e-flux journal issue 59:
Harun Farocki

e-flux journal issue 59:
Harun Farocki

e-flux journal

November 6, 2014

e-flux journal issue 59:
Harun Farocki

with Kodwo EshunChrista BlümlingerJames BenningDoreen MendeAnselm FrankeCathy Lee CraneAlice Cresicher and Andreas SiekmannThomas Elsaesser in conversation with Alexander AlberroFilipa CésarUte HollJan RalskeConstanze RuhmTrevor PaglenBani KhoshnoudiArmin LinkeHito Steyerl


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Organized in collaboration with Antje Ehmann and Doreen Mende, this issue of e-flux journal pays tribute to Harun Farocki (January 9, 1944–July 30, 2014) with a series of essays and reflections on his work and life by friends, collaborators, film scholars, and admirers. Those who knew Harun personally remember not only the epic influence of his work, but also his generosity as a friend and collaborator. As for us, we have never before dedicated a full issue of e-flux journal to a single artist.

From his best known films such as Inextinguishable Fire (1969), Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1989), and Videograms of a Revolution (together with Andrei Ujică, 1992) to endless others such as How to Live in the German Federal Republic (1990), The Interview (1996), and An Image (1983), he used cinematic techniques to make the functioning of power seductive, even thrilling to witness. “More images than the eye can see,” the voice of Ulrike Grote taunts in Images of the World and the Inscription of War, a film reflecting on the surveillance photos taken by US warplanes that had aerially documented what was happening in Nazi camps during World War II. Even though these images were not seen by human eyes—whether willfully or not—we realize that allied cameras were complicit in seeing, but not in knowing what happened.

Farocki’s films lead us to think that the real brutality of power that uses advanced forms of technology, transmission, and mediation goes far beyond the application of physical violence on human bodies, and towards something much more delicate, much more refined. Its real violence arrives in something like boredom, in rendering the actual functioning of power as boring—uninteresting and technical on the surface, but eventually and ultimately authoritarian in its inaccessibility. It is from this point that Farocki’s mastery begins: by identifying cinema as a historical meeting point between technology and seduction. Cinema has always been the name of the machine for merging warfare and entertainment, propaganda and pornography.

So why can’t we then draw a direct line from its history into a present where cinema has already been weaponized as the primary technique for mobilizing vision—for drones and romantic comedies alike? From here it only takes Farocki’s elegant sleight of hand to twist the apparatus back on itself, to render its own technologies of control interesting, seductive enough to be perceivable, perceivable enough to be accessible. It is through cinema that power can become fascinating in its complexity, charming in its grace, and deadly in its poetry, to the point where the spell of its technology is broken. Once the aura is gone, slippages appear at the very centers of command, where every lock can be picked and US generals fumble blindly with their own software. The technology has become impossible to master, and also available to anyone. With Harun’s precise scrutiny, an intimate world of techno-social micro-machinations comes to life. When an automated gate closes and latches, Harun is there. When looking into the LCD screens replacing rearview mirrors in cars, he is there. He is there when we address a colleague at work with a certain title.

Farocki’s last work looked at the design of worlds within video games. If we understand the history of cinema as also being the history of optics, then what are the physics of a world made out of vision, of a living cinema? In gamespace there is always a problem when you try to leave, when you reach the edge of the world and you try to go past it, to exit completely. And in Farocki’s Parallel I–IV, the moment you reach the edge, you hit a transparent border. Even if you fall through past the limit, the film loop starts again and you are urged to return.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

In this issue:

Kodwo Eshun—A Question They Never Stop Asking
To take Farocki’s preference for the instructional seriously is to embark, joyously, upon an internal exile from much of what understands itself as experimental culture. And now that Farocki is gone, it becomes clear to me that his films, videos, television programs, essays, texts, exhibitions, and interviews provide nothing less than an alternative value system that enables you to encounter the mutation of images in the present.

Ruchir Joshi—Also of Things: Notes for a Film Remembering Harun Farocki
When editing, your feet itch to kick something. Some invisible server takes the weight of everything. All you’re left with is what you can see and hear.

Christa Blümlinger—An Archaeologist of the Present
He himself liked to speak in metaphors and analogies; his line of argument often took pictorial detours, forming chains and series much like his shot sequences.

James Benning—FAROCKI
Harun Farocki rest in the peace you were so fighting for.

Doreen Mende—Timeline along Books and Hand Gestures: 18,000 BC–2061
This timeline wills itself to stay as precise as possible in terms of dates, names, observations, and comparisons. Learning from HF: each sentence—recorded, pictured, drawn, written, or spoken—is potentially a (never complete) archive of books and films as much as of thoughts and gestures.

Anselm Franke—A Critique of Animation
Not only is it cheaper to use real actors in motion capture than to produce characters from scratch in digital animation, it is also the way to ensure that technology today has always-already been pushed beyond the uncanny valley, because that valley itself is now bridged by the investment of life into machines.

Cathy Lee Crane—Letters to Harun
Hi Cathy, I want to put you on the guest list for a superb dinner at Greene Naftali on September 9. Are you around? Best wishes, Harun

Andreas Siekmann and Alice Cresicher—How to Wear a Scissor-Wielding Trifecta on a T-Shirt
The photo below shows Harun wearing the scissor-wielding trifecta on a T-shirt, after the Goethe Institute in Lisbon refused to print the icon on their press release.

Thomas Elsaesser in conversation with Alexander Alberro—Farocki: A Frame for the No Longer Visible

Just as hackers and Apple might well end up living in a symbiotic relationship—as host-and-parasite, rather than as outright foes—Farocki realized that a system can use its opponents as a way to self-regulate and stabilize itself.

Filipa César—Joint Leopard Dot
Then Harun told me how he was interested in the deviations of meaning and the polysemic nature of words. He said that if he were to choose another occupation, he would be an etymologist.

Ute Holl—Farocki’s Cinematic Historiography: Reconstructing the Visible
Extremely well acquainted with historical and contemporary systems of thought, Farocki has written on historical materialism, semiotics, and structuralism, but has defied all of them in filmic discourse.

Jan Ralske—Harun’s Highway
The impact of Harun Farocki’s work was more than the howl of a dog in tune with his instincts.

Constanze Ruhm—Attachment
A simple lesson I learned from Harun Farocki: on set, you can clap the clapboard quietly too.

Trevor Paglen—Operational Images
Something new was happening in the world of images, something that the theoretical tools of visual studies and art history couldn’t account for: the machines were starting to see for themselves. Harun Farocki was one of the first to notice that image-making machines and algorithms were poised to inaugurate a new visual regime.

Bani Khoshnoudi—Watch and Learn
Somewhere, he himself said that it is not what is in a picture, but what lies behind it that counts; that this should not stop us, as it never stopped Farocki, from using and showing images, as if they are the only source of proof we have for certain things.

Armin Linke—In His Reading Chair

Hito Steyerl—Beginnings
A good beginning holds a problem in its most basic form. It looks effortless, but rarely is. A good beginning requires the precision and skill to say things simply. Like the crafts of making bricks, weapons, or files on hard drives, there is an art of creating beginnings.

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