directors lounge monthly screenings
Thursday, 30 March 2017
Z-Bar Bergstraße 2
Ana Bilankov, Berlin based artist with Croatian background, creates videos connected with peculiar places in different European cities, Moscow and New York, connected with the geographies and stories of those places, mostly interwoven with her own biography or experience. Her short films often combine a brittle visual poetry with rarified narratives on the soundtrack. Her training in art history and German studies in Zagreb together with her Master in Art in Context in Berlin seem to give her the intuition to pick out places and situations that become metaphors for things unspoken or stories untold. It may also have been her biography, which sensitized her for the hidden traces in human geographies, namely her escape from war while it spread over former Yugoslavia. The artist on the other hand calls it her "search for Roland Barthes' punctum" in the geography of the city.
Her video pictures are conceived like extended snapshots that unfold, and become meaningful over time. Sound and text work complementary and associative to the pictures and are often from more divers sources than the image. When she points to the former Transantlantic slave trade connected with the sugar manufacturing in Bristol in her film "Sweet Home", to the poisonous wreckage of Newtown Creek of East River NY in "New Town Future Film", or to the story of an old broken Jewish House in Vienna ("I want to get out"), the artist never uses a traditional documentary style or storytelling. Instead, the films often comprise a poetic multi-layered audio-visual composition that leaves it open to the viewer to follow all the laid-out traces or to create their own associative connections.
Her film "U Ratu i Revoluciji / In War and Revolution" goes back to Croatia for a visit of her grandmother and the traces of a book about education in the resistance against the Nazi occupation written by her grandfather. The book disappeared as "communist inappropriate" during political changes and the war of the early 1990s in Croatia. Starring character in the film is Bilankov's grandmother, a very sympathetic lady in her nineties. She reads from the book but remembers only few things, as she is suffering from amnesia of her old age. The struggles of her trying to put together things about the past and her gentle ways of trying to cover the lost memories are engaging the viewer's empathy. Personal memories and the meaning of their loss becomes a layer of parallel montage to the research project: interviews and reflections about those books of the Yugoslavian period that have disappeared from the shelves of libraries and bookstores, the book "The School in War and Revolution" being one of them. The information we are given in the film however are fragments of Bilankov's research on the subject, and not the kind of statement of an "all knowing narrator" of traditional documentaries. By this cautious method the artist is also able to draw another difficult parallel line: the similar losses of memory and cultural heritage that was imposed on people and the society by the burning of books in Nazi Germany.
"New Town Future Film" is Bilankov's largest and newest film project. It mostly shows a night at the industrial harbor of Newtown Creek. Slow movement of heavy ships carrying recycling material and revolving towboats dominate the scene, and the sound of an industrial hum, presumably from the ships and a far overhead highway together with the reverberation from metal buildings, ships and the river create an impressive soundscape. What's more, like in a radio feature, voices and sounds from different sources, voice over, film sounds and radio recording, are blending in and out, and are guiding the mind of the viewer in very different directions. They create a narrative of a sound mosaic, which is only loosely connected with the video images that increasingly reach meditative qualities. The time, space and location of the narrative becomes ambivalent. Knowing about the buried rotten oil tanker on the bottom of the creek possibly makes some of the connections between soundscape and image more present and acute, while on the other hand the few inserts on the video track start to deconstruct the reality of a heavy industrial presence: the appearance of silent lightnings and reproductions of parts of a negative photostat (an early form of photocopy) by Robert Smithson called "Proposal For a Monument at Antarctica" possibly changes again the interpretation of the scenery into some kind of archaic science fiction.
"Night Riders", the film which gives the program its title, is a very different film. It works more like a a short glimpse into some irritating reality, and it is thus similar to some other films of Ana Bilankov. On a first look, it could be a night shot on the street in some random city in the USA, but it is in fact placed in the center of Moscow. The video shows night riders passing through the streets, not on the road, but on the sidewalk. Things mostly happen in slow motion. The most surprising fact is, however, that nobody seems to take notice nor reacts anxiously, even though the sidewalk is quite narrow. It seems, like it would be the daily routine for everybody but the camera person, and in the end, the viewer. "200 roubles" is another, short located in Moscow. Here, the artist meets Putin, Lenin (they shake hands), Marx and Czar Nikolai. The whole single shot video could be a photo meeting with the actors on a film set of a not very high budgeted docu-fiction that actually could happen anywhere. However, it is located on a corner of the Red Square, which gives it a surprising and irritating quality.
"Blue Black Berlin", on the other hand, is made with a number of shots looking down onto the very black water of the River Spree. Only a few reflections appear, and a few bicycle riders passing in the background. This time, it is the sound that creates a whole story. It seems to be just intense "atmo", local sound but it is in fact composed by sound composer Tyler Friedman. The sound increases from cicadas mixed with a mechanical low drone to rising suspense followed by a climax of what may have been an accident with the camera, or a wordless attack against the artist? We don't know, but the succeeding camera gaze onto the dark water, triggers all my different associations of "blackwater" that could arrive in my mind. Water that moves slow and thick like oil.
The turning point of "Blue Black Berlin" might be the most obvious, but it is possibly a key to many of her other films. The meaning of the rather straightly shot pictures undergo a transformation by other layers, and it is often the sound layers that open those different meanings and connotations. It does not mean that the picture becomes just a metaphor for a symbolistic alternative meaning. Instead, it seems to become liquified, it starts to fluctuate, like the water on the table inside the narrow courtyard in the last shot of "A Story".
The artist will introduce the screening and will be available for Q&A. Curated by Klaus W. Eisenlohr.
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