Damir Očko in conversation with Bice Curiger

Dear Damir,

Thank you, I am very grateful for this material and the more I study it, the more I am fascinated and drawn into it…I will try my first question: I was thinking about the specific “nakedness” of the two protagonists in TK. The men look athletic and strong, but they give you the impression of plucked birds. There is a total lack of eroticism. Helplessness and inward movement are the dominant elements. It made me think about The Scream by Edvard Munch as a contrasting pole. There, the whole environment is taken up by the hot “centrifugal” energy of the scream, while in TK you have these fragile, vulnerable creatures trembling quietly surrounded by nature, radiantly beautiful and impassive in its coldness. You see that I make a distinction between hot and cold, comparing audial and visual means of expression. How do you see this possible connection between temperature, colors and sound, related to human emotions? I hope this is a possible start?

Best wishes.
Bice

Dear Bice,

Thanks for taking the time with my works! Your first question is a great start. Important! In a way, I ask myself the question what it means to be human today, as a social and political subject. What describes our social presence today as even through emotions that oppose each other, such as love and hate, fear and the sense of security—it’s kind of an emotional friction that I am interested in. There is a line from TK pointing exactly to that friction: “to kiss with teeth”. What I tried to describe with it is an act of violence and love looped in one meaning. Temperature of the film is based on a contradiction. On one level, the bodies are exposed, losing control, moving involuntarily, vibrating and on another level the sounds, produced by various pressures applied on strings, are trying to warm things up. Each sound is a result of an extreme friction between bow and strings. The moments when tones appear within the hissing noises are the moments when strings reach another level of temperature, due to the changes in friction and pressure. There is a friction between what you hear and what you see in the film as well. Bodies crumble under exposure, but the struggle to keep control becomes more apparent. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this and hope this answers your question.

All the best,
Damir

Dear Damir,

The trembling, the shivering and the onomatopeic “TK” evoke percussive sounds. At the same time it seems obvious that you are interested in the syncopation, in the deviation of the expected, the normal flow. This is also apparent in many of your other works, like for instance the stuttering of the voice in “We saw nothing but the uniform blue of the sky”. One follows this rhythmically interrupted voice and at the same time there is so much wind and harmonious movements in the image of the beach, the sea and the sky. Is the syncopation also a metaphor for the artist’s role in society?

Best wishes,
Bice

Dear Bice,

Well yes. In a sense, harmony becomes apparent when there is a dissonance, and vice versa. As I see it, the social constraints build most of the modern society, and my interest in the relationship between the dissonant and the harmonic is that of a syncopator for sure. But when I use the stuttering voice to read my poems, it is less to intentionally disrupt the flow of the image—since the film set was built on the beach without scripting of what was going to happen—but the mechanism of stuttering was there to disrupt and enhance the poem itself. This was the first time that I felt that a very subjective language of poetry became a political one. For this reason, I was more focused on how to communicate the correct meanings in a right way throughout the film, to the point where that syncopation you speak about became present and clear. In TK, something similar happened when the old man who suffers from Parkinson writes down the lines in which the state of tranquility is described: it is a political gesture because how and what he sets on paper become the only way to provide the simple words with these precise meanings. The state he describes is conditional, but it is also disruptive in its own core.

All my best,
Damir

Dear Damir,

That makes me think of the paradox of the “mute singer” in “The Moon shall never take my Voice” with its subtitle “Three songs for a muted voice and various sounds”. It is the external, the added sound which makes the woman sing – or at least gives us the certainty that she is not just an actor but a singer, someone embedded in a musical score, someone who is in resonance, from her inner self reaching out into the space. This space, which in your work poetically reaches out even into the universe…So here you make a strong point about the filmic reality and its possibilities, its magic potential. At the same time there is always a complete transparency about the real facts, that the singer is mute and expressing herself with body and sign language. As you mention politics: the arresting beauty and the hypnotic effect of this film have also to do with the fact that what usually is perceived as an affliction becomes, in an act of “detournement”, an instrument to overcome the restraints of common languages.

(More to come soon… Sorry for the delay!) Best,
Bice

Dear Bice,

The singer may be mute, but she isn’t voiceless at all. What I mean is that I am thinking about the territorial aspect of the voice, what it means to have or not to have a voice, a voice that defines us humans. In fact, this was the first of my films where I worked with human voice, that is, a voice that becomes a gesture, and that has space outside of the vocal apparatus. As the film happened, this voice overcame its limits and was vocalized by kind of a voicelessness: a voiceless voice, without constrains of sound. At the beginning, it was difficult to negotiate the idea of “music” to a deaf performer, but as we progressed, the "musicality" of songs got stripped down to its own basics: it became something basic and temporal, and, as a consequence, its various other relations were easily translatable into objects, texts, movements. In sum, using other means for representative ends opened other possibilities. Language became the same as music, and music became the same as performance, which became the same as film.

To answer your other question, my interest in film pertains to how the durational aspects of its materials—such as poetry, music, movements and narratives—are created in the particular physical space of the film, between the potential of the camera’s gaze and the limits of the frame itself. In other words, I think about the film as a space for constructive interpretation. I rather focus on the space I can open inside a film than on the film as a medium. This context gives direction and freedom to my work.

All my best,
Damir

Dear Damir, You based your piece “The Age of Happiness” on research you did on the composer Aleksandr Scriabin and his incomplete work “Mysterium”. In 1902, he wrote: “There will be no spectators, all will become participants”. Through this statement, he is describing a future with a completely new culture, encompassing sound, visual effects, dance and even “a procession and incense and rhythmic textural articulation”, while the architecture should “continually change with the aid of mists and light”. He happened to be a synesthesist, that is, a person whose hearing experience is connected to the simultaneous perception of specific colors. He also created a light piano… Now, this strong visionary ideas and energy seem to be so completely opposed to our current state and feeling, and yet, there is a fascination in the strong engagement of all the senses in such a radical way. Can you explain? After all the title you chose is a strong statement.

Best wishes,
Bice

Dear Bice,

This is one of my early works, but I remember clearly the starting point of this project, which was the feeling that my generation, confused by the arbitrary aspects of its social surroundings, had no clear vision of the future. By vision, I mean foresights similar to the ones Scriabin had when creating a magical instrument that would change the world—as crazy as they may have seemed to us. But we don’t believe in magical instruments, and that is understandable, of course; however, this pragmatism we all relate to made me wonder what a generation of pure happiness would really mean if it existed today. In the film, due to their lack of vision, blindfolded protagonists are guided by hypnotic sounds towards an undefined construction with no definite answer. I felt as if through this project, I was describing confused and hypnotized generation, looking for the age of happiness, simultaneously full of hope and helplessness.

All the best,
Damir

Dear Damir,

Here you’ll find the final question: The principle of collage is in the very center of your work and seems to connect two strong strains in art history reaching back to the heritage of Viktor Shklovsky and of Max Ernst: the collision and the fusing of images, sound and text in film and works of art. In today’s world the “Collage Principle” has taken possession of our lives in the most sophisticated way, in its incredible and sometimes also frightening reach into our psyche and our thinking. Are artists and is art—with its great protagonists of the past—going to give us hope? To recognize possible, not yet perceived potentials in the evolution of technology?

Best,
Bice

Dear Bice,

In my opinion, the collision of images, sounds and text you mention require extended exploration. With that in mind, a film’s space is ideal to explore the communication between these several techniques, and you are right to say that nowadays, a great number of contemporary artists explore beyond the use of a single medium. I do understand and work with these methods myself, however, I’m not sure I am one who believes that an artist could or should provide hope with his work. What I mean is, the contemporary world is oppressing, and the notion of hope is, in my opinion, too contaminated by political discourse: I feel it would be a dangerous aspiration for an artist to not recognize these facts. I always ask myself, to whom should the artist bring the hope you are mentioning, and what makes an artist different from another individual? I think these are important questions. My view is that we should think of ourselves as one body: artists and non-artists take part in the reality as one. Creating a boundary between artists who would communicate hope to others and others who would receive this hope from artists is problematic, in my opinion. As an artist, I myself need as much hope as everybody else. This is what I am trying to say through my works: we are all the same body, we are all in the same political realities, and we need to work together. This is my vision.

All the best,
Damir