Johannes Ebert am 4. September 2015
Harun Farocki: Cinema and Speculation

Rede von Johannes Ebert zur Eröffnung der Konferenz „Harun Farocki: Cinema and Speculation“ auf der 56. Biennale von Venedig

Dear Okwui Enwezor,
Dear Antje Ehmann,
Dear ladies and gentlemen,

We are very pleased to be able to show the restored and digitalized version of Harun Farocki’s film “How to Live in the FRG/Leben BRD” for the first time here in Venice today.

The Goethe-Institut and Harun Farocki had close ties. Over decades, the Goethe-Institut and Harun Farocki had intensive partnerships. He was a guest at many of the institutes around the world. Whether passing on his knowledge in workshops or exhibiting his own works, both as an artist and an individual he was always an inspiration and enrichment.

We were therefore very pleased when we learned that Okwui Enwezor was showing Farocki’s and Antje Ehmann’s works so prominently at this year’s Biennale. It means a great deal to us.

Farocki is among Germany’s most intellectually outstanding and most influential filmmakers, a “seminal figure in post-war cinema” as the jury called him in his special mention for this year’s Biennale.

Farocki was born in 1944 as the son of an Indian physician father and a German mother. After living in Indonesia and Hamburg, he ended up in Berlin where he began studying in 1966 as part of the first class at the Berlin Film Academy. Ever since, he stayed on his own course: first as a filmmaker drawing attention to himself with films such as “Something Becomes Evident/ Etwas wird sichtbar”, “Catch Phrases – Catch Images/ Schlagworte-Schlagbilder” and most of all “Images of the World and the Inscription of War/ Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges”. Harun Farocki shot over 90 film essays, documentaries, shorts and feature films. His themes include the mechanisms of capitalism, modern labour, war and most of all the new world of media. Nevertheless, Farocki remained an outsider on the film scene for a long time. In the late 1980s he called himself “Germany’s best-known unknown filmmaker.” He was, however, honoured multiple times with the German film critics’ award, for example in 1990 for his film essay “How to Live in the FRG/Leben BRD”. In the early 1990s he re-oriented himself from the two-dimensional movie screen to multi-channel installations, from series of subsequent cinematic narratives to parallel actions. His video installations found their way into art galleries and museums and he was even represented at the documenta in 1997.

Farocki was many things at the same time: a political media theorist who made use of filmic means, an “ethnographer of capitalistic circumstances,” a filmmaker, installation artist, film historian, essayist, image philosopher, author and, as a world traveller for media theory and art, Farocki also made a name as a lecturer.

The Goethe-Institut began working with Farocki very early and helped to carry his work out into the world. In the 1970s, the Goethe-Institut acquired the first films by Harun Farocki; back then (and until the beginning of the new millennium) in 16 mm format. It was at a time when he was not well known to the broader public in Germany and when his films met more with rejection than acceptance. Like his great contemporaries Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, he first gained international renown – not least due to the use of his work in the Goethe-Institut’s programming work – before being able to establish himself via this detour in his homeland. In 1990, after the film “How to Live in the FRG/Leben BRD” came out, the first monographic Farocki show was put together at the Goethe-Institut Madrid, which then toured the Spanish speaking institutes and, from 1991, the Goethe-Instituts in the United States and Canada. Ten years ago, the Goethe-Institut issued a DVD edition making ten films with up to ten subtitled versions available for film work in a new and more easily useable format and enabling, for example, major retrospectives worldwide, which Farocki himself often presented and supervised. At this time, Farocki increasingly turned to media and video art; the numerous workshops that he conducted over the years in many Goethe-Instituts around the world bear witness to this wide-ranging artistic interest.

His last major project with the Goethe-Institut, which he realized together with Antje Ehmann, was “Labour in a Single Shot”. Supported by the local Goethe-Instituts for three years in 15 cities on five continents, Farocki and Antje Ehmann initiated workshops in which filmmakers produced miniature films using strictly defined parameters. We are delighted that here at the Biennale Farocki’s last major project is being presented for the first time with all 400 films: a visual encyclopaedia of global labour relations in the 21st century, and, if you will, Harun Farocki’s legacy.

The Goethe Institute was Harun Farocki’s project partner and represented his work abroad. To this day our goal is to make this work accessible in our own institutes as well as in cooperation with festivals, cinemas, film clubs and film libraries. Harun Farocki collaborated with so many Goethe-Instituts, thus his unexpected passing last year was very distressing to our colleagues around the world. We want to continue our efforts with and for his work. This cooperation with the Biennale is the next step for us and I would like to explain this step to you in more detail. The films shown in Venice can only be shown there because they were digitalized and partially restored. This is a collaborative effort by Harun Farocki GbR and us, the Goethe-Institut. It was urgently needed. Until recently, Farocki’s films were available in the old 16 mm format, which was the standard until the mid-1990s. Today, however, the world has hardly any editing options and screening locations for 16 mm: no copying facilities, no cutting or viewing tables, no projectors, and no cinemas. Moreover, chemical changes to the material destroy the films over the course of time. To get ahead of the destruction we, together with Harun Farocki GbR, decided to launch a project to digitalize the negatives and restore the films. Over the coming years, the now digitalized films will be completely restored and then made available in the highest standards (DCP or another high-resolution format).

Digitalization has made this exhibition possible. Restoration will make their professional use in cinemas possible. And while newly digitalized films are successively shown on the screens during the exhibition, today you will be seeing the first results of the restoration, the restored version of “How to Live in the FRG/Leben BRD”, one of the central films in the work of Harun Farocki. Kodwo Eshun, also a highly esteemed project partner of the Goethe-Institut, will speak about the film following the screening. I am looking forward to gaining new insights into this pivotal film in his interpretation.

I would like to thank Antje Ehmann, Okwui Enwezor and his team, the Biennale for its cooperation in the exhibition and the conference and all the panellists.
Thank you.
(es gilt das gesprochene Wort)
Gehalten am 4. September 2015 in Venedig.