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A Question They Never Stop Asking

Watching the artificial waves breaking on the mechanical shore in Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1989) prompted a question: Why did I, together with Anjalika Sagar, under the name of The Otolith Group, have to travel to Cinema Empire Sofil in Achrafieh, Beirut, in order to see nine Farocki films for the first time? To answer such a question in March 2006 meant confronting the implications of Farocki’s absence from Britain’s film culture. The experience of being enlightened—and no other word can convey the impact of watching the ways in which The Creators of Shopping Worlds (2001) studies architects as they discuss images that track the eye movements of shoppers—provoked a corresponding revelation of the inconsequence of so much artistic culture within the UK. So many critically lauded moving images, I began to realize, actually functioned to shield spectators from having to come to terms with the ways in which moving images operated as interlocking components of the military, entertainment, sports, finance, and corporate complex within Europe, America, and beyond. These moving images, it seemed to me, should be challenged, if not rejected outright, for their inabilityto produce the kind of perceptual training provided by works such as War at a Distance (2003) or Videograms of a Revolution (1992). Inside that cinema in Achrafieh, the dynamic tension inside and between images was playing itself out. The mystifying force of images that were mobilizing outside Cinema Empire Sofil, outside of Beirut, beyond the edges of Lebanon, which would emerge in the July War, were revealed by the clarifying powers of montage inside that cinema in Beirut.

Those three evenings spent watching Farocki films with Anjalika Sagar and the writer Emily Dische-Becker acted as a kind of extended primal scene. They precipitated a process of disidentification from a tacit consensus within the UK. They incubated a desire to position The Otolith Group against the values championed by people that Farocki once characterized as “those polite British assholes.” To align yourself with his works did not mean imitating his artistic methods. It meant affiliating yourself with all those that considered themselves to be friends of Farocki, whoever they might be, wherever they might live. These friendships were nurtured in an almost clandestine fashion until 2009, when Farocki’s London allies broke cover to mount three exhibitions intended to win contemporary generations over to the joys of instrumentalism and didacticism. Perhaps many others were drawing the same conclusions. Six years on, I can discern Farockian thinking in the demonstrative, detailed, comparative projects that confront the multi-scalar histories of the present. And yet none of these projects have travelled to the UK. Which suggests that Farockian projects continue to affront deeply held presuppositions about the nature and purpose of moving images. What, then, is the nature of this affront, and how can it be characterized? In Farocki’s works, aesthetic thinking takes on a very specific form, which Nicole Brenez describes as an

intensive and meditated form of encounter … a face-to-face encounter between an existing image and a figurative project dedicated to observing it—in other words, a study of the image by means of the image itself.

The outcome of this encounter between an “existing image and a figurative project” tends towards the instructional, the instrumental, the demonstrative, the didactic, the comparative, and the mimetic. These qualities were, and are, bad objects within a moving-image culture that still aspires towards cinema as an expanded form of painting, diary, dream, fantasy, sculpture.

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