Berlin Documentary Forum 2 and A Blind Spot13 June 2012
he ‘Berlin Documentary Forum 2: New Practice Across Disciplines’ was held at the HKW (Haus der Kulturen der Welt / House of World Cultures), a popular multi-cultural, cross-disciplinary venue, from May 31 through June 3, 2012. Berlin is a city populated with prominent documentary filmmakers, and Germany boosts several documentary film festivals. This intellectually active community responded strongly to the BDF1, and returned with great enthusiasm for this year’s biennial.
Catherine David, curator of the 2012 exhibition A Blind Spot, on view at HKW through July 1, 2012, announced the exhibition and concept in June 2010 at the BFD1. David referred to the blind spot as what is essentially inferred in a photo or film, the triangle between the author, the structure and the subject of a work. On view and in parallel with the more passionate Forum, the exhibition felt cold, formal and lean, with small works grouped traditionally in a soft grey environment. All photographs were black and white. The remarkable and luxurious work by Efrat Shvily, stood out by capturing the illusion created by artificially planted green areas in Palestine (a project of her immigrant grandparents, in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of their former home in the Czech Republic). Numerous other works by well-known photographers David Goldblatt, Joachim Koester, and Elisabetta Benassi were shown in series that dominated the exhibition. An installation of plastic beads in front of expansive gallery windows, Shutter’s Lullaby (Corridor) (2012) by Olaf Nicolai, allowed the audience to interact with and observe ‘reality’ from a prepared perspective.
A Blind Spot included several film works that contrasted greatly to the photography on view. Located outside the gallery, Jewel (2010, 6’30) by Cairo based Hassan Khan, was installed in a room that mirrored the setting. In a single zoom shot, it slowly pulled out from a jewel-like display to focus on two men, dancing, in what Khan stated represented all humankind. A more traditional documentary Vita Nova (2009, 27’25) by Vincent Meessen, reflected upon the seminal theoretical work Mythologies and Roland Barthe’s great grandfather, the first Governor of The Ivory Coast, then a French colony. The work was presented with documents and ephemera, as well as a handout, the reprint of the famous Paris Match No. 326, 2 June 1955, with the cover Les Nuits de L’Armée.
As a political term, the blind spot has strong significance, and was mentioned frequently throughout the four day Forum, a program that featured several repeat participants from the 2010 event. The Lebanese theatre director Rabih Mroué returned to open the Forum with a passionate performance The Pixelated Revolution, based on phone videos from the streets of Syria. Eyal Sivan was a repeat presenter, and this year launched issue zero, a journal that examines documentary practice in networked environments, available online. Other participants included Harun Farocki, Christine Meisner, Christopher Pinney, Miriam Fassbender, Flrorian Schneider, and Eszter Salamon.
Dependent upon the practice and theory of documentary filmmaking, BDF2 also offered positions that looked not so much at ‘new practices’ but rather, at ‘new perspectives’. A notable presence was Sylvère Lotringer, editor of Semiotext. In three presentations called Framing Death, his views on surveillance, the romanticized documentary image, and the practice of recording homicide scenes as evidence were revealed. Lotringer’s presentations were deeply personal reflections, intercut by long segments of film, and lengthy interviews with the New York crime scene videographer “Johnny Esposito.”
The most experimental event of the program was a multi-media presentation The Body of the Image (Ripping Reality – Blind Spots and Wrecked Data in 3D) by Berlin based theoretician and filmmaker Hito Steryl. Using three roaming projections and an array of fixed screens, Steryl examined the new practice of 3D printing (and it’s blind spots) using the new Leica ScanStation C10, advertised as “forensic documentation tool and homeland security technology.” She demonstrated how 3D technologies affect our notion of space and material reality, taking as examples 3D technology used in contemporary architecture, military planning and for forensic examination. Concluding, she analyzed the 1998 scene where her friend Andrea Wolf, the PKK freedom fighter and protagonist in her film November (2004, 25 min), was assassinated in a violent massacre.
In conclusion, the Forum presented amazing, brain teasing presentations and performances, by brilliant minds with diverse perspectives on the documentary form (which we were told many times is not so different from fiction). The exhibition, however, left audiences curious, and wondering if the two years of preparation would not have resulted in a more complex presentation of work, to support David’s broad and provocative curatorial position.
‘Berlin Documentary Forum 2: New Practice Across Disciplines’ and A Blind Spot, curated by Catherine David, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany, forum from May 31 through June 3, 2012, HYPERLINK “http://www.hkw.de” www.hkw.de (for video documentation of the Forum) HYPERLINK “http://www.issuezero.org” www.issuezero.org
Writing Credits: Kathy Rae Huffman is a curator, writer and researcher. Her recent exhibition Exchange and Evolution: Worldwide Video Long Beach 1974-1999 was part of the Los Angeles-wide, Pacific Standard Time initiative. She is an American, based in Berlin since 2008.
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