Interview with Kvium & Lemmerz
Visual artists Michael Kvium and Christian Lemmerz's monster of a film project - is an 8 hour silent film, a video installation, a virtual dream on the Internet, a back drop for a DJ symphony, and images projected onto a rock face for the benefit of Germans in yellow oil skins and any animals that happen to pass by. The directors wanted to liberate the film medium from all its conventions. Here they talk about their film, which they have based on one of the central works of modern 20th century literature 'Finnegans Wake' by James Joyce.
By Lars Movin
With its publication in 1939 'Finnegans Wake' changed contemporary views on what a novel could be at a stroke. The book is a six-hundred-page babbling, drunken dream. Not the most obvious basis for a film, and unlike Joyce's other works 'Finnegans Wake' has seldom before been the object of serious attempts from the film world. But now painter Michael Kvium and sculptor Christian Lemmerz have created an 8 hour cinematographic work based on Joyce's linguistic tour de force.
The Wake is not primarily conceived for the cinema. It is meant to circulate in a number of different forms and contexts from the event-like occasion via an exclusive publication with stills and 2 x 4 hours DVD video to a possible Internet version. All in all a presentation that, like Joyce, challenges our preconceptions of what comprises a work and our notions about the medium.
The artists say that it is important to emphasize that their film was inspired by James Joyce. "It is not a filmatization of 'Finnegans Wake'. At bottom we thought that if it was a dream book, why not just continue the dream? We read from it at night before going to sleep, and wrote the scenes the following morning."
"We tried to create a visual language that was just as complex and just as unintelligible as the book. In the process, however, we were shocked at how traditional the film world is compared to art. A painter has far greater freedom to experiment on the canvas than a film director on the screen. The film medium is so bound by tradition that its limits are astonishingly narrow. For example, if you want to use blurred images, there has to be some kind of symbolic reason for doing so, such as a character from the film going blind or moving around in a dream. Or soft porn. But we wanted to explore all possible means of expression, from in-focus to blurred, negative to positive, and anything else that the technology could conceivably achieve.
Before we started we only defined a single criterion for the framework within which we would move: the completely underexposed to the completely overexposed. From black to white. That was to be the field the film would move in, and with that as our starting point we would cover the entire register. We used soft mirrors that distort the image in the sex scenes, for example. One of our experiments was to see whether it was possible to make sex scenes without becoming pornographic. We wanted to make abstract pornography, a kind of stream of consciousness porno that was visually stimulating, and create a sensation in pictures corresponding to the experience of having sex with your lover. We also played with hidden cuts and secret pictures - like the theories of subliminal messages in commercials that people talked about decades ago.
We also intervene in the images in a huge variety of ways. We made quite a bit of use of the idea of filming the footage we had shot in order to create extra strata. Our starting point was that "as long as it's there somewhere, it doesn't matter so much if you can't see it clearly"."
Work in progress
"We don't think that the film is necessarily finished. If Joyce spent 16 years on the book, we have still got 14 to go in which perhaps we can weave things even more densely. It is quite conceivable that we might edit new material into the film - when we have the time and inclination - thus finally attaining a degree of intensity reminiscent of Joyce's own. We also have plans to put the whole thing on the Internet at some stage, perhaps as an interactive model so other people can go on editing it and introduce their own elements.
Of course we won't work on it continuously for the next 14 years, but if we can raise more money or if we make new material, why not go on with it? You may say that if you make a film like The Wake you don't have to make more films. You can just go on incorporating new material and making it more compact. It is like the myth of the unfinishable work of art that during the long process of creation ends up being destroyed. The impossible design ends up by being the only possible one - a great romantic conception that is also present in this film. We would like to go on working on it until it becomes completely unintelligible.
It is an event film, a visual art film, which people can relate to in the same way as you relate to visual art. When you look at paintings you look for two minutes, perhaps, and then your attention is captured by something else. Then you look back. Just like most of the things in life. When people are talking to each other they also have the odd break, look out of the window, thumb through the pages of a book, and then resume their conversation. That is how we would like people to watch our film - we are not sadists! We don't pin people down and say, "Now it's culture time! Now it's art time! So stay in your seats!"