His SFC film
Origin On Re-Cut Trailer
Interview: 10 questions
1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background
I am born in Sweden with parents from Austria and Italy. Growing up in these cultural spheres I experienced how people reacted to me being Swedish, Italian and Austrian in different contexts and what it meant.
I also experienced how these things instantly made me change nationality. Not only in other’s eyes but also in mine. This could be exemplified by children in my court running toward me and screaming ‘Heil Hitler!’ one day, or asking me to sing ‘O Sole Mio’ the other. There is a pretty big difference. The stereotype of Austria was the Nazis. There probably isn’t much else to a stereotype of Austria except Sound Of Music. The stereotype of Italy was the small, happy, lazy people and their food. In the 80’s they were the garlic stinking poor immigrants, looked down at in the same way as the Romani people are probably still frowned upon in most of Europe. The Italian cars were bad and not fitted for the climate anywhere above the Alps. I feel that during my lifetime this is the stereotype that has changed most in the positive sense. But to my knowledge, in Italy there is no and never was any shame attached to Italy’s past as a Fascist country.
Also the understanding of who is different in society’s eyes has changed a lot since I grew up. Growing up, I believe I was considered to be part of an immigrant collective. Now, due to changes in the demography of my hometown, Stockholm, I don’t consider myself to be part of the immigrant collective. Maybe this is also due to my education, my age, my gender and other factors. As I grew, I became more and more integrated, gaining and losing identity at the same time. Leaving a community to be part of another.
I went to a Waldorf school in Stockholm for twelve years. After that I felt the need of understanding a bit more of the theories behind the school I had spent most part of my life in. So I went to an introductory course in Germany for one year, mainly adapted toward guiding young people into various fields of anthroposophical operations. I spent the time searching for transcendental experience, and having obtained some, I then turned to sculpture and quickly understood that I wanted to work more freely than I thought would be possible within anthroposofical schooling. I also opposed a lot of the ideas within anthroposophy, as I regarded them as reactionary, maybe haven been progressive at the time of their origin. I took a one-year course at the art school Nyckelviken, and then a two years education of sculpture at Idun Lovén art school, both in Stockholm. I inscribed to art history class at Stockholm University until I was accepted at Konstfack, University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, arts department. I started to work in the photographic techniques of video and still photography. BA-degree in 2000 and MFA-degree from Konstfack ensued in 2002. My video work Three Austrian Sisters was part of Blick – New Nordic Film and Cinema, shown at numerous museums and institutions including Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein 2002-03. During the same year I concluded a one-year video project at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. 2003-2008 I was a founding member of the artist run gallery ak28 in Stockholm and project manager of several exhibitions and projects including the ambitious Upcoming – Buenos Aires workshop and lecture series and international exchange supported by Iaspis (2005-2007). In 2007 I made part in the Istanbul biennial Nightcomers section and held the Iaspis residency in Istanbul. In 2009 the artist Jenny Berntsson and me started the artist group Local A. Projects include video and sculpture workshops, creating art in collaboration with groups of other people and experimental art in the public realm. Projects have so far taken place at Tensta konsthall, ECoC Istanbul and Norrköping Art Museum. Currently we are working with Gävle Konstcentrum. I have made part of exhibitions at for instance Uppsala Art Museum and screenings at 5th Cairo Video Festival. In 2012 I produced a solo show for Haninge konsthall.
2. When, how and why started you filming?
I had been interested in the video medium for some time, making first attempts in 1995 and 1996. But the real start of moving image as my main medium was at Konstfack from 1997. In the academic and intellectual air of the new school, I felt that I had reached the limits of meaning with my formal sculptures and was searching for context. I had been inspired by the works ‘Sip on my Ocean’ by Pippilotti Rist and later ‘Der Sandmann’ By Stan Douglas and ‘Queen of Mud’ by Ann-Sofie Sidén. Sculpture, video and to some extent photography were mediums which I worked with in parallel during my whole education at Konstfack. After my master exam, I pretty much instantly abandoned sculpture in favour of moving images.
3. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
In 1999/2000 I had the opportunity to go to Havana for some months on a grant. I used the time and money to buy my first DV camera, film a lot in the streets and hanging around with a group of hip-hoppers. The guys of this group were like outcasts in the society and personified the feeling I met everywhere in the city, that everybody just wanted to escape from Cuba. I was surprised to meet so much racism in the country. Being there definitely killed some of my illusions.
But the stay and the control over the tools of production (the camera) also helped me understand how I could work with cinematography and the story. I loved to follow and develop red threads almost like in a crime story. This was more clearly elaborated later, as I was working on Onkel Kurti in Istanbul during 2007. I was in a residency in Istanbul for that project and had bought my second camera, filming in HDV format. The change in resolution and aspect ratio (from 4:3 to 16:9) was a big thing for me artistically. In 2010 I bought a DSLR camera (5D MkII) and again it was a huge difference and an even bigger and mostly positive learning process with for instance pulling manual focus while filming and a deeper understanding of depth of field and aperture. Through the tool, I understood things about, and became very interested in, photography. In 2012 I got a C100 Digital Cinema camera and and a photo camera 5D MkIII and the still image and moving image aspects separated once again for me. I think that this is positive for my creative work, because for the first time I have a professional video camera, which also has interchangeable lenses shared by the photo camera and a large sensor, benefits hard to live without if you have ever filmed with DSLRs. A dedicated video camera is so much more adapted for working with moving images. My method of work is still shifting between the more investigative or political if you wish, and the more poetically aesthetic. I am still searching.
4. What was the reason to start your film included in Shoah Film Collection. Tell me the story behind your film? Why did you choose the given form of representation? Is your film included in Shoah Film Collection the first one dealing with the Holocaust?
Origin On is the second body of work in Limits of forgiveness, my project about generationally transferred experiences. The first is Onkel Kurti. I wanted Origin On to be more of a straight, respectful tool. A messenger. Onkel Kurti is a story about the fragmented, self-absorbed artist (me) struggling with himself and society. Origin On is taking the artist self out of the story as much as possible and focusing on the histories of the interviewees as witnesses. Origin On was originally shown as a three-screen installation of 54 minutes at Uppsala Art Museum in 2009. The intention was to give the feeling that there was no director who had cut the testimonials up. The version in SFC is called Origin On re-cut trailer, to emphasize that this is a different, highly modified version from a source, which I consider to be the archival original.
5. What kind of meaning has the Holocaust to you personally? Are your family or friends affected or did the topic come by chance?
For years I was searching to find a way of talking about my experience. As I describe in the work Onkel Kurti, I have somehow seen myself as a victim of my godfather, a convinced Nazi who fought in the war. I grew up without a father at home and during the times we spent at his house, the godfather was one of the father figures for me. We, my mother, his wife and I, were all opposed to his ideas, but he was the one having the first and last word in that house in Austria. Growing up, I was never able to confront him; the child in me was always in the position of inferiority, of having no voice. My solution was to not visit Austria for sixteen years. Then he was suddenly in my hometown, in my mother’s apartment, calling me to come over. I took him for a sight seeing tour for a couple of hours. We spoke and I filmed, but I don’t remember what. I was still not able to challenge his ideas, which had been so evident as I was younger. I was just scared that he would have seen my work Onkel Kurti, which in part is about him. At any moment we were together that day I expected that he would start to talk about it, but he never did. In that sense I am still a child. Concerning this I am obviously a coward. He was just passing by on the way to Bergen, Kirkenes and other places where he had been based during the war. He was passing thru Sweden just like the German army was allowed to pass on their way to Norway during the war.
Already when I was working with Onkel Kurti, I wanted to broaden the discussion, hearing other people’s stories of how they were affected by their elders or other people during their growing up. I called this discussion group Second Generation. But suddenly I realized that that term was a denominator of people who were descendants of victims of the Holocaust. I was struck of my ignorance of relativizing victim and perpetrator and to have myself been transferred from victim to perpetrator. Or wasn’t I? Can I be defined as a second or third generation perpetrator, the same way as I am called a second-generation immigrant in Sweden? The people of the Facebook group, which I had created and later changed name of to ‘Limits of forgiveness’, apparently thought that guilt is not transferrable thru the generations. But where does the pain go? Where does conscience go? These are some of the questions that I personally have, concerning the Holocaust.
Then Anatka shared her story with me. A story about a whole branch of her family being exterminated in Poland. Of the lives of all these people who she would never meet. I felt that I had to be the messenger of the stories Anatka shared with me. They were memories of lives prematurely ended, lines erased. That is why I started to work on Origin On, of which a fraction is in the SFC as Origin On re-cut trailer.
6. Besides the historical relevance related to the persecuted Jews and other people, the Holocaust has a universal relevance. Why is the Holocaust affecting all humans anywhere?
I hope that the Holocaust is still affecting everybody. In the sense that it’s importance should not fade. The Nazi regime was so brutal and categorical in it’s view on humans as pertaining to different classes of which according to them, some were not worthy to live. We should take lesson of that, to not classify or restrain anybody on behalf of her sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, class, education, religion etc. These are questions that are very current today. How much is a person’s life worth in different contexts, how much is somebody’s voice worth compared to other’s? It is easy to see evil in the acts of the Nazis. Why is it so hard to see other injustice, of less dignity?
7. Now, nearly 70 years after World War II, unfortunately the last Holocaust survivors will be dying soon, and no authentic witness is left to transfer the memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is about to be marginalized and dehumanized to any other historical incident, whereby it is measured by its final result and less as an escalating process, countless human individuals were undergoing. What do you think might be ways to re-humanize, touch people again emotionally and keep vivid the memory this way?
I think that art has an important role in keeping the memory vivid. Literature is still the furthermost way of writing history. But the most touching, popular and most widely spread ways to mediate history will probably be by moving images. Just look at the film 12 Years a Slave (2013) and it’s depiction of slavery in North America. It is a research and a document in itself, helping us see things with contemporary eyes. Another way of depicting and mediating the history of the Holocaust to new generations will probably have to be through (computer) games. As gaming becomes more and more a part of people’s lives, creators have to realize the importance of the medium and hopefully be able to liberate it from locked-in commercial structures by making every story in part open source.
8. As a phenomenon, the Holocaust is blasting human imagination, which makes it nearly impossible for people to identify themselves with. What needs to be done, that people many find ways for self-identifying? What can do art for it?
We have to bring up our children with consciousness and a basic feeling of solidarity with all humans. Art is a great tool for identification and also a value by itself.
9. After the Holocaust and World War II, the traditional (static) visual art media were failing in transferring the memory of the Holocaust, while literature, theatre, music and film were much more successful. On the other hand, due to the new technologies, the boundaries between the “arts” dissolve nowadays and the doors are open to a new interdisciplinary approach. What are the chances for this new (interdisciplinary) perception based on socializing concepts for keeping vivid the memory of the Holocaust? In which way have they to influence the manifestations of Shoah Film Collection via the interventions like a symposium, artists meetings, workshops, exhibitions, performances, screenings, artists talks, discussions etc.
Video art or art cinema has a very short history compared to painting and sculpture. It emerged in the 1960s and, naturally, is still evolving very fast. A lot due to the technical development. The confusion and mixing of screens for working and viewing moving image, for me is both positive and problematic. The production and consumption of video has really been democratised. Everybody can make and watch moving images all the time, and everybody is doing it. But everybody doesn’t have the artist’s vision. I think that education and mission is important. Therefore I believe that art as moving images should be cared for in a special way. It should be presented in the best way possible to our contemporary understanding: either as screening inspired by traditional cinema or as installation. Also the ideal of the respectful archive is congenial with the topic of the SFC. I think that this respect is important especially as the medium is so young. Apart from that, experimenting is fun and necessary. But my opinion is that the SFC should foremost be a context for video art and the addition of other mediums to the presentations should be secondary. In my opinion symposiums, artists meetings, discussions, artist talks and even lectures by scholars, are necessary to contextualize such a complex and important manifestation as the SFC.
10. What are your future artistic plans? Do you plan to work on new projects dealing with the Holocaust or related topics like “collective trauma caused by totalitarianism”?
These topics are definitely some of the most important in my work and I will continue to pursue them with more or less obviousness.
The material which I have filmed with my godfather visiting my hometown, represents a kind of ‘off limits’ situation for me personally. I don’t know what is said. I have not watched the material and am not able to work with it. But I had the opportunity to donate the material to another artist, who will be using it for a new video work.
Can works of yours viewed online besides on the Shoah Film Collection?
List some links & resources
Onkel Kurti trailer (2007)
We Lost One (2001)
Never Sleep (2005)
Several older works