We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

  • From Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire (1969)

This Saturday at 7 PM, the Nightingale and White Light Cinema will present a program of short works by Harun Farocki, a German multidisciplinary artist who’s authored almost 100 films since 1966. Chicago-based video essayist Kevin B. Lee (who curated the program from the numerous Farocki works in the Video Data Bank archive) will introduce the program and lecture on Farocki’s influence on contemporary media.

In spite of producing a mammoth filmography, Farocki remains, at least in this country, discussed more often than seen. Perhaps most people just don’t know where to start with him—Farocki has made not only feature films and documentaries, but museum installations and commissions for television (including segments for Germany’s version of Sesame Street!). “It’s difficult to give Farocki a proper place in film culture, or indeed in the film history of his country,” German critic Thomas Elsaesser wrote in a 2002 Senses of Cinema piece that provides a useful introduction to his work. Farocki is often described as a film essayist, but, as Elsaesser notes, this term fails to convey the open-ended nature of his nonfiction work. He continues:

It is true, his films are discursive and proceed by arguments, rather than constructing a fictional narrative or documenting processes in the world ‘out there.’ He often uses voice-over commentary, and its gestus is often both educationally explanatory or ruminatingly reflexive . . . Farocki’s films are a constant dialogue with images, with image making, and with the institutions that produce and circulate these images.

The selections in Saturday’s program would seem to support this assessment. Interface (1995), commissioned by the Lille Museum of Modern Art, considers the philosophical ramifications of working with existing images rather than creating one’s own. Counter-Music (2002), another museum installation, looks at the images involved in the daily functions of a city, from video-surveillance footage to computer-generated representations of traffic regulation. Parallel (2012) is a short, critical documentary about the development of computer animation over the past 30 years. In all three, Farocki considers how different types of moving images shape our perception of the world, whether we as spectators recognize it or not. The earliest selection on the program, Inextinguishable Fire (1969), also raises issues about complicity in industrial society. The film begins as a condemnation of the Dow Chemical Company, which produced napalm for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, then builds to such provocative statements as: “Because of the growing division of labor, many people no longer recognize the role they play in producing mass destruction.”

For further reading on Farocki, check out this essay Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote for the Reader in 1992.