Mit anderen Mitteln – By Other Means by Harun Farocki at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)

By Elisa Arca

The retrospective Mit anderen Mitteln – By Other Means by Harun Farocki at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) is part of a series of events organized in Berlin that, four years after the death of the director, cover the different aspects of his work : his installations (in the case of nbk), his complete filmography (in a program at Arsenal Cinema), the influence of his body of work on academic circuits dedicated to image thinking, among many other events, including the release of his unpublished autobiography (as part of a first volume of his writings by Walther König publishing house).

In recent years, Farocki´s exhibitions have increased in visibility in the contemporary art world by occupying the most noticeable art spaces, particularly in Europe. An example of this is the tribute presented at the 56th Venice Biennial, in 2015. In the exhibition at Arsenal, curated by Okwui Enwezor, “All the World’s Futures”, the 87 films that make up the entire film work were presented in different monitors in chronological order, accompanied by his writings. At the same time this movies were projected simultaneously in another room. The encyclopedic aim of this tribute is revealed in the title of the “work”: Atlas of Harun Farocki’s Filmography. In contrast to this unfathomable display of information is Mit anderen Mitteln – By other Means, curated by Antje Ehmann and Carles Guerra, who opted to focus exclusively on the Farocki installations dedicated to the cinema or rather, as they clarify, dedicated to “some specific logic embodied in cinema.”[1] Hence the name, due to the capacity of the exhibition space (among others) to “understand” the film, “not necessarily by cinematographic but probably by other means.”[2]

The sober and calculated disposition of the works in the space reveals the will of the curators not to betray the essence of Farocki’s work. ‘Harun Farocki – By Other Means’ is the third in a series of exhibitions that Ehmann and Guerra have curated. The first two took place in 2016, at the Valencian Institute of Modern Art and the Antoni Tàpies Foundation in Barcelona and addressed two different thematic blocks: the first was dedicated to the “surveillance image” and the second to the topic of “labor”. The rigidity of the categories that allowed to give coherence to the exhibitions made in Spain and Germany is only apparent: Ehmann and Guerra open the show “By Other Means” with Re-Pouring (2010), a Fluxus performance (carried out by Thomas Schmit in 1963) revisited by Farocki, in which he has replaced the human action of pouring water from one container to another by the same action performed by a machine. The repetition of the somewhat clumsy movement of the robot is considered, by curators, as “iteration”. This is what happens with images in the rest of the exhibition, that which links Re-Pouring with the rest of the pieces. The truth is that the slow cadence of the device, the reading of the action from side to side of the immense projection, prepares us for a different approach to the moving image, accustomed as we are to an immediate and utilitarian consumption.

On Construction of Griffith’s Films (2006)

Behind the large space occupied by this first projection is On Construction of Griffith’s Films (2006), a double channel installation, like the one with which Farocki began his work in exhibition spaces: Interface (1995). A potential masterclass of cinematographic language condensed in two televisions where we see a shot reverse shot created by the director with which this montage principle is born: D.W. Griffith. The work has a less belligerent tone than “Shot / Countershot: The Most Important Expression in Cinematic Law of Value”, text published in 1981 in Filmkritik in which the analysis of what he calls “the first rule” of montage helps him position himself before a type of cinema – in particular that of his contemporaries – which he considers falsely transgressive, treacherous to a revolutionary program. The double screen is more than a spatialized shot/countershot, it is the resource widely used by Farocki that by 2001, already had a seminal article that would be widely quoted: “Cross Influence / Soft Montage”[3] (2002). In it, succession and simultaneousness are the axes inherent to the device of the double projection. This apparently simple theory is challenged by the director’s multichannel installations, also present in the exhibition. How to understand the concept of “Soft Montage” in a set-up of five to more screens?

The topics of the war film “iterates” in War Tropes (2011), a five channel video installation created, as other works in this exhibition, in collaboration with Antje Ehmann. It does not seem to be the work of a cinephile, but rather that of someone who, having the ability to store a large amount of visual information, is able to order, establish categories, reorder and, what is more difficult, to display images to the wandering spectator. Farocki does not hide his archive the same way as he doesn’t hide the production processes of his films. Although his intention is far from being pedagogical, his proclaimed and precisely detailed project to create “A Cinematographic Thesaurus” gives an idea of ??the nature of the drive that pushed him to create a work like War Tropes: “Ever since video recorders have been available, filmmakers have begun to refer back to film history – it is time for the rise of a lexicon”[4]. In War Tropes there is no voiceover, unlike what happens in most of Farocki’s body of work. The images arranged next to each other – one understands after a few minutes in front of the screens – do not respond or talk among themselves to generate some kind of “new message”. What unfolds in the five screens is a sort of repository of common places that are decontextualized, de-dramatized to the point of producing a certain humor. The scenes that allude, for example, to the memory of the beloved, stream within one screen. A series of variations of the same gesture: the soldier takes from his pocket a wrinkled photograph of his girlfriend. On the adjacent screen we are confronted to scenes where the decisive call takes place: a superior orders the attack, and so on. If the installation is “read” from left to right (or vice versa) we get a classic war film. Constructing or dismounting (with the look): when confronting the viewer with this catalogue, Farocki and Ehmann dismantle one of the main ways of normalizing violence.

Feasting or Flying (2008)

In Feasting or Flying (with Antje Ehmann, 2008), Farocki and Ehmann focus on the topic of the suicide of the male character: that of Ferdinand de Pierrot le fou, that of Kurt Cobain of Last Days, or that of Yukio of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Although the narrative occupies a more important role than in War Tropes, the artists leave no room for pathos, or for identification with the characters and even less for curiosity about the motivations of the characters or the gruesome details of how they committed their respective suicides. All information is available to the viewer. As the stories come to an end, the screen turns red, like it was a video game. There is something strangely playful (and a little twisted) in the device created by Farocki and Ehmann, that goes beyond the cinematic trivia, and makes the spectator’s tension grow: in what screen will the next suicide take place? It is difficult to imagine a form of montage that more effectively demystifies suicide than this one.

In the film As You See (1986), Farocki introduced us to a dubbing studio where two actors lent their voices for a romantic-erotic scene. The agitated breathing perfectly timed, the imperceptible variations in the vocal imposition, the moaning of the actors barely expressing any feelings, revealed the artifice of dubbing. In Dubbing (with Antje Ehmann, 2006) Farocki reveals the equally deceptive subtitle, just showing the mythical Taxi Driver scene in which Travis Bickle speaks to his reflection in the mirror, in different languages with different subtitles. The protagonist in front of his reflection: the locution in front of his summarized and imperfect version, the subtitles. It is finally an experience available to any user who, through the press of a button, is able to reveal the inconsistencies and gaps in the translation.

Vilém Flusser’s thoughts the role of images in a scattering society leads him to a conclusion that seems to describe very accurately Harun Farocki’s work with pre-produced images. Farocki was very close to Flusser, it’s not surprising that a part of his work deals with the “rewiring” of images that he draws from its constant flux. In Flusser’s words: “Contemporary revolutionaries are not actively opposed to the images themselves but rather to the integrated circuitry. They actively promote dialogical, rewired images. […] Their visionary powers are focused on a society in which people exchange information through images and, in so doing, constantly produce new information, improbable situations. Only as a result of this new capacity to visualize does it become possible to conceive of such a social formation.”[5]

Exhibition content


Synchronisation/ Dubbing
(with Antje Ehmann) 2006
video, loop, color, sound, 3 min

Zur Bauweise des Films bei Griffith/
On Construction of Griffiths Films 2006
2 channel video installation, loop,
b&w, no sound, 9 min

Fressen oder Fliegen/ Feasting or Flying
(with Antje Ehmann) 2008
6 channel video installation, loop, b&w and color,
sound, 24 min

Umgießen. Variationen zu Opus 1 von
Tomas Schmit/ Re-Pouring, Variation on Opus 1
by Tomas Schmit, Variation II
video, loop, color, no sound, 20 min

Tropen des Krieges/ War Tropes
(with Antje Ehmann) 2011
5 channel video installation, loop, b&w and
color, sound, 35 min

Radio Feature

So long good-bye
Author and director: Harun Farocki
speaker: Achim Baumann
production: WDR 3,1978, 47.

Archive Material

Ohne Titel [Ronny und Harun spielen
Theater] / Untitled [Ronny and Harun playing
theatre] 1982
16-mm film transfered to full HD video, color, sound, 6 min;
various photographs; film posters; leaflets; 2 books; notes and 1 child’s drawing

[1] Antje Ehmann and Carles Guerra, “By Other Means: Dissecting – Combining – Translating”, exhibition booklet.

[2] Idem.

[3] Published in Trafic magazine nº43.

[4] Harun Farocki, “A Cinematographic Thesaurus,” in Harun Farocki. Another Kind of Empathy, eds. Antje Ehmann and Carles Guerra (Barcelona : Fundacio Antoni Tapies).Text originally published in German in Thomas Elsaesser (ed.), Harun Farocki. Working on the Sight-Lines, Amsterdam University Press, 2004.

[5] Vilém Flusser, Into the Universe of Technical Images (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 67.