The Model, Sligo has a good track record of introduc- ing Irish audiences to important international artists and Harun Farocki, once described as “Germany’s best known unknown filmmaker” is a good example of this. Harun Farocki’s long career spans several dec- ades. The Model is showing a selection of Farocki’s key installation works, along with weekend cinema screenings of his films.
The title of the show – ‘Recognition and Tracking’, is apt when describing Farocki’s work as he has spent over 40 years tracking and critiquing how the technology that produces images has developed; and how these images are utilized by powerful insti- tutions. This technology is eventually subsumed into the leisure and entertainment industries in the form of computer gaming, Sat-nav and the recent unset- tling use of voice and face recognition in gaming and other social network sites.
Farocki employs a range of filmic techniques ranging from montage, surveillance, military and video game footage. His earlier work bears all the hallmarks of agitprop cinema and some engaging pieces are to be found for viewing in one room, but it is Farocki’s video installation work that makes it worth the trip to The Model. Since the early 90s Farocki has consistently engaged with the space of the art gallery or museum as a place to encounter his work. As such his work has been hugely influential on at least one generation of video / film installation artists.
Farocki’s films are in a constant dialogue with images and image making, and with the institutions, which produce and circulate these images. What is most compelling about Farocki’s work is the way he uses images to critique the production and consump- tion of images.
In the galleries are four of Farocki’s best known video installations including the intriguing Deep Play (2007). First shown at Documenta XII Deep Play is a 12-screen projection documenting the 2006 world cup final from multiple viewpoints and from a varie- ty of media sources: FIFA footage, artist’s own footage, stadium surveillance footage and 2D animation sequences. Deep Play, which runs for the actual length of the football match is a visual slice and dice of imagery, a dozen different perspectives from various technologies shown simultaneously (including pre- sumably Zidane’s infamous head butt.) It could be described as visual overload but in fact the display of multiple screen showing multiple forms of images is becoming commonplace for the sophisticated viewer of today and for the general user of visual media. Deep Play is a complex and engaging piece that asks the viewer to consider the nature of what we are seeing and also whether by seeing too much are we missing the ‘actual’ event?
It is widely accepted that military technology has filtered down into the leisure industry. However, in Serious Games I – IV (2009-2010) Farocki examines how computer animation and video game technolo- gy is used to train American soldiers before battle and also used therapeutically by allowing soldiers to re- enact previous combat trauma again in the virtual world. Each sequence explores a different facet of the central themes of the work; the connection between the computer game, real war and therapy.
In one sequence – entitled Immersion, a series of double screen projections show soldiers / players and the virtual world they are engaging with as a form of preparation for the real combat terrain they will eventually enter. The soldiers, sitting at screens, guide their avatars through the eerie terrain, themselves guided by a therapist who prompts them to explore their feelings as they relive the trauma of the event. In another sequence Watson is Down a trainee’s avatar is killed, the soldier watches as his avatar’s fic- tional death is referred to with the term “down” or “out” as if in a game. The soldier’s reaction is one of dismay and frustration yet his expression shows how impossible the simulated “down” of a fictional death will ever prepare one for the real thing.
Perhaps the most chilling of the pieces in the exhibition is the installation The Eye/Machine (2000- 2003). Farocki’s eye, unlike Digov Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera examines the mechanical gaze, an unknowing eye that sees. ‘Man’ is taken out of the equation, as it is the machine eye that roves, seeing all but knowing nothing. Farocki gained incredible access to footage from so-called “intelligent machines” used during the Gulf War. Bombs with cameras attached to them relayed images straight to a compu- ter that was able to adjust the bomb’s trajectory as it headed towards its target. Machines talking to machines was once the realm of science fiction. “Eye Machine” skilfully examines, how all to quickly the human eye can become irrelevant.
The fourth work Workers leaving the factory for 10 decades (1995) is an engaging montage of some moments from recognisable films such as Lar’s Von Triar’s Dancer in the Dark of people doing just that. As well as positioning a chronology of images of repre- sentations of workers, Farocki alludes to nostalgia for a traditional type of work, to cinema as a mode of production, and the “dream factories” of Hollywood’s golden era.
It has often been said that great art has the potential to change the way we look at the world and Farocki’s work is not for the rushed museum visitor. Each of Serious Games I_IV last for 15–20 minutes, Deep Play is the longest piece about two hours but a lengthy stay is a richly rewarding one. Farocki’s work deserves a wide audience here in Ireland and he is certainly something of a coup for Model Arts Centre. Farewell to the tag “Germany’s best known unknown filmmaker” – Farocki is arguably Germany’s most important and influential filmmaker.