Fwd: Re: Archive (22) Stefanie Schulte Strathaus: Life of an Archive
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Its a great pleasure to have Stefanie Schute Strathaus with us and I think she will share with us genealogies of living archive felly vibrant whitel space in the city of Berlin called that Arsenale.
SA: Its a great pleasure to have Stefanie Schulte Strathaus with us and I think she will share with us genealogies of a living archive and a fairly vibrant vital space in the city of Berlin called Arsenal.
SSS: Thank you. I actually don't see you.
SSS: ...but I'll just talk to my computer then.
So, living archive is the name of our archival concept in our is our means our institution could as a our institution human video art and you will run more about the institution I am doing my presentation.
SSS: So, Living Archive is the name of our archival concept, and 'our' is... when I say 'our' I mean our institution. Its called Arsenal institute for Film and Video Art. And you will learn more about the institution during my presentation.
SSS: We understand archive work as a contemporary artistic and curatorial practice. That was the subtitle of our first big archive project. We are doing like often 2 or 3 years projects based on our film archive. We understand archive work not primarily as preservation and restoration which one would maybe think of an institution like ours that is often... it is not a cinematheque, but its often compared to that.
SSS: And we do restore films, but we understand archive work as a source for production and participation. And it sounds very similar to a lot that I've heard during the last two days, but I think the difference is that we are talking about the analog, and about 10,600 35 millimeter films that have to be protected as art works and at the same time. So its not like... we cannot just put them online or anything like that in most cases.
SSS: I will give you a brief history now of our institution.
SSS: This is a picture from a photo from the early '70s. It was taken in our old cinema, before we moved to Potsdamer Platz. and what you can see here is a very good example of one our main ideas, film history meets contemporary media practice. You see on the left, photos - very large photos that we always had there from films from Sergei Eisenstein.
SSS: And also the name Arsenal is taken from a Russian film, Arsenal of Dovzhenko, so that has always been very important to us, this connection.
SSS: And then Ulrich Gregor, one of the founders of Arsenal, he had been in the early '70s in the United States in New York where he saw video art on monitors in a gallery space. That was very new for him, as a film historian he was very interested and thought they should be seen in Arsenal, Berlin. But that was of course long time before the video projector was invented. So what he did was he asked the staff to bring their televisions from home, and the monitors. And he put them on film boxes which you use to ship prints. And then he managed to synchronise them. So there was a collective viewing of video art in a cinema space.
SSS: And I still like this photo a lot because it kind of shows how we still think film history as something very contemporary. And this is why we also program, our cinema program always... both, history in combination with contemporary works.
SSS: This is the entrance of our new cinema at Potsdamer Platz.
SSS: And this is another cinema entrance. That was taken... this is a still from a film that was shot in 1963... no! '59. By Lionel Regosan, in Johannesburg. He tried to... its a film about apartheid in South Africa. He tried to sell a print to some European channels and nobody wanted to buy, nobody was interested. And he was travelling around with this really heavy 35mm print. And when he or actually his colleague figured that nobody would buy the print, he asked the Gregors whether he could keep it in Berlin because he didn't want to carry it any longer. And they said sure, then later asked him if they could also show it in their film club - the student film club that they had already founded in the '60s already under the name late or the later... back then it was The Friends of the German cinematheque which later became the Arsenal.
SSS: And he agreed and so it was showing at the Arsenal - no not yet at the Arsenal but at different places, and very successfully. And then they asked him if they could also give the film to other film clubs in the country in Germany and he agreed. So this was the first film that entered the archive - what later became the archive, but also at the same time, the distribution which is very important because there was the idea of collecting films just to collect them or to preserve them, it was always about showing them.
SSS: Simply the fact that the film was so heavy, made it possible that it started the archive and here is an example of... I was actually - my first job in... when I was 20-21 I think in Arsenal - I was responsible for the print traffic. And I was sending films around the world and had to fill out forms where - in which I had to mention the weight of the films. So the first thing I actually learnt about film is the weight of it. And I can still... if you show me a film print I can still tell you how many kilos it is just from seeing it.
SSS: And later when I then became the co-director much later, I still often traveled with film prints. Like here this is a 35 mm print of Samskara
which I brought to Experimenter in Bangalore, I think it was 2013 or '14. So this is just to show you what it meant to travel with analog prints. But I think many of you know that.
SSS: Still in the '60s... there were... some other films entered the archive and among them many political films from Latin America in the '60s. A lot of them were shown in the GDR and then smuggled to West Berlin to be shown during the student movement. And for example the Cuban short film Por Primera Vez
by Octavio Cortázar is based on a film educational initiative. This initiative included the government creating a mobile cinema to promote audio-visual literacy and the goal was to bring cinema to the most remote areas of the island. And in a way those Latin American films also brought film education to Berlin, to an emerging culture of political film making during the student movement.
SSS: And so extra prints had to be made and had to be subtitled on 16mm - originally they were mainly shot on 35 - so that they could be shown also in film clubs and political contexts across the country. And those prints also stayed with the Arsenal.
SSS: This is another example, the film NOW! by Santiago Alvaréz in '65, was compiled from borrowed newsreel materials and became known as - known both for - as the first DIY music video and pirate agitprop clip. And there is gossip that this film - the print of this film was found under the bed of Rudi Dutschke who was one of the leaders of the student movement, and then it came - somebody brought it to Arsenal, this is probably gossip many of you know. I don't know how many films have been found under beds... so better have a look tonight, there might be... something... under you bed.
SSS: So in 1970 the Berlin Film Festival which already had existed since the '50s had a huge scandal around this film o.k. by Michael Verhoeven. It was about the Vietnam War, it was shot in the Bavarian woods and considered by some members of the jury as anti-American and they decided not to consider it for the award but not tell the public. But there was a leak and the public heard about it and there were lots of protests and demonstrations. And so the Berlinale had to be interrupted.
SSS: And to rescue the festival the city of Berlin asked Gregors who had already this student film club, the later Arsenal, to organise a program in the following year of the festival to create a place for everything that is so difficult, politically, aesthetically,... there was a competition then, and then the forum - it was called the forum from the beginning on - but in the beginning it was meant only for one year, and then was so successful that we are still doing it today. And that's why we are running this section of the festival independantly. Until today.
SSS: And there were two really brilliant ideas that they had right at the beginning. One was to make those very informative info sheets, as we call them, catalogues, with lots of information - background information - because most of the films came from all over the world, from places that people in Berlin didn't know much about, and contexts - cultural contexts - so there was a lot of information that we also now have in the archive.
SSS: The second brilliant idea was to make German subtitled prints to make sure that the films can stay after the festival, because often after festivals they disappeared again, and that they can be shown in (?) across the country. And this is Ghashiram Kotwal
, probably you all know the film, from 1977 made by the YUKT film cooperative, Mani Kaul and others. And here you see the German subtitles as they were in the analog print that was made. This film later... I will talk about it a little bit later, I will come back to that.
SSS: So this film also entered our archive and over the years the archive became very big. Lots of the films that were shown in the forum and subtitled, but also lots of films... for example from other Latin American countries like Chile where they had dictatorships and then they brought the films to Berlin to... so that they had... they were in exile, so to say, they found asylum, so that they could survive. And also films were given to us by film makers, and other independent film makers who wanted their films to be among those that were already there. So it was something like a friendship that played an increasingly important role, because this archive was more and more considered as a home for independent cinema, international independant cinema.
SSS: So but at some point, we had to, around 10 years ago, all other archives had to think about what we do, because the films decay, they get older and older and something had to be done and they couldn't... cannot so easily be shown anymore because they are analog. So something had to be done. But there was no money because we always had state funding, but only for showing films, in the cinema space and at the festival but never for archive work.
SSS: The second problem was that the funding that did exist for archives and restoration in Germany was only given to national heritage, and our archive was not considered national heritage because its not German enough, its hardly at all German. And so this is a very specific attitude that the German government has because there are other options. For example, in the Netherlands I think they consider everything national heritage that has been shown in the Netherlands.
SSS: And those films that we have have been shown over decades in many many film clubs across the country, cinematheques and so generations grew up with them. And also they had the German subtitles so I think they could be considered national heritage, but its not the case. So no money.
SSS: And the third problem was who... even if you would start digitising and restoring, who would decide where to start? Who is the archivist? Which films are of interest and to whom? And very often as you know like in many state archives, when they start restoring or digitising their holdings, they start with the canon, they repeat the canon, they start with the films that people know already anyway. Whereas we believe that time of digitisation is the
moment where we have the chance to rewrite film history by focusing on films that have been forgotten or never maybe been taken seriously enough.
SSS: So we were thinking about solutions and during that time a film scholar Nicole Wolf was teaching at Goldsmith's. She was doing her research on political documentary film in India. ... The film by Deepa Dhanraj, What Happened to this City, from 1986 was one of the films she kept hearing about, but she was never able to see it. And Deepa herself was not sure if her own 16 mm copy was in shape for further screenings and had not seen the film for several years herself. And only by researching the Arsenal archive for the exhibition "Being Singular Plural" at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Nicole realised that there was a copy at the Arsenal.
SSS: And so then she told us that and once you know... once somebody tells you that you have the only existing print, you have a completely diffrerent kind of responsibility. That was the first time that we heard about such a case and by now we found out that there are 100s of films actually that have only survived in our archive and that of course changes our mandate completely.
SSS: So we had the idea for the first big archive project, The Living Archive project, and the idea was that we need not only one Nicole Wolf, we need like many of her, many Nicoles to research in our archive. And so we started considering everybody who came to our archive a potential archivist. And then we thought okay, if we never get funding for restoration and digitisation then we have to apply for project funding because that's available. So we have to come up with a project, like a really big project that includes many people and then needs restorations and digitsations to make the project happen.
SSS: And that worked. Some other archivists from big film archives they said really, literally, they told me 'You're insane, you're crazy, you cannot let people into the archive. They are always criminals. They steal, they destroy, they violate their rights, they do everything they are not allowed to, you cannot do that.' But we invited 40 people, film makers, artists, scholars, writers, musicians, everything but no archivists to work with us for 2 years. And they... we gave them a budget and they could do what they wanted to. They could research and then based on their research, develop projects of all kinds. We thoughts that a scholar would maybe publish a book or a DVD edition; and a performer would do a performance... but the funny thing was that once you put an adult into an archive where he never has access to, it can create a new... inspire a new identity.
SSS: And so the film scholar would start a performance and our silent movie... we have a pianist who accompanies silent movies, she made a sound installation. And everybody came up with something very surprisingly different from what we thought they would do. And it ended up in a huge exhibition and a lot of programs and publications and digitisations.
SSS: And I can say already now I will go deeper into some projects that the outcome at the end was nothing was stolen. On the contrary we got a lot of new films through this project into the archive. Nothing was... no print was destroyed. Of course they had assistance. We had the responsibility, so we were teaching them how to deal with analog material and look at it at editing tables, but there was always somewhere some stuff to supervise that. So nothing happened and we never had any problems with the rights because we got in touch with all the rights holders and actually they were all very excited about this because their films came back to life, and so very supportive, all of them. So none of all these predictions came true.
SSS: So one of our participants was Avi Mograbi, a film maker and he decided to start with lettting the people in. And one of our archive spaces was outside of Berlin in Spandau. And so he invited the public to come there and we brought a mobile 35 mm projector to that space. And Avi started his Night of the Archive. And at that event he proposed a proclamation that he would ignore the logic inherent in the archive, a proclamation based on the arbitrary that would be generated through spontaneous chance operations. And neither the audience nor the curators or the archivists knew in advance what films would be selected to be screened. And we always showed one reel of each film.
SSS: And another participant was Harun Farocki who here in a theatre space, not in a cinema, did a lecture performance about the film LA VERIFICA INCERTA by Gianfranco Baruchello and Alberto Grifi from Italy 1965. And Harun Farocki said about that film "It is a montage of scraps from different films of various genres. When watching it for the first time, it becomes clear how strict the rules of genre actually are. LA VERIFICA INCERTA is a precursor to the many other works which also re-edit films. It is worth investigating how something new is able to emerge from material compiled in such a way, as well as how the materials themselves are still able to retain some sort of intrinsic value."
SSS: Ian White, another participant who unfortunately like Harun also passed away. He decided to write his own body into the narrative of the archive. He became part of the cinematic apparatus. He chose German experimental films that were completely unknown to him in the first place, and then their projection alternated with a related series of actions. So there was screening of a film and then he did a short performance inspired through the film.
SSS: And then a group of students of Hito Steyerl. They were only dealing with this one short film NOW! that I mentioned in the beginning and they came up with a whole exhibition. The show focussed on this legendary Third Cinema found footage short film NOW! and asked it's relevance today, in a digital era in which images and sound have become ever more mobile, ripping, remix and collective production have become common tools of communication. And what you see here is on top they ripped the film from the internet and created some covers, of course they were not allowed to do that, they were maybe the only 'criminals' in that sense, and in every cover they were hiding a DVD of that film and people could buy it in the exhibition.
SSS: And in the other picture on the bottom you see Rudi Dutschke's bed which they copied, under which the film was supposed to be found in the '60s. But there were a lot more installations that they did which related to the history of the film, the production of the film, the meaning - the reading of the ... the possible readings of the films today and (?) It was a huge exhibition only on this one film.
SSS: This is unfortunately not a really good photo, I have to explain what that is. It's a work by Angela Melitopoulos who was also participating and she brought an editing table into the cinema space, into our cinema Arsenal, and she was watching films at the editing table and there was a camera installed that would project what you could see on the monitor of the editing table of the Steenbeck, was projected on to the big screen, but there were two other cameras. And here you see other scenes. One was installed in front of the audience so that the audience could watch themselves. And the third camera was installed in our archive space where I was sitting together with my co-curator Anselm Franke and Erika and Ulirch Gregor, the founders of the institution, and we were discussing the films in the archive while Angela was watching them at the editing table. And the idea was to - she calls this in German "Möglichkeitsraum", the space of possibilities.
SSS: She was trying to edit the archive and the cinema space and the editing table which is a place of production together and make one space out of that.
SSS: And this was a project by Martin Ebner, a German artist and those are films. The blue one is the film Sailboat by Joyce Weiland for example. What he did - he looked for analog experimental avant garde films from the 60s-70's which is a focus in our archive, and then he looked them up online and those who were already online available he selected, and then he used the timeline of the films and made scultptures - took them as a model for wooden sculptures, some of them 20 centimetres long, others 2 metres long of different parts, so you can take them apart, and to kind of make an analog version of a digital version of analog film, and of course this was very helpful for us to discuss the question - is this still the film?
SSS: Interestingly there is... the most colourful one here is a film by Ernie Gehr an American film maker who hates - like he's completely against digitising his films, he's really... like he hates it and doesn't allow it - but this, he loved. He considered it really as a version of one of his films.
SSS: Here we are back to Ghashiram Kotwal, the German subtitled print and once we learnt that we had the only available print in our archive because it was locked away by the bank here, that we had to do something about this and we received for the first time funding - this time from the foreign ministry because they figured - like the cultural ministry does not support our archive work, but... now they do, but at that time they didn't - but the foreign ministry kind of understood that this is a way to give the film back to the place where it came from which they liked as a gesture. And so we got more and more funding from that side.
SSS: But then of course the film that had survived, because of the subtitles... had to be digitised, now we had to get rid of the subtitles again because you don't need them here in India. And how do you do that, because they're in the film print - on the film print. You can do that with very big budgets - we didn't have that. So we decided to do it like a blurring in the digital version. And then put new subtitles - and this is just a dummy onto that blurring. And I kind of like that result because like in the end result you see less of this cloud, this blurring. But I knod of like it because I think it looks like a scar on the film print and it shows that the film print has a history.
SSS: And after we finished the digitsation and restoration of that film, and made also a DVD of it, we were invited to Pune to bring it... to do the handover. And the embassy, the German embassy of course was interested in photos. And the photographers were a little bit disappointed because a DCP is really not very sexy for a photo. But you know archive work also produces new images and they're important. So after the DCP didn't really work they tried the DVD and were still not happy and then so we had to take like many DVDs for the final photo. And I think that was the photo that finally appeared on the website of the German... of the foreign ministry.
SSS: In the meantime this film (Kya Hua Is Shehar Ko? / What Happened to this City?) was also digitised and made into a DVD with a booklet and now Nicole Wolf is working on the short films that Deepa Dhanraj made at that time with a collective because Nicole said back then the films were missing in our archive which I found interesting because our archive was never meant to be complete in any sense. But lots of people who enter the archive say that, that something was missing. So its like for each person who comes to look for something they discover gaps. But they only exist from their point of view. So the missing films are also now complete and are also being digitised, and will be published soon.
SSS: So after... we I think have to rush a little bit... this project ended after 2 years. And then a lot of other archive projects - and many of them from African countries contacted us because they liked this idea of doing project based archive work that allows also films to be digitised that would otherwise be completely ignored. And this is an archive that Filipa César found in Guinea-Bissau based on films that were made on the liberation struggles where they sent film makers - not yet film makers - people to Cuba in the '60s where they learnt political film making so that they could come back and film the struggle. And those films were still there but in a very bad shape.
SSS: And also some others got in touch with us from Khartoum in Sudan, Cairo in Egypt, Johannesburg in South Africa. So we started the visionary archive project. And one of the - part of the project was that the digitsation of these films from Guinnea-Bissau, Filipa César did that and she - and she then to show them in Guinnea-Bissau after the digitisation made this mobile cinema project across the country. So the films toured through Guinnea-Bissau and it ended up in Berlin. This is the screening in Berlin. And she actually made a film on that. I wanted to show an exceprt but I don't have enough time now so I'll leave that. I'll skip that. But its called Spell Reel, if you ever have the chance to see that film about this mobile cinema project with the films from Guinnea-Bissau - you should not miss that. Its like a new film in our archive which I'm very happy about.
SSS: Oops, this would have been a film, ya.
SSS: So then after that project I got a phone call from Lagos in Nigeria from Didi Chika who said he also found a lot of films. We were very busy because we were about to move our archive and didn't really have time, but then he came and brought a reel and we opened it, and this is what we found. And I said to Didi, 'Sorry but I don't see what we can do, this is really over.' and I said if the other reels look like that, we don't know what to do and then he said well then he would be interested in doing a project with us based on oral history. He would like to find people who saw the films or made the films because they were found in a former lab, a lab that was brought there by the British. There must be people still alive who made those films or saw them. And that he would interview them and reconstruct the entire archive based on that.
SSS: I really liked that idea. And so we agreed, also because one of The Living Archive projects was an oral history project that Dorothee Wenner did. She asked Gregors and other people who founded the institution and worked there for decades about single films and they would tell all the gossip. All the films were ... came to us, some of them smuggled, some of them in adventurous ways. And so those oral history interviews are all on our website. Its worth watching them. There's only one long interview with Gregors about 20 or so Indian films and how they came to us.
SSS: So we went to Nigeria to see if everything is in that state and we found even worse prints. We brought this mobile... rewinder that Filipa had actually built for her Guinnea-Bissau project. And then we did find images that were still okay. That was very interesting because the people who were there with us to watch us - actually like security people - when they saw that they're really images they completely changed their role and they became part of our project and helped us and worked with us. We gave them like a spontaneous workshop and then they really... they put on gloves as you can see and worked with us on that archive. And then we found more and more reels and figured that the main part of this archive is not in Lagos but in Jos.
SSS: And travelled to Jos, where we found more. This is a little piece of a film that was shot in '76. In Nigeria they celebrated not long ago 25 years of Nigerian film history because they started counting with Nollywood. But there was a lot made before that.
SSS: And Shaihu Umar was a film about slavery, based on this book, slavery between Egypt and Nigeria. The book was written by the first Prime Minister of Nigeria. The film was very famous but nobody had seen it. Everybody knows the book in Nigeria but nobody had ever had the chance to see the film. And so we found pieces of it and then we brought them to Berlin and then we went back and found more and more and made a restoration of the film which now this year premiered at the Berlinale. In the meantime the foreign ministry helped us, was funding so that we could bring, install a scanner in Nigeria, so that the rest of the archive can be digitised there.
SSS: So we moved, in the meantime we had decided that we need the archive more in the centre of the city to make access easier for people. And we packed 10,000 films - this is something you do once in your lifetime - and also the editing tables that we had. And then we moved everything and the new space - it was important for us to have rooms, suites so to say, that people can book - everybody can come and work here and look at the films. And often people ask me why we do that, everything is now digital. And then we have to tell them that this is maybe true for 5% of the worldwide film history, if at all. The rest is analog. If you really want to have knowledge of like a... insight into what exists, you have to also look at analog films. And so we tried to make this possible.
SSS: And also... with the experiences from the Living Archive project we know that when people come and work here they often discover films that they tell us - it still happens a lot, that we have the only existing prints, so they bring knowledge. Sometimes they bring a context. Sometimes even money. Or they bring a project idea with which... that enables us often in collaboration with them, to raise money for digitisation. So we need everybody. We need people to come and to look at the nalog films, to work with us. And this is actually like the opposite of what film archives usually do - they don't let people in. But we think this is the only way for us to rescue the archive.
SSS: So this is the space. And we have a residency program. And one someone who... a film maker, an artist who came from Cairo, we call him Gouda, he decided at the end of his residency to connect all the films that he had seen during his 3 months residency with a blue thread. And so he created this labyrinth which I really liked because they're always connections. I think everyone who enters this archive experiences a different archive and a different narrative, and creates different narratives. And so this was for the opening of this archive, actually of this space C(?) he made this installation.
SSS: So now I'm coming to the end. Cinema again... this is a still from one of the Latin American films, Por Primera Vez
with the mobile cinema. It says in the subtitle 'kino ist film' - cinema is film. But a film of course is more than just one manifestation. It has other forms of appearnace. The first one is... what you see here, this is the very print with all its inscriptions that is in our archive. Its the one that was shown in German film clubs and cinematheques and it has traces of that accordingly. So this is one manifestation of a film, this very print.
SSS: The second one is the total number of different versions. And here you see a freezer because films get vinegar syndrome - this is an archive problem, that all the archives share - a chemical process and its contagious. So film... it can go from film to film, not from film to people. And so you have to isolate those films. We have to go every week - our archivist goes through all the shelves to smell and when he smells this vinegar syndrome he removes film from the shelves and puts it into the freezer until we have decided what to do with it. And you see the big black box over there - this is the film Come Back Africa that was the first film that came into our archive - its now in the freezer.
SSS: But fortunately someone made a DVD of it. So number 2 is the total number of different versions - film prints in different states lying in different archives, with subtitles, without subtitles, as DVD, VHS copies, whatever.
SSS: The third manifestation of a film is the way a film is remembered, through written material for example, or through oral history. This is Erika and Ulrich Gregor, the founders of the institution, telling a whole film - the film o.k. actually that created the scandal at the festival - they did this for Documenta because they wanted to show the film, but its not allowed. So they told the whole film into the microphones, instead.
SSS: So oral history. And the fourth possible manifestation of a film is the ephemeral side of it - its projection. That means the way in which a film fills a room and the room is defined through a screen, an audience, projector, sound, or the moment when a film is watched on the laptop. So the moment of seeing a film is also a manifestation of it.
SSS: So those are the 4 layers of films that we are interested in and we believe that the restoration of the very material is important - it has to be taken very seriously. We're getting better and better at that. But this is only one part of archive work and there is a lot more that has a lot to do with discourse, with contemporary approaches, with art curatorial projects, scholar projects and whatever.
SSS: So the archive lives and continues to live and where does it have a better life, than in a former crematorium which is where we now moved to and which is also a wonderful place for films to mingle with ghosts.