HD/Super 8, Sound, Color, English with English subtitles, 22’40”
Introduced by Zasha Colah
Gernot Wieland: I have a very personal relationship to landscape. Where I come from, landscapes are very important. Austria "sells" or better "narrates" itself through landscapes. Landscapes can therefore be seen like a psychological room, they exclude and include. It was important to me to talk about landscapes as a starting point and as a backdrop for the whole film, to show that these structures of repression are always there.
Zasha Colah: There are different fragments of narrative within Thievery and Songs that feel uncanny. As if one has heard them before in your work—a working process like the science of a dream where the small parts of our memory and experience are scrambled and reassemble into a wholly convincing new narrative. It is also an exceptional film (it has been widely considered a major work and it won first prize at Mostyn Open in 2017). What I wanted to ask is, is Thievery and Songs a culmination or a beginning? The culmination of many previous themes, and the start of another direction—elements from the lecture performances, plus working with actors, place, costumes, a score.
GW: It's a culmination, and also a start, and an end. I had first developed Thievery and Songs as a lecture performance and performed it several times before I made it into a film. My working process is similar, whether I'm working on a film or on a lecture performance.
I start writing, and as I write, I have an idea for a picture, and then when I draw, I have an idea for a text—and I start to write again and so on, like Sisyphus, on a comical level, or like an avalanche. When I am writing I am able to look at the images as if I am just an attentive observer. This applies also to the text, when I make the drawings. It is like I am inside and outside the work simultaneously, like having several daydreams at the same time.
When you invited me to do a work for an exhibition in Bombay/Mumbai, “Liberty Taken” (2015), I came across the Austrian dancer Hilde Holger, who had to flee into exile in 1938 to India. In the second exhibition we worked on together, “body luggage” at the Kunsthaus Graz (2016), I embedded her story in a different narrative featuring a fairy tale about poverty and power structures, a therapy session, a narration about me transforming into a snail, examining the human condition. Some stories I had used for the lecture performance, but now the direction for the film was a different one, since the exhibition dealt with the idea of cultural continuance amidst traumatic displacement of bodies, objects and histories, through what is carried, transmitted and recast in cultural and body memory.
All of a sudden, the fairy tale of the town musicians of Bremen was not only a story of poverty and repression, but also of displacement, and thereby became a very contemporary narration about the Austrian past, the repressed history, the denied violence.
I realized that I want to work with actors, which I had never done before, and that they have to be put in a certain environment and buildings. After I had finished the film, I didn’t perform Thievery and Songs as a lecture performance anymore. This is why it is an end as well.
I sometimes have this desire, a daydream desire, to put all my works into one work, all in one film, or in a single lecture performance, which I perform at the end of my life, as Thomas Bernhard said, perform all the works of Shakespeare in one evening, all his works in a five-hour long theatre piece.
ZC: I wanted to ask you about the very moving use of autobiography in this work, within an already first-person narrator practice; even if the speaking voice shifts its identity across species, human memory, and retellings. The film opens and ends with a haunting, profound score, and a voice seeming to come from the internal monologue of a slow barefooted hem of a robe believing itself to be a snail only contemptuously impersonating human life.
GW: One of my main interests concerns psychological investigation, or the loading of memory with psychological interpretations. I use autobiography to give a point of reference to the other stories. Though in Thievery and Songs this autobiographical point of reference is obviously not true, because I narrate that I've turned into a snail. But a lesser degree of truth can produce a higher degree of truth, and the use of autobiography is a miraculous means to formulate and explore truth.
Camera: Konstantin von SichartMusic/Composition: Konstantin von Sichart, Gernot WielandEditing: Konstantin von Sichart, Gernot WielandScript: Gernot WielandCostumes: Isadhora MüllerDancer: Deniz OrtaActors: Erfan Aboutalebi, Carla Åhlander, Simon Åhlander, Alice Dalgalarrondo, Alejo Franzetti, Philipp LüttjohannCommissioned by festival steirischer herbst, 2016.Supported by Bundeskanzleramt, Kunst/Kultur, Austria.
Courtesy of Gernot Wieland and Belmacz, London.