Labyrint revue (The art of forgetting), Martin Mazanec (interview)

Labyrint revue (The art of forgetting), Martin Mazanec (interview)Filip Cenek        26.12.2012
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A small girl riding a skateboard is captured in a short video Ani nevím (2008), her movement down the street being sequenced in fragments of shots, which are juxtaposed so that they seem to jump ahead or return to a repeated child’s activity in an urban environment. Within two minutes the video moves forward to night movement in the street, i.e. a quasi day framework. It would be interesting to know whether it was a conscious motif to work from the beginning with missing pieces of information between the video images revealing the time structure of a single day.

The video made for an exhibition at G99 Gallery in Brno, to which I invited Jirka Havlíček as a collaborator, followed, by its form, the lines that we have been tiptoeing along with friends for several years. Short cuts, traces, suggestions, model situations. “Through the engine whistle, imagine the whole railway station,” as wrote my beloved Robert Bresson. From my point of view it was not an experiment with form, fragmentariness was an inseparable part of my previous production as well. The night short cut from a different angle of view was included in the final form of the video in the post-production phase substantially changing the intonation of the meaning and possible reading of the video. We liked that.

The video Ani nevím was installed twice, on both occasions with a different version of the animation Blackout. To what extent was the creative collaboration important for the final form of the exhibitions at which you arrived?

Every collaboration is irreplaceable, uninterchangeable, and it cannot be easily deciphered in retrospect as to what changed the final form of the installations the most substantially; sometimes it is “only” the chance of being able to speak to someone to find out what you want to say, at other times it is about continual dialogue and mutual inspiration, often the things are a literal merger of the worlds of a number of people, which is a situation that interests me the most. To this day I love to return to things which are not similar to me, in which I also see images which don’t belong to me, but in which I have trust. These images, naturally, emerge during work with friends, in a close relationship and where there is deep understanding.
The exhibition from G99 Gallery was later transferred by Karel Císař to the 6th Biennial of Young Artists, ZVON 2008 in Stone Bell House at the City Gallery Prague. At the Prague exhibition we accentuated a more abstract level. The original animation with a flying owl against a blue background and a shortcut of a documentary photograph of a tragic moment in Czechoslovak history, which was projected deformed on a non-rectangular screen, was not used in Prague. A visible reference to the dark story of Olga Hepnarová faded and the “dusk of reason” was replaced by the subject of historical and personal memory, and the conditions of their construction. The softening of the impression made by the second version of the Blackout installation was significantly contributed to by an input by Magdalena Hrubá, who created a painting Lonely Jukebox directly on the wall of the gallery.

The term blackout in the sense of a dark space in the projection, absence of an image, or just darkness before projection starts appears quite often in your work. Blackout figures in the name of a list of your activities – from concrete works to video sets for festivals. Can you explain this line in a greater detail?

It need not be just the colour black and darkness. Blackout can be shining blue. Blue is the colour of the “void” of the analogue world of the video, an image without signal. The silence of the moving image was blue at one historical stage. Blackout is a data deficit in the broadest sense of the word. To return to the name of the exhibition at G99 Gallery, the application of the word was inspired by a Czech animator, whom I heard talking about blackout as a section within the overall dramaturgy of animated film which is not related to the main action. Rostislav Koryčánek, then director of The Brno House of Arts, proposed to us to have a try at being such an opening “short film” for the concurrent exhibition of implemented architectural projects by Josef Pleskot, situated at the back of G99 Gallery and which visitors had to reach by walking through our installation. Not just because of the model of a street (Předtím, než jela po chodníku, kdyby se dívala vlevo), which was part of the exhibition, it was more or less a success.
Talking in general about blackout it would be the best to repeat an idea which I formulated (under the alias VJ Věra Lukášová) ten years ago during preparations for live audiovisual performances with Ivan Palacký: “Black places remain black so that we can see that looking into darkness is different from closing one's eyes.” Hopefully, it exudes the relationship between imagination and forgetting, as well as everything that I was once so interested in and which was, as part of the Carpets Curtains project, an indelible component of our concerts: insecurity, random failures, errors, unexpected silences and interruptions, stolen views and hindsights in the present time of the narration. “Sometimes I startle myself and do it in such a way as if I started speaking from the middle of a sentence, like when I find out who I am in the morning because I recall that I went to bed before. (...) Sometimes I'm startled and do it in such a way as if I was a cinema ticket, torn to pieces,” Věra would say.

Is the motif of a missing or forgotten element, darkness or a found fragment essential for your approach to working with moving images and their presentation?

We touched on that at the beginning of our interview: what we deal with today is intonation. Emphasizing some things, suppressing others. The motif of absence is thus of great significance and in some cases concealment is an adequate work procedure. In addition, for some time it seemed to me “ecological” to work with found material, with something which had been here, and is only shown anew, in a different way, different place; leave something out as if it had been completely forgotten, and let the other (viewer) complete the rest. The sentence is always the same, only tomorrow you will read it differently, with a different intonation and meaning. (This tomorrow is not of the day that was yesterday.) And we have not talked about poetry, which is a priori “full of holes”. For me, exhibitions have always been more like poetry than stories, I take them more as compositions rather than sequences and I also work with them in the sense of vertical narration.
For a long time I was also concerned with something else, testing the state which is described as “understand each other with half a word”. I will abstain from repeating a relationship with the text The Unreadability Principle by Bohuslav Blažek, which once inspired me to many things. In simple terms, it is something like understanding in childhood a written message by parents what to buy in a food shop which is illegible. In a state of closeness and trust doubts will dissolve and we’ll buy what is missing, what we need. It doesn’t matter that their handwriting is full of abbreviations and simplifications.

The phrase »melting handwriting» was used in connection with your work in one of his texts by Martin Blažíček. By this collocation he had in mind the frequent or rather almost exclusive presentation of your work as a co-creation with other people. You stuck to this even within the exhibition of the finalists of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award in 2011, although you had been nominated alone. Purely solo exhibitions are a recent adoption. Is this related to a change in the work procedures?

I might probably be able to track down the path along which I lost a clear idea of what handwriting really is and who its author is; I was very likely influenced by conversations with my classmate Zdeněk Mezihorák with whom I shared an interest in forms of work which (especially) by its hypertext features exposed in practice the problematic nature of the traditional approach to authorship, the relation of the author to the text and its reader, etc. I do not tend to think out things in advance too much. I could not very well collaborate “programmatically”. My so-called co-authorship evolved from each particular situation, by itself. And so it has been to this day. The “dissolve”, which I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, has always been about two points of view (“What connects, is not in the air nor in thought, but in the moment, something common, divided into two views…”) and the meaning of their being doubled. We described that with Tereza Sochorová seven years ago, at the start of our partnership and collaboration:
“It seems, that recollecting (imaginariness) gives us our continuity in time and a reminiscence is where we are the most real. However, even if we searched for it purposefully, we would never encounter things as they had actually happened. Our life has the nature of non-narrative structures, torn images and sounds, a number of mutually remote situations, fragments and feelings from which we often reconstruct a different story. What we are looking back for at the shifting edge of our consciousness is a grid on which to project the fragments in order to glean their meaning. If it happens in a merging or doubling of views we believe it even more so.”
When I look back alone, my view is mainly an interruption of the image. It is a different, although a parallel, movement.

Over the past few years you have systematically developed the photographic composition applying methods of variably controlled slide projections built around a gradual dissolving of photographs, their rhythmic editing, addition of light and endless combinations during projection in galleries. You expand the forms of stereo projection by images of text, captioned poems or microstories. Does this method of work have its roots in reconstructing particular events or does it originate from texts?

Neither of the two. Initially, the mere principle of the “voice-over” was important. The merger of an image evoked by a word and an image evoked by a photograph. Captioning, text and sound “outside” the image, random encounters with the meaning of the story. Carousel stereo projections are a specific moving image, a motion between projection and imagination, which starts to make sense with seeing something which I tentatively termed “associative afterimages”. (A)synchronous dual projection in a single screen works for me as a simple mechanism enabling me to thematize the possibilities of (non-linear) reading, intonation and narration in general. Although it is a narration that slips, a sliding story. I don’t mind if I stammer.

The video Ani nevím and in a similar way your other projects show quite frequently children or the motif of a child’s game. Is the meaning of child characters throughout the projections related for you with some symbolism of unfathomable stories?

I do not look with nostalgia at childhood and children as characters in stories. I try to avoid idealizing the children’s world, for me it does not represent a world of mysteries and romantic secrets. (Children’s) defiance makes you younger and the world of children is remarkably honest in the sense that it does not create an apparent “narrativeness” (meaning) at all costs. I heard that children’s memory was defined as “a thing that I forgot myself with” which is symbolic.

In the autumn of the last year you prepared three exhibitions. These included the live audiovisual project Carpets Curtains with Ivan Palacký in an exhibition format. Then as the result of a rare collaboration with the Austrian artist Josef Dabernig you organized an exhibition together based on a faux topographical dialogue between the imaginativeness of your own works. The third presentation was your solo exhibition Overlay at the hunt kastner artworks, where you reduced the projection system of dual projection to an illusion of motion and mere light addition to the multiplied photograph. Was this decision to take up the exhibition challenge related to an intention to draw a line beneath a certain creative stage?


In relation to slide projections you recently talked about starting preparations for a book project, is it still a valid proposal?

It is valid. During this year I plan to put out on paper a cross-section of my personal research into projection systems in relation to forms of narration, and an index of general solutions from the past. But first, I want to go through all the stuff once again with my students of the course called Visual Composition in Time, so that the result will only come out after the summer holidays.

For the Labyrint revue produced by Martin Mazanec (1981). He experiments with the possibilities of curating moving images and collaborates on the scientific-research project and the film animation festival PAF Olomouc.

[ In: Labyrint revue : The Journal for Art. 31–32 (2012), Labyrint – Via Vestra, Prague 2013, pp. 86–95. ISSN 1210-6887 ]