F I L M ( I )
The project F I L M dates back to 2008, when Ola Ståhl was unexpectedly given the handwritten manuscript of the unpublished memoirs of his great granduncle, a person about whom he knew virtually nothing. Having previously worked extensively with the re-staging and re-working of found sound and text, Ståhl began reworking this found manuscript, seeking to engage and amplify its peculiarities not simply or primarily in terms of its content, but also in terms of the style of the writing, its poverty and its affected, stuttered, polylingual quality. Considering the manuscript less a genealogical document than the index of a series of significant geo- and sociopolitical shifts, these re-workings were intended to explore the ways in which particular forms of writing articulate subjective political experiences; how, for instance, the experience of migration creates a polylingual site where language becomes uncertain, subject to continuous displacement, or how the lack of conventional literary tropes articulates and negotiates positions within shifting class structures. The overall project F I L M comprises several series of such rewriting exercises, utilizing different methods, interweaving the manuscript with fragments of text from a wide array of discourses around such disparate but interlinked topics as literary and film theory, medicine and optics, camera and film mechanics, and theories and histories of class, economics and migration. During residencies in the US 2009-2010, Ståhl exhibited, published and performed the project at Headlands Center for the Arts and various locations around the Bay Area, CA, at the Bureau for Open Culture in Columbus OH, in the magazines OEI and Journal for Radical Shimming, and as part of a compilation of posters / cards edited by Nico Dockx and featured as part of the Venice Biennale. These versions of the text make use of interlinked processes by which: (1.) the text is reduced to its nouns, listed and printed in silver ink on black paper in the shape of rectangles corresponding to aspect ratios referencing the history of cinema (with Jesse Boardman Kauppila); (2.) the text is juxtaposed with contextual archival material gathered in Sweden, Finland and the US (where the narrative is primarily situated) on printed, superimposed transparencies; (3.) the text is translated very quickly between Swedish and English, in such a fashion that traces of many of the loops and repetitions you go through as a translator, trying to find suitable equivalents between languages, are kept in the text, generating a rambling, incessantly looping, repetitive voice which never ceases to assert itself despite its own stuttered absurdity; and, (4.) the text is translated back and forth between text and video resulting in modifications of the written text and a series of video collages (with Cassandra Troyan).
F I L M (extract, JRS 9: 2009)
F I L M (extract, OEI 53-54: 2011)
F I L M ( II )
A second installment of the project F I L M took the form of an audiovisual and textual research installation and performance combining existing re-workings and different instantiations of the project with photographic and archival material and artifacts collected and produced during journeys across Europe and the US including two residency periods in Helsinki and Vaasa, Finland, 2011. During this period, the house in which the latter part of the manuscript is situated (including the death of its author / protagonist) was located, remaining relatives and local people from the nearby village were approached for informal conversations, and relevant sites mentioned in the manuscript, across Europe and the US, were visited alongside archives engaging with the events referenced (such as, labour unions in California, Finland-Swedish culture in the 20th Century, or maritime conditions during the Second World War). Photos, videos, archives of texts and artifacts – such as the naval uniform of the author of the biography (pictured) – were collected. Together, the material, was shown as an archive or assemblage of sorts, accompanied by a performance taking the form of a pseudo-autobiographical guided tour weaving together the re-staged and re-worked texts produced, materials from the archives gathered, semi-improvised stories around the items on display and how they were collected during the course of the project in the form of annotated semi-fictions spun from the encounter between the original manuscript, the sites referenced, their documented histories, and the pseudo-autobiographical narrative involved in the production of the project itself; the performance thus blurring, rendering uncertain, the boundaries between the protagonist of the attempted autobiography, the semi-ficitionalized protagonist involved in collecting the archives and doing the re-stagings and re-writings, and a gallery of personae made up from interwoven references to popular culture, media reportage and specific persons mentioned in archives and historical accounts. Readings, screenings and performances of the project were also staged at venues in Malax, a village near Vaasa, and in Helsinki.
F I L M (extract) [text assemblage]
1. A thorough investigation shows internal hemorrhaging. Swollen lymph nodes, like tennis balls. Bright red on the inside. It feels that way. Other than that, a lack of obvious markers. Only milliseconds of exposure. It will suffice. Cut open the poorly healed wounds. Diseased body forced into stress positions. To vomit unsuccessfully. There is no exit. Closed circuit in entropy. They use contrasting colour schemes to mark out the positions of organs beneath the skin. Parallel openings towards the world. Interfaces built into the spatiality of this body. Shut down now. What remains is a closed up cavity. Simultaneous coagulation and the lack thereof. A thin lattice or a mesh covering the surface of the body. Increasing degrees of asphyxiation and exsanguination. They say blisters will cover large parts of the oral cavity, gums and the tongue too. The body a blister, it feels that way. The coating of the body, the thin film covering its surface, barely noticeable but clearly present. Kaleidoscope eyes sunken into skull bone. A chimera of built in complications reveals itself but gradually. Only exposure now. The loss of any capacity to resist implosion, collapse. Search lights traveling the body. The friction between this body and the surrounding landscape of realities (such as that of textiles or metal). An awareness of the inevitable retrogradability of this path. They say, the oxygen no longer reaches the membranes of the lungs. Every single breath cuts the flesh in an unspoken lie. Caved in hollow, damp, but connected, plugged into machinery. Metal bolts keep things together, remotely, re-circuiting a complete break with the materiality of being. Transformation, alternation, rendering other – this inevitably involves a range of humiliations as well as the condition of sleep. Their disgust, facing the wound, touching the wound, the orifice, the opening. Their disgust, facing the exposure of whatever is inside, fluorescent blood, certainly a non-specific place. It is an unspoken intimacy. Over-hydrated membranes cover the body landscape but leaving dry patches where skin flakes off. This body increasingly seems to be the material substance of nothing. The drought expands across the body from the oral cavity and the throat. Dry patches multiply, like yellow sand, dust, but they refuse to give you water. Intensities passing in instances of not yet experienced pain. Metal perforation of veins causing intravenous frost. It feels that way. They speak of burnt out passages, wounds that will persist though invisible, internal cylinders born out of the gradual rotting of the flesh. It gets darker but without time. It gets darker but it is a darkness without temporality. A brief spell of unconsciousness. And the sounds that cut oxygen and colour spectra into molecular fragments. Then a scraping motion to alert you. A burning life’s consumption of oxygen. Inside this breath, another breath, a sliding. Inside this sleep, an unspoken pain complex feels like a tense openness towards the centre of the body. A network of threads covering bones, membranes, flesh, organs, frozen tissue and tissue partly thawed. These are experiences lived passively.
3. Extreme close-up slow-motion shot of the movement of a shutter. Cut to monochrome frame, black; forty two and two thirds of a second. Cut to a sequence of rapid close-up still shots of the individual metal components that compose a revolver, interspersed with close-up stills of the components that make up film cameras and projectors. Cut to extreme close-up shot of a mouth; black and white, poorly lit. Lips are shut tight together, at first, then they open, tongue protrudes from oral cavity, teeth glisten behind curled lips. Cut to close-up shot of muscular calf, a gaping wound on the inside of the calf reveals fractured bone. Camera pans slowly across the wounded part to the outside of the calf. Cut to monochrome frame, black; two and two thirds of a second. Cut to fixed camera, wide angel, long duration, long shot of two plain clothes policemen. Colours faded, dark green. It’s night. The two policemen wear suits and fedora felt hats. One of them is smoking a cigarette. They are both standing beneath the street lights outside the entrance of a warehouse, their shapes cast shadows across the red brick wall of the warehouse behind them.
2. Cut to monochrome frame, black; two minutes and fifty and two thirds of a second. Cut to extreme close-up, slowly panning, slow-motion shot of layered crystal structures, sharp light refracted through the crystal texture. Cut to slowly panning medium shot of a woman’s torso, black and white, image blurred, only the contours of her shape visible. The camera pans around her torso in repeated cycles. Cut to monochrome frame, black; five minutes and forty one and a third of a second. Occasionally a white horizontal line appears on the screen, for a twelfth of a second only. The line extends fully across the screen horizontally, but appears in different positions vertically. After an initial duration of two minutes and fifty and two thirds of a second, the white line appears more frequently, in recurring intervals; a rhythm but not a steady pulse or beat. Once a pattern has been established, the appearance of the horizontal white line is immediately prefaced by an even briefer appearance of a slightly thinner white line that extends fully across the screen vertically, but appears in different positions on the screen horizontally. To begin with this vertical line appears in regular intervals, prefacing every fourth or fifth appearance of the horizontal line. It appears on the screen only for a twenty fourth of a second, immediately preceding the thicker horizontal line. Slowly the frequency with which the vertical line appears increases to every fourth, third, second appearance of the horizontal line. Simultaneously, however, the number of appearances of the white horizontal line per minute increases. This mutual build-up of horizontal and vertical flashing lines is slow and rhythmical. Gradually a stroboscopic sensation is produced over a build-up of five minutes and forty one and a third of a second. Once the stroboscopic yet rhythmical effect is firmly established, the shot is sustained for a duration of two minutes and fifty and two thirds of a second. Cut to long duration, long shot of warehouse, red brick. The windows on the upper floor have been smashed and boarded up. Barbed wire covers the edges of its roof. Adjacent to the main building, a smaller building in corrugated steel. Thick metal tubes connect the two buildings. Camera fixed further down the street. Dust on the street is occasionally disturbed by the wind, no other movements or actions. Cut to a fixed camera medium shot of a fire escape attached to the facades of a brick building; brickwork painted beige, window sills and fire escape too. Identical white curtains – soiled, ripped – cover up each of the windows. Shot from below against sunlight, clear blue skies. Cut to monochrome frame, white; forty two and two thirds of a second. Fade into a slowly panning shot of an urban street; run-down brick buildings, brickwork painted in different colours: beige, red, pink, yellow, white. Tall signs at the corner of each building announces the names of shops, theatres, bars, restaurants. Colours vibrant. Cut to monochrome frame, black; five minutes and forty one and a third of a second. Cut to monochrome frame, black; ten and two thirds of a second. Cut to close-up shot of abstract shadows; shapes moving across a non-descript surface. Fade into a monochrome frame, black – ten and two thirds of a second – then fade back into the close-up shot. Loop sequence.
4. Organized labor knows but one law, and that is the law of physical force – the law of the Huns and Vandals, the law of the savage. All its purposes are accomplished either by actual force or by the threat of force. It does not place its reliance in reason and justice, but in strikes, boycotts and coercion. It is, in all essential features, a mob-power, knowing no master except its own will. Its history is stained with blood and ruin.
A couple of big vans were busy all day yesterday moving the furniture, books, records and documents from the upper offices of the Police Department at 64 Eddy street to the new Hall of Justice – the $1.000.000 structure – opposite Portsmouth square, on Kearney street. At 6 o’clock last night the work had been completed, and the following offices were moved to their new home: The office of the Chief of Police, the detective bureau, the business and complaint department, the Central police station and a large part of the clerk’s department.
The four police courts will probably not open in the new building before the end of the week, as there is considerable work to be done there by the carpenters. Docks must be constructed and new rails which will divide the bench portion from the witness inclosure must be put up. The prisoners cannot be moved from the temporary City Prison on Anna lane until the courts move. The Supervisors, now housed in the building on Eddy street, will soon move to the temporary City Hall at Market and Eight streets.
F I L M ( III )
In 2013 the material gathered throughout the duration of the project was turned into an exhibition at KRETS in Malmö, Sweden. A collaboration between Ola Ståhl and Cassandra Troyan, the project comprised bound volumes with textual rewritings of the original manuscript, three audio-visual video collages, a wall display with different versions of the print, a set of postcards, and a catalogue containing a printed version of parts of the project.
From Anna Granqvist’s introduction:
F I L M is an intermedial collaboration between Ola Ståhl and Cassandra Troyan, that explores intersections between fictional writing, archival material and film historical and theoretical discourse. Based on a common narrative material, they have produced parallel work, constantly referring to each other. Ståhl through a text based practice and Troyan in a series of video work.
The project dates back to 2008, when Ståhl started to work with a found manuscript containing unpublished memoirs written between 1881 and 1954. Using the manuscript as a starting point – its content as well as its stylistic peculiarities – they explore how particular forms of writing articulate subjective political experiences, related to questions such as belonging, migration and class.
KRETS will present two text volumes, containing experiments where Ståhl has deconstructed and reworked the biographical material. One part is composed by loops generated as the text has been swiftly translated back and forth between English and Swedish. Traces of many of the loops and repetitions have been kept in the text, as a form of amplification of the manuscript’s peculiar impoverished quality, rendering explicit its relationship to the historical, geo- and sociopolitical and cultural contexts from which it derives. The second part consists of all nouns from the manuscript, presented parallel with references to the history of film technology, as well as fragments taken from medical literature reflecting on the cessation of the body’s functions and the memory. Flickering over the pages, these words appear as simple images that create a rhythm reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein’s ideas about filmic language.
In both format and reading experience, there is a clear link to early cinematic development, analogous to the narrative account of the text. In Troyan’s video work – moving from relative abstraction to visual collages with direct references to archival material, the original manuscript and Ståhl’s rewritings – this connection is further emphasized. Elements from the video work have also been picked up as references in the text volumes. Through this looping process, an extended form of writing is explored, which oscillates between different media and simultaneously reflects on the impact of technology on our perception – and thereby on the autobiographical narrative as such.
F I L M (vol 1) – download contents as pdf
F I L M (vol 2) – download contents as pdf
F I L M (catalogue / book)