Why the Lion Roars
To document his work, all that Anri Sala gives the audience is a film poster showing the film titles in characteristic typefaces; the background resembles a colour chart where each shade blends seamlessly into the next. As a result, the poster looks more like a sponsor’s hoarding or a test strip from a chemistry lab, and is only vaguely reminiscent of the aesthetics of weather maps.
At the bottom of the poster there is a scale showing which colours relate to which temperatures. In early September the colours are mainly green and blue, denoting temperatures of between 12 and 24 degrees. Films are then picked automatically according to the outside temperature. The film listing for the current day is announced on the accompanying website, against a background of changing colour shades rather like on the poster.
It is easy to forget the outside world when you are sitting in the cinema. Each film defines its own spheres and relationships. As soon as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios lion roars, the cinema experience begins. The roar of the lion is the starting signal, just as the theme tune is for a TV series – when the lion appears, the audience begins slipping into a fictionalized world.
Just how quickly this happens is shown by Anri Sala’s Why the Lion Roars. For his non-stop interactive film installation in the main auditorium in Berlin’s House of World Cultures, the artist compiled a subjective list of 18 feature films to which he assigned not only an aesthetic temperature but an actual temperature between 0 and 25 degrees Celsius.
Jean-Luc Godard’s futuristic vision of a metropolis, Alphaville, is one of the cooler ones, while Eric Rohmer’s romantic drama Das grüne Leuchten is one of the warmest films on the programme – in it, four pretty young French women in summer dresses discuss their friendships. However, as film theorist Ute Holl writes, it is not only the plots themselves that are important in our memories, but light, brightness, colours and surface structures.
Sala intervenes in the narrative structure of the films by defining a new relationship – namely the dependence of the film programme on changes in the outside temperature. On the rooftop terrace of the House of World Cultures is a thermometer which transmits changes in temperature to a video control unit which then plays the film corresponding to the current temperature. As a result, the programme is different every day. The films in the playlist include world classics like Mat I Syn, a drama by Aleksandr Sokurov, the Hitchcock comedy The Trouble with Harry and the artistic film Zidane – A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno. If the outside temperature rises or falls, the film currently being screened is interrupted and another film resumes at whichever point it was last interrupted by the weather – weather, from whose influence western society has largely managed to free itself, suddenly dictates how art is received.One might interpret the installation as a rudimentary attempt by Sala to sensitize cinema to the weather by some sort of formal means. Switching back and forth between completely different contexts and narrative strands, however, also produces a more diffuse perception of circumstances. De facto, there is nothing to link the artist’s favourite films and the global topic of climate change. Western society, however, needs to learn to understand again that it is part of an ecological system and that this system cannot be controlled by technological means. Sala is cruel enough to irritate the cultured audience with a favourite pastime – in this case it is the weather that zaps through the channels.
works as a freelance author and curator in Berlin
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V. 2009