By Ole Slyngstadlie
What reality one perceives is, as we know, in the eye of the beholder. It is therefore of interest to investigate how the artist-subject find his or her form, especially when the artistic expression is that of documentary, or making use of raw material of various types. When is the artist a journalist, when does he/she become an artist, and to what extent is this topic the object of reflection. Are the artist-subjects apparent in these pieces of work?
We have invited Charlotte Thiis-Evensen, an artist who is also a journalist, to fill the double role of a host-guest. Thiis-Evensen is invited to create a piece of work and compose a film programme for Momentum 2006. She has for some time operated between these frontiers, participated in the debate, and been the object of debate herself.
The film programme will be presented in Momentum’s video room, as well as at the train station in Moss, central in the festival. We have, amongst other chosen to focus on the use of candid camera. We are of the opinion that artwork, where the video artists creatively process material from the public or private sphere, is a good starting point for reflection.
Charlotte Thiis-Evensen (born 1968) is a Literary Science Major, has studied at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, and created a number of independent film works. She says that she, in the major part of her art production, ha s worked with the idea of telling the same story from several angels. “Being here” (Være her), 2003, was broadcasted both as a radio documentary on NRK P2, and shown as a video installation at Tatler Fashion House in Oslo. The video work “May 7th” (7. Mai), 2003 was projected outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, and was also shown on the Internet, in a longer, unedited version. The film “The Moment of Truth” (Sannhetens Øyeblikk), 2004, was shown as a short film at cinemas in Oslo, and has also been screened in several art contexts.
The film programme on show in Moss is accompanied by a critical seminar in co-operation with “Unge Kunstneres Samfunn/UKS” (Young Artist’s Society) on 18th October, as an appendix to the festival. At this seminar, five Norwegian artists working with confrontational documentary art will play central roles in the discussion. The films shown at the Momentum seminar have in common that they all problematize the ethical sides of documentary production.
The Momentum film programme, 2006
The Moment of Truth,
is unedited raw material more truthful than what has been carefully produced? Does a radio documentary, edited in accordance with stringent dramaturgic principles, give a more intelligible and truer impression of a character than a video installation? Is a commercial advertisement less true than an art project film it is produced to peddle a product?
These questions point at something that interests me in my work, namely investigating the notion of truth. Any attempt at expressing reality will be branded by the gaze of the filmmaker, the artistic effects used, interviewing techniques, staging, dramatizing, etc. This is one of the reasons that I always find it interesting to tell the same story from various angles. There is no true way of relating a story, only different versions of the truth.
Both on the international and Norwegian art scenes, the tendency these last years has been shifting towards documentary practice and strategy, especially in the field of photography and video art. Docmentarism, in its various forms, aims at creating something authentic, a depiction of reality. In traditional documentary work, it would be perceived as unethical to go too far regarding fictionalization and staging when attempting to recreate reality. Nevertheless, the last few years there has been a development concerning traditional documentaries, particularly with the current reality-trend, where film and TV directors have looked to fiction in order to increase intensity and the level of tension in their work.
Lars von Trier’s documentary Manifesto is a reaction to this. Several films have been created with the goal to capture an objective and true reality, adhering to the Manifesto’s strict rules and principles. Another way to attempt authenticity is use of the candid camera. In Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the pain of others (2003), she writes:
We want the photographer to be a spy in the house of love and death, and that the subjects photographed be oblivious of the camera, they are to be “unsettled”. No sophisticated notion of what photography is or might be, shall ever diminish the satisfaction we experience with an image captured by an alert photographer at the moment it is unfolding.
Lars von Trier “forbids” the candid camera in his Manifesto, whereas Susan Sontag views it as an efficient agent in the process of capturing immediate reality. These two very different ideals, originating from the same desire to approach the real, express some of the complexity of the problems concerning authenticity. The videos I have selected have in common that they all view humans from the outside, practically hidden, from the voyeur’s perspective. All the artists also share an interest in the mundane, the tangible that surrounds us. This type of realism may remind us of the snapshot aesthetics of photography.
What is presented in the works is an “unadulterated reality”, not involving actors, but trying to film the accidental, what is only found in the open, the unmediated. This kind of video work is, to my mind, what is closest to the authentic. Also in this context, staged scenes and use of a pretend candid camera will occasionally occur, but it is my wish to focus on films that altogether avoid fictionalization. This kind of work can be problematic, ethically speaking, because of the use of a hidden camera. Thus, the artists problematize the concept of truth, either by trying to get as close to the authentic as possible, or by questioning the authenticity in their own works. The content of the work varies from ideas concerning the aspect of time, gender and identity, discussions pertaining to what one might allow oneself to look at, and why, to politically oriented works, and more dwelling, open pieces.
Amar Kanwar’s work The Face (2005) shows two different scenes with the Burmese dictator. The one scene shows the dictator throwing purple flowers by a Gandhi memorial in India. The TV-images show a leader supportive of Gandhi, the way the dictator wishes to be portrayed publicly. Kanwar has, however, looped the movement in an accelerated tempo, making the dictator’s false, staged figure apparent. In the second scene, the dictator is filmed with a hand held camera in a different setting where it is apparent that he has no desire to be filmed. The scene is followed by a text message: “no camera allowed”. The film points at areas central to truth versus manipulation, and the attention is redirected to the beholder’s limited ability to evaluate what we receive from all manner of media.
In the video film Sleepers (2006) Johanna Domke has filmed people sleeping at a London airport. The work treats the aspect of time, of people in transit, in a location where time and place seizes to exist, suspended in waiting. Nanna Debois Buhl’s video work, A new space within a space (2006), is about two women, telling us of a situation when they were in a very private conversation in pub. It transpires, however, that everyone in the pub was listening in to what was told. The video questions what is private and what is public. At the same time the film tells us something about how storytelling and language takes part in creating our identities. The Russian piece Vibrat (2005), created by Sergey Bratkov, is a scene where a beggar is photographed in the street. The work is more confrontational than the others, because the beggar shows clearly that he does not want to be photographed, and the artists goes on in spite of his protests.
Katja Høst has in The lonely crowd (2005) filmed random passers-by behind a mirror. She shows us the gaze with which they look at themselves, the entirely private, intimate gaze. In her work, we as spectators are made into voyeurs, and confronted with our own potential as peeping Toms. I have created a new piece for the festival, titled My Uncle (2006). It is a minimalist work, two minutes long, reflecting on the power of the gaze and what happens if one is deprived of it. I will also be showing an older work, the Super 8 film All of Me (2001). The film is an authentic scene between my daughter and myself, filmed with a candid camera. It’s short melancholy story about limitless love and the loss of individual freedom.
In addition to these, works by Marius Mørch, Ulrick Weck, Astrid Skumsrud Johansen, Tova Mozard and Cristina David are shown.
The Seminar at Momentum 2006
In both film and literary circles a debate has taken place the last few years, concerning the ethical aspect connected to the use of real people and settings. A number of discussions have followed the production of films and books where the people involved have felt exploited in various ways. This can entail important both ethical and juridical problems for the filmmaker, whether if one works with TV, radio, literature, or pictorial art. Several documentarists have stopped creating documentaries and started working with fiction, because of the predicaments connected to the production of documentaries. In the book Kieslowski on Kieslowski the filmmaker talks about why he choose to stop working with documentaries. He refers to several documentary productions where he was faced with insolvable dilemmas. Is storytelling more important than the people involved in the stories? Whose story is it most important to tell? And what about video documentarists – are we free of such responsibilities? What extent of freedom do artists have compared to TV-, radio-, or film-documentarists? Which artistic measures do artists use in their approach to reality, and do they differ from other documentary methods? Which artistic effects do artists use when creating critical art documentaries? Do artists have more right to freely use reality, or should we follow the same ethical principles created to protect the involved parties?
For the UKS (Young Artist’s Society) seminar we have invited Norwegian video artists who are less willing to compromise than TV-, radio-, and film-documentarists, who utilize the same artistic effects they wish to criticize. What happens when interviewer Christian Hennie attacks his interviewee, or when Liv Bugge makes a video dealing with racism, and herself acts as a racist in the film – is it ethically sound to stage and direct ones own, dying father to express something about death? These are some of the questions that will be up for debate at UKS on 18th October. In the seminar I wish to show works where the interview has a central function, or where one makes use of true stories and persons who are either given direction, are part of a drama, or used metaphorically. In all of these instances one could question whether the interviewees have been subject to abuse, in relation to the stories told. In the film programme works will be shown where the artists do not subject their objects to staged incidents, where they are, on the contrary, regarded from the outside, practically hidden, from a peeping Tom perspective.
One way or the other, it’s all about regarding others.