Into the world of technology

The works of Harun Farocki, German filmmaker, media theorist and artist, include visual essays that critically analyse war, science, technology and mass culture. Farocki’s work escapes classif

Published: 02nd February 2012 07:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 05:48 PM   |  A+A-

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(Express News Photo)

The works of Harun Farocki, German filmmaker, media theorist and artist, include visual essays that critically analyse war, science, technology and mass culture. Farocki’s work escapes classification and can be inscribed into several categories at once: compelling not only filmmakers but also to video and multimedia installation artists who simultaneously seek to engage with theory and politics. Farocki uses the camera to excavate enlightenment from the very foundation of science, technology and industrialisation. The politics of enlightenment penetrates into science, technology, war and other related aspects such as colonialisation, imperialism, etc; an insistent critique of it as the foundation of existing systems is reiterated throughout his work. Most certainly his work is very relevant for literary and film theorists and cultural critics.

We have reached a point in civilisation today where simulating something tangible and grotesque like war with technology does not require rocket science. Using photorealistic computer generated imagery; filmmakers can now exploit the potential of technology to create both subjective realism and sustainable objectivity. Considered as the godfather of meta-trickery, German filmmaker, media theorist and artist Harun Farocki attempts at demonstrating the harsh realities of war and its psychological implications with his latest lecture titled Serious Games I-IV.

The subtlety of Farocki’s eccentric style is showcased well in Workers Leaving the Factory (which clashes footage of actual workers against Hollywood depictions of factory life) where he explores Marx’s theory of Alienation and life under capitalism. Moreover, his playful portrayal of reality and fiction in every documentary defines his technique. As a wise man once said, “Farocki superimposes the rapid consumption of images with tranquility in order to examine them. The objects and people in Farocki’s films move about as if in slow motion. Every angle has its own value and its own depth. Every angle challenges the viewer not to look at things as they appear at first glance, but to look behind them, to search for the hidden meaning.”

With Serious Games I-IV comparison between real events and simulation continue to remain ambiguous thereby, blurring further the line of distinction between reality and fiction. Through these short films, Farocki managed to shed some light on the various processes surrounding war in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and the mechanics of image creation in games. The first part of the series showed a marine base in a place called ‘Twentynine Palms’ where a unit of armoured vehicles drove through a mountainous Afghan landscape using animation. The detailing used in these demonstrative games by the US army to train soldiers for combat is noteworthy. And, not only do these games map out the topographic structure and vegetation, but also familiarise them with enemy terrain and climatic conditions.

While some of these simulations train soldiers, others help PTSD-afflicted ex-servicemen overcome their fear by recreating the sequence of events that aggravated their condition. The combined representation of reality, fiction and simulation in these films invariably adds a new meaning to the term ‘meta’. In all the sections, the transition of war from being an irrational and unpredictable entity to a carefully modeled scientific experiment is shown brilliantly.  

However, the films failed to bring out the ‘fundamental questioning of authority’ and ‘definition of the borders of reality’, as the documentary segments (in the third part) were later revealed to be performances by amateur actors. And, the cinematography too failed to impress.  It proved to be ineffective this time. Harun Farocki conducted a workshop titled Labour —in a single shot till January 25 at Srishti School of Art and Technology.

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