka Bencic

…Frost (!) Cracks and ruptures…*
by Branka Benčić

* Damir Očko, Spring, 2012

As the “architecture of language anatomically based on the skeleton
of sounds”1, Damir Očko’s works represent a dialogue between the
languages of film and poetry, while the intertextual relationship between
poetry and the visual arts shapes the field of discourse subjected to
continuous research in contemporary artistic practices. Moments of
poetic experience, such as poetic images, are not strictly limited to
literary genres but can be materialised in all kinds of texts. This means
that the circumstances of the discourse are dislocated, that the meaning
is intertextually intertwined and can unexpectedly emerge at the surface.
In further readings, a text can inspire the activity, guaranteeing it an
“expanded reproduction”.
Conceptual apparatuses of poetry and film intertwined like a double
spiral are the two backbones and the axes that Damir Očko builds his
works upon, revealing themselves as places of complex orchestrations.
While the film in its material, visual objectivity interweaves with poetry
in imaginary and narrative spaces, the visual poetry of almost protocinematic
character in the form of musical scores and collages finds
its place in the exhibition space, creating fragments of an alternative
storyboard, a screenplay, a precise structure of a sound-making.
Since Damir Očko does not use screenplays in his films in the usual,
conventional way, his films are not preceded by a screenplay but by a
literary poetic model.

...Frost (!) Cracks and ruptures...

... reads the first line, at the very beginning of the poem SPRING (2012),
building the narrative of the eponymous film. Here Damir Očko seems
to underscore and anticipate certain interests, concepts, procedures,
processes, and “images” which become key places that constitute his
works of art.
Artistic systems of poetry and film in Damir Očko’s works create a
combination of different relations. What kind of relations exactly?
Spaces of poetry and film are not here to correspond and illustrate.
Poetry is not here to merely accompany the film, but to use a series of
images, fragments, voices to enable a transfer, to create new images, a
universe parallel to the visual one, occasionally to confront it, to almost
distract us from immersing into a single story, generating multiplicity,
association fields, reminding us that the artwork is a complex
fragmentary structure.
Poetry and film, words, sounds, and images, as well as accompanying
collages speak of “a world somehow disjointed”.2 In the words of Georges
Perec, “... we vaguely feel cracks, gaps, friction points; sometimes we
have an impression that it gets stuck, snaps or collides ...”3.
It is in these places – gaps, voids, cracks and ruptures – that meaning is
formed, the meaning which sometimes cannot be verbally articulated
and focus on encountering the work as a specific experience. “Damir
Očko’s works are part of a constellation of ideas at once dense,
melancholic, and poetic, where the individual elements call and respond
to one another, like a soundscape at the edge of imagination, between
hope and oblivion, between reality and fiction.”4
In his works, be it film or works on paper, we recognise a collage
structure made of several interrelated elements that constitute a specific
fragmentary narrative dissolving fixed constellations. In the film, the
narrator’s voice reading original poetry intertwines with filmed material
and layers of sound effects. The seam binding Očko’s work together is
established by the fluidity of language, film procedures, and a series of
partially connected images. In them, conditional narration complicates
relationships, and the work forms a new field of understanding and
opens up new semantic processes. Something like a deliberate failure
of functions of narrative conventions is present in order to prevent
usual perception, challenging the certainty of expectation. The relation
between form and content is more and more loose, finally becoming
arbitrary. This state of arbitrariness, a gap between expectations or an
impossible encounter, manifests itself as “a technique that dismantles
the intimate and necessary links joining the real to semblance”5. The
point is to depict the very power of fiction as fiction, to cognate the
efficiency of illusion as real; transposing parts of reality into an image
can seem like conceding to lose the immediate touch with the real.
Damir Očko’s artistic production places film works in the center of
interest, which expands and develops through a series of visual and
graphic elements – like collage, objects, sound installations, 16mm film
sketches, studies, typographic scores on the edges of visual poetry, or
artists’ books – that revolve around the film. This is meant as a structure
gathering and generating a series of formal elements for the purpose
of the production of meaning, associations, and emotions, highlighting
precisely the process-orientation in a work of art. Očko skilfully
administers references of different origins without explicitly revealing
them; he processes and reshapes them, reminding that the essence
of his works is really hidden in layers, surgically precise structure, and
ambiguity.
His works cannot be decoded unilaterally. However, albeit complex,
they can be experienced on a level that does not always require or
necessitate previous knowledge or pre-text, because meaning or effect
sometimes seems to be perceived through osmosis, through the skin,
through subtle understanding/communication, even though these are
complex conceptualisations as a result of artistic exploration, present
in the exhibition space to direct attention to the process of creating a
work of art, its stages and fragments. In that way the artist often gives
the observers and visitors the role of explorers ready to grasp the layers
of works either intuitively or evocatively, like new systems of articulating
knowledge.
The multiplicity and complexity of a work of art is something that Italo
Calvino references in the chapter dedicated to multiplicity in his Six
Memos for the Next Millennium: “… the least thing is seen at the center
of a network of relationships ... Whatever the starting point, the matter
in hand spreads out and out, encompassing ever vaster horizons, and if
it were permitted to go on further and further in every direction, it would
end by embracing the entire universe.”6
In Damir Očko’s case, some works and the very exhibition serve as a
complex spatial and discursive form that becomes a conceptual apparatus
and an elaborate system open to rereading, while the arrangement
of formative elements results in a unity thanks to a consistent visual
language.
The display space is structured around the film as the central point
generating a series of different studies, situations, and elements, like
a series of “structures” – visual, textual graphic works, scores, and
collages.
The film is usually placed within a meticulously devised architectural
structure, which creates an isolated space of the black box for the film’s
viewing; and its external shape determines the orientation and dynamics
of the entire display in the exhibition space.
The film and collage are perceived as constructions; editing and cuts
engage a layered ambiguity and semantic transfer of elements in order
to create a work of art depicting different interruptions and new forms.
The collage is the image of discontinuity and a mental form; it provokes
a fracture in reception analogue to the fragmentariness of artistic
creation, while montage as the key procedure assumes the formation
of a contemporary aesthetic experience, producing the visual language
of fragments, unstable, uncertain forms.7 These fractures – which build
(or dissolve) the idea of collage and montage, as procedure and art form
– represent a subversive fantasy and new formal possibilities of radical
subjectivity. They represent a gap in the tissue of reality, as a subversion
of the model of meaning’s rational construction, a kaleidoscope of
psychological elements operating on the metonymical principle.8
The (artist) film itself is thus taken as a structure; it represents an
elaborate system gathering and generating a series of formal, technical,
and structural elements for the purpose of the production of meaning,
emotion, and affect, and consisting of an imbuing, organic union of
image and sound.
The exhibition The Kingdom of Glottis 9 gathered three films by Damir
Očko – The Moon shall never take my Voice (2010), We saw nothing but
the uniform blue of the Sky (2012), and SPRING – to direct his artistic
exploration towards the aesthetic, performative, and political potential of
human voice, (in)ability to speak, flaws and shortcomings, political and
physiological predispositions, and physical and conceptual apparatus as
the location where voice is born – the glottis.
In these works it is the relation to words, sound, and music – as an
interest in forming a specific soundscape creating the coordinates of
space – that shapes the atmosphere and volume, then the “apparatus”
of human voice and speech and their poetic and political potential,
which become the artist’s greatest preoccupations. The spoken word
and poetry play an important role here, and Očko calls the narrator’s
voice, which recites poetry in SPRING, the voice “projecting” itself onto
the “characters”, while the nature of the performance, body figures,
the protagonists’ acrobatic movements somehow become a screen
absorbing the political or poetic speech and speech act performance.
Films by Damir Očko, including the most recent TK (2014), are formed
at the intersection of spaces of contemporary art and cinema as a
specific filmic practice and as an idea of a cinematic form in between art
systems, genres, and practices: experimental, short, creative film with
influences of installation, video, photography, performance, and theatre
experiences – transforming into a new medium of hybrid qualities,
mutable categories, a slippery slope of moving images that offer no fixed
definitions.
Accepting the different practices and taking on a specific form of
“narrative” video, daring to elaborate complex cinematic relations and
structures, engaging layers of dramaturgical processes and video image,
the artist is using narratives that involve a subtle reflection of the social
or cultural context to create visually impressive works featuring specific
cinesthetic qualities and an atmosphere of tension and melancholy
engaging with film-making procedures and production conditions –
from directing, working with actors and models, using the film set, tools,
and props, to set design, lights, and editing – to articulate a cinematic
language.
The content of these works often represents a conceptualisation of
travelling across space and time and imagination fields, which forms
new – known or imaginary – worlds.10 Images and stories in Damir
Očko’s films are immersive and poetical; the artist uses their subtle visual
codes and cinematic language to explore complex relations between an
individual and society.

On Studies on Shivering

That hidden shape of oppression
— Damir Očko, SPRING, 2012

In a time of global insecurity, uncertainty, injustice, turmoil, anxiety,
and fear, “the shivering body” is a metonymical figure intersecting
different imperatives, reflecting imposed personal and social
relationships. Shivering becomes a mechanism of resistance, pointing
to the procedures of control and lack thereof, a metaphor of interaction
between the society of control and the violence it produces.
With his exhibition Studies on Shivering and the film TK, Damir Očko
continues his exploration of extreme body figures, initiated in the film
SPRING and exhibition/collages The Body Score (2013), manifested here
as a series of “studies” of different forms of a shivering body, an image
of poetic violence, metonyms of the politics of body – the forms of its
social representation shaping within binary oppositions, extremes, old
and young body, and circumstances like illness or winter. Therefore, this
is not just “an exploration of fundamental relations between mental and
physical alliances, neurological disorders, and physiological reactions”11;
Očko goes further to anticipate the political implications and social codes
of control, punishment, violence, fragility, and resistance. The shivering
– subversive, treacherous, disclosing – becomes like a rhythm, a tension
dragged through different aspects of the work, making it possible to
describe the unspeakable, to articulate visual language as a transfer
between subconsciousness and images.
The opening scene of TK closely and in detail shows the shivering hand
of an older man suffering from Parkinson’s disease, whose sketchy and
uncertain motions are writing down, that is, trying to write down words,
with a pencil on a blank page. Slowly and gradually, almost one letter
at a time, like weaving (Latin, textum – to weave), he reveals a text we
can read. It is poetry, again present in the film as the narrator’s spoken
word. Light and slow camera movements and its soft zooming describe
the scene. Silence. The scene is soundless, until the moment the hand
starts to shake.

(In Tranquillity the word is shivering
Tranquillity is the shivering word)

— Damir Očko, TK, 2014

The ways the process of writing is treated represent the relations to the
body, claims Roland Barthes. In Variations on Writing he writes about
the knowledge and the physiology of the writing body – the speed,
rhythm, and motions we use to write down the basic lines of our words.
Rhythmical activity is engrained in the most archaic parts of our brain
structures, and anthropologists teach us how, before the creation of
real alphabets, people produced abstract and rhythmic inscriptions.12 In
Damir Očko’s work, the shivering forms represent such rhythms echoing
through different aspects of the work.
The montage cut takes us to a visibly different space, following a group
of protagonists in a cold winter landscape, highlighting contrast, change,
difference – between day and night, light and dark, warmth and cold,
softness and sharpness, open and closed space.
Landscape, as a construct of Western culture, mediates different
relationships between man and nature, the external world, just like it
represents the models of conceptualisation of nature in order to mirror
different moods and complex relations. In Damir Očko’s works we find
the relation between landscape and body, where the poetical scenes
of a cold, icy landscape seem to provide a backdrop for highlighting
independent efforts of an individual, his nudity, his bodily exposure. If
violence is the key metaphor for the intensity of relations, then physicality
itself transcends the metaphor.13
Natural environment, the landscape enveloping the narrative of these
works, represents a space in which we, as observers, are deeply
immersed – be it the sandy beach on the Irish coast in We saw nothing
but the uniform blue of the Sky, the erupting volcano on the island of
Stromboli in SPRING, or a winter’s landscape on the outskirts of Zagreb
in TK – with all contributing to the intensity of the scenes that create an
atmosphere of uncertainty and feelings of detachment.
On the other hand, screened in a black box, isolated from their
surroundings, in an abstract spatiality against a dark background
engulfing them, acrobats in SPRING, as well as the protagonist whose
hand is the only thing we see in TK, confront the scenes of natural
landscape accompanying them, building on and exchanging in the
rhythm of editing, creating a counterpoint and fracture in the displaced
meaning, just like the image is interrupted by the scenes of volcanic
eruption.
Here the camera reveals different moments of shivering body and skin
surface, muscle contraction – in close-up, detail, and total – creating
dramatic suspense. In a parallel rhythm these shots are interspersed
with the scenes of writing, against a soundscape comprised of specific
sounds and the narrator’s voice reciting poetry as a constituent part of
the narrative, structuring the cinematic rhythm, accentuating editing
relations as combinations of visual and sound rhythm, and scene
dramaturgies by producing conscious and unconscious moves in the
observer’s perception. The position of the observer as a mediated subject
in the projection space and the creation of specific observing conditions
as cinematic space are only some of the qualities we encounter when
entering the space of Damir Očko’s TK screening, which constitutes the
space of the Studies on Shivering exhibition as a structured, immersive,
and poetical space. The protagonists’ movements, the softness of the
camera motions, the darkness enveloping them, and the film procedures
all participate in the formation of meaning, which gradually reveals itself
through the interaction of all elements, while the film drags us deep into
the associative space between reality and fiction.

Tranquillity is an empty space between fingers
— Damir Očko, TK, 2014

______
1 Roland Barthes, Variations on Writing / The Pleasure of the Text, quoted and translated from
Roland Barthes, Varijacije o Pismu / Zadovoljstvo u tekstu (Zagreb, 2005).
2 Ibid.
3 Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (London and New York, 1999).
4 Damir Očko, The Kingdom of Glottis, Palais de Tokyo, 17 October 2012 to 11 February 2013,
http://palaisdetokyo.com/en/exhibition/damir-ocko (accessed 20 January 2014).
5 Alain Badiou, The Century, trans. Alberto Toscano (Malden, MA, and Cambridge, 2007), p. 48.
6 Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (New York, 1993), p. 107.
7 Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, vol. 4: Theory and History of Literature, trans. Michael Shaw
(Minneapolis, 1994).
8 Brandon Taylor, Collage: The Making of Modern Art (London, 2004).
9 The exhibition took place at Palais de Tokyo in Paris (see note 4).
10 Branka Benčić, “Cinemaniac X: Curatorial Works with Moving Images”, in: Cinemaniac X,
exh. cat. MMC LUKA (Pula, 2011).
11 Andrea Zlatar, Rječnik tijela (Zagreb, 2010).
12 Barthes (see note 1).