Magazine article Art Monthly

Harun Farocki

Magazine article Art Monthly

Harun Farocki

Article excerpt

Harun Farocki

Tate Modern London 13 November to 6 December

Raven Row London 19 November to 7 February

For more than 40 years, the Berlin-based film and video artist, critic and lecturer Harun Farocki has meticulously investigated found images. From early silent film of factory workers to images of war and, more recently, surveillance footage taken in prisons and job centres, Farocki works like a forensic scientist, analysing the same material time and again. In doing so, he demands that the viewer also revisits the footage repeatedly to reinterpret its meaning. Farocki's approach reveals capitalism's calculated devotion to survey, discipline and coerce the citizen, whether within the terrors of war or the confines of a prison yard or a shopping mall.

The title of the recent London show curated by Alex Sainsbury, 'Harun Farocki. Against What? Against Whom?', challenges us to question the filmmaker's motivation. Historically, the title could be understood to refer to his anti-war and anti-capitalist political engagement or his allusion to modernist formalist, anti-narrative practices. A more contemporary reading may suggest that Farocki redeploys spectacles of visual culture in his work 'against' themselves.

In his practice, Farocki re-presents these recycled images to reveal how 20th-century institutions of power sought to control, restrict and manipulate the human subject. The footage he reworks originates from the very institutions he analyses, and so offers an insightful critique of contemporary and historical hegemonies of power.

The long overdue retrospective of screenings at Tate Modern and installations at Raven Row in London invite us to explore the ethics of image technologies that society's institutions use to create a 'naturalised' reality. Beyond his unremitting engagement with macro politics, what is most striking about Farocki's prodigious body of work is his preoccupation with the micro, the lived experience of the human being, and compassion for the individual.

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This is dramatically highlighted in the two-screen installation I thought I was seeing convicts, 2000. Here, prisoners confined in a high-walled exercise yard launch into vendetta-driven gladiatorial battles. We are told that these feuds explode even though prisoners know the guards may shoot at them. We see surveillance footage of a convict being killed and Farocki's commentary explains that their 'body' is their only means of resistance. Later, we are shown voyeuristic images of convicts and visitors intimately touching in violation of prison rules. It seems that these illicit moments serve fleetingly to restore their humanity.

The UK retrospective also foregrounds a renewed interest in ideologically driven artists' film and video. Recently, we have seen film essays resurrected, with John Ackomfrah's Handsworth Songs, 1989, being shown at the fourth Tate Triennial 'Altermodern' in 2009, while 'Inner Time of Television' by the Otolith Group (who also co-curated the film and video work at Tate Modern with Antje Ehmann and Stuart Comer) resurrects Chris Marker's The Owl's Legacy of 1989 in a 13monitor installation first shown at the first Athens Biennale in 2007. Farocki's work has also been shown extensively, at Documenta 12 in 2007 and other major international spaces. …

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