Directors Lounge 2008 • Berlin, february 7-17

Friday, February 8

This is a public service announcement

Jacob Birken and Sabrina Small, the blog writers at Directors Lounge

(JB) Hi everyone, the Directors Lounge 08 has started yesterday and it's time for some first impressions & introductions. First of all, I'm Jacob Birken and will be blogging here for the next ten days. I've been living and working in Berlin for a couple of years now, but have studied at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe and finished there with an MA in art theory & philosophy. As I've been usually working on visual arts on the one hand and popular cinema on the other, indie film-making is kind of new to me, but, well, it's moving images plus it's art so maybe I'll work this out.

As I've been told that yesterday's movies will be shown again during the regular screenings, I'll just pick out a couple for now. There was an interesting juxtaposition of two movies earlier the evening - Zhenchen Liu's “Under Construction”, and Jean-Gabriel Périot's “200 000 phantoms”, both from 2007 – which both analysed the destruction of urbanity and it's connection to what we might call cultural memory. Zhenchen Liu is a young chinese artist currently living in France. “Under Construction” is about Shanghai, though, and about the destruction of the historical parts of the city, which are radically remodelled to suit the conditions of a brand new capitalist China. While the preservation of historical buildings & quarters might seem a socio-political issue in Europe, too (think of the Palast der Republik in Berlin), the destruction of the historical quarters in Shanghai or Beijing directly concerns the living space and livelihood of the – often poor – inhabitants. The methods and effects of so-called urban planning have been a topic for Chinese Artists for some time; you might want to check out the earlier works of Zhang Dali, for example. While Zhang Dali chose a rather traditional way of urban protest – Graffiti & direct interventions –, Zhenchen Liu uses the images of the demolished buildings in a purely aesthetic and thus maybe even more radical way. The flattened cut-outs evoke a disturbing decadent pleasure, reminiscent both of theatrical scenery & the voyeuristic beauty of war photography; their ultimate flatness remains the same as the tableau of the Vanitas still life in European painting. The third dimension re-surfaces only in the very end, with the skyscrapers of a shiny new Shanghai appearing as a backdrop for the ruins of the old.

Interestingly, Jean-Gabriel Périot uses a similar technical metaphor in “200 000 phantoms”, a movie created entirely from images of the former Industrial Promotion Hall in Hiroshima, a ruin left standing after the atom bomb explosion in 1945. The art deco building, built by an Czech architect in 1915, might or might not have survived subsequent architectural fashions or urban redesign; partially & irrevocably damaged, it has been stripped of its function as a building and now exists purely as a memorial for the city's tragic past (some more photos via Wikipedia). Périot has assembled images from 1914 to 2006, ranging from early picture postcards to photographs of Hiroshima after the bomb, from political rallies to, finally, picture postcards of the illuminated ruin nowadays. As with the ruins in Zhenshen Liu's film, the restriction to two dimensions in Périot's film echoes the absolute objectification of the building, via representative postcards, via commemorative snapshots, via strategic & military decision. The building as a artefact of history can't be granted a third dimension.

(You can watch a low-resolution video of “200 000 phantoms” on the website of the Japan Media Art award)

Check back later for some more impressions - JB