Introduced by Philippe Pirotte
Found footage to HD video, 19'45''
Commissioned on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Into the Unknown is based on found footage of former DDR-documentary films, which spotlight contexts of the daily life of East Berliners. The footage generates a clash between what is seen and heard, mimicking the chasm between propaganda and reality—and the deceiving power of images.
Philippe Pirotte: The found and reassembled footage of your film-work Into the Unknown suggests an idyll in the former DDR, whose “design” is approached as something implausible and manufactured, by a kind of “disturbing” voiceover collage.
Deimantas Narkevicius: Authorities in the DDR, and the current perception of that period, often see it as “idyllic” in the sense of social set-up. By tackling this notion of the “ideal” of the films produced by DEFA, I do come to terms with a simplified perception of that time.
PP: Why would the authorities in the DDR, through their films produced by DEFA, prefer to advance the notion of the idyll, instead of utopia? What was the status of the idyll in their “propaganda,” and what would be the difference or similarities with utopia, which seems more politically laden? Utopia – the allegorical and unreachable alternative – presupposes a system, while the idyll generates or is an image.
DN: The much more politically complex notion of utopia became too heavily laden for authorities themselves, already, back then. The postwar generation in the Soviet sphere of influence, paradoxically, could not be fed with radical ideals of the October Revolution. The population wanted political ideals to be reflected in social wellbeing, and within a timeframe of one generation.
PP: As Into the Unknown was made in 2009, I was wondering what your thoughts are about the resurgent sales of Karl Marx's Das Kapital in Germany in late 2008, with publishers reporting a quadrupling of orders. Visitors to Karl Marx's birthplace in Trier also rose in number, with 40,000 tourists in 2009.
DN: The translation of Das Kapital was reprinted in Lithuania at about the same time. The old editions were impossible to find. I do not know the numbers of sales locally, I can only confirm a kind of similar interest in the book on an international level, as in Germany.
PP: Does the crisis of neoliberalism make people look back at this book, which is famous for having predicted the ultimate demise of an economic system that ends up by destroying itself?
DN: Definitely. The crises of neoliberalism make people want to read Karl Marx again. But I would see something more like a symbolic gesture in this hype. I do not think there are theoretical solutions for current crises inscribed in the Das Kapital. We were all taught the dogma about the capitalist economic system, that it ends up by destroying itself. Nevertheless, the alternative had already dried up 25 years ago. The lesson has to be learned from both sides of former conflicting economic systems.
PP: Still, we tend to look back to the former Eastern European block with a set of mixed feelings between nostalgia, guilt and the search for ideas, don’t we?
DN: The found footage I have edited in my film reflects “normality,” even humanity, during one of most oppressive regimes that ever existed: the DDR. I am not mentioning it for a nostalgic feeling, but I do currently apply that kind of imagery. During this period of crisis in the neoliberal system, when a humanist facade is still haunting us as a relic of some decades ago. In my film it is presented as rituals of a social type, within an artificially constructed society. By re-editing different clips of films and mixing up the soundtracks, I wanted to bring back a certain "existential weight" to those cinematic representations of archetypal socialist protagonists.
Courtesy: gb agency, Paris; Gallery Barbara Weiss, Berlin and the artist.