Directors Lounge 2008 • Berlin, february 7-17

Sunday, February 17

Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Cities So Different, So Appealing?

(JB) Apart from the regular screenings, the Directors Lounge programme included several works that were shown in the foyer as projections or via PC screens; as I unfortunately didn't catch much of Saturday's screenings, I'd like to drop some lines on some of these pieces, which were also part of Klaus W. Eisenlohr's Urban Research series.
First, there was [13terShop], a documentary project by Florian Thalhofer and Kolja Mensing, shot during one month spent by the two artists in a mall in Bremen. The DVD was made using a Flash-based authoring system by Thalhofer himself; the project's websites are rife with the usual buzzwords like “rhizomatic”, “non-linear” or the invariably misunderstood “interactive”, which I stopped caring about some time ago (and even more with the advent of a new breed of brilliant, cinematic video games like Portal or Gears of War, which make all the ruminations on narration and/or interactivity somehow irrelevant), but I do care about a intuitive interface, interesting footage and some good editing, which were all present in Thalhofer's and Mensing's DVD piece. The editing itself is part of the new-media approach of the [13terShop] DVD, which consists of a number of short scenes – interviews with workers and shoppers, and rather atmospheric footage with a voice-over by the artists themselves – that are arranged in a way that creates various possible paths through the material (after watching one of the clips, you can choose between two others). I'll refrain from using the term “story-lines” here, as this entire idea of the project seems not to be the creation of a coherent narrative, but an accumulation of fragments; you will recognize the faces of the different interviewees after a while, so it's up to you if you choose to listen to another of their stories, or somebody else's. Obviously, the choice of the material included on the DVD has been the artists' in the end, but the process that led to the film's creation was somehow opened to the public by a web diary and the possibility to comment on and even contribute to the work via the internet and, of course, directly in the shopping mall itself. This kind of both very subjective but, yes, interactive – obviously not through the simple click-to-choose element of the DVD, but rather through many layers of possible feedback included in the documentary process. I suppose this might be the way journalism will be going in the future; Gonzo journalism had unearthed the subjective core of the documentary process in the 20th century, and maybe it's time to pack even more subjectivity into it with some advanced media technology. Way to go, Web 2.0! (I suppose this will sound as stale as the entire nineties “rhizome” thing ten years from now, but, well, I'm writing a blog here)

I had been writing about the parasitic use of the urban environment earlier in the context of the Surveillance Camera Players and other works; there was a hint of the irreverent usage of architecture too in “The Happy Ones”, a video installation by Ellen Bornkessel from 2007, although the scenes of urban leisure and relaxation she had captured might have been as much intended by well-meaning architects and planners, as also somehow accidental re-interpretations of various spaces by the cities' inhabitants (including rabbits). Official urban planners often try to stress the friendly and somehow utopian qualities of new-built environments, and Bornkessel managed to work out situations in which the often bizarre concepts of utopian aesthetics collided with similarly dubious or blunt displays of innocent fun & frolicking – including an image of a huge cluster of fancy balloons, which might have come out right of a Superflat painting with its rather demonic incarnation of juvenile paraphernalia.

Cheers, JB