Reversed Interview with Marc Bembekoff

Reversed interview with Marc Bembekoff / 2015
Published on the ocassion of the Pavilion of Croatia at the 56th la Biennale di Venezia

DO: There is kind of "taking off the skin" process in the works I am developing right now. Trying to question the internal structures of how and why particular works are made. In The Third Degree, I express the role of the camera differently, showing it perform itself, but a way it does so, is by integrating itself together with the subject of the film. So while I carry on with the subject, in the same time I make ourselves, the crew, the camera, symbiotic part of it. You see, there is an idea of togetherness that I am interested in. Togetherness that evolves from the violent "together" in the last sections of TK towards The Third Degree where through the kaleidoscope images and reflections create another idea of "togetherness", the one which embeds the questions of quilt and collective responsibility, taking off the skin of the film. New film could simply open and the question might pop: Shall we now burn together?

MB: We are all going to burn together – one way or another. It is not a pessimistic vision, but rather a practical and responsible positioning. The world in which we live gets carried away and this process has continued to intensify. We are both actors and spectators of the mutations of the contemporary world. Such observation is not new and has been haunting the History of Art iconography for centuries, thinking about the apocalyptic representations of Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This lucid vision of the world and our positioning as a spectator facing a representation appears also in the theater of Berthold Brecht. It seems to me that The Third Degree, with this inclusion of the team filming and the production process is part of this line: the distinction between the acts of seeing and doing gives rise to a critical and artistic construction that undermines the relationship of subordination of the viewer and makes him an actor, actively involved in the project. That is what Jacques Rancière analyses in The Emancipated Spectator. So, yes, we will all burn together.

DO: Of course, it is not about pessimism at all. In fact the collective pyre I am imagining is something necessary – a moment we could induce and sustain as a society. It is very interesting what you are saying in relation to The Third Degree and the merging moment of the two sides of the film: filmed and the hidden one. However, I feel that we could scratch the surface even further. Beside the obvious exposure of the act of filming/seeing in relation to the act of what is filmed as a kind of a representation for the spectatorship in the contemporary world, what I aim for is more of a meltdown. The process of filming becomes the film itself. We, the crew melt together with the subject, the single body. This body further reflects an ethical concerns if you think about the particular subject of The Third Degree, but on a wider arc is also concerned with the role of art as a political protagonist. The reason behing this is a troubling filming of TK, where I have experienced more moral dilemmas on how this film is made. The filming took place in a really harsh condition and our subjects were standing naked, surrounded by the crew well dressed for the winter. Sort of as I am making the film about violence in a very violent way. It got me thinking if reflecting on this could somehow resonate the wider social mechanizes that work the same way. The actions we take, the moves we do to come to a certain point, everything matters, or do we only hide behind opinions?

MB: We are all the transmitters of an opinion. Through his works, the artist presents a point of view – so does the curator: from the moment that we – I mean, each individual – express ourselves, we inscribe ourselves into rhetoric, we launch lines of approach, other angles to see differently the world in magnifying or criticizing its excesses. One feels very clearly in the footage of The Third Degree those moments where everything blends and melts, creating hybrid zones where the body is fragmented. This visual sedimentation – which is also a layering of senses – becomes sometimes abstract, which also mirrors the abstraction of a world we have more and more difficulty to understand.

DO: I have become more interested in reaching a kind of a tipping point with my works, as I said earlier to embed more than just an opinion. Even though it is very difficult to sort of “live-stream” the rhetoric , I go for it as a combination of an intellectual and emotional experience for the audience. There should be a sense of an adventure in the way one goes through my works. The Third Degree grows as a kaleidoscope; it questions not just the means of making things, but also the means of making the audience. Reflections are filmed, and everything within is bouncing back to the film itself as a camera-subject loop. I do wonder however, how does one make a tool that could also reflect the audience, their live experience of the film: the camera-subject-audience loop possible. Where could we find the tipping point in which togetherness I spoke about earlier would also include the audience. From a curatorial point of view this must be an interesting challenge no?

MB: Well, yes, obviously. The exhibition format itself could be this tool that serves as a tipping point. From a curatorial point of view, including the viewer is always central. The visitor is actually at the very heart of the exhibition device, he becomes the receiver or the target. If he sees and/or feels things, at one point, if he recognizes his own image, he takes his consciousness on another level. Not to mention an immersive installation, I think that the display of the Croatian Pavilion plays an important role in such awareness: the spatial path leads to this, especially the reflection of the body and space (as well as the roofs of Venice) in broken mirrors that rhythm the space, like different stations. The mirror seems to me very important in this project, first and foremost in The Third Degree film. Even during the shooting… I was both uncomfortable and fascinated by the device that you conceived: it was really intense to see the set and being included in it at the same time. Indeed, the kaleidoscope works, repositions us.

DO: The kaleidoscope is a device of disembodiment. It gives an analytical image with its fragmented, accidental reflections. I am interested in the analytical. First and foremost, I would like to dissect and open up the way the works are made. This is not just apparent in The Third Degree, but in the other works as well. Poetry scattered throughout the rooms of Palazzo Pisani S. Marina show the discreet instructions on how to read them out loud, constellations of objects that are more of a placeholders for ideas than art itself should reflect the state of my works in stages between the production and reception, and of course the way the exhibition is conceived more as an analytical curve than classical display of works. Managing the space with more analytical approach is one thing, but there is also a need to manage the time of the exhibition. Like film, an exhibition has a duration. I don't mean the actual duration of the biennale, but a time the exhibition itself holds the viewer within. So before we set imaginary clock I wonder if we could consider the path between the two films, The Third Degree and TK, to be a third film as well?

MB: What you mention here is really stimulating. I’m interested in Expanded Film and how objects displayed inside a space can produce a cinematic experience. To me, Expanded Cinema is not only a film material or a projection, but it can also be diverse objects, giving back some materiality to Time and Space. It’s like being in a train and watching the landscape unfolding before your eyes. This is a moment of transition, of passage from one place to another – but what happens in between those two physical points is full of different scale moments, mind and vision. Actually, I like this shift reversing the role and the position of the body: by breaking out of the traditional movie theatre and by integrating the moving body of the visitor into the exhibition space, new forms that take account of the roles of the viewer and the object created can be generated. From stillness, sitting in front of a projection, the body of the viewer starts moving. Initially physical, this visual relationship also summons up our mental resources and sets us thinking about what is on display: tangible objects, yes, but also visions of the world falling between subjectivity and externality – between the closed world and the infinite universe (to quote a fascinating book by philosopher-historian Alexandre Koyré).

DO: It is rather a delicate procedure to expand the film throughout the exhibition. Aware of all the traps that could make it banal, I have put a lot of thoughts into what kind of a materialization must happen in the rooms between the TK and The Third Degree films. The main concerns were not to make use of objects such props or straight-forward derivates from the films itself and to find a way to expand the poetics of films throughout maybe even completely different works. But then there was a question of how the objects that come from the films behave in the context of the exhibition. So I have decided to include objects such as poems and mirror installation, which directly derive from the films. What turned my thought around was that for example the filmed mirror installation in The Third Degree has a different role that the one exhibited. It is acting as a different tool. In the film it bounces back to the screen the internal organs of the film, peeling its skin off, and in the exhibition it embraces the audience . Conceptually speaking this is completing a full circle, signifying the keywords such as "togetherness" in the idea of what the exhibition can be. I am justifying the fact I have turned the traps into a conceptual necessity but we have worked together on many occasions, and I know that you understand the problem of "traps" very well. We do what is necessary and we try to avoid the excess for the sake of a making the clear experience. A photography of the set becoming a collage, mirror set becoming an installation, poetry scripting the path for the viewer to walk through the exhibition. How do you see this particular material changing place from film towards to exhibition?

MB: What you say about the changing role of the elements from the film set to the exhibition space is inevitable. To me, their function on the film set is totally different, even if, obviously, there is some obvious links with their display on site. While being filmed, they are part of a device that generates an illusion, but in the Palazzo Pisani S. Marina, their physicality is more than tangible. It is also crucial that they are a reminder of what does it mean to “be here”, right now, in a specific venue. The standing broken mirrors, for instance, reflect the roofs of Venice and bring us back to a certain kind of reality – even if I have sometimes the feeling that Venice is a city out of reality, like frozen in time... On a curatorial point of view, this material has a direct relation to the visitor, without the filter of the film: devices to be experienced one by one by each.

DO: I refer to the mirror installation as the device of fragmentation but an embracement too. In The third Degree it cuts through the image, disemboding it, opening it up in a kind of cinematic autopsy. It allows the camera to simultaneously retracts and moves forward, moves in illusory circle. I am interested in this kind of motion and would like to create it within the exhibition. Audience moves in circle. Starting from The Third Degree, which is rather an organic film, loop, somehow more crypted then TK, moving through expended studies, towards the TK. But this is no dead end, there is a path connecting TK back to The Third Degree screening room, a kind of a shortcut one can discover at the very end of an exhibition. Fragments connected into a circle. This interview being reversed is also a circle...

TK and The Third Degree offer two different experiences. First one being a rather complete experience with various scenes, poetry recital and music locked into precisely scored motion. The Third Degree on the other hand is more open, organic. At the very moment while we are making this interview I am editing the film and have been thinking if my idea to include a poetry recital within makes sense. There is an adjunct poetry: fragmented, opened, reflective, but seems to me that the work anticipates no-spoken-language approach. Now I am strongly thinking to externalize the poetry far from the film. This might create a bit of discrepancy between two films. How do you see them still completing each other?

MB: While being on the set of The Third Degree, I felt like you were being more spontaneous – perhaps adventurous – on how to film, less structured in a way. For TK, as well as for the films before, I guess you knew from the beginning the structure, or at least, how the material could end as an edited result. To me, The Third Degree brings this other dimension, an abstract one, non-narrative or not poem related, which drives us to something more self-reflecting. If TK is a classical film, a visual and sound path to follow for the viewer, The Third Degree, on the other hand, looks much more like a chunk, a part of the cycle developed by the current entire project on how to question the artistic process and the involvement of the viewer. These two films seem to function as two main poles, maybe opposite ones but complementary. Each of them leads us to two types of action, two different ways of the act of seeing, the deed/need of analyzing.

DO: Even if the Third Degree withdraws from the structure of TK, there is still some sort of poetry happening. In both cases, I sourced some of the references later made into poems in different documents and reports about violence. I made sources very vague, dispersed through descriptions of images in which people “gather” to make action, often violent one. What interests me now is, if the decision not to directly place poems in The Third Degree, the film in the exhibition layout as planned for Venice, would become a accidental placeholder for re-reading the TK poems in a different light. “Gathered around we are of a reasonable distance,” reads a line from TK.

MB: I feel that this project is also an opportunity for you to re-configure differently the poems that you have already composed, as a new way to get out of the framework. In a way, it is an opportunity to read understand the poetry through an exploded way, leaving standards. I sometimes wonder if words are not some kind of a handicap, an obstacle to surpass. This distance can be beneficial, a way to mark images which can also be a form of poetry. Do poems become the inner part of the images, or vice versa?

DO: There was one poem I removed from TK. This particular poem described a way the human skin could be treated to become sort of a white flag. I was interested in how fragile and resilient the human skin is. Not just from an aspect of biology, but as a political boundary between self and society.  l removed the poem from TK because it felt as it was a new kind of material, a subject on its own. It turned to be a starting point for The third Degree. But the project evolved and the poem was again removed from The Third Degree, along with all the other poems I attempted to place in the new film. There was no more place nor necessity for a spoken word. Everything but the organic flow of images would be an exercise of an excess. I write poems in a very particular way, by compressing the text and the language so it becomes an act of removing rather then adding to it. That said, The Third Degree is a poem for me. One compressed to the point from where nothing else could be further removed. It goes along the spines of my works. Poetry, music, films and other tools I use and shown in Venice have something in common: sort of the skin of the time. But let me get back to the idea of a white flag. For me, it was an image of a defeat. Wave to surrender, to achieve peace on others terms. Your revolution has just failed. How do you see the relation between the white flag and the skin scars I show in The third Degree? Is that a hope?

MB: I could say that every white flag is a failure. Once again, it’s not about being pessimistic but rather stating that the constant pressure of the world has an effect on us. Traditionally, a white flag is a symbol of peace, yes, but also a will of surrender during war time. In a way, both white flag and skin cars are the signs of a defeat of our subjectivities towards the global world, but an underlying, quiet and daily disappointment…(maybr expand a little, it is an interesting subject and I think there could be more!)

DO: Let me get back to the origins of the project, which really grew from a simple thing. Not sure if you share the same memory as I do, but few years ago, we took a long walk after a posh art-party in Paris. It was in a middle of the night and the city was strangely quiet. You know it was kind of a silent tension that makes you walk faster because the air feels dangerously empty. We walked and didn’t really talk much. But what happened then, is that there was a scream followed by shouting in the distance. It broke the city in half. And you said in a very calm and quiet voice: “Well, we live in a violent world.” It got me thinking about how quiet and calm is a social construction, how society with all its control and order is a construction, and how there is this organic scream suppressed under the layers of our society. Later on, when I started to develop my thoughts, I imagined this kind of concept of tranquility and I asked an old man with Parkinson to write it for me on paper. He wrote the word “tranquility”, but while doing it so, he also wrote this scream hidden within the lines of the letters. The whole project emerged from this simple point. Another poem from TK refers to a picture I saw on Facebook: I don’t remember much detail, but it was a simple sunset picture taken by a tourist. On the picture one could see the red sky closing down the bare mountains. It was beautiful and raw, a bit kitschy too. What struck me was that the picture was taken on the border between Turkey and Syria and behind those mountains there was a violence happening in silence of the sunset. The more I looked into the photo, the more the red sky turned into blood dripping down the mountains. I made a poem about the precariousness of the future by describing this picture. It had the same simple origin. This is how I see poetry and its political strength. It is not about one direction and one precision, but more about making it alive, organic, able to shiver on its own, through simple things.

MB: I wish I could be this person screaming in the middle of the night... Sometimes, I feel this urgent need to get out of me and shout as loud as possible to the face of the world. We all should do that to remind ourselves that we are part of this madness, witnesses and actors of this global stage. This could be considered as a rebellious act, a way of being part this dramaturgy of the world, but very quietly and at a reasonable scale. Quoting the melancholy traveler Jacques in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players / […] That ends this strange eventful history, / Is second childishness and mere oblivion, /Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” We should maybe add “Sans skin”… Simple things, like an apparent quiet sunset, or a loud shout in the still of the night, can reveal so much of the ugliness of the beauty, and of the fate of the world. These are like small signs reminiscent of our condition. Like this red sky approaching, it says so much about living collectively. We are all aware of the violence, and all subjects of it, knowing the final outcome – the question is would simply be: shall we now burn together?