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- 17.3.2014 9:26 -

A sober viewer with artistic perspective. An Interview with Dariusz Kowalski

Ortem

Audiovisual artist Dariusz Kowalski is very well known in the field of documentary film as well as in the area of contemporary visual arts. His works have been presented in film festivals in the same time while his other projects are filling the space of international galleries. Similarly, Kowalski´s approach to filmmaking works in a unique dualistic way; assuming the role of a sober viewer, he represents a beholder with a quality of highly artistic perspective at the same time. On the basis of this combination, the audiences get a new experience of reflecting how vision can become a very important creator of our common reality.

Although the DAFilm´s team have not had a chance to meet Dariusz Kowalski face-to face (or “eye-to-eye”) it is our pleasure to present a short interview with the filmmaker related to the selection of his 4 films offered from March 17 to 23 at DAFilms.com online for free!

How would you describe the main object of your interest as a filmmaker?

In my earlier films I was primarily preoccupied with highways, subways, and airports, in the context of surveillance. Marc Augé's notion of non-place was of course quite important in this cinematic engagement. I was interested in using the internet and webcams as tools with 'thousands of eyes' to generate an enormous quantity of images and simultaneously was drawn to the aesthetics of webcams that are not built for cinematographic purposes but are mainly used for surveillance purposes. Webcams represent a kind of temporary historic archive on the internet without any claims to permancency or meaning. I became fascinated by this automated, mechanized gaze at the world – images taken without somebody actually looking through the camera, and these particular compressions of time and light that occur when a webcam is pointed at the same spot in a landscape day and night. These images of places were collected over months and are characterized predominantly by absence. They have developed a life of their own through time lapse compression and have themselves become a kind of inner landscape. My most recent film was a portrait of Nowa Huta, the first communist city in Poland, planned around a steel plant on the outskirts of Krakow. Currently I am working on a documentary about hearing impairment and sign language.

Your films can be perceived as a kind of experimental exploration of common phenomena. How do you reflect your relationship to the field of experimental cinema, if there is any?

I had studied media art at the university at a time when the electronica scene in Vienna was extremely lively. My first cinematic experiments were a kind of extended cinema, as they had a lot to do with electronic music that was being performed at music clubs. Austrian experimental film has had a long tradition since the 1960s, and during my years of study I was fascinated by the films of Kurt Krenn and Martin Arnold. I always thought of the films I created from webcam material as found footage projects, and that's why I feel closer to experimental forms than any of the narrative genres.

How important are the new media for your film projects - in the role of the objects of film research as well as in their role as a tool of filming?

In my earlier films, I was primarily preoccupied with highways, subways, and airports, in the context of surveillance. Marc Augé’s notion of non-place was of course quite important in this cinematic engagement. I was interested in using the internet and webcams as tools with ‘thousands of eyes’ to generate an enormous quantity of images and simultaneously was drawn to the aesthetics of webcams that are not built for cinematographic purposes but are mainly used for surveillance purposes. Webcams represent a kind of temporary historic archive on the internet without any claims to permanency or meaning. I became fascinated by this automated, mechanized gaze at the world; images taken without somebody actually looking through the camera; and these particular compressions of time and light that occur when a webcam is pointed at the same spot in a landscape day and night. These images of places were collected over months and are characterized predominantly by absence. They have developed a life of their own through time lapse compression and have themselves become a kind of inner landscape. My most recent film was a portrait of Nowa Huta, the first communist city in Poland, planned around a steel plant on the outskirts of Krakow. Currently I am working on a documentary about hearing impairment and sign language.

Your films can be perceived as a kind of experimental exploration of common phenomena. How do you reflect your relationship to the field of experimental cinema, if there is any?

I had studied media art at the university at a time when the electronic scene in Vienna was extremely lively. My first cinematic experiments were a kind of extended cinema, as they had a lot to do with electronic music that was being performed at music clubs. Austrian experimental film has had a long tradition since the 1960s, and during my years of study I was fascinated by the films of Kurt Kren and Martin Arnold. I always thought of the films I created from webcam material as found footage projects, and that's why I feel closer to experimental forms than any of the narrative genres.

How important are the new media for your film projects - in the role of the objects of film research as well as in their role as a tool of filming?

New media played an important role in my making films such as Optical Vacuum. Dramaturgically speaking, I did not structure these films along the lines of narrative cinema, but rather tried to reflect upon new technologies and their dispositives, in the Foucaultian sense. As I said before, I was especially interested in these webcam recordings as a form of found footage material. And while doing research about the highways in Finland I chanced upon the webcams of the Finnish Road Administration (Finnra) and I thought, why film at all when so many images of the roads in Finland are already being recorded?

The DAFilms.com portal presents 4 films of yours. Could you please pick one of them and describe it to someone you'd like to invite to seeing the film?

Let me describe the method I have used in Optical Vacuum in a few sentences: I wanted to do an anti-essay film out of images that were generated by surveillance cameras. I did not want to use a high-handed reflexion as a commentary, but rather contrast these cold anonymous webcam images with a radically personal story.

In 2007 I had asked my friend Stephen Mathewson to keep a diary over the period of one year, but not in writing but by recording his 'entries' with a dictaphone. I was interested in the personal voice of somebody, not in the writing, but in the spontaneous talking. Spoken language differs quite substantially from written language, especially when one talks to oneself. Everybody is hearing their own voices but it is certainly different to express and record one's own thoughts and listen to them as speech. It was exactly this immediate and spontaneous form of language that I was interested in. It is a very peculiar sensation to talk to oneself into a dictaphone without anybody else being there. It's not easy, just try it!

Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Kowalski and we wish you the best of luck with all your projects. We are very happy to have your films in our catalogue.

A special thanks for a translation of this interview goes to Axel Fussi.

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