In Europlex the voice-over, spoken by Biemann herself and recognisable by her distinctive accent, provides complex conclusions for what the camera observes. This first example of the video-essay which introduces a fragmented and subjective narrative by the voice-over clearly guides the viewer. The Essay as random heterogeneity and radicalized deconstruction: For Hito Steyerl the essay has lost all this potential of generating complex understanding and critical knowledge. Critical engagement in this situation, for Steyerl, is only possible through alternative methods of production such as strategically deployed piracy or web collaboration.
As a mode of disruption of knowledge, the essayistic generates a net of differences without a core or a centre that organises it. The essay-film as an operation of deconstruction annihilates coherence. The author considers the method of discontinuous montage such as jump cuts or contrasting montage as the basic device for deconstruction in the essay-film as it destroys the illusion of producing coherence.
For him, the subjects are constantly exposed to infinite deconstruction and limitless differentiation in such a society, so that they become heterogeneous in themselves. The subject in dialectical materialism, in Groys eyes, is supposed to be constructed differently, comprising heterogeneity and its opposite identity without dissolving this paradox through deconstruction.
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In general, he compares the way this subject functions to the performance of the artist: it declares how things are to be, without objective reasoning or complete arbitrariness. Catherine Lupton allows us to see this idea applied to practice.
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Following the conceptual discussion outlined above, it is the specific use of the voice-over in combination with the editing, which allows us to distinguish the self-reflective, complex and fragmented form of the essay from a random montage of heterogenic elements or a documentary. Beginning with the examination of the thematic strands of the three pieces, we can see how the theme influences the voice-over. On a thematic level her video-essays Nuclear Utopia and Unnamed are investigations into the history of two unnamed towns built as secret settlements for the development and production of nuclear technology in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Unnamed addresses and reflects upon the long suppressed nuclear disaster in the late s in the city where the artist grew up. As the video-essay develops, the representation of the disaster becomes a central metaphor for the 20th century.
As the multi-layered title suggests, this video-essay reflects on the question of how invisibility of both the history of the town and of a prototype disaster of the 20th century can gain a form of sensuous perceptibility so that it can be faced and considered. A similar secret settlement built in by the Soviets in satellite Estonia is the focus of Nuclear Utopia. On her journey to this place, the first person narrator is constantly reminded of her experience as child in such a town.
As an enclave within an enclave, the unnamed town this time works as metaphor for the questionable premises of a fulfilled utopia. In her most recent video, Particulate Matter, Popova develops the investigation into abstract ideas and looks into the structure of progress as the foundation of living conditions in Western Europe as opposed to China in their respective phases of industrialization. Here the more fragmented use of the essayistic journey provides a reflective space for the confrontation of East and West.
Audibly set apart, there are three voices within the voice-over commentary, juxtaposing and echoing each other, addressing the failure of these underlying notions of progress to provide balance and well being for the people. It is the male English voice which relates the linear time of the West to the idea of beginning and end as well as to the periodic table, the embodiment of a scientific comprehension of the world. The female voice with a Chinese accent, in turn, compares the circular model echoing the cycles of nature to the structure of the Taoist temple.
By pointing to the paradox of the suppressed trade unions in China and their political exploitation in other communist countries, she brings the notion of emancipation within communism into play, highlighting its failure to enable working people to shape their own living conditions. The different takes of the observing camera are filmed in various paces and different light conditions.
Edited by Thomas Cottier, Jens Drolshammer and Pascal Pichonnaz
They form an uneven rhythm disrupting any illusory whole, preventing the viewer from becoming immersed into a coherent secondary reality and thus contrasting the suggestive mode of the propaganda footage introduced in Nuclear Utopia. These slightly shaking documentary images which constitute different proportions in each film, stress the relation with the hand of the filmmaker holding the camera, locating them within a subjective, bodily agent. Repeated single documentary takes stand out as metaphors or symbols.
They work as anchors of meaning within the flow of images. In Unnamed and Nuclear Utopia it is the swing, reminiscent of childhood, which is transformed through repetition into a symbol. In Particulate Matter the spiral shape of the Taoist temple is emphasized in contrast to the grid of modernist buildings. This figurative use of images is expanded by motifs, physically created or specifically chosen by the artist for metaphoric reasons.
In Unnamed the images of a kiln and melting in combination with a paper-folded constructions stand out as metaphors for underlying processes and the division of understanding and knowledge. A snow globe containing a worker, self-consciously marching, makes visible the artificial enclosure of the unnamed towns in Nuclear Utopia.
In Particulate Matter it is a precarious tower of toy bricks which signifies the fragile stage of a society in danger of collapse. The documentary and metaphoric images are combined with footage from personal collection or historic archives introducing a wider dimension of the past. Filmed photographs of artworks provide a further level, reflecting the process of gaining visibility as fundamental to art. In irregular intervals, all these types of images, varying in proportion in each film, are introduced or followed by black frames that interrupt an illusory realism, marking out space for reflection.
The different documentary takes and the other types of images are combined in methods of discontinuous editing, such as hard cut or jump cut, thus constantly interrupting a simple mode of coherent representation. The documentary mode of representation which constitutes the majority of visual material in Nuclear Utopia is interspersed with a small number of figurative images and footage. Like islands in the sea, they form, , centers of attention within a structure of loose association, similar to what Adorno has described as fields of forces in the essay.
In all three films, one part of the commentary is spoken by a female voice with a Russian accent suggesting a relation to the filmmaker herself. In Unnamed and Nuclear Utopia, in which Popova addresses her personal history, this female voice delivers the entire commentary. In Nuclear Utopia oscillating between a factual and a personal mode of expression, the voice-over commentary interrogates the documentary approach of the camera for possible meaning while relating it to information, reflections, philosophical thoughts, doubts, personal comments and subjective memories.
It also takes on the function of entwining the different images and sounds into a provisional, fragmentary, self-reflective whole. In Particulate Matter this voice speaks only the part of the first person narrator. Here it is the arrangement of the recurring images which forms a kind of entity, characteristic for the essay as form.
Popova, Russian in origin, herself appears in Unnamed and Nuclear Utopia, thus proving a possible embodiment for the voice in a particular, historical human being. In Unnamed we encounter her towards the end of the film, near the neoclassical rotunda, emphasising her own attachment to the past. In Nuclear Utopia she stands in an iron blue sporty dress at the shore of the Baltic Sea looking beyond the horizon. This image identifies her as a possible former member of the communist sports youth we later encounter in the film on historical footage.
It also works as a metaphor for the whole video and its deployment of the essayistic: the confrontation with the world outside gives visual expression to the idea of breaking open new horizons and opening up the ideological enclosure the narrator lived through as a child in the specific situation of a secret nuclear settlement in the Soviet Union. This narrative device, deployed in essay-films by Chris Marker or Peter Keiller, allows the reflection of the self as the other, by distancing its current form from its past disposition.
Popova uses it for the confrontation between the self of the child and the self of the adult in order to construct an antagonistic self conception, thus modifying what Corrigan has called an unsettling subjectivity in a distinctive way. Dark layers of beige, brown and black trees, resembling a romantic landscape, give way to a frontal view of an overland road, still at night or in the early morning. A sudden cut and click exposes our view to bright daylight.
Different shades of emotional attachments, neutralised and mirrored in the calm and kind tone of voice, are constantly addressed as the journey continues. As we soon realize, this sudden change from night to daylight, which we experience in the initial sequence of Nuclear Utopia has the function of a metaphor for the shift in experience through which the narrator constantly goes on her journey to Estonia. Here a particular version of communist utopia, she experienced as a child in an unnamed town in Russia, confronts her adult perception while travelling.
Constantly triggering memories, the journey to the foreign place works as a displacement and opens up a space for reflection. By combining observation and knowledge, the adult self constantly reveals the ideological construction of the places to which the child was emotionally attached. As the film continues the two states of selfhood become intertwined in a complex manner raising the questions of what to do with these feelings and in what way they are relevant for the present.
This use of the voice-over highlights its function of creating a complex and antagonistic picture of a situation as it introduces conflicting views. The camera focuses in two long takes on a red swing standing immobile and in a shadowed part of an abandoned garden. This motif, as we already know from Unnamed, works as a metaphor for a desolate but still desired experience of the past. Later we encounter a white swing in use, wangled energetically by a girl.
Boris Groys has argued that the historic materialization of communism in the Soviet Union died in , but its conceptual idea as a linguistically mediated from of intellectually planned statesmanship on the basis of equality could be renewed in a different form. With the red swing Popova seems to consider such a notion of the essence of communism, but suggests a perceptual shift by the change of colour. As the journey continues, we see the passing by of yellow fields of wheat under light blue skies, again evoking emotional memories in the narrator.
Behind overgrown trees and a mess of signposts and masts of power lines, this real, so to speak de-idealized version of the landscape stands in stark contrast to the ordered and shiny adaptation we later encounter on filmed photographs from the mosaics decorating the Moscow metro-station. Designed, as we learn, by Alexandr Deyneka in the s in social realist style, we see pilots and engineers in steep perspective from below flying into a golden Soviet sky.
A female comrade, triumphantly handling a harvest machine, we understand, allegorises the ideal of collectivized farming brutally enforced by Stalin at the time. The transformation of the Soviet Union into a place of unalienated labour, enforced by heavy industrialisation, was his declared fulfilment communist utopia. Failed economic policy is further subtly addressed as the narrator, on her way to the Estonian town, comes across decomposed industrial buildings in modernist style.
The damaged architecture of modernism bears witness to the ambition to change society by modes of production and exposes its failure. The derelict plants and deserted tractors, hinting at the abandonment of the settlement in a mad rush in , testify to the disaster of the Soviet Union, the narrator suggests. The camera then focuses on the doubled busts of Lenin and Stalin smiling with red neckerchiefs in an unworldly way.
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While later visiting the town, the narrator discovers more traces which contradict her memories of her past experience. It is the juxtaposition of the voice-over commentary and images which makes us aware of the ideological framework of the charming looking neoclassical architecture and the idyllic location of the Estonian settlement near the sea. The place, which now looks like a seaside resort for elderly people, was built, as we learn, in the s to house the best scientists and engineers, forcefully appointed and made to sign never to leave.
The style of the garden city with vast areas of greens, once theorized as an urban version of utopia in Modernism, had the simple function of concealing the settlement from above. The location near the sea, which once again evokes in the narrator feelings of longing, had only geostrategic reasons, as she declares, because much water was needed for the highly flammable uranium. The water belts around these places, also much romanticised, functioned also as natural protection zones to keep the settlement secret. This passage clearly makes us aware, of how Popova carefully deploys the collocation of images and commentary in order to build up a field of forces for critiquing the ideological framework of this nuclear settlement.
It thus employs a central operation described by Adorno for the essay. As Popova explores the city centre, she discovers the iconic images characteristic of her hometown too. At this time, the brand new Pro Helvetia Foundation needed a speaker for a round of conferences about Switzerland in the United States, an excellent occasion to keep Denis de Rougemont at some distance from Bern. The entry into the war of the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor prevented him from returning immediately; Denis de Rougemont was therefore able to lend his considerable talents to the francophone programs of the Voice of America.
With the war over however, this dreamy American phase of his life came to an end and Denis de Rougemont returned to Europe or Ferney-Voltaire more precisely, where an American philanthropist allowed him and his family to lodge in a wing of his chateau.
It was the start of the European phase of his career, in the proper and figurative sense. His speech at the First Congress of European Federalists in Montreux, in , developed the theme of federalism further. Then Denis de Rougemont began to get involved in the preparations for an important Conference on Europe that was to take place at The Hague in May , under the honorary Chair of Winston Churchill.
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Denis de Rougemont wrote the report on the cultural dimension of European unity. It was he, finally, who read out, at the end of the Conference, the famous Call to Europeans, a text of whom he was also one of the main authors. Following this, Denis de Rougemont prepared a cultural conference that was to be held in Lausanne at the end of under the Presidency of Salvador de Madariaga. This institution was based in Geneva and went to make up, alongside the Institute for European Studies, founded in , the focus of his activities.
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