Harun Farocki: In Comparison
With an oeuvre of over 40 years trailing successfully behind him, Harun Farocki has established himself as one of Germany’s leading filmmakers. His latest show, Comparison Via A Third is set to bring a selection of the 90 works Farocki has produced since 1968 to the CCA, Glasgow. Ranging from experimental documentaries to large-scale installations, the exhibition provides a cross section of his central themes: war, politics and technology. It is fitting for an artist who has supplemented his career with art writing, editorial and criticism to, in the artist’s words: "force me to look closely and to try harder to find an order for my ideas." The exhibition is also supported by a programme of events that examine the overlapping themes in the artist’s practice and emphasise the multi-faceted nature of his practice.
In many senses Farocki’s solo exhibition should be seen as collaboration between the CCA and the artist himself. On top of the programme of seminars, talks and screenings arranged by the gallery, the CCA have also been granted complete curatorial control. Considering Farocki’s self-confessed interest in the production, distribution and reception of filmic images, the artist’s submission to the institution is odd. The artist explains: "I try to partake in the process of exhibiting and with whom to collaborate or to exhibit. I discuss the floorplan of an exhibition and, when possible, I make a trip to the place where an exhibition will take place to see the location beforehand. In the case of Glasgow there was no time. But I'm not worried, the CCA has elaborated an agenda of its own."
Perhaps such submission to the gallery is the outcome of a practice that has continually been defined by the art institution’s ‘agenda’ in a way quite separate to the responses of those outside of it. It is a situation Harocki seems aware of, especially as he operates both within and outside of it as an artist and writer respectively. In discussing the shifting cultural currencies that lend meaning to the film, the artist claims: "Our culture is mainly text based and the discourses don't know how to make something out of film – or only by taking a film as a symptom. Even [German filmmaker] Kluge is far more influential as a writer than as a filmmaker. Only the art world ascribes social and political meaning to film."
Such strong opinions towards the power of language to disseminate ideas to the mainstream over the cinematic medium explains the artist’s ongoing contribution to the world of art writing and criticism. After working for Filmkritik for 12 years he remains a loyal contributor to the French cinema magazine TRAFIC. So is Farocki attempting to empower as large an audience as possible by disclosing the veiled meaning within symbols and codes that currently exist? "Empowerment is a big word! We have to learn how to read images critically – and I'd be happy if I could contribute to this project."
The film that provides the show’s title, Comparison Via A Third, seeks to unravel meaning and encourage a more critically reflective audience. By taking the brick as a point of departure we become aware of the loaded connotations that travel with it: "The brick is very old – some 8000 years. There are also other products that didn't change too much in the last thousand years – but bricks are built into houses and, therefore, they become a public issue. We live in a world in which very different modes of production exist and it is important to compare them." Played as a dual projection, the production of the developing world and the West play out simultaneously. Farocki provides a montage that allows the simple object of the brick to become loaded with new meaning.
There is also a strong ethical element to Comparison Via A Third, as the back-breaking work of laborers contrasts with the machined production of the West. Yet, as with all his films, Farocki refrains from editing to propagate a certain moral code; in fact his works generally abstain from emotional suffusion or even an authored intention. "In our private life we can't express ourselves without reflection. We learn that we have to respect others, directly and also symbolically. In this sense we are not free to express ourselves. We have to struggle for a realm in which individuality and emotionality are in place," explains Farocki before concluding: "in every case I want to give the spectators something to consider. Today nearly everybody has already seen every imaginable object or process in a representation. I hope to wash the spectator's eyes."
Allowing us to see the familiar afresh, Comparison Via A Third looks to offer us not only a glimpse at the prolific output of a venerated filmmaker, but also a way of looking at what is all around us.