NICHT löschbares Feuer

04 / 11 / 01 - 14 / 12 / 01
Exhibition / Screening / Discussion

NICHT löschbares Feuer
curated by Constanze Ruhm

On Jill Godmilow including:
Why I repeated Farocki...
Correspondence between Jill Godmilow and Harun Farocki...
on NICHT löschbares Feuer (Inextinguishable Fire)...
Jill Godmilow : On Farocki's Strategies: The Technique and Structure of Inextinguishable Fire...
Other films by Jill Godmilow...

Tom Gunning on What Farocki taught
Synopses of Harun Farocki's works available in the video section
A Conversation between Anna and Robert

Harun Farocki, NICHT löschbares Feuer, (1968/69)


The project "NICHT löschbares Feuer" focuses on four decades of work from film director Harun Farocki through an artist’s space perspective, in this period of time where a convergence of Farocki materials appear in neighboring regional institutions (ZKM Karlsruhe in the group exhibition CTRL [SPACE], Frankfurter Kunstverein), and the release of a newly published book on his work "Imprint/Nachdruck" (Lukas&Sternberg NY, 2001).

"NICHT löschbares Feuer" introduces an overview of Harun Farocki's film and video works as well as his work as author and filmcritic (editor and writer of Filmkritik journal, Film and TAZ Berlin), including his well know installation piece Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen along with a first presentation of a new installation with the title Die Maschinen tun ihre Arbeit nicht länger blind which is based on materials Farocki is currently investigating.

The project centers specifically on Farocki's methodology and practice on the scale of a highly individual artistic approach and convention, that of first and foremost a filmmaker, a documentarist and writer engaged in politics of representation. His strategy connects an ongoing investigation of notions of representation with a search for new principles of montage, for tools that render visible the changing structures of a society. A new technique of framing is employed that allows for comparison, analysis and modification of the political and cultural space of ideas within which representational modes are formulated. These montage principles are applied within various media formats as a form of consistent exploration of the etymology of images, as well as through a technique of re-inscription and re-contextualization within always-new constellations. Farocki relates that to a critique of hegemonical, official forms of representation ranging from subjects like the Vietnam war to Self Managment, Advertisement and sales strategies. Through doubting the truth of that what we see, he reveals the mechanics hidden beneath the surface of images and opens them up to critical rereading and re-interpretation.

Farockis work always begins with a crucial question: What is an image? he asks. What is representation, and how does it relate to that which is represented? By using images to comment on other images, a method he calls "horizontal montage", Farocki attempts to analyze that which can be found behind their visible surface. One of his long-term projects is concerned with the creation of a collection of filmic "expressions" that could be compared to a dictionary for spoken and written language. In a broad sense, this would include further systems of classification, the organization of image collections by topic and motive or even by their narrative meaning.

"What I want to get at is that there is almost no such thing as an active vocabulary of images, as compared to the vocabulary of language - and no possibility for linking expressions."[1]

Farocki suggests the foundation of a research archive for images, which would allow for building further a vocabulary of visual terms and expressions in order to enhance understanding of what it really is that we perceive. Many of Farocki's film titles are telling: Bilderkrieg, Der ─rger mit den Bildern, Ein Bild, Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges, Die Arbeit mit Bildern, Industrie und Fotografie, Stadtbild, Etwas wird sichtbar [2] : image and representation of the world, and how it can be read and deciphered is at the core of the director's investigation. The focus lies on comprehensibility and readability of the world of technical and media images, their relation to representation in link with the role of the production processes. And yet at the same time, it is also the gaps and omissions, that which is left out, what we never can grasp, what lies between the images that Farocki tries to unearth: "Much beautiful cinema has been born of the circumstance that someone was not allowed to show something and therefore replaced an illustration with an illusion, using omission as a means for creating space for imagination." [3]

Farockis role as rigorous theorizer of a contemporary syntax of filmmaking will be emphasized in a spatial framework, at three exhibition areas.

Harun Farocki, Constanze Ruhm, Public Discussion, Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, 11 / 03 / 2001

NICHT löschbares Feuer ( d. Harun Farocki. 16mm, b/w, 1968/69, 25 min.)

What Farocki Taught ( d. Jill Godmilow. With Gloria Jean Masciarotte and Ted Mandell. 16mm, b/w and color, 1998, 30 min.)

The project opens with a screening of two films followed by a discussion with the artist. The focus is on production, with Farocki’s film on Vietnam and US manufacture of Napalm, NICHT löschbares Feuer (1968/69), and US filmmaker Jill Godmilow’s 1998 shot-for-shot replica What Farocki Taught. Together, these represent a dialogue between decades where the causality chain of action and reaction within the sensitive field of cultural readings and re-readings becomes visible. As Godmilow writes for this haus.0 presentation: What Farocki Taught is a replica -- not a remake, not an homage, not an updating -- but a shot-for-shot replica of Harun Farocki's 1969 film Inextinguishable Fire. It was intended as a repetition of the original. Gertrude Stein once said, 'Let me repeat what history teaches: History teaches.' Fire seemed worth repeating.

On NICHT löschbares Feuer

"This is one of the most important agitprop documents of the Vietnam Movement. It is a treatise on Napalm production, the division of labor and on heteronomous consciousness - it is of Brechtian sparseness, didactic in its style, biting in its language: it is a document of its time, of the 68 movement's pedagogical rigor, but it also documents their ability to elucidate complex interrelations in such a way so that understanding and acting would become a self evident unity for many from this generation." (K. Kreimeier)
"The first of Farocki's films that had left an impression in the German cinÚast scene opens with a dramatic and destructive gesture. During a long shot one sees, in close up, the author who sits at a table in a plain room. While he reads a Vietnamese's witness statement in a flat voice, his eyes meet the camera several times. The statement recounts an attack of a village by the American Air Force, and the use of Napalm, this "inextinguishable fire" that lent the first film its title. Near the end of the statement, he looks up from the paper in his hand directly into the camera and says: "How can we show you napalm in action? And how can we show you the damage caused by napalm? If we show you pictures of napalm damage, you'll close your eyes. First you'll close your eyes to the pictures; then you'll close your eyes to the memory.... Then you'll close your eyes to the facts.... then you'll close your eyes to the connections between them ...
We can give you only a weak demonstration of how napalm works."Then Farocki picks up a burning cigarette while the camera draws closer to show him extinguish the cigarette on the back of his hand. An off-camera voice explains, that a cigarette burns with an average 500 degrees, whereas Napalm burns with 4000 degrees. (...)NICHT löschbares Feuer can be distinguished from most of the other films that were shot in protest against the Vietnam War. This film wants to demonstrate the industrial and personal relations around the production of war, and it wants to point out western scientist's responsibilities for the atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam. In contrast to Emile de Antonio's Year of the pig, Farocki uses almost no documentary materials, but instead employs brief Brechtian scenes interrupted by written inserts and offscreen commentaries."[4]

On What Farocki Taught

"Godmilow's film What Farocki Taught takes as its subject the formal and political strategies of Farocki's black and white film 1969 NICHT löschbares Feuer (Inextinguishable Fire). What Farocki Taughtis literally and stubbornly a remake - that is, a perfect replica, in color and in English, of Farocki's astute, some would say crudely-made film, produced in Germany at the height of the Vietnam War, about the production of Napalm B by the Dow Chemical Company for the War in Vietnam; about the abuses of human labor; and about documentary filmmaking. In 1969, Farocki attempted to make "visible", and thus comprehensible, the physical properties of Napalm B, and to demonstrate the impossibility of resistance to its production by Dow Chemical Corporation employees and ultimately to its use by the U.S. military forces fighting in Vietnam. Farocki's film is radical in technique - taking up one of the hottest of political questions - the production of terror - and cooling it down to frank, rational substance through the strategy of "under-representation", refusing the pornography of documentary "evidence" and replacing it with Brechtian reconstruction and demonstration. Employing a set of propositions about the multi-national research corporation and the production of weapons of war in a unique "agit-prop" style, "Fire" reaches beyond the specific terrors of napalm and provokes baseline questions about the ethical uses of labor. Because Farocki's "Fire" was never distributed in the U.S. at the time of its making and even today is unavailable to American audiences, Godmilow's WHAT FAROCKI TAUGHT was conceived as a gesture of film distribution - taking this small, film footnote to a war, a barnacle stuck on the side of the moth-balled vessel of Vietnam, flicking it forward past the recent, more sophisticated, and successful technologies of Panama and the Persian Gulf, to see if the "ping" of recognition and the radical potential of the documentary film project can be revived. In an epilog, Godmilow prods contemporary filmmakers toward "Fire's" political stance and strategies, emphasizing its direct audience address and refusal to produce the "compassionate voyeurism" of the classic documentary cinema."

l: Erzählen, m.Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik r.Worte und Spiele

Farocki┤s media investigations underway over these decades can be seen in the video viewing area for the duration of the exhibition, making available a large selection of newly produced DVDs, both films and TV productions, ranging from his early 16 mm film Erzählen from 1975 to his latest documentary Schöpfer der Einkaufswelten from 2001. As well, there is a selection of written materials representing his early period as author of Filmkritik and various other journals.

The list of works available includes:

• Erzählen
(originally16mm transfer to DVD, color, 1975, 58 min.)
• Die Schulung (Video, color, 1987, 44 min.)
• Die Umschulung (Video, color, 1994, 44 min.)
• Schnittstelle
(Video, color, 1995, 23 min.)
• Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik
(Video, color and b/w, 1995, 36 min.)
• Der Ausdruck der Hände
(Video, color and b/w, 1997, 29 min.)
• Die Bewerbung (Video, color, 1997, 58 min.)
• Worte und Spiele
(Video, color, 1998, 68 min.)
• Gefängnisbilder
(Video, color and b/w, 2000, 60 min.)
• Die Schöpfer der Einkaufswelten
(Video, color, 2001, 70 min.)
• Peter Lorre - Das doppelte Gesicht (16 mm, color and s/w, 1984, 59 min.)

The later aspect of Farocki’s work is his gradual recent shift onto spatial terms, which was in part possible due to his analysis of montage and use of various media sources. The few installation works are directly linked to the language of his media practice while matching architectural space to issues of control and surveillance. This is exemplified in his well-known, second installation Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen (2000), shown here in single channel format. The work deals with the laws of representation and of surveillance: laws that assume that transgressions will occur. The expansion of the media into architecture means the space is surveyed as a field of exercises and rituals as well, where transgressive performances of subjects that have been objectified are already anticipated. The installation piece here is returned to the technological form that it emanates from - the surveillance camera of a prison, a now eternal return to an act that will always occur, like a clock, a transgression predicted, anticipated, a safe bet.

"In the upper left corner of the image (from Gefängnisbilder ) are the date and exact time of the recording - an attestation common to amateur vacation videos as well as to surveillance cameras. However, the light hued numbers occasionally blur into the background, so that when I saw the film on television, instead of the actual date, April 7th 1989 (later seen in the close up) a different series of numbers was visible: 14 - 7 - 89. A misreading, but it is difficult to shake this combination with ist imagined first numeral. An intellectual arch spans exactly two hundred years, connecting two prisons and two continents. From a high security penal system in California to the prison fortress that was successfully attacked an July 14, 1789 - an act that led to the French Revolution. The assault on the Bastille and the subsequent changes have been seen as a shift from a "society of sovereignity" to a "disciplinary society", from punishment to surveillance." (from: Volker Pantenberg on Gefängnisbilder Nachdruck/Imprint. Lukas&Sternberg, NY 2001)

Ich glaubte, Gefangene zu sehen is joined by a new work presented for the first time: Die Maschinen tun ihre Arbeit nicht länger blind, which was developed by HarunFarocki specifically along the outline of the project. The work joins to the artist space at the level of a methodology, a representational interplay and breakdown of his recent investigations that link with his new work on intelligent machines, intelligent weapons and how these advertise one another. Seen together, the shift from a society of discipline towards a society of control is a constituent factor within Farockis work and thus emphasized a line of thought along which the works and installations are developed.

The works of Harun Farocki appear courtesy of the artist.
Texts, Translations: C.R.


[1] Harun Farocki, from: Der ─rger mit den Bildern.Die Filme von Harun Farocki. Rolf Aurich, Ulrich Kriest (Hg.) Konstanz: UVK Medien, 1998

[2] 1987, 1973, 1983, 1988, 1974, 1977-79, 1980-81, 1980-82.

[3] from: IMPRINT/NACHDRUCK.Susanne Gaensheimer, Nicolaus Schafhausen (Hg.) New York: Lukas&Sternberg, 2001.

[4] from: Vom Guerillakino zum Essayfilm. Werkmonographie eines deutschen Autorenfilmers. Tilman Baumgärtel. Würzburg: 1997.