Images Of The World And The Inscription Of War directed by Harun Farocki, Friday (April 11), 7 pm; How To Live In The German Federal Republic directed by Farocki, Sunday (April 13), 9:15 pm; videogram of a revolution directed by Farocki and Andrei Ujica, April 19, 3 pm; and bombs which take pictures illustrated lecture, April 14, 2 pm. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
berlin -- harun farocki has one photograph of himself that he likes to use. He's sitting at a table in a black T-shirt, one palm at his cheek -- ready to talk or eat or work. A picture of utility. He's one of the world's leading thinkers on the imagery of war. How pictures fight wars. How bombs found their voice in pictures. And how the camera, in its daily work, so often follows the gun.
Appropriately, Farocki does much of his thinking through pictures. He's the heart of this year's Images Festival, screening old and new work, launching an installation, talking at a panel and an illustrated lecture (Bombs Which Take Pictures, Monday, April 14, 2 pm, Innis Town Hall). He's here to work.
To reach Farocki's home, you take the S-Bahn east through Berlin's cascading zones of hipness, to Noldnerplatz. It's a severe little district, with streets spread wide and sturdy like a government dictum. Bits of graffiti cry out for an end to George Bush.
In his warm, rational kitchen, I sit at a table while Farocki makes coffee. Then we sit down to work. Work, I imagine, is paramount for him. In the dozens of films he's made since the mid-60s, Farocki peels back the surface of images and events in the world to reveal the labour that made them.
In the last 15 or so years, he's been especially drawn to surveillance images.
"They can't be compared to the images we make to inform people, to entertain them, to make propaganda for a product," he says in his soft, hesitating voice. "Because the condensation of time and space is lacking, there's a Damocles sword hanging over you, saying, "You will be annihilated if nothing special happens. Your value will be zero.' That is aesthetically interesting."
That interest found its strongest voice in Images Of The World And The Inscription Of War (Friday, April 11, 7 pm, Innis Town Hall; Thursday, April 17, 7:30pm, Goethe Institut's Kinowelt Hall), Farocki's landmark essay film.
In April 1944, American pilots overflew a factory in Silesia and took surveillance photographs. Back in Britain, image analysts identified industrial targets but completely missed something more significant: the neat rows of barracks and gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Images Of The World is a detailed, reflective reading of what Farocki calls "operational images."
"As Roland Barthes said in Mythologies, "If you're a carpenter working in the forest, you don't speak about the tree, you speak the tree.' That is an operational approach."
Because surveillance images are operational, Farocki says, "they have a certain innocence. Look at the surveillance images shot from spy satellites and planes that Colin Powell presented to the world. All other images are public relations, but these images don't want to depict a process -- they are part of the process."
In Videogram Of A Revolution, Farocki and Andrei Ujica reconstruct Ceausescu's fall in Romania in and through TV footage. In How To Live In The German Federal Republic, he presents life as a kind of rehearsal or boot camp for living itself. Surveillance also surfaces in his installations I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (until July 6 at the AGO) and Eye/Machine (to June 21 at the Goethe Institut).
Farocki began this research back in the 80s, "when I tried to find images from the cameras on cruise missiles. I couldn't. They were all top secret."
Since the first Gulf War made these images entertainment, Farocki says they've taken on a promotional value.
"The military industry wants to sell this technology. It's a commercial for them. It exists already, so we have to pay for it."
He just wonders where the people are. Though he knows some journalists who've managed to set eyes on forbidden Pentagon tapes, he notes that the rest of us never see human beings in missile-sight video.
"Even if you are critical and know that war doesn't play out this way," he says, "you have the impression that there are no human losses."
Typically, he sees this as an economic process.
"Rich countries try to get rid of human labour," he argues. "We don't want to see labour, so we send it somewhere else. It's the same strategy with war victims. You move it to poorer countries." firstname.lastname@example.org interview