Podcast 14: Class Wargames: From Situationist Subversion to Political Strategy. An Interview with Richard BarbrookApril 26, 2018
By Bradley Tuck
The pulsating drum beats hard. The muscles tense and release to the pulse whose chorus is the aches and spasms that drives its unremitting energy. It flings my flesh against the concrete as if raising it into a unbridled feud, whose crusade for breath manifests as a tumult of gasps and grunts. An ecstatic fanaticism conquers the body and drives it into the air. The air retaliates through the ricochets that strike against my skin. The concrete also declares war and bashes against me with the same force that my limbs catapult against its surface. The machinery of my body presents itself with a vital energy that demands adherence. I am lost in its purpose. Later I might read a book, watch a film, or contemplate the purpose of existence, but for now I am bound to the rites of the flesh. Sacrificium Intellectus.
In this fourth part of our interview with The Underground Film Studio, we discuss their film Sacrificium Intellectus (2012), the process of its creation, the themes that emerge from it, and the live performances that expand upon it. We explore the context within which films are presented, the nature of dance and the intellect, the philosophy of embodiment and gesture, Christian art and the politics of Christian devotion, the tarot, the cinema space, live performance, and ‘Expanded Cinema’.
A clip of Sacrificium Intellectus can be viewed here, and documentation of the first live performance based on Sacrificium Intellectus can be viewed here.
The Underground Film Studio is a collaboration between Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais based in the UK and Portugal, where they make both long and short experimental films, as well as editing and publishing their own magazine ‘Film Panic’. Throughout 2018 they will be collaborating extensively with Exploding Appendix as resident artists and, alongside this interview, will be collaborating on events, screenings and film projects.
Sacrificium Intellectus (2012)
BRADLEY: I only watched Sacrificium Intellectus relatively recently. This was effectively the first time I had seen the film, although I had seen an edit of it that was part of an Experijam event on 4th August 2012 for which you provided the visuals. This was one of your early forays into your Recycled Cinema project. What was projected at the event was visuals over which musicians experimented and improvised live at the event. The footage that became Sacrificium Intellectus was only a small part of a larger mass of footage edited for the event, and it strikes me as being a lot shorter. This was a very bustling and social atmosphere, people were drinking and chatting, whilst looking at the visuals and listening to the music.
When I watched Sacrificium Intellectus the atmosphere was very different. I had been working all day, and, when I got home, I sat in bed and watched your film. There was none of the social bustle of Brighton nightlife, just the serene relaxed atmosphere of my room. No longer encountering the footage as visuals for a music event, I instead encountered the film as an artistic film with an accompanying score. I engaged with it in the same way I’d engage with a movie, watching it from start to finish, rather than on a loop in a venue. I engaged with it as a piece of visual storytelling with a beginning, middle and end, rather than seeing it as visuals that I could drift in and out of. In this context I found it mesmerising, and meditative. It is very slow paced and 1 hour and 6 minutes long. Although nothing really happens, or, at least, ‘nothing happens’ in the conventional movie going sense of ‘anything happening’, I still found myself transfixed. In some ways it brings to mind some of Kenneth Anger’s films, who I mentioned in part three. With films such as Eaux d’Artifice (1953) and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) you get a lot of visually enticing images and music. Images are often repeated in a way that seems more ritualistic and more concerned with creating an experience than, say, telling a story (although that isn’t absent). It puts you into a different kind of mindset than the conventional Hollywood movie. It is more like a meditation, an enchanting spell, or witnessing a religious rite. That goes as much for Anger’s films as it does for Sacrificium Intellectus.
Maybe you could explain the film a bit. How did it come about? Where did the idea come from?
Sacrificium Intellectus (2012)
DANIEL & CLARA: There were actually two versions shown in Brighton back in 2012, one was a shorter edit which was a part of our Recycled Cinema project (probably the one you remember seeing) and one was the final version but without sound or titles. Our films come to life in various ways, some start with an image that we see or that comes to mind, sometimes we have an idea for a process or narrative, sometimes they come from dreams and sometimes from just hitting record on the camera and playing with the footage. Sacrificium Intellectus is an example of the latter. The original footage was shot as a document of that single evening with you making dresses out of paper and then dancing until they all shredded apart. It was filmed on a handheld Mini-DV camera in a series of long single takes, watching again the raw footage recently we were surprised how much it was directed, a sort of dialogue between camera/director and performer. The raw footage in itself is interesting but the interest is limited, the magic of your performance didn’t fully come across, it is only through the process of slowing down, colouring and creating the jerky effect that somehow the beauty and uniqueness of the dance is shown on screen. On one level the film is a document of that performance but through experimentation and transformation of the images it became also something else. The particular look of the film grew out of the processes we were exploring in Savage Witches for transforming video images into something painterly, but whereas Savage Witches is a more overt narrative piece, Sacrificium Intellectus is a meditative or contemplative piece. It has a narrativity to it, as you point out, but it is reduced to the most minute elements – a leap in the air or a thrust of the arms becomes a moment of narrative. These tiny moments which in a conventional film would be overlooked or ignored become our focus. The way the image is pushed towards abstraction makes single elements stand out and become almost providential presences, and the jolting slow-motion emphasises the repetitiveness of the movements, but also their weight and momentousness. In a way the film is very direct and offers exactly the same thing in each moment, but ‘what this thing is’ is drawn out and unfolded by the viewers who stick with it for the whole duration. It is a film that demands from the viewer a submission to the experience, you have to stop hoping something will happen, you have to go past expectation, through boredom – and then suddenly something shifts, you become hooked on the shifting movements of colour and sound, you become engaged and it’s fascinating. We seem to be attracted to creating these kinds of experiences that have a dual aspect, alluring but also frustrating, putting the audience under a spell while also hindering their habitual modes of engagement with the work. When we showed this first at that event in Brighton, even though many people reacted to the images and said they were beautiful and exciting, they couldn’t really engage with the film in its durational aspect and a whole dimension of what this work offers was lost on them. This is just because of the conditions inherent to that kind of space and it became clear to us that that kind of bar/club screening was not the best context for our work. It works best when presented in a quiet dark room in which the viewer can immerse themselves in the experience of viewing and be swept along in the way you describe.
We later screened the film in a gallery in Portugal, and by this point it had the soundtrack too and the experience was very different, it was projected on a wall of an empty room and there were seats for the viewers. There was something church-like about the experience, and of course the music plays a large part in that, being a mix of organs and choral voices, but also in the sense that the image has a ritualistic quality and becomes an object of calm reflection.
BRADLEY: I had almost forgotten about that night of shooting until it re-emerged in Sacrificium Intellectus and Splendor Solis (2015). The section that appears in Splendor Solis seems quite different. It is almost as if both capture a different aspect of the same night. The footage in Splendor Solis seems more like ‘documentary’ footage. I am cautious of saying ‘documentary’ because sometimes ‘documentary’ can bring to mind mere documentation. It isn’t that. Splendor Solis is something very beautiful in its own right. Yet while it is a very beautiful and artistic film, unlike Sacrificium Intellectus there is a sense of it capturing our life at the time, and, at that moment, our night of creativity. It is much more autobiographical, and that section could have been a fashion shoot or something like that. The art comes from the outfit and the movement, dancing, and the light and shadows that accompany it. Sacrificium Intellectus, as you point out, seems to have transformed that footage into something else. You might say that something of the outfit gets lost in this version, but what is gained is that the film is able to draw out the ritualistic sensibilities of the act. It is a lot slower than the actual dance and this means that you have to slow down too. You have to go into a kind of meditative state.
Yet despite the slowness and the lack of a strong narrative things do still happen. What we are witnessing is me, dressed in an outfit made of newspaper and sellotape, dancing until, as you point out, the outfit disintegrates. In that process there are things that happen. There is an experimentation with the newspaper and how it is used. At one point, I stop and start reading the paper. There is something playful going on in the dance.
Let’s turn to the process of making Sacrificium Intellectus. The idea for the outfit is a bit of a long story. I have often enjoyed the process of dressing up and creating outfits. I have no textiles experience, so my experimentation in fashion has either been through stuff that I buy or stuff that I make, usually held together with sellotape. My first ‘paper outfit’ was created at university when someone invited me to a ‘Shakespeare’ house party and I decided to go as the complete works of Shakespeare. I bought a couple of old texts of different plays, ripped them up and taped them back together as trousers and a shirt. It didn’t hold together too well, so part of the night involved adding extra pages. From then on I found a pretty easy way to create fun party outfits. I’ve made some out of Christmas paper, other books, £20 worth of 2p coins, lots of different things. Over the years I have gotten better at working out how to layer the sellotape to keep things together. In 2010 myself and Daniel both started experimenting with this. There was one event where you, Daniel, went in the paper outfit and you came up with some really creative approaches for sculpting the paper. The night where we filmed the footage for Sacrificium Intellectus was really a continuation of that process of exploration.
I am not a trained dancer, nor am I trained in any contemporary dance, but dance and movement is something that I am constantly drawn to explore. I really love dance as a form of self-expression. When I set up Exploding Appendix in 2017 I didn’t want it to be merely intellectual reflections on films and culture. I wanted it to be a place where creative pieces and more intellectual discussions could coexist, so one of the projects I created was the dance video series. In some ways that is a continuation of some of the explorations of movement that we started exploring in the shoot for Sacrificium Intellectus.
You are right to note that this was a collaboration, that it was a dialogue between camera/director and performer. One of the things I find interesting about this is that, this year, as part of this artist residency, we are going to engage in another collaboration of this kind. At some point in the year we are going to engage in another dance project where I become the performer and the two of you become the director/camera. I am not sure what you have in mind, or what will happen, but I find it interesting to contemplate how this could be seen as a different form of dialogue, running parallel to the more discursive and intellectual dialogue that we are engaging with here. I can’t remember when this footage was actually shot (I have a feeling it was sometime in 2010), but it seems interesting that in 2018 we might return to exploring a creative ‘dialogue’ that started many years ago.
Sacrificium Intellectus (2012)
DANIEL & CLARA: Yes, we’re looking forward to doing some filming together again, we’ve got a lot of ideas to get us started and we’ll see where it’ll take us! Our approach to making the new dance film collaboration will surely follow on from these interests, not a document of a dance but a dance between camera/performer, at the moment we are interested in looking at smaller gestures that transform or reveal something over the unit of time that is contained within a single shot.
Since making Sacrificium Intellectus and Savage Witches we have done a lot more experimentation with various ways to create a performance for camera and our work focused in on exploring the language of gesture, among other things, to the point where we’ve ended up creating a whole body of work of ‘silent’ films (films with sound/music but no dialogue). In a way, we became particularly interested in gesture because of studying the history of painting, where much of the narrativity is created by the gestures of figures, the positioning of their bodies and their physical characteristics. Also interesting is how, specifically in religious painting, certain gestures are intrinsic to the characters that are portrayed and can remain very fixed for centuries, like a sort of code that is only altered with a revolutionary artistic break or a development in ideology. We are interested in the questions of how these gestures come to be encoded in this way, why are they meaningful and did they grow from the body itself? These are questions that maybe painting and dance have explored more fully than other art forms. There are also special gestures that belong to specifically iconic moments in a certain character’s story, as in most of the art dealing with the lives of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary for example. It’s through the progression of the gestures that the profound experiences of the characters are revealed. In cinema we can use this on a level that is out of reach of painting because we are dealing with a succession of images over a specific amount of time, we can investigate how these gestures and experiences unfold and are experienced over time, even how they disrupt or extend our experience of time.
So studying this language of gesture in painting revealed to us that there is an embodied way to represent complex ideas, emotions and states of consciousness in a very direct and physical way, and it is a very sophisticated and ancient language that allows for both precision and paradox, which really appealed to us. In its early silent decades, cinema was taking on from this tradition and expanding upon it, but when synch sound was introduced and dialogue was brought to the foreground, it changed how the audience engaged with the moving images. Much of the depth and vitality of the language of gesture that existed in silent films was lost in favour of a greater focus on delivering words as the structural narrative device of cinema.
Having said this, we’re certainly not at all against dialogue or scriptwriting in cinema, in fact we have written many scripts and are very interested in dialogue and the use of words in our work, but so far we have directed our explorations into how dialogue can also be used as a form of gesture, instead of serving to deliver information and narrative plot, you could say our approach to dialogue is closer to poetry. In a few of our scripts we have written dialogue by asking where the words came from and for what purpose they were being spoken, for example we considered how a character’s speech and the type of language they use would be if the words came from the different organs inside them, and we even have characters speak with various parts of their bodies. This was about finding a way for words to return back to the body, to liberate the intellect and put it in touch with emotions, and it really all fed into the work we did with the various performers that participated in films like In Search of The Exile (2016), The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016) and Black Sun (2017), and even informed our own performance when we acted in Rouzbeh Rashidi’s Phantom Islands (2018). All of these films are silent and resulted from using improvisation as a way to create a performance for camera, but underneath it all for us there was a lot of research and thinking about how to create meaningful movement and gesture, what the role of dialogue in cinema is, and cinema’s relationship to painting.
Sacrificium Intellectus (2012)
BRADLEY: It is interesting to think about this approach to gesture in relation to the film’s title, which, of course, suggests a kind of sacrifice of the intellect, and of course, Sacrificium Intellectus itself is a religious idea associated with Christian devotion. We can, and should, certainly approach this from a religious perspective, but for the time being I find it useful to approach this through an exploration of phenomenology, embodiment and gesture.
From the way you describe your work it seems like you are highly critical of the intellect and approaches that rely too heavily on it. Yet, at the same time, you often point out that you are “certainly not at all against dialogue”, or, in response to my own focus on ideas you point out “We are doing something similar in our films but maybe operating on a different frequency.” At these moments it strikes me that you aren’t so much against intellectualism per se, but a particular kind of intellectualism. You seem open to approaches that are intellectual even though there is something that you are trying to avoid, or that isn’t your focus. Certainly this dialogue itself, and the value of this dialogue, seems, in part, to follow from our mutual willingness to explore the intellect and subject our artistic experiences to intellectual ruminations. This leads me to some questions: what is ‘good intellectualism’ and what is ‘bad intellectualism? How should we engage with the intellect? When is it appropriate to engage with the intellect, and when should it be avoided?
One of the ways we could think about this is to, once again, turn to phenomenology. In our previous discussion of Savage Witches, I suggested that we might interpret you as phenomenological filmmakers. In that context the introduction of phenomenology was aimed at exploring the nature of the reality-fantasy distinction. It struck me that, at one level, it is really important to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Everything from survival mechanisms to the moral, the political, the juridical, the philosophical and the scientific would appear to rely on such a distinction. Yet at the same time, fantasies are not irrelevant, they do not lack a kind of ‘weight’ that intrudes upon reality. As you point out, ‘fantasies are real’, but in what way? The turn to phenomenology was meant as a way to articulate a ‘way’ in which fantasies are real, and one that seemed to chime with your own work. In this context, fantasies are real at the level of appearances. When we put our everyday understanding of ‘the real world’ in brackets we rediscover the world as it appears. When we approach the world from this attitude we uncover the way in which mirages, illusions and fantasies are not simply distractions from ‘the serious businesses of reality’, they equally appear to us, they are bound up with our experience of the world and have a particular existential meaning for us.
Nonetheless, despite the phenomenologist’s ability to perceive the ‘reality’ of fantasy, this doesn’t obliterate the reality-fantasy distinction. Lived experience can correct itself. I may mistake a manikin for a human being, but getting closer I realise that it was not a human being at all. Phenomenology, it strikes me, can help us think about the respect in which our fantasies are real without losing the often necessary distinction between reality and fantasy.
So, if phenomenology can help us acknowledge the way fantasies are really lived without obliterating the reality-fantasy distinction, so too do I hope that by turning to phenomenology we might be able to think of a way in which we might be able to critique the intellect without completely abandoning it.
One way to do this is to interpret your critique of the intellect as a rejection of the Cartesian dualism between mind and body. For Descartes, the mind and the body had completely different natures, the mind was a thinking thing and non-extended, whereas the body was an extended but non-thinking thing. The mind was endowed with a kind of primacy which enabled it to perceive clear and distinct ideas, whereas the body was understood as something measurable, something that could be divided in a manner in which the mind (or soul) could not. Part of Descartes’ underlying motivation for adopting such a position was that by separating the mind from the body (and the world more generally), he was paving the way for an entirely mechanistic view of the external natural world that was developing into the empirical natural sciences. The other motivation for Descartes was a religious one of proving the immortality of the soul. The mind was a totally separate thing from the body and so could exist without it.
Through phenomenology, in contrast, we uncover the lived body from a different perspective. As Michel Henry tells us…
“We do not wait until we have read the latest books on biology before running, leaping, walking, or raising our arms, and even if we devote our time to reading about such subjects, nothing would change with regard to our primitive powers. Nothing is more inoperative than science with regard to our conduct as well as with regard to the primordial knowledge that this conduct always presupposes.”
(Michel Henry, Philosophy and Phenomenology of the Body Translated by Girard Etzkorn (Springer: The Hague. Netherlands. 1975) p. 5)
For Henry there is something about the body that the intellectual and the scientific cannot account for. In attempting to uncover and understand this ‘primordial knowledge’ we discover our embodied lived subjectivity.
Likewise, for Maurice Merleau-Ponty this lived subjectivity is not a Cartesian one where the mind and the body are completely separate, nor is it a mere mechanistic view which only abandons one side of Descartes’ dualism and describes the world, and the mind, as “a cluster of third person processes – ‘sight’, ‘motility’, ‘sexuality’.” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception Translated by Colin Smith (Routledge. Oxon/New York. 2002) p. 230) By resisting the reduction of the body to a mere object the body is rediscovered through the experience of the body. In attempting to do this Merleau-Ponty explores how thought emerges in speech and how “conceptual meaning must be formed by a kind of deduction from gestural meaning” (Merleau-Ponty, p. 208). Gestures are not distractions from conceptual meaning. Language and gestures emerge from embodied engagement within a world and are learnt within our communal life. In light of this, Merleau-Ponty discusses how we learn a foreign language by taking part in a communal life. We learn the language by engaging within a common life, not by starting with the rational meaning of the words, but by reading the gestures and the context.
Contrary to what some people might expect, he also claims that the process of learning philosophy is very similar to the process of learning a new language in a foreign country. He explores how we first encounter a philosophy that we do not yet understand. Rather than this being a mere intellectual affair, we learn a philosophy in a similar way to the way we learn a new language in a new country, the text “discloses to me at least a certain ‘style’ […] which is the first draft of its meaning. I begin to understand a philosophy by feeling my way into its existential manner, by reproducing the tone and accent of the philosopher. (Merleau-Ponty, 2002, p. 208) These tones and these styles are not distractions from the rational meaning, they are our first steps towards uncovering the full meaning.
In this respect gestures are not mere signs relating to thought. As Merleau-Ponty points out “The gesture does not make me think anger, it is anger itself.” (Merleau-Ponty, p.214) Language and gestures are not translated as signs and then interpreted within our inner-life, they immediately appear as the thing itself.
Gestures are not signs that our mind translates in its inner-life, because there is no ‘inner-life’, or if such an inner-life could be said to exist it is simultaneously an outer-life. We think by doing. For Merleau-Ponty it is precisely by thinking or speaking an idea that we come to understand things, he uses the example of “many writers who begin a book without knowing what they are going to put into it.”(Merleau-Ponty, p.206) Personally, I can certainly relate to this. Maybe you can too? Sometimes it feels like it is insufficient to simply contemplate an idea. Somehow only through the process of writing, or discussing, or creating, do I really feel like I get a handle on the idea. It feels, as though, through written or spoken word we grapple with ideas and truly come to understand them.
In the previous discussion you talked about how “when you are playing as a kid, it might start as a light fantasy, say that your bath tub is a pirate ship and you are the captain, but if the play is really working suddenly within a split second you actually become the captain and the tub actually is a ship.” (See part 3) In describing the phenomenological world as he does, Merleau-Ponty would appear to agree, discussing the actress in a performance he writes,
“…the actress becomes invisible, and it is Phaedra who appears. The meaning swallows up the signs, […] Aesthetic expression confers on what it expresses an existence in itself, installs it in nature as a thing perceived and accessible to all, or conversely plucks the signs themselves – the person of the actor, or the colours and the canvas of the painter – from their empirical existence and bears them off into another world”. (Merleau-Ponty, p. 212)
At this embodied level there is a blurring of fantasy and reality. We do not contemplate the action in a film as a representation where actors play a role, we get lost in the world the film creates. The meaning of things are not a mere abstract affair. We live through the world, just like we walk and run. In this context, language and expression are not a mere bodily function, nor a mere intellectual pursuit of interpreting signs. There is a lived embodied immediacy to language and gestures. Merleau-Ponty nicely sums this up saying “Language is no longer an instrument, no longer a means; it is a manifestation, a revelation of intimate being and of the psychic link which unites us to the world of our fellow men.” (Merleau-Ponty, p. 228)
Having said all this, Merleau-Ponty is not attempting to abandon reason itself. Merleau-Ponty still accorded reason a “privileged position”, but believed that “if we want to understand it clearly, we must begin by putting thought back among the phenomena of expression.” (Merleau-Ponty,p. 221) Merleau-Ponty is not merely abandoning reason, nor the intellect, but rather he is criticising a kind of intellectualism that fails to situate the intellect within embodied expression. I sometimes feel like something similar is going on in your work. Could we say that your task is not so much the sacrifice of the intellect, but the reunion of the intellect with its expressive form?
Sacrificium Intellectus (2012)
DANIEL & CLARA: This is very interesting and these ideas resonate strongly with us. You are right that we have made comments about how we are suspicious of heavy reliance on the intellect particularly in the making of art, which we believe to be a fundamentally intuitive process, but as you have also pointed out we are not attempting to entirely reject intellectual engagement. The kind of intellectualism we are critical of is that which fixes things to single interpretations or holds a rigid hierarchy in place or imposes something upon a work of art or on people and does not allow room for other experiences, other interpretations – I suppose you could say we are critical of the type of intellectual framing that can be oppressive and disregards other dimensions of human experience that we believe are of equal value. Whereas open exploration through thinking and discussion etc is essential.
But in the instance of the film Sacrificium Intellectus our attention was focused on exploring other dimensions of human experience, ones in which the intellect is less needed, or is less the focus, this is about surrendering to the moment rather than employing thought – in the viewing of this film what we sacrifice is the thinking about what the film means, where it is going and where we have been – one is obviously free to do that but the film we are offering exists most fully when one surrenders to the moment. It is about being totally in the present tense. Dance is wonderful for this feeling, when dancing one can give themselves fully to the moment, to the movement and sensations of the body, to the flow of feelings. This is what this piece is about above anything else. Of course we can intellectualise it, and we do ourselves of course, as we are doing here, but in the moment of viewing, the film is most rewarding when one simply lets go and drifts in the fluctuating sea of sounds and images, becoming conscious of your breath, the pumping of blood and the beat of one’s heart. You could say that we are drawing attention to a way of being conscious that is not only about being intellectually engaged, one can also be conscious of things through one’s intuition, one’s physical sensations and feelings.
Personally we feel a struggle with the modern society in which we live, surviving in the complicated modern world and navigating it all. We both often feel that we are being pulled away from ourselves, that dealing with a lot of the things we have to do as people living now and as artists trying to survive doesn’t come naturally to us and requires a huge effort that drains us. The act of art making always restores us, brings us back to a feeling of being ourselves, what some might call feeling centred. It seems a lot of people feel the same as we do and we hope that in a way our films, and a film like this one in particular, offers a way to get back to yourself. Maybe similar to meditation, where one repeats a mantra over and over, this film washes over you and helps one get back to being in the body, in the room, in a single moment in space and time. We personally need this from art but often a lot of contemporary art and art cinema doesn’t offer this, it predominantly offers social/political commentaries which more often than not are quite thin and one dimensional. This would be fine if it wasn’t so dominant, currently it is almost the only thing on offer at film festivals and art galleries, unfortunately not a lot else gets a look in. Experiential art, spiritual art and visionary art isn’t valued much at the moment and the kind of art we personally value the most seems to be very out of fashion. So we are seeking to offer something else, explore other responses to the modern world, not to make direct comment but instead to offer the kinds of experiences we feel are lacking.
In 2016 we presented two performances which continue the explorations of Sacrificium Intellectus, we called them live cine-rituals, the first used this film as a projected backdrop and we had live dancers, music and performative actions. The second was similar in form but with different projections and actions. We plan to do a total of 22 performances, each performance growing out of the previous one, each time we carry some elements across and add new things. So the first performance used the film plus dancers in paper dresses. Each one is based on a Tarot card of the major arcana so the film corresponds to The Fool, the first performance to card I The Magician, the second to card II The High Priestess, and so on. The performances are even more about being in the moment than the film because the fact of being live and each one only ever being performed once draws our attention to ephemerality and the fleeting moments. There is also something about liveness that has a tension for the audience and performers that differs from a film and we are quite interested in this.
Sacrificium Intellectus I – A Live Cine-Ritual by Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais
BRADLEY: I am going to try and respond to some of your points by first turning to the religious connotations of the Sacrificium Intellectus. To do this I think it is useful to turn to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, for whom the sacrifice of the intellect was integral to the service of God. In his Letter on Obedience he places obedience as one of the higher virtues, quoting St Gregory he says that “obedience is the only virtue which plants all the other virtues in the mind, and preserves them once they are planted.” Central to this was obedience to a superior who was “to be obeyed not because he is prudent, or good, or qualified by any other gift of God, but because he holds the place and authority of God.” Central to Ignatius’ account of faith was a submission to authority. Here he quotes St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, “Slaves, obey your masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your hearts, as you would Christ: not serving to the eye as pleasers of men, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart, giving your service with good will as to the Lord, and not to men.”(Ephesians 6:5) In this context one obeys not because the authority is right, or just, but because they are an authority. This, of course, includes the sacrifice of the intellect. For Ignatius we should “make the Superior’s will one’s own”. Here our personal judgement is not valued and it is rather our duty to try and think the same as our superiors. “…without this obedience of the judgment it is impossible that the obedience of will and execution be what they should.”
It strikes me that your view couldn’t be more different. Ironically, Ignatius’ sacrifice of the intellect sounds closer to your critique of the intellect. You oppose an intellectualism that “fixes things to single interpretations or holds a rigid hierarchy in place or imposes something upon a work of art or on people and does not allow room for other experiences, other interpretations”, yet in the case of Ignatius it is the sacrifice of the intellect that serves to do this. It serves to prevent “open exploration through thinking and discussion”. It is true that, like Ignatius’ sacrifice of the intellect, the institutionalisation of reason can limit the possibility of what can be thought and said far beyond mere logical consistency and factual accuracy. There are many conventions within academic and parliamentary life (plus other spheres of course) that restrict what can be said, when it can be said, what can be explored, in what discipline, and who can say it.
On the other hand, you also get those moments in great upheavals like the Putney debates of 1647, or the Petrograd Soviet of 1917, or those many coffee houses and salons where many people with many different views and different life experiences came together and asked “What should be done?”. This, for me, is the vital life of reason and I hope, as small as this may be, our discussion here is in some respect continuous with this.
The same goes for the discussion of film. Films, and art more generally, seem to lend themselves to multiple interpretations and there is sometimes very exciting moments when very different people come together, discuss and see very different things in a film. Yet, just as, in some contexts at least, the sacrifice of the intellect in no way frees us from the institutionalisation of the intellect, so too should we be cautious of those moments where the embrace of multiple interpretations serves to reinforce hierarchy. Belief in particular ideas can be dangerous and intimidating to authority, and that authority would sometimes rather view fundamental challenges to their authority as one mere interpretation amongst others. This is why the history of ideas is often rife with the uses of dialogues, irony, parody and so forth. These are useful techniques for avoiding the direct critique of power. Many have presented their views as simply one view amongst many, not because they believed it so, but because they felt that their own safety depended on presenting it this way. In line with the wishes of Pope Urban VIII, Galileo was forced to present his ideas of heliocentrism as a dialogue between two opposing ideas (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems), and any potential whiff of ridicule of his opponents was met with harsh penalties.
Having said this, there is something I find fascinating about religious devotion, not because I particularly agree with it, but because it seems an interesting lens to explore the intensities and human spirit and the blurred line between the spiritual and the bodily. There is something quite fascinating about Bernini’s sculpture of The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. On the one hand, this is an intense spiritual moment, but at the same time it appears to us as very physical, embodied and potentially erotic. Looking at the expression on her face it is hard to tell if what we are witnessing is pleasure, pain or religious ecstasy. She herself was seriously physically unwell and experienced intense religious experiences. Although, for her, these were revelations of the divine, there is something about her writings and Bernini’s sculpture that seems revealing about the nature of embodiment and intense physical experiences. Like your example of dancing, there is a moment where intellectual preoccupations and our sense of self seem to disappear and we exist in the moment. At some levels, at least, that seems a very different sacrificium intellectus than that advocated by St. Ignatius.
Likewise, your film Sacrificium Intellectus strikes me as exploring those intense (or, at least, those apparently ‘non-intellectual’) experiences like St. Teresa’s but from a non-transcendent standpoint. The film seems not to be trying to reach out to God, or any other transcendent beings. In the film Sacrificium Intellectus we encounter the ecstasy as a mere bodily expression: Religion without God. It is as if the sacrificium intellectus has been pushed so far as to abandon the theological as well. What we encounter is the mere body.
One of the other things that interests me about this film, and the history of the presentation of the film, is the way it draws into question the space within which it is presented. Should it be presented in a bar or club? Should it be presented as installation? Should it be presented in a more conventional cinema format? Should it be presented at home on a television, computer or other such device? Should it be presented as an expanded cinema performance? These are not irrelevant questions and they vastly alter the film’s experience. I guess that is true for any film, but especially for Sacrificium Intellectus because of its seeming lack of narrative. One could present it as an installation or as a projection in a bar, but in those contexts you risk losing the meditative quality. In the case of expanded cinema performances you are adding something. The first performance piece sounds very interesting. How do you think these references to the tarot expanded or changed the meaning and experience of the projected film?
Sacrificium Intellectus II – A Live Cine-Ritual by Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais
DANIEL & CLARA: Thanks for bringing up this question of presentation again, it is an area where we feel there is much confusion and a lot of assumptions are made (surprisingly by curators, programmers and critics) without considering properly the effects they have on the works. We definitely feel that context matters and we’ve always been interested in exploring what different contexts mean and what each of them offers that is unique to itself. Even when we were making Savage Witches we thought of ways of turning various aspects of the film into installations and live performances and considered how those would be offering certain experiences that couldn’t be a part of the film. It was a useful exercise to help us understand more precisely how to construct the film and why we were making certain decisions. Since then we’ve also made works specifically for the internet, for gallery installation, to exist as publications, and also expanded cinema performances, alongside the feature length films, and it has become even clearer how these different spaces create different modes of engagement with the work, and therefore different experiences and meanings. This is something we always consider when making the work, maybe it’s especially important with our films because they are so much about playing with the expectations and parameters of the cinema experience, the work is not completed until each viewer watches the film and goes on their own unique journey with it, whatever that will be. Some works can be shown in a variety of contexts but others demand more specific conditions so we try to show each film in the way that is appropriate for it, it is part of our work to make sure that the audience has the right conditions and opportunity to fully engage with the work. In a way our favourite mode of presentation is still the traditional cinema format, there is something very magical about it for us, we feel like we deeply understand something about it and the kind of experiences that can be had within it, so most of our work is created for that and to a great extent our interest is to reinvigorate and celebrate that experience, by playing with the frameworks, expectations and deep psychological states that it evokes.
The Sacrificium Intellectus performances came about because we were interested in exploring more situations in which the world and explorations of the films could come out of the screen into the space and create a dynamic between the images on screen and the actions happening live. We were particularly excited about the ephemeral nature of the performances and wanted to experience that, that they would happen only once and never be repeated, which contrasts so much with the films, which we labour over and once created they can be played repeatedly, go anywhere and effectively have a life of their own. We cast the performers and musician in the same way we do for the films and we decided to be a part of it ourselves so that the various dimensions of the creation of the work could be present simultaneously as layers of action, characters, sounds, symbols and meanings. We created a map of actions for all the performers that would take them from beginning to end but essentially the actual performances were improvised – we as the creators set everything in motion and went through a very personal inner exploration, while the creations gained a life of their own and through their own motions explored and exhausted the creative spark that they were given. We used the Tarot as a structuring device, as a way for us to have a skeletal narrative that we could use loosely and respond to in an intuitive way. The Tarot de Marseille is a fascinating work of art in itself and can be an incredibly insightful tool to reflect on the workings and rhythms of creativity. For us this was a way of studying it from an embodied experience and it was very rewarding, the ephemerality and liveness of the performances created a fantastic tension and energy that revealed things to us with an exciting immediacy.
Even though we are not a part of any religion and do not ascribe to a particular faith, Christian art speaks to us very deeply and we feel a very personal and strong connection with it, most probably because it is so tied up with the European psyche and the history of art. We are certainly more interested in the mythologies and artistic expression that have sprung from Christianity than in the religion itself, and even if we explore aspects of its mythology and imagery in our work, our work is definitely not a vehicle of devotion like much religious art. Equally we are not interested in attacking or critiquing religion through our work, more than that we are interested in what is revealed about the human condition and in the sense of wonder and awe of the cosmic mystery that it often presents. But for us this is not about rejecting the body or material existence, it’s an embodied experience. The Tarot speaks of these things too and is interesting because of its connections to Christianity and the obvious influence religious symbolic structures have had on it, but it works more like a mirror for each individual rather than being a tool to transmit a specific dogma or message.
Sacrificium Intellectus II – A Live Cine-Ritual by Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais
BRADLEY: This is all very interesting. The Tarot de Marseille is certainly very beautiful, yet I am also relatively ignorant of it in both its function as playing cards and its development for occultists. Maybe you could explain this a little. I would be especially interested in how tarot can be revealing about embodiment.
Moving on, however, maybe we could wrap this section up by discussing expanded cinema and multi-media performance. It certainly strikes me as an interesting aspect of your work and it re-casts the issue of cinema in an interesting light. In many ways it isn’t just relevant for multi-media performance, but also in helping us rediscover what is taken for granted in everyday cinema experiences.
Cinemas are quite unique experiences. They have existed for a very long time throughout the short history of film and have continued to exist even with the advent of television, home video and the internet. In the cinema we encounter the social, the big screen, the sounds and the vibrations that ripple out from the speakers, the (hopefully) quality chairs all lined up in a particular way, and the smell and taste of popcorn (and any other drinks and snacks we may consume). In some respects it is useful to compare it to the multisensory delights of feasts and banquets. Just like the cinema, feasts and banquets involved a combination of food, drink, socialising and pieces of performance and ‘entertainment’. These elements emerge within cinema but within a very different context. Viewing films at a cinema is a social experience, but it is one where the social is reduced to its bare elements: We are sitting watching together. There is very little room for talk, discussion or physical interaction. There could be the whisper, the caress, the kiss (with certain people in certain contexts), but the possibility to do more than this may be limited. On the other hand, there is also the possibility of certain shared reactions that we might have that transform us into an ‘audience’. We laugh, we cry, we gasp, or scream. My first encounter with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive back in 2001 in the cinema was such a delight. The audience really seemed to delight in the film, and continually laughed at the often comic absurdity of the film. Although the film is, in some respects dark and challenging, the audience did not seem to be laughing at it, but with it. In this context, the film really became a comedy. It was hilarious!
Yet in other contexts, where the audience is confused, disturbed or bored you can often get a different experience. Sometimes the audience’s response is less obvious. They may not react at all, or at least not in the raucous way they did to Mulholland Drive. Sometimes it feels like you are engaging in some weird form of telepathy. There are times where I have watched a favourite film with people who haven’t enjoyed it and my experience of the film has been tainted. It has appeared as ‘less good’ or ‘less exciting’, yet, in that context I would be hard pushed to describe a single thing that the other person/people did that made me feel that way. Of course, there could just be an element of projection (I am anxious that person A won’t enjoy the film), or maybe we are picking up on very subtle responses.
Where the food at the feast serves to clog our mouths, in the cinema it is the film, and our reverence for the film that serves to shut us up. Any talk, laughter, or any reaction whatsoever tends to be in response to the film, the film is like a conductor that conducts its audience through the experience. They may react in different ways but the conductor remains the same. Where, within the feast, there is often room for revelry, discussion and a certain amount of anarchy, cinema tends to orchestrate our responses and strip them to the minimal.
With the feast and the cinema the relationship between the food and ‘entertainment’ is also reversed. In the feast the performers are often side elements and the food has a central focus. In the cinema the food is reduced to the minimal; the film is the focus. Popcorn has a strange neutrality of flavour, it is in some respects pretty plain (especially when compared to the banquet) and can simply be reduced to ‘sweet’ or ‘salty’. Yet it also has a comforting and ‘moreish’ element. It adds a comforting constant to our film experience. The act of eating popcorn becomes an experience we associate, sometimes nostalgically, with the experience of the cinema. It also serves as a social aid: popcorn shared between lovers as they watch a romcom. Or it is something that I use to aid my interaction with the film itself: I look down at my popcorn to avoid the unbearable tension of the horror movie.
Cinema reduces the social and multisensory experiences of the feast to the bare minimum, but it doesn’t lose them. Cinema is still a social and multisensory experience!
So far I have mainly been discussing mainstream, or ‘conventional’ cinema. In order to explore your work it might be useful to turn to what Gene Youngblood in his 1970 book of the same name calls ‘Expanded Cinema’. In Youngblood’s usage expanded cinema is not reducible to multi-media performance, or what he calls ‘intermedia theatre’. The book covers a whole range of topics such as cybernetics, computers, holographic cinema and so on, and could largely be said to be attempting to develop a new media for a new consciousness. As Youngblood himself says,
“When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded consciousness. Expanded cinema does not mean computer films, video phosphors, atomic light, or spherical projections. Expanded cinema isn’t a movie at all: like life it’s a process of becoming, man’s ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes. One no longer can specialize in a single discipline and hope truthfully to express a clear picture of its relationships in the environment. This is especially true in the case of the intermedia network of cinema and television, which now functions as nothing less than the nervous system of mankind. “ (Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema (Dutton. New York. 1970 p.41))
Youngblood was deeply influenced by Marshell McLuhan who is probably most famous for coining the phrase ‘the medium is the message’. For McLuhan it was media technology that is the main driving force of history. For him new mediums, from the printing press to the television created new environments and in creating new environments created wholly new psychic outlooks. Youngblood is following in the footsteps of McLuhan exploring how the newly emerging media landscape of the 1960s was transforming and creating a new consciousness. This is a book that draws heavily on philosophical and scientific research and one of its main focuses is the emerging fields of cybernetics, computation and the sociology of the emerging ‘post-industrial society’. This is a book that is as much a premonition of the internet and its multiple interfaces as it is of your multi-media performances.
Having said that, Youngblood is clearly influenced by 60s happenings, performance art and theatre that breaks the forth wall. Quoting Intermedia Systems Corporation he notes that “Intermedia refers to the simultaneous use of various media to create a total environmental experience for the audience.” (Youngblood, p.348). As he later puts it,
“Thus, in intermedia theatre, the traditional distinctions between what is genuinely “theatrical” as opposed to what is purely “cinematic” are no longer of concern. Although intermedia theatre draws individually from theatre and cinema, in the final analysis it is neither. Whatever divisions may exist between the two media are not necessarily “bridged,” but rather are orchestrated as harmonic opposites in an overall synaesthetic experience. Intermedia theatre is not a “play” or a “movie”; and although it contains elements of both, even those elements are not representative of the respective traditional genres: the film experience, for example, is not necessarily a projection of light and shadow on a screen at the end of a room, nor is the theatrical experience contained on a proscenium stage, or even dependent upon “actors” playing to an “audience.”” (Youngblood, p.365)
In creating a new total environment intermedia theatre breaks down traditional distinctions between audience members and performers, cinema and theatre. For Youngblood this isn’t merely about creating a new artistic form, but a new consciousness. Through the creation of new environments new psychic outlooks and a new mankind comes into being.
It strikes me that something similar is going on in your work, the total immersion in these experiences, and the exposure to certain images isn’t merely to create new artistic experiences, it seems like you are trying to create a new consciousness, and new psychic possibilities.
Sacrificium Intellectus II – A Live Cine-Ritual by Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais
DANIEL & CLARA: That is a wonderful way to put it, that with our work we are trying to “create a new consciousness, and new psychic possibilities.” We do this first and foremost as a personal act, to expand our own consciousness and psychic potentials, but as artists we also offer our experiences and discoveries as gifts to others, to use in their own journeys in whatever way is relevant. We have a great interest in both studying psychology and mythology as well as art history, we see psychology and mythology as revealing the structures of the psyche, and art in its various forms as the expressive manifestations of consciousness.
It is probably worth us saying something here about what we think cinema is and where its origins lay. We believe the history of cinema began in the caves of our ancestors, that the language of moving images has been with us since the dawn of time. Over human history there have been several attempts to create the tools to work with this language but it was only with the invention of the cinematograph and celluloid film that the disparate grammar of moving images was brought together into a single medium – for some reason it could only come into existence when it did, maybe when it was the right moment. So, like Youngblood, we believe the cinematic language is intimately tied up with the human mind and that expanding the cinematic form is a way of expanding consciousness.
In regards to the Tarot, as you point out it has been used as both a card game and as a tool for occultists but there is also a third use which is of most interest to us, that is the Tarot as a psychological tool for personal reflection and transformation. There are a lot of theories and propositions about what the Tarot is and where it has come from but little hard evidence about its origin, this air of mystery around it is fascinating and maybe essential to giving it its power. We don’t know who created it and for what purpose so by taking the certainty and the creator out of the picture all we really have to work with is our personal engagement with the images on the cards. Personally we don’t believe in fortune telling or predicting the future, for us reading the Tarot is about reflecting on oneself, a way of revealing something hidden, some problem that lurks in the shadows or some insight that is obscured. The Tarot can be used to bring these things out into the light.
One of the ways it does this is when you ask it a personal question you then pick a card (or several) and those cards act as a kind of mirror. They reflect the reader in them, the meeting place between the images on the cards, the question and the personal thoughts/feelings that spring to mind in that moment. We have been totally blown away at how incredibly insightful and practical the cards have been in helping us understand ourselves better and situations we have been in, not because they confirm our ideas of ourselves but because they reveal something unexpected and almost always confront us with aspects of ourselves which we tend to dismiss, reject or struggle with – it truly is a tool used to know yourself deeper. How it can work like this we do not know but as far as we understand it the card is selected by some unconscious force that might be called chance or synchronicity, which will enable the selected card to be the right card for the question.
If one studies the cards as a whole, what transpires is almost a map of consciousness, inscribed with all the complexities of human drama. The more one looks at them, the more one can uncover dimensions of human experience, which are presented without any kind of judgement over them being positive or negative, that is for the reader to fill in and perhaps to confront their own prejudices. For us this is an example of what we call living images, and one of the reasons we consider the Tarot de Marseille one of the greatest works of art made by humankind. These are images that are so intricate and profound that they seem to change each time you engage with them, as if they are another living being. Of course they don’t actually physically change but they allow for one’s perception to change, there is a wisdom in them, they are simultaneously specific enough and ambiguous enough to be able to work in this constant dialogue with the viewer.
Coming back to the subject of expanded cinema, we’ve used the term ourselves most often in relation to our live performances to maybe emphasise that they should be seen more in the context of cinema rather than performance art or theatre, it stresses our interest in exploring the questions of what cinema is and the nature of moving images and their impact on us. Moving images are the heart of cinema but films and videos don’t show actual movement, only the illusion of movement, a succession of single frames rapidly presented in sequence. Nothing in cinema is actual (other than the actual presence of light), it is all illusion but its effect is very real, the experience of viewing the fantasy creates a reality. This is so incredibly fantastic, something that seems so real, so alive, so actual is presented before us but it doesn’t really physically exist at all! This is why we also reject the notion of documentary truth, for us there is only artifice, different styles of artifice – one called realism, one called documentary, one called fantasy and so on – but it is all a technological construct. But of course, as we have spoken of in depth earlier, of how we see fantasy as a reality, we believe we should take fantasy seriously and in some senses out of all the art forms cinema is at once the most believable and the most artificial. With our performance work we were interested in reaching to the edges of what makes cinema cinema, but as a physical exploration, a testing through a cine-ritual to help us know in our bones more possibilities of what cinema could be.
We have another related series of performances which are a part of a project called Phantom Films. This project was also started in 2016 and includes performances, publications, sound works and photography – pretty much any medium except single screen films but we consider all of the things that we create within this project to be works of cinema. Here we focus in on exploring how a written text can be cinema, how a performance can be cinema and so on.
We coined this term Phantom Films to refer to what we see as the phantom limbs of the body of cinema, the images that linger in the mind after the movie is over, the narrative threads that seep into our thoughts and become the frameworks around which we weave the story of our own lives and the world of our own fantasies. We see cinema not only as a medium but also as a language and this language is not restricted to images moving on a screen, it can manifest beyond the frame in many forms. Phantom Films are the cinema that lives within us, they are also present in the conventional cinema viewing experience but usually less consciously due to the standardised procedures of viewing, which direct one’s focus to content or story rather than what is going on in one’s body or mind. So with the performances we are attempting to make visible the less seen dimensions of what cinema is and the experience of engaging with films, as well as stirring up new possibilities in the more conventional film forms.
As we’ve said elsewhere, to change one’s consciousness one must expand the form, and this is why we are living in such an exciting time, when the tools for filmmaking have become so accessible that making moving images can be a completely liberated art form. There can now truly be the realisation of millions of different possibilities of cinematic forms, a million different dialects of cinematic language. It is the job of the artist filmmaker today to take what cinema has been so far and not reject it but to build upon it in all directions.