The Exploding Appendix Avant-garde Art and Research Group – August ProgrammeAugust 6, 2018
Exploding Appendix Podcast 14: Radicalism & Subversion in an Age of Cuck Wars and Empowerment Politics w/ Jessa CrispinAugust 27, 2018
By Bradley Tuck
It rivulets across the skin of the earth, embedding itself in its surface as if intent upon an assault. Every droplet calls out as if embarking on a crusade and is joined by a cascading army. It’s mission? Its mission is its mission. It flows because it must flow and it marches because it must march. As the stream gains momentum it bends the soil to its purpose, and in turn the soil becomes its conduit for advancing towards the next stage. Gravity is its master as it flows and fashions beds of earth to aid its frantic, but directed, surge. The chaos of its descent is channelled by a route warn by time. Yet it isn’t static, nor is it fixed. Its banks may overflow. Its course may change. In its essence it is a quest and it confronts the world directed, yet with a refusal to be fixed.
In this seventh part of our interview, Bradley Tuck discusses The Quest for the Cine-Rebis with Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais. Along the way they discuss artist manifestoes, video essays, film and film history, the Arthurian quest, the Rebis figure in alchemy, artistic creativity, the removal of shoes, the politics of film funding, the future, spirituality, Heraclitanism and gender.
The Quest for the Cine-Rebis can be read and viewed here, and the DVD and printed issue can be purchased here.
Artists Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais have been collaborating since 2010 on moving image work, performance and photography. Since meeting they have worked exclusively together seeing themselves as two halves of a single artist. Alongside their work as artists they also publish 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.
Bradley: The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is multiple…
It is a manifesto.
It is a work of art.
It is a work of cinema.
It is a magazine.
It is a video essay.
It is literary.
It is cinematic.
It is a mutant.
It is a spark of creativity that crosses territories in an unending quest for the possibilities of cinema.
So, YES, it is a manifesto. It takes its place in a long lineage of manifestos of the twentieth century….
Or should we go further……to the philosophical visionaries of the 19th century and the artistic vision that animated the Paris Commune… …to the Gutenberg press and the millenarian pamphlets that shattered the orthodoxies of the time… … or the Greek cynics and their outrageous provocations against Athenian conventions. THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN AVANT-GARDE READY TO SHAKE SOCIETY UP AND UNLOCK NEW VISIONS OF THE FUTURE.
… but let’s start with the twentieth century. The Manifesto form is the twentieth century artist’s response to a world of intense social, political and technological upheaval. A world where war and revolution is commonplace. In this period of upheaval, the artist turns to a mode of writing with a very political form: THE MANIFESTO. In this ever-changing world, The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, Or Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? become templates for a new mode of artistic provocation. The Bolshevism of the Constructivists; the Trotskyism of the Surrealists; the Fascism of Italian Futurism; The Council Communism of the Situationist International. Art and politics merge, and with this the manifesto becomes an artistic device.
Yet this does not simply mean the reduction of art to politics. The artist’s intervention in the manifesto is an artistic intervention. The use of language, and its organisation on the page fuses the poetic with the proclamatory.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is a descendent of this tradition. Artistic -highly artistic- yet also responding to a crisis. It is a response to the social through the artistic.
A WORK OF ART
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is also a work of art. We should not read it as a mere collection of positions bunched together. We must also pay attention to its form. It is a work of art.
It is a work of art because the rich language it uses prevents it being mere prose.
It is a work of art through its organisation on the page.
It is a work of art because it cannot be contained upon the page.
It is a work of art because it is cinema. It is a cinematic work of art. It is a written text accompanied by a film essay. Or is it a film essay accompanied by a written text?
It is a cinematic work of art that oozes creativity in every scene.
It is a work of art that is simultaneously a call for creativity and an act of creativity. It produces in practice what it calls for in words.
It is a work of art.
A WORK OF CINEMA
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is a film.
It is a film and the script for a film.
All stages of the filmmaking process are present[ed]. Script > Filming > Film > The layers of post-production.
This is Cinema. This is Cinema reflecting on the history of Cinema. This is cinema reflecting on the cinema of the 20th Century. This is Cinema reflecting on the process of making cinema. This is cinema reflecting upon the meaning and purpose of cinema.
By reflecting I do not mean a mere whimsy mediation of things past. This is a process of synthesis, amalgamation, transformation… you may say ‘Alchemy’. The cinema of the past is woven into the fabric of your film. Footage from the history of cinema is utilised but transformed.
This is not an aside from your filmmaking oeuvre, this is as much a piece of cinema as is Savage Witches, or The Kingdom of Shadows. And the artistry and creativity bleeds through in every frame.
Nonetheless, this is simply one issue of a magazine. This is issue 2 of Film Panic.
Yet it is also an intervention in the very idea of what a magazine can be.
This is a video essay. An essay rendered palpable through the mechanisms of film.
It is also an intervention in what the video essay can be.
If the video essay risks the tendency to merely integrate text with footage, The Quest For The Cine-Rebis resists this with an experimental zeal that utilises multiple cinematic devises in the service of its written ideals.
This is the union of two artistic forms:
A. The written word published as a manifesto as part of a magazine
B. A cinematic video essay
They are one. They are two.
As DVD glides against the papery surface of the written pamphlet a spark unites them. In their love making a mutant is born.
Evolutionary theory has taught us the vital link between mutation and adaptation. The evolution of cinema will be born of persistent monstrosities that feel at times like an abdication of cinema. The pages of a text accompanying a film may feel like an aside – the non-cinematic part, but the mutant may be cinematic in its own right. What might appear as a phantom limb, a ghostly shape existing beyond cinema, may in fact be a mutant, an intervention in the cinematic form. A cipher for a cinema to come. A new adaptive possibility.
In this interview…
….let us remain true to the manifesto form.
…let us remain true to the spirit of The Quest For The Cine-Rebis.
…let us unite the dialogue with the manifesto.
…let us unite the poetic with the proclamatory.
…let us unite the creative and the intellectual.
…and in their imperfect unions let us explore our ideas at all levels with a rigour that extends to every level of our endeavours.
…let us create a mutant interview that is both battleground and fertile soil of a new comradery.
…let us initiate the collision of two manifestos that mutate and adapt through dialogue.
…let this interview be more than an interview about The Quest For The Cine-Rebis.
…let it be a mutation.
…let it be a mutation that develops upon the skin of The Quest For The Cine-Rebis and draws it into new antagonisms and new creative possibilities.
…let us create a work of art.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Daniel & Clara: Thank you for this beautiful response to The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, you have captured its spirit very well, particularly our desire to not fix anything in stone but to simply open up a way of thinking about cinema, art and creativity. Some manifestos are about arguing for a particular position, we are not the kind of artists who wish to convince anybody of anything, and even though it’s probably possible to ascertain our position on various topics from what is offered in our text/film, the truth is we are never fixed, never finished, always searching and always changing.
There is certainly some sense of a contradiction here because parts of the manifesto are written in a tone of being like a call to arms but who are we calling to and what action do we really wish anyone to take? The whole text/film is open for the reader to project their own understanding and own limits onto, we certainly don’t want followers, we’d make terrible leaders, the tone hopefully evokes something similar to what you’ve referred to earlier as a kind of avant-garde debate but the debate isn’t between us and the reader, the debate must take place within oneself.
On the one hand we say anything is possible, on the other we say bringing about change is hard – that “anything” and that “change” means one thing to us, another to you and many things to many people, we hope only that somewhere in the words, images and sounds someone finds something of use to them, some tool that gives them the inspiration to access their own creativity. As time goes on we feel less and less the need to be understood and to communicate, this manifesto came about in a moment when communicating had slightly more importance to us but that communication was not necessarily to explain, it was more like we whistled a little tune out of the window and then listened to see who whistled backed. We have been really pleased that so many people have responded to it, we’ve had so many lovely emails from filmmakers thanking us for publishing the manifesto and saying that we have managed to articulate something they have been feeling. This is very exciting and gives us a feeling of connectedness, these responses we received strongly informed the writing of our recent essay about the New Visionary Cinema movement.
Of course looking at the manifesto now it is even clearer that everything we were saying was about us and what we were personally grappling with at that moment. Sometimes it is necessary to make a public statement in order to cast a spell with the conviction that is needed to materialise it from thought into something solid. Saying something out loud, even if no one is listening, can have a solidifying effect. Words can change reality, The Quest For The Cine-Rebis was a spell, it was a magic act.
Every single thing we create starts from the core feeling that it is a miracle to exist, to be alive, in a body and to be aware of it. We have no understanding of why we exist, why we have this particular body, why we are in this particular place and at this time in history, we are in total awe of how strange and beautiful this is. Every single thing we do in our work is built on the foundation of this thought/feeling. We have a personal mantra that we say out loud everyday: “we exist, we exist, what a miracle, we exist”.
We believe that at its core cinema is an ancient impulse that only fully materialised as an artistic medium when the technology was invented to contain it. Like the other art forms such as painting, song, dance, poetry etc, cinema is a ritualistic tool that can have many uses but at its heart its prime function is spiritual – plainly speaking one could say the purpose of cinema is to align oneself with god, the great spirit, the self or the universe, whatever metaphor resonates. We like to call it the creative spirit, that unknowable mysterious spark of creation and consciousness, it is something ungraspable and beyond rationality but through art we can make contact.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Bradley: Let’s start by discussing the opening section:
INTRODUCTION – ART IN EXILE
This section opens with the declaration that “We are living in a cultural wasteland”(The Quest for the Cine-Rebis p.4). What seems like it could be very much about the present, nonetheless appears to have a timeless quality. Maybe it is an allusion to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), which, despite grappling with the modern world and the catastrophes of war, seems strangely timeless, persistently evoking the history of literature, mythology and alchemy in its search for some kind of rebirth. The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, too, talks of a crisis, but it could have been written at any time. When it hints at what the crisis is, it feels like it is a crisis that could have been diagnosed by William Blake, Rousseau or Nietzsche. If a crisis, with its medical connotations, marks the urgent moment in a disease where a patient may live or die and an intervention is needed, then a crisis cannot last too long. Rather than describing it as a crisis it would be tempting to describe it as the modern condition that manifests in different ways, at different times, as different crises, but there is nothing in The Quest For The Cine-Rebis to suggest a unique crisis of our times. The text tells us that “if art is in crisis it is only because we as a society are in crisis” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis p.4), but aside from a few vague suggestions such as that “We don’t know who we are, where we are going or what our purpose is any more” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis p.4) we aren’t told what this social crisis is. We are told what the crisis isn’t. It isn’t foreigners or the government, but very little is actually specified. The reference to the government here is strange. When we talk of immigrants as being easy targets we tend to mean they are scapegoats for bigger political and social problems, but governments have a lot of power and bear a large portion of the responsibility for what goes on in society. By specifying that it isn’t governments, but not declaring what it is, we are left with a vacuum. This unspecified element creates a strange tone to the opening text. The existence of a social crisis is presented as if it is a driving central thesis, but as soon as it is raised it quickly disappears and we must piece together the social crisis from your picture of an artistic crisis. It is through your description of an artistic crisis that we can begin to piece together what this social crisis might be.
One of the things I like about this section is that it is good at capturing many problems that seem present in the arts today. You discuss how “The once liberating idea that anything can be art has lost value and taken the confidence out of those that feel in their hearts that what they are being given as art is nothing more than quick-fire gimmicks, an easily consumed, easily forgotten reinforcement of conservative values.” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis p.4) To me, this speaks to the way those avant-garde devices that once served to liberate art have, through their integration with academia and public relations, disempowered this liberating potential. This has “turned the arts into a frivolous, luxury affair; a clean and safe atmosphere where only the politically correct and academically articulate can operate.” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis p.4) The institutionalisation of the avant-garde has not liberated it, but stifled it. For me, the film The Square (2017) captures this “poverty of art.” The film tells the story of a team working at an art museum, who are about to exhibit an artwork called ‘The Square’. ‘The Square’ is an empty square space, which, according to the artist’s statement is meant to be “a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” What could appear as a Duchampian provocation against the conventions of the art world is nothing of the sort. The artwork is quite at home at the gallery. Instead the artwork seems closer to a PR exercise not too dissimilar to the way that Starbucks coffee or Jigsaw clothing might promote their product by emphasising its ethicality, or attach it to some social cause. In such a context, any provocation in the spirit of Dadaism is strictly forbidden. This is exemplified by the fact that when the team produce a controversial and provocative youtube video to promote the exhibition, there is no possibility of conceiving it as a provocation. Any transgression of this sort must be followed by a press conference and resignations. In this context, the art of the avant-garde is appropriated only to the extent that it can be adopted within a PR friendly etiquette and made palatable to a bourgeois art-going elite. In the film, there are moments of violence and transgression, but these simply seem like the bubbling up of that which is implicit, but repressed by the etiquette. People seem to have good intentions, and care about the world, but it all seems far too abstract to make a difference. The art seems like it harks back to something once vibrant and subversive, but now seems like an intellectual window-dressing for the galleries day-to-day business. In this world, the Duchampian has been rendered compatible with an HR and PR mentality that can only think in terms of policies and procedures, codes of conduct and media spin. It has become all-too-academic and all-too-sanitised. What appears as a liberation of art or an abundance of possibilities, in this context emerges as something suffocating.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, to me, is making a similar point. It is an attack on the way these ideas of art have become stagnant, and in the case of The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, it is an attempt to renew the vitality of art. The text is a passionate call for us to learn how to experience art afresh. At points it strikes me as reversing its own thesis that “if art is in crisis it is only because society is in crisis” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. p.4). There is instead a sense that society is in crisis because art is in crisis. We are somehow deprived of the tools to experience, reflect and respond to the world. Art, for you, it seems, must teach us to “slow down, meditate, contemplate, resist quick categorisations and submit to the work as an experience.” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. p.4) Through art we confront what “repulses, offends or upsets us” and in doing so art becomes a kind of therapeutic device to better respond to the social problems that face us. Art in this sense is an attempt to uncover a lost vitality through a kind of mystical and poetic exploration. You tell us
“The current state of art leans too far towards the masculine drives; it revels in hierarchies, material value, money, power, rationality and strict definitions. We need to engage more with the feminine to readjust this imbalance. More play and irrationality, less political statements and certainty. More exploration, more risk, more harmony between the body and creativity, more healing and more community. More poetry, less facts. More myth, metaphor and feeling, less news and information.” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. p.4)
I too certainly delight in the use of play, uncertainty and other elements you describe, but I am also sceptical of these dichotomies.
Firstly, it sounds as if you see the world we live in, and the crisis we are experiencing, as a kind of wasteland that is ultra-rational and rigid. Again, this could easily be a critique of the modern world offered throughout the last couple of centuries. Maybe it could be a critique of modernity itself. There are many parallels, for example, with the countercultural critique of mass-consumerism 50 years ago. The ’60s counterculture reacted to the political, social and artistic climate of their time by also rejecting hierarchies, material value, money, power, rationality and strict definitions, and embracing play, irrationality, uncertainty, exploration, risk, harmony between the body and creativity, healing, community, poetry, myth, metaphor and feeling. But theirs was a different world to ours. Theirs was an age were industrial capitalism still held sway. Workplaces were largely male and factory work was one of the dominant modes of labour. They were responding to an age of mass production, mass consumption, the nuclear family, routinised assembly lines producing standardised consumer goods, state regulated capitalism and welfare programmes with warfare programmes. Theirs was a world where unions could push for the improved living standards of the working class on mass, but this tended to coincide with sexual conservatism and a racially divisive society. Like yourselves the sixties counterculture turned to art (and other experiences) in an attempt to develop a new consciousness capable of transcending the world in which they lived.
The sixties counterculture was not successful in changing the world according to their vision, nonetheless the world has changed. Ironically, politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who were both highly socially conservative and, who, in opposition to the counterculture, sought a return to ‘traditional values’, nonetheless seemed to pave the way for a greater recouperation of sixties countercultural motifs through their strategic disempowerment of unions and the shift from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism. The de-industrialisation of the first world saw the decline of jobs traditionally associated with men, such as factory work, and the rise of jobs historically associated with women, such as care work, retail and services. Women increasingly entered the workforce and the idea of a single breadwinner for many families was no longer financially viable. Responding to weakened unions and a changing workforce, employers needed new ways to organise and motivate their employees. Human Resources Departments drew on the latest management theory which itself seemed parasitic on critiques of capitalism offered by the counterculture. Ideas around equal opportunities drew upon the radical image of ’60s civil rights movements to create a workplace meritocracy that promoted diversity in the workplace. This new spirit of capitalism was now better represented in the image of Bill Gates or Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream. In everything from team building exercises to the Googleplex, play and leisure was integrated into workplace organisation. As companies outsourced their work to self-employed individuals and through platforms such as Uber and Airbnb, the 9-5 working day was increasingly dismantled. The worker was required to become more flexible and dynamic. Even ’60s ideas about spiritual transformation seemed useful for this new era. The spiritual and psychological exploration of the ’60s, divorced from their communal experimentation and revolutionary dreams, were transformed into an individualised self-help culture that conveniently mapped onto the new workplace organisation. In workplaces Jungian personality types are now used to understand, motivate and organise the workforce. Each worker is on a journey of individuation that serves to help the worker understand their place within the business and in their own career journey.
The challenge, it strikes me, is not merely to assert the importance of play, dynamism and spirituality, but to find a different way to envision them to the way that the current social order envisions them, because the current society order is also, in its own way playful, dynamic and spiritual.
Likewise, many art institutions readily embrace tropes associated with the 20th century avant-garde and the 60s counterculture. The challenge for us today is to revive what was vital in the avant-garde and the counterculture, but in a way that is actually different from the dominant social order. To do this I think we need to do more than simply assert a dichotomy between rationality and irrationality, play and certainty and so forth.
A second concern about these dichotomies is the distinction between the masculine and the feminine itself. As vague terms that combine a cluster of historically associated ideas relating to different gender roles they can be rather dubious. Take, as a provocation against The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, this quote from the collective Laboria Cuboniks’ Xenofeminism Manifesto…
“Xenofeminism is a rationalism. To claim that reason or rationality is ‘by nature’ a patriarchal enterprise is to concede defeat. It is true that the canonical ‘history of thought’ is dominated by men, and it is male hands we see throttling existing institutions of science and technology. But this is precisely why feminism must be a rationalism — because of this miserable imbalance, and not despite it. There is no ‘feminine’ rationality, nor is there a ‘masculine’ one. Science is not an expression but a suspension of gender. If today it is dominated by masculine egos, then it is at odds with itself — and this contradiction can be leveraged. Reason, like information, wants to be free, and patriarchy cannot give it freedom. Rationalism must itself be a feminism. XF marks the point where these claims intersect in a two-way dependency. It names reason as an engine of feminist emancipation, and declares the right of everyone to speak as no one in particular.” (http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/)
What strikes me as interesting, and at odds with The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, is not only that it envisions reason as a vehicle of gender emancipation, but also the way it highlights something reactionary in our association of the masculine with the rational and the feminine with the irrational. The risk with concepts such as the feminine and the masculine is that they allow us to employ a whole range of concepts with questionable associations under a single heading.
Finally, we should not ignore an apparent tension in the text, one you, in this interview, seem to allude to and be well aware of. At times this manifesto seems to be defending a kind of openness for the arts. On the other hand, it seems quite restrictive. It is directly opposed to political statements, news and information. For now, rather than focus on interrogating this tension I would rather ask a related question of what you have in mind when you describe the films you ‘don’t like’. What do these ‘political statements’ look like? When is news and information bad and when is it not? Would you, for example, like a world where no news programmes ever existed? What political statements and propaganda do you oppose? Soy Cuba (1964)? October (1928)? Mr Freedom (1969)? The Society of the Spectacle (1974)? Political youtube videos? The latest Adam Curtis documentary? Maybe you could give some examples.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Daniel & Clara: We are not in opposition to any particular kind of film, we are more in opposition to the dominance of a particular kind of thinking about cinema in the art and film world. We believe that every kind of film has a right to exist but what we are facing at the moment is an imbalance and a suffocating hierarchy, this is one of the things we are reflecting on in our manifesto. At the moment, in the film and art world, works that do not fit into some clear social-political issue or category are ignored and struggle to find funding and exhibition opportunities. The acknowledgement and interest in the works that do fit in these parameters seems to have nothing to do with their actual contribution to social-political discussions, it is simply a tick-box thing. The problem this creates is that it is not from genuine artistic desire and urgency that most artworks deal with politics these days but because that is what gets critical acclaim and receives funding and exhibition opportunities. This betrays both genuine activism and genuine questioning as well as genuine artistic exploration.
What we call for in our manifesto is not something to replace existing films and approaches to talking about cinema, it is never about eliminating something, it is simply an attempt to give a voice to a kind of cinema we are making which is not particularly valued, a cinema that isn’t about commenting on world problems, politics and the like. There are so many possibilities for what cinema can be outside of this current trend but it seems that you either have to be a part of the commercial film world or make work focused on socio-political themes, otherwise you stand little chance of gaining exposure and support. So all we are attempting to do is to create a space where our work can exist and we are fighting against the oppressive one dimensional way in which people validate work. It frustrates us that this has become the only thing people seem to talk about when they talk about art, in some ways this interview is proving our point because no matter how many times we explain that there is more to art than politics, that this is not the main focus of our work and that there are many things we can discuss besides that, you always seem to want to bring it back to socio-political themes, and you primarily interpret and measure the value of what we are offering in those terms. Of course you are free to do that but this is not of particular interest to us, it is not what our work is about for us and we have very little to contribute to these topics.
We’d like to say something about the contradictions, tensions and the ‘vacuum’ areas which you have pointed to in the manifesto. To read our text as a work of theory will frustrate, the only way to understand what we have created is to look at the whole, it is a work of art not a work of theory. The best way to think of the tensions and contradictions is as alchemical conceits, they are ruptures in coherence which become a space for the reader to project themselves into. What you see there is what you can see, one likes only what one can like and one is frustrated by that which does not fit with their preconception of what a work of art or manifesto should be. It is a bit of a game but it is a mystical game and the rules change depending on who you are. Another way to understand it could be to say it is a fiction in which you become the lead character. We have no answers or belief that we know what is best for anyone else, we are not trying to create a vision for how the world should be or how anyone else should think or feel or act – we are simply trying to work out what is best for us through our work, and hopefully there is space within what we create for the reader/viewer to go on their own journey of exploration.
The reason we write is in order to bring to the surface that which lays beneath the veil, as we have discussed already our creative process is primarily intuitive, we don’t fully know what we think or feel until after a work of art is finished. Our use of dreams, chance, improvisation, visions and collaboration are all tools we use to give expression to unconscious forces. We never write as theorists, we never write to convince or argue a position, we write only as lunatics wandering the misty moors following the song that sings in our heads – our writing always comes in several voices, all the voices within us that try to speak all at once, confused and inspired, clear and muddled, insightful and limited – we let them all speak freely, we want to see what they have to say. So this should probably be a warning to anyone approaching this work as a strictly theoretical text or as an argument for a particular position, because this manifesto speaks mostly of our inner lives, of our experience of being in this body, mind and world from the centre that is us at the time it was written. To try to unpick the details or to call into account the various searching sentences that make up the written part of our manifesto will cause one to simply spiral into a labyrinth of confusion. You, and any reader/viewer, are of course free to draw out of it all the ideas you are interested in but we’d just like to make clear that these interpretations belong to you, they are about you and of most use to you. This does excite us because as we have said often we want our art to be a mirror as much as it is a song, that it can become something of use to someone else is wonderful. But for us personally the only approach we can take to the discussion of this text/film is the same as to all our work, to speak of them as what they truly are – artistic fictions.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Bradley: Maybe I should start my noting that I do not enter this interview as an anonymous figure simply interested in asking generic questions about your work. Partly due to the length, partly because of our willingness to experiment with the form, I emerge as a character in this interview. Or to put it another way, this is more of a dialogue than an interview. Yes, the topic of this dialogue is your work, but somehow, when we start talking about that work we can drift into what you might call ‘tangents’. In some ways, you could say the word ‘tangent’ is the wrong word as I do not see them as irrelevant to the discussion, but nor are they directly ‘on topic’. Nonetheless, ‘off topic’ discussions, I believe, are important. Our moments of great insight do not come from sticking to a set path. Deviations are often an essential part of the creative process and you seem well aware of this when, in the manifesto, you say “The director’s purpose is not to control the film but to protect the film, to be a servant who guides the vision into the world.” This, as dialogue, works slightly differently to the filmmaking process. In this process none of us are directors, or, you could say, all of us are directors, but none of us has singular creative control, we are each responding to each other. Also, unlike the kind of film-making you seem to be describing in The Quest for the Cine-Rebis , this dialogue is far more intellectually engaged, but nonetheless, I do see this as a process of what you describe as letting “your inner voices speak”. Yes, they may be more intellectual inner voices, but they are still inner voices. You talked earlier of a kind of avant-garde debate where all the voices were inside you. Well, I too come to this dialogue with a number of voices. I am a performer, an artist, a filmmaker, a theorist, a philosopher, political & social commentator, and many other things besides. When I enter these discussions I bring the perspective of each.
At an artistic level I draw great inspiration from you and your work. As I read through ‘PART 2: TOWARDS RECLAIMING CINEMA AS ART’ I am struck by how much, as an artist, I agree with you. As an artist I strongly relate to your process of making art and find myself employing similar devices. As an artist, I have a lot of sympathies with your twelve “actions”. Especially in my dance projects, I too, rally against naturalism, tend towards a dialogue that is either gibberish or ‘exquisitely crafted poetry’, explore my inner-life, become a servant of the film, let my inner-voice speak, alternate between confusion and revelation, explore play, explore ‘spiritual expression’, avoid sledge hammering messages, fuse form and content, make art for myself rather than others, and explore artifice. So when I put on my artist mask, to use a Jungian phrase, I don’t really have much to criticise. I am generally sympathetic and in agreement.
Then I might put on my theorist or philosopher mask. The theorist might bring up questions of Jung, phenomenology, Christianity, film theory and mysticism. You might resist this mask. The theoretical temperament tends towards definitive statements that you find stifling and drives towards a consistency that runs counter to your manifesto. But I also think you overdetermine the theorist’s role. I am not sure there is such a substantial difference between theory and art as you think. Of course, in theory you are attempting to get to the truth of the matter, but isn’t art, albeit at a different register, attempting to get to the truth of the matter too. As you point out in relation to documentary, “all films that claim to be capturing reality without mediation are lies.” Likewise, all theory is a mediated process, it emerges from us as subjects who are grappling with the world we live in. Theory contains tensions and contradictions and gaps not particularly different to those found in The Quest For The Cine-Rebis. In fact, compared to a lot of theory The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is not particularly frustrating. It seems pretty clear and to the point. There may be gaps, tensions and contradictions, but those things are littered throughout great theoretical works too. There is great artistry in its pages, but there is great artistry throughout the history of ideas, especially in the artist manifesto. Theory and art may work in different ways, in different registers, but they are both ways in which we grapple with the world around us. Neither are final or fixed like a catechism of a religious text that demands strict adherence. Both are a process where we, with all our limited capacities and perspectives, grapple with the world we find ourselves in.
When I put this mask on, I am not trying to fix for eternity, beyond scrutiny, any particular meaning to your work. I am well aware that there are infinite ways of interpreting a single art work. In many respects I used these theories as a way to open up new perspectives on your work. I might ask, for example, whether you could be seen as phenomenological film-makers, not because I believe that you have read every text of phenomenology and applied this to your work, or even because your films could be said to perfectly express the ideas of the phenomenological movement, but, rather, because by juxtaposing phenomenology with your work we get new perspectives on your work, and a new perspective on phenomenology. The theory and the art can both change through an encounter with each other.
Nonetheless, conflict is often a key ingredient of drama and one of the things that makes this interview interesting is those moments when we don’t completely see eye to eye, where our interpretations don’t exactly match, or where we disagree. Disagreement is not only useful in terms of making an interesting and dynamic discussion, disagreement is also an important path to agreement. It is through the process of wrestling with our disagreements, as we are doing here, that we come to share our visions with each other and agreement becomes possible. When I shift from my artist mask to my philosopher mask, or political mask, I often find myself having questions that I don’t have as an artist.
Take, for example, this following quote,
“Creativity is fluid. Identity is fluid. Gender is fluid. Nationality is fluid. All reality is an illusion, so to say yes to artifice is to say yes to truth. Participate fully in the play of life.” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. p.7)
Let me first approach this through my artist mask. In this context I understand it simply as a weapon, as you call it, for making art. If I approach this merely as a weapon for film-making I would not be interested in the truth of the claims external to the artistic process in which I am engaging in. It could be that, external to the art process itself, gender is entirely rigid, but in the process of making art it could be useful to imagine that it wasn’t. In this context, at this register, what validates the statement is simply its usefulness to the process of making art. I totally agree, at the level of artistic practice thinking these are all useful devices to free up the artist to explore. It is a great weapon.
If I move to my philosophy mask I become more suspicious. When I read “All reality is an illusion…” I no longer treat that as meaning “it is artistically useful to treat reality as if it is an illusion”, but rather, “All reality IS an illusion…” This then raises all sorts of philosophical dilemmas, especially, as we have discussed before, how we can imagine the possibility of science, justice, politics or even this discussion itself, if there is not some sort of shared reality that we all partake in. How should we understand terms like ‘reality’, ‘illusion’, ‘artifice’ and ‘truth’ and so forth? Are we not at risk of falling prey to solipsism?
All these questions buzz around my head and I find myself putting on my political philosophy mask. I continue to ponder… If we do not have a concept of reality is this not simply a recipe for a self-indulgent narcissism? If we are to oppose how an ‘industrial fascism’ would obliterate any individual self-expression, how do we deal with this without adopting a merely atomised individualism? How can we have individual expression without giving up on the concept of community? And can we have a concept of community without something mediating it? As I ponder further, it strikes me that phrases such as ‘Gender is fluid” and “Nationality is fluid” are much easier to interpret as political statements than artistic statements. It is certainly useful to treat gender as fluid in a film. It frees us up to explore who can play what role and how they play it. It frees us up to make artistic choices we might otherwise not have made, but the phrase seems to be saying more than that. It sounds at once like a claim about the nature of reality and a political claim. It sounds like it is meant to be a liberating statement. It sounds like the statement “Gender is fluid” or “Nationality is fluid” is meant to be spoken like a spell breaking the shackles of the oppressive and repressive dimensions of gender and nationality.
So when I adopt these masks I certainly have many different questions to ask. Maybe, these questions are not questions you are interested in answering, but that raises the question of whether this interview is even possible. To what extent can we return to, think about and talk about your work from different perspectives? To what extent can we create a dialogue around your work, if, for good reasons maybe, we are unable to engage with the work on any level. This is not meant as an attack on you per se, my point is rather that if we accept the view that artists should avoid giving an interpretation of their work, in what way can an interview about the work still be possible.
This leads me to your complaint that I tend to emphasise the political and social over some of your more dominant interests. This, at times, might be true (although I certainly think I have talked about a lot of other things too). However I find myself drawn to these questions, in part because they are my interests, but also because your answers are much more vague and elusive. They are not at all uninteresting. I am interested in your political descriptions of your work. If I understand your positive politics of art correctly then the political and the subversive is uncovered through the formal and artistic experimentation itself. Art becomes a means to create a new consciousness, and, you, at an artistic level are experimenting with ways to create that new consciousness. The politics isn’t literal or overt, but is woven into the images and sounds.
I have a lot of sympathies with this view. One of my favourite political tracts is Oscar Wilde’s The Soul Of Man Under Socialism. Alongside being a defence of individualism and socialism it is also a defence of aestheticism. The idea that art should be valued for its own sake need not be viewed as a conservative flight from reality, but grasps at what is radical and emancipatory about art itself. The process of artistic creativity is an end in itself and in that respect it has a political and utopian dimension. In this respect, I, like Oscar Wilde would, detest this kind of ‘tick box’ approach to the arts and completely agree with you that it “betrays both genuine activism and genuine questioning as well as genuine artistic exploration.”
This grasps at what was subversive in the 1960s. In the 60s we really did see a fusion of form and content that was capable of striking fear into the establishment and challenging the conservative mindset of the time. Art really did fuse in a way that was subversive. I am not sure that anything quite the same could happen today. A lot of the creative experimentation of the time, even if it couldn’t get funding today, also does not necessarily feel like a threat to the powers that be. Maybe art, at a more subtle level, taken alongside other things has the power to shift our consciousness, but how long will that take? In what way would will it happen? Or maybe the turn from the rational to the unconscious marks, not a liberation or subversion, but merely a better means of social manipulation at the hands of marketing moguls and propagandists who appeal to the subliminal dimensions of the image for completely different ends.
These are all ponders precipitated by your text and your previous response. As I ponder these many thoughts and questions it strikes me that this interview is not too dissimilar to The Quest For The Cine-Rebis. It takes the form of an interview, in much the same way as The Quest For The Cine-Rebis takes the form of a manifesto (both written and as a film). Both appear as theory, but there is a struggle going on. They are not easily contained. The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is, of course, much more artistically creative, but this interview is experimental in its own right. In a way it reminds me of the surrealist game of exquisite corpse, somehow we are creating something together, but we are never sure where it will take us. We are responding to each other, but there is always an element of chance.
Daniel & Clara: That’s interesting to think of this conversation as being like an exquisite corpse, each line leading to the next but the pieces not always quite fitting together. What we end up with is a somewhat chaotic amalgamation of parts in various states of harmony and disharmony, but creating something new through the process and opening up the potential for new forms or new ideas to emerge. What is hopefully of value is that we are all searching and attempting to articulate something, to reach a point of agreement isn’t the goal for us as much as revealing ideas that are meaningful to us all individually. For us personally what is of most interest in life can never actually be articulated, what we can speak of are the things around the edges of those ungraspable things that are beyond the possibility of words, but hopefully through our struggle with words some of those things can come to light.
As this month’s conversation has been focused on The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, it has been an interesting opportunity for us to revisit this work and reflect upon the time it was made, what was happening for us in our personal lives back then, and also how our work has developed and changed since then. We’d like to offer a few scattered thoughts that we’ve gleamed from our conversations of the past couple of weeks as we’ve been looking again at this project. Maybe some of these thoughts gathered here will be insightful to our creative process and our films in general but to The Quest For The Cine-Rebis in particular.
In Part 4 of the text we gather notes from our diaries about various parts of the filmmaking process and related topics, one of the paragraphs is about the purpose of a film’s title. We talk about how a film’s title should be simultaneously a work of poetry and a spell. For us the title of a film is like an egg that can be opened and inside you can find the entire universe of the film, if you could somehow ingest the title then the film would play in its entirety within your mind and you would know it throughout your whole body. In our work a title nearly always comes at the very beginning of a project, it guides us strongly through the forming of the film. From that short couple of words we are able to unravel the core purpose of the production. Sometimes our titles totally baffle us but we stick to them anyway and trust in them to guide us through the creative process. They are instinctively chosen, so they have a wisdom that is beyond our conscious mind, it is so fascinating to speak with them as if they are characters and learn from them. The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is a very direct title, it offers the three central motifs essential to this work: the mythological quest, the alchemical work and the medium of cinema.
The idea of the quest for us is associated with medieval stories of knights in shining armour, in particular Arthurian legends such as Parzival and his search for the holy grail. As we have no doubt mentioned before we have a great interest in these kinds of stories and their themes and symbols can be found throughout all of our work. It is probably of significance that other than cinema the two strongest associations in the title are Arthurian romances and alchemy, interestingly both connected with medieval culture. It would be no leap to suggest that the Cine-Rebis, the holy grail and the alchemical gold are all connected symbols, maybe they are different variations of the same thing, the Cine-Rebis is obviously a more personal image but it could be useful to consider it in the context of these other two.
The quest motif of course implies a journey, usually in search of something particular but often revealing along the way that the goal is not so much the purpose as the journey itself or the process itself. We could ask ourselves what is the goal of our films? The truth is we don’t know, we are compelled to make them, it feels purposeful and meaningful to make them. Maybe the goal is simply that they must come into existence, that through the process of making them we are able to bring something into consciousness for ourselves, maybe then later this is also useful for others. This question of the purpose of creativity isn’t something we have an answer to but it is of great interest to us.
Alchemy as we are interested in it – and of course our understanding of it is informed by a Jungian perspective – is not so much about literally transforming base metals into gold as it is about transforming oneself. We are the base metals and we seek to become gold. This idea of projecting our psyches onto external objects, materials and processes feels relevant to how we can understand our creative process. The Quest For The Cine-Rebis more than anything else is about this, the projection of our psyches onto the world of film, onto the filmmaking tools and all the areas relating to cinema. When we speak of changing the world of film, we are also speaking of changing ourselves – this is how we envisioned this text/film, as an alchemical treatise using the manifesto form in a symbolic way to explore and express the notions of the inner processes of creativity and the place where these meet the world.
This week we had a discussion about whether we would still use the manifesto form if we were creating this project now. We concluded that if we were to do this now we would probably instead create a novel and a film, or a film and a novelisation of the film instead. We’d make it clearer that it was fiction, we would still probably use ourselves as characters but it would have less of a tone of declaration that somehow was needed at the time we made it. The novel would certainly also be experimental in form and would have to do something that the film could not do, and the film in turn would also have to offer something that the novel could not, it’s interesting for us to contemplate this.
Another significant thing about this project is that it marks the first moment when we are both fully present in the work as actors and presenting fictionalised versions of ourselves. Over the past year, particularly with our new Studio Diary project, this has become more central to our work, but in 2016 when The Quest For The Cine-Rebis was made we were less used to being in front of the camera and less confident about what we could offer as performers.
At the end of 2015 we shot The Kingdom Of Shadows, in early 2016 we then made In Search Of The Exile and The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, shortly followed by the shooting of Black Sun in the summer of 2016. Around this time was when we also did all the expanded cinema performances which we spoke of earlier (in part 4 of this interview). So this was an incredibly productive 6 months for us and all the projects of this time seem to be intimately related, they are not strictly a series but for us we consider them a body of work that could be called our ‘Alchemical Films’. We are now in a new period, and even though the alchemical and mythological themes are still present, they are not so much on the surface as they were in these works.
Another reoccurring motif in all of these projects is the mythological wasteland, the first line of the manifesto sets the scene of our quest as taking place in a wasteland, in The Kingdom Of Shadows you have Cain and in In Search of The Exile you have the Wanderer, both of whom are lost in the wasteland. Our searchers are unable to enter or exist within the centres of society or conscious life, like in the stories of Parzival it is essential for these characters to go out from the known world into a place of danger and hardship where nothing is said to grow. This also connects back to the alchemical idea of the prima materia, the base substance that must be transformed, and a similar motif can be found in the Arthurian story of the wounded Fisher King who must be healed in order to lift the curse from the kingdom.
These characters are in a state of exile, they are people who are unable to stay in the place they consider home either through choice or through the forces of fate. They have been thrown out beyond the comfort of home and everything they know, and they won’t be able to return until the work is complete. We personally have experienced this both as a situation of not being able to physically live in the place we feel connected to because of our economic situation, but also as a psychological state because we don’t know where we belong in relation to our culture and the world of art and cinema. We have unwillingly become wanderers and the only place we can feel at home is within our own creative work. In this sense these works are incredibly personal and they are our way of grappling with our living situation and the strain it puts on us emotionally and mentally. By engaging with these myths and stories it has helped us in a very direct and practical way to understand our situation and help us deal with it, it has given us the strength and the tools to surrender fully to the journey we are on.
So the text part of The Quest For The Cine-Rebis starts with a wasteland image but the film starts with a spark of light bringing illumination to the darkness. Like Savage Witches, Splendor Solis and The Kingdom Of Shadows, this again seems to be a kind of creation myth narrative. We are yet to fully unpick the reasons for the continuous inclusion of this narrative type in our work, it appears unconsciously, at first it snuck in almost unnoticed but now as soon as it appears we recognise it and find ourselves saying ‘here you are again, what variation will you take this time?’. Its presence probably has something to do with the fact that creativity itself is a pretty central subject of our work, we are interested in what creativity is, where it comes from, what its purpose is and what its role is in our own lives. Due to its manifesto and video essay form, The Quest For The Cine-Rebis seems to grapple with these questions in a rather direct way.
As we understand it, cinema is something ancient but the tools to bring its disparate grammar together into a fully formed art medium only came about with the invention of celluloid film and the cinematograph, which was about 130 years ago. It fascinates us that this art form has something both modern and ancient to it, it carries the whole history of humankind but it is also tied up with the consciousness of modern humans since the industrial revolution. It has a strongly ritualistic dimension but it is also something very everyday and accessible, it’s simultaneously sacred and commonplace. The technology has been through several dramatic shifts, from silent to sound, from celluloid to digital, various colour processes and various off-shoots and mutations. The place we are in now is not a beginning, we can’t be the medium’s pioneers, the contemporary cinema artist has to be something else, it is not about breaking into totally new territory or dramatic revolutions but more about deepening its purpose. The invention of digital tools has made filmmaking available to pretty much anyone who wishes to make films, if you are called to it then you can do it, this has been called the democratisation of cinema. For us what this means is that we can now begin to see the materialisation of a myriad of personal voices and expressions, anyone can bring their visions to the world and we can benefit from them, what we see doesn’t have to be dictated by an elite. It is an exciting time to be a filmmaker and a lover of cinema, over the past few years we have seen some of the most stunning and unique films that we’ve ever seen, all of them standing firmly on a foundation of cinema’s history but all of them mutations, films that could never have been made before, only made possible by the unique conditions of our time.
One final thought we’d like to share: looking now at the cover of this issue of Film Panic, it seems to contain many of the ideas that we were interested in at that moment it was made and that seem deeply relevant to the The Quest For The Cine-Rebis. The yellow box containing the title was obviously chosen because of the connection to alchemical gold but the background pattern was made more instinctively and we’ve only just noticed that the patterns on the base of the cover are somewhat like a hybrid of mammal, fish and plants, mostly coloured red and blue with some green splashes and tiny amounts of purple. If we are to read this like the tarot our use of red and blue could be about active and receptive energy in a dynamic relationship, one could also think about fire and water or the sky and the earth. Also like in the tarot, there is the tiniest amount of purple (in the tarot purple is the least used colour, appearing only on 3 cards). Purple seems to be a very spiritual colour, uniting blue and red. Fish (blue), mammal (red) and plant (green) mutate into a single form and their skin is used to bind this alchemical text. Somehow this coming together of these separate things, this process of mutation is important to our creative thought. Animals reoccur so much in our work, they probably relate to instinctive drives more than conscious human thoughts, we feel very drawn to using them. In the film part of the manifesto there are references to spiders, owls, cats, bears, chickens and deer, we are evoking them as spirits, speaking with them as shamans would, and they can be very useful to dialogue with in order to obtain guidance on our personal and creative journeys. So in this imaginary mutant creature’s skin, used to bind this text, we see echoed our intuitive longing for the coming together of opposing elements, a harmony or balance of sorts. The Cine-Rebis is this kind of fantastical image, a personal god which we are seeking to connect with through this quest, but of course what we are really questing for is a deep experience of ourselves as we are and on our own terms – a deep experience of being alive in this strange human creature form.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Bradley: Thank you, these are all very interesting and illuminating insights. This all reminds me of a thought I had after re-watching Savage Witches for this interview series. After watching it I felt compelled to make a video essay of a book I am working on. The book, like The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, draws upon the manifesto form, so if I were to make an accompanying film it too would be a kind of dramatisation of a manifesto. All of this came from watching Savage Witches, not The Quest For The Cine-Rebis. There is something about Savage Witches that is so intensely creative that precisely in its creative acts it feels like a manifesto. There is also a level of awareness of the artifice of film and a commentary on that, such that it appears as a kind of manifesto. Savage Witches is not a manifesto in any proclamatory sense, but it seems THERE, everywhere, woven into the fabric of the film. The Quest For The Cine-Rebis seems like an instinctively logical progression to this.
Although the film is only 24 minutes long and a video essay, it shouldn’t be seen as an aside, nor should it be seen as a mere video essay illuminating the other ‘proper films’. This is a work of art in its own right and as deserving of attention. It is also very creative. Just as Savage Witches is creative at so many levels, so too is The Quest For The Cine-Rebis. Creativity floods this film, there is no frame that isn’t thought about and presented with an interesting artistic device. This is equally a work of art.
It is also worth pointing out that ‘PART 3: A SCRIPT FOR A MUTANT FILM’ is also the script for the film presented in the written pages. The same text is presented in two different ways. This seems to speak to your dedication to the idea that each medium offers something that the other does not and we, as artists, should not forget this. We should respond to the unique opportunities that each medium brings. Below are a collection of notes and observations drawn from both of these mediums (the script and the film). They offer not so much a unified response, but rather a daydream on what I experience in each.
* After discussing part 1 and 2 of the text it is tempting to talk about this as an essay. Both of these sections read very well as a manifesto and a social commentary on art and cinema. Section 3, and the film, mark a shift. In many respects there is less of an essayistic tendency here. We are reminded that this is film, this is art, the form is equally important. Likewise, it would be a mistake to simply discuss this film for its themes and forget to ask about the filming, the process, the music and the editing. We should not forget to discuss the visual layers and how they are placed upon each other. We should not forget to discuss the score. How was it made? Where did it come from? We should not forget to discuss the use of footage and sounds from the history of cinema. We shouldn’t forget to discuss the process of making it.
* Maybe this should also prompt us to remember the page as an artistic medium. The aesthetic of the script! The organisation of the words on the page! The process of writing! The images of the film that are printed on the page! Its organisation as a book!
* There is also a question of what order we should view this. Will people watch the film first then read the manifesto? Or will it be the manifesto and then the film? Or will it be a toing and froing? Or will some only read the text and others only watch the film?
* It is also interesting to think that if someone were to only watch the film and another only read the manifesto they would have very different views. As you point out, the contrasting image of ‘the wasteland’ and ‘the light’ set very different tones and suggest very different pictures.
* I also find it interesting that you also use the chickens in this film. Chickens also appear in your recent short Telekinetic Pleasures (2018) I am interested how this connection links to something you say above. “So in this imaginary mutant creature’s skin, used to bind this text, we see echoed our intuitive longing for the coming together of opposing elements, a harmony or balance of sorts.” Telekinetic Pleasures, evocative of a kind of 1980s science fiction film or TV show explores a different process of mutation, a harmony maybe, but a harmony imposed upon human laboratory experiments that brings forth telekinetic powers. The process of mutation, in very different ways, seems integral to both films.
* We should not forget the title as it appears in the text. “A SCRIPT FOR A MUTANT FILM”. This film is a mutant. Its process is mutation. It is a reflection on the mutation of film.
* This process of mutation is also a kind of journey. Central to your work is this idea that we are in a process, an ever-extending chain of creativity and this process, this journey, has a value in and of itself. If there is an end goal the end goal is not viewed as an object far off in the horizon. The end goal radiates through every step, it emerges like fragments in our every activities and through these fragments we are drawn into a process, a mutation. The telos resides in the journey itself.
* At times you make traditional Christian allusions that suggest a kind of transcendent realm. You talk of “divine intervention”. This suggests a transcendent God, external to the world, that intervenes in the world. But it strikes me that there is something pantheist about your work. It is not so much that God exists external to the world, but god is the world. There is no separation. There is no external god separate from the world. God is the world and the world is god. God is film and the film is god. God IS this process of mutation.
* I am reminded of Splendor Solis. Like Splendor Solis, this film uses your old home movies. You use a section from the making of Teenage Wildlife covered with a square of gold. The alchemical process of Splendor Solis bleeds through into this film.
* The Quest For The Cine-Rebis is also a meditation on the history of cinema. It is also an exploration of the alchemy of cinema. You refer to the figures of Father Film and Digital as Alchemists of light. It breathes a mystical and magical element into the film. At times it feels like you are casting a spell. The use of mystical imagery runs throughout the film. There is also a kind of layering that seems alchemical. Old pieces of film footage (both visual and audio) are used but transfigured. The process of layering them in this film gives them a new context, which is not so much a détournement as a nod of appreciation; a trace of a journey that you still continue.
* It is interesting how Herzog’s voice is included. It is interesting that Herzog’s ideas are woven into your film. You could say ‘quoted’, but it feels like more than ‘quoting’. It is like, as it appears in the film, a kind of bodyshifting. Herzog actually speaks through you and you speak with Herzog.
* I love the fact that this film has an interval, I love the warmth and delight this takes in the history of cinema. I love the joy it shares for all those things we associate with the cinema, and the history of cinema.
* There is an element of the film and the script that is not easily reduced to the ideas of the text. Like, how, for example, should we interpret this section:
“I have something very important that I have to tell you but first I’m going to take my shoes off because this isn’t something I can talk about with my shoes on.”
Does this have a deeper meaning? Is it a film reference? Or maybe a spiritual reference? Or maybe it is an absurd and humorous aside, which, if it adds anything to the overall thesis, it is because it demonstrates an embrace of playfulness and humour. Maybe it suggests a sense in which this video opens us to a world. It isn’t merely a statement. There is something else there. There is drama everywhere. There are books by the monitor, there are chickens walking in the interval. We encounter idiosyncrasies everywhere.
* You talk of cinema as a perfect marriage of mind and machine, but you immediately go on to say that “…it also springs forth from the body, the friction of organs and the pumping of blood.” This, to me, strikes at something we discussed in Part 3 and 4 of this interview. The respect that you are phenomenological filmmakers and embodied filmmakers. We never simply live through the mind, we live and make films through our bodies.
* Your exploration of Father Film and Digital also strikes at something you mentioned in Film Panic issue 5 – THE NEW VISIONARY CINEMA. This is your rejection of any hierarchy of medium, as you say “HD, DV, VHS, 4K, mobile phones, Super 8, 35mm and all in between are the tools we have available to us, we reject the idea that any of these is better than another.”
* Part 3, and the film, bring your three central motifs (the mythological quest, the alchemical work and the medium of cinema) to the fore, or maybe they imbue them with a dramatic energy. The history of cinema is alchemically transformed and a spell is cast. In the form of the film you capture a sense of a journey, a process, a quest, that bleeds into every frame and gives a kind of flavour that means that your manifesto isn’t simply there as words. It is in every image and sound.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Daniel & Clara: Feet and shoes are very interesting and if you look closely at our films you will find that the shoes a character is wearing are very significant to their journey and they will give you some quite direct clues to the function of that character within the overall shape of the film. For example, in Teenage Wildlife there is the character of Francis who wears bright red boots, there are several reasons for this, one is related to The Fool card in the Tarot, who also wears red boots, and, like Francis, represents a kind of boundless creative energy which at times is in danger of falling into madness. You could say the red boots are symbols of the instinctive drive to move and act in the world, it’s very much about actions, the pumping of blood and the fire in the belly that gets one going. These same boots return in The Kingdom Of Shadows worn by Cain, and again in In Search Of The Exile worn by the Wanderer. You can look at these three characters as being variations on the same ideas or different manifestations of the same energy. The exact same boots are also present very briefly in Black Sun but this time they are the boots of a soldier and they have been painted black. The soldier isn’t wearing them though, they stand on a rock while he is in a river attempting to capture the film’s main character. Again, if we were to use the Tarot as a guide, we could say that this character is connected to card 13, commonly known as death. This card, which shows a black scorched earth, is about moments of deep transformation and change. Our soldier walks the path of the scorched earth, he walks the path of darkness, maybe we could say he is in service to a force of destruction, but he briefly takes off his shoes and steps into the flow of the river, the flow of time and in this instance he becomes visible to us. If you look closely at the card of The Fool and card 13, the figures on them have a very similar posture, card 13 shows a skeleton figure that could be an x-ray view of The Fool, so when in our film the shoes that were red become black we can say that the energy or the creative force is being directed towards a symbolic death, a moment of deep inner transformation for the characters, for the film and for us as the creators.
Many of these details, such as the fact we use the exact same boots in all those films, may not be noticed by the viewer. There is a huge amount of detail that a viewer could never know unless we tell them but it is necessary for it to be there because for us there is a very important personal quest being undertaken and it is necessary that all the elements of the film are meaningful to us. The props, costumes, actors, locations etc are all treated as magic objects, elements in a ritual, they are always loaded with personal significance.
Coming back to the scene in The Quest For The Cine-Rebis where the shoes are taken off, this is taken from the documentary Room 666 (1982 / Dir. Wim Wenders), which was shot in a hotel room at Cannes film festival and features various filmmakers speaking to camera about their views on the future of cinema. The scene we reference is the same one where the Werner Herzog audio is lifted from, he also starts the scene by taking off his shoes and socks. We don’t know why he did this but for us it seemed incredibly profound. We happened to see it for the first time when we were undergoing a personal experiment in the summer 2014, where for about 4 months we decided to not wear shoes. An Indian friend of ours had told us about how many people in India will try to cure ailments by walking barefoot on grass and earth, we did some research into this and found a lot of people believe that shoes can have a very damaging impact on your physical and mental health, that their effect on posture alone can upset the balance of your body and have many negative repercussions. So we decided to do an experiment and wear shoes as little as possible, while doing this we were also reading a lot of mythology and found there is a great ritual meaning connected with the act of removing one’s shoes, binding, washing and kissing feet. A well known example is the biblical story of Moses when he approaches the burning bush, god commands him to remove his shoes as he is entering holy ground, in order to be able to approach this miracle he must step off from the earthly path and be barefoot before god.
So all these elements and interests came together for us and when we made the film we included this scene to show a sense of our respect for the process of creativity and for the sacredness of cinema. The taking off of the shoes was inspired by Werner Herzog but it is not him we honour, it is in honour of the journey which we are all on – he takes off his shoes, as we do and hopefully the viewer does too, and slowly together we can walk side by side as we approach the beautiful sacred miracles of life.
We are glad you like the intermission, we love this section especially because it features Blondie and Ginger, our two beloved hens. Chickens for us are about home, the hen is connected to the mother instinct but it’s a very domestic, homely portrayal of mother, rather than the earth mother or a more collective image. You’ll also find chickens in Teenage Wildlife, Savage Witches, Splendor Solis and Telekinetic Pleasures, there is always something domestic about the way they are used in our films and they also relate to a kind of simplicity and passivity, they probably represent a kind of comfort that is far removed from the intellectual interests. The intermission shows the chickens eating corn in front of a TV which on screen plays a video of us drinking tea. This was in part a bit of silly play as we wanted our hens to become actors but also because we wanted to have a moment that evoked the experience of going to the cinema and eating popcorn, so the relationship with food, home, family and the cinema are present in this section of the film for us, the magic of going to the cinema when young and that feeling of anticipation as you await the movie you are about to see – maybe the dimension of cinema that is about escapism and entertainment, which is also very important. In one of our live performances we used this sequence and had an intermission where we fed popcorn to the audience while we made chicken sounds!
The use of an intermission here was also because of our investigations into film structure. A lot of films being made these days are developed within a form known as the restorative 3 act structure. This structure is a form that you’ll find presented in most books on screenwriting as the ideal or perfect form, as the only form that will create a successful movie. We’ve read all of the famous books on screenwriting and have written screenplays following these rules and through this we discovered that there is a very clear worldview and ideology being communicated when you use this structure. The general structure is Act 1: set up, Act 2: confrontation and Act 3: resolution, with each act having a set of plot points and arcs which should be hit to create the ‘right’ narrative shape. The films always end with a sense of resolution and clarity, people achieve their goals, it all works out in the end etc. There is a slight variation on this which is essentially the same form but things don’t resolve quite as triumphantly, but they still have the sense of being all right in the end, this could be called an ironic restorative 3 act structure. In the end these films have a materialistic, conflict-driven worldview, and loosely speaking a Christian ideology – fundamentally they say those who are morally right will triumph and get material rewards, and that if one endures pain and suffering they will be compensated in the end.
We did a huge amount of research into this and have searched and searched for books or articles offering other narrative forms but found almost nothing, we found a lot of critiques of the 3 act structure but didn’t find a single study of alternative narrative forms that could give clear examples of other ways of structuring films and what potential effect this could have on the meaning of the films. So we set about our own investigation, which is still ongoing, and obviously as we are makers more than theorists so many of our ideas are explored through the production of our own films. Working with the two act structure was a first step, what happens when a film is simply split in two clear halves and how does that actually work, at first we approached it very directly and simply by putting an intermission in the middle as in The Quest For The Cine-Rebis. The Kingdom Of Shadows could also be seen as two acts, and In Search Of The Exile too has a clear central division. Related to this are the other narrative conventions we’ve been experimenting with, such as removing the identification with a central character, either by abstracting the character or having no central character, or treating the film itself as the main character. Also we are interested in time, placing scenes out of a linear time order but without them being either flash-backs or flash-forwards – various things like this. We hope one day to write an essay gathering some of our research together and maybe proposing some possible alternative film structures and a more nuanced language for speaking about cinema narrative.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Bradley: Part 4 is entitled NOTES AND REFLECTIONS. This section is more directly focused on the process of making film. It contains notes on scripts, screenplays, and scenarios, sound design, music, acting, locations, titles, technology, money, the cinema space, film school and critics. All of these aspects go towards making ‘cinema’, as we know it, as a whole. These notes and reflections offer a way of rethinking these aspects of film. Central to this is a way of renewing a kind of experimental exploration. This experimental exploration, nonetheless, runs in tension with what, drawing on your writing, might be referred to as ‘Experimental film as a genre’. Central to your work is an acknowledgement that conventions can emerge in any art medium, and experimental film, with its outward hostility to narrative, can, as you say, operate “on the superficial idea that if one is against something then the answer is to do the opposite.” In contrast, your experimentalism seems to be drawn from a commitment to remaining true to the film. It sounds like an intuitive and almost religious process of allowing the film itself to guide you. In this context, experimentation emerges, but only in relation to the overall film project. This is not a catechism of filmmaking practice. The script, or the camera techniques are experimented with to the extend that the film as a whole requires them.
This approach naturally runs into tension with film schools, critics and the institutionalisation of ‘Experimental film’. In each, conventions and established criteria for filmmaking limits the possibility for filmmaking. This, for you, is absurd precisely because of the relative youth of cinema. As you point out,
“Painting is at least 40,000 years old. Sculpture is at least 30,000 years old. The earliest works of literature date to the 3rd millennium BC. Cinema is only 125 years old! It is still a very young art form.” (p.26)
This youth of cinema signals a need for a kind of experimental futurism. Cinema is young, it is still yet to be created. This is not, of course, to abandon the past of cinema, but rather to see it all part of a continuing journey. You tell us that “We don’t reject this history, we embrace it all, we love it all but our concern is the future, we seek a new language.” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. P. 26) I think it is interesting to think about what is futurist about your work and your thought, because at other points it seems mystical, medieval or tribal. Of course, the tribal and the modern are not mutually exclusive. From Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to Black Sabbath, the tribal and the modern have somehow hung together. Maybe, because the advent of the machine brings us into an intensity reminiscent of the tribal rite. In your case, I think it is because the language of tribal rites and religious ceremonies has something to offer this new language of the future. It unites, somehow, artistic experimentation with a fidelity to the film itself. It is as if you are creating a new religious language for the future of art. As you say,
“…the camera should be an eye in the head of the poet and the head of the poet should be a receptor for the songs of the gods. The camera is a mysterious tool. It is designed to operate as an extension of the body, held in the hand, rested on the shoulder and pressed against the eye, or as with new cameras, held out in front of the chest while we peer at a small screen.” (p.26)
The technology of the future has a mystical quality and the mystical is realised with renewed vigour through the new technology.
This, at least, is how I see the relation between the future and the past in your work. New technology demands a new language for the future, and the language of the past somehow seems suited for this. At the same time, this new technology helps realise what was always there, but only now could be brought into full being through new technology.
Would you agree with this picture I have painted? How do you see these ideas interrelating?
Daniel & Clara: Rather than religion or tribal rites we would put the emphasis on spirituality and ritual. We are not interested in creating any kind of religious language or operating within those frameworks. Our work obviously shares some connections and references to religious and mystical practices but it is not specifically about religion, it would be better to say it is about spirituality. For us this is about addressing a sense of the meaningfulness of life and being in a direct process of living creatively, where one’s actions in the world materialise directly from a dialogue within ourselves. This is a personal and individual quest that rejects all formulas and dogmas and that changes and responds to change at all moments, it does not have any particular goal in sight apart from simply to be. This is not the quest of the mystic or the saint who seek to overcome the material world, our path is that of the artist and so our work is grounded by our engagement with the materials and tools of our art. Our quest manifests through this and our purpose is to bring our works into existence. Tools, technology, materials and craft are used to bring into forms that which is formless, the imagination, fantasy and vision materialised. Because of this way of thinking our relationship to technology is personal and changes from project to project. It is in this sense that we feel a connection to alchemists and why we use that reference so prominently in this project, they are like the mystics and scientists combined, seeking god in matter, seeking to transform themselves through an engagement with physical reality by projecting themselves into the materials of their art.
We have a strong belief in the importance of craft, craft being different to technical ability. Craft is developing the skills and sensibility to create through one’s artistic medium a truthful and accurate expression of what one is. Thought and feeling aren’t represented in the work but experienced through the work – one thinks, feels and is through the act of creating. Art exists always in the present moment, when it is being created but also each time it is encountered and experienced by a viewer. A work of art created thousands of years ago fulfils its function as thoroughly as a work of art created today (even if it is perceived and understood differently). In this sense art does not progress, what we make now is not better or worse than that which was made thousands of years ago, this is maybe how art differs from technological development. Yet there is still a need for art to be made all the time because the function of art, as we understand it, is to express the eternal mystery clothed in the forms of the present. So there is no end to the task of art because conditions change all the time both within ourselves and in the world, at every moment we must be in a constant process of creation, in a constant process of liberating ourselves, in a constant engagement with the tools and materials of our age.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Bradley: This alchemical emphasis on change is interesting and might, in reference to a different historical period, be understood as a Heraclitean tendency in your work. Heraclitus is often associated with the view that everything is in flux and that you cannot stand in the same river twice. In B12 of the fragments he says “On those who enter the same rivers, ever different waters flow.” As Daniel W. Graham points out,
“The statement is, on the surface, paradoxical, but there is no reason to take it as false or contradictory. It makes perfectly good sense: we call a body of water a river precisely because it consists of changing waters; if the waters should cease to flow it would not be a river, but a lake or a dry streambed. There is a sense, then, in which a river is a remarkable kind of existent, one that remains what it is by changing what it contains.” (Daniel W. Graham, Heraclitus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/)
What I find useful about Graham’s account is the respect in which he posits a link between change and sameness. Things are what they are precisely because they change and change happens because something remains the same.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis raises similar issues. You say that “Creativity is fluid. Identity is fluid. Gender is fluid. Nationality is fluid.” This, of course, is an ambiguous statement, but one way to interpret this fluidity might be to understand it in a similar way to Graham’s description of a river as something that remains what it is by changing what it contains. The river flows precisely because there are certain constants that make it a river: the banks, the water, the flow of water and so on. Those elements that make the river constantly changing are also those elements that are the same. Thus it is not simply that the river flows, but that there are conditions that make the river flow. Let’s try and understand gender, and by extension, biological sex, in a similar way.
Biological sex could be said to be fluid in very specific ways. At a biological level we talk about male and female precisely because of a tendency of certain things to emerge simultaneously. Particular chromosomes tend to accompany particular genitals. Particular genitals tend to be accompanied by particular reproductive organs. Particular reproductive organs tend to be accompanied by particular hormones. Particular hormones tend to be accompanied by particular secondary sex characteristics and so on. At a biological level there is a causal tendency for these things to group together. However, this is not so much a strict binary, as a continuum including also varying degrees of intersex characteristics as well. Many people are born not exactly fitting into these two camps. In this respect, sex is fluid, not in the sense that anything goes, but in the sense that sex is a continuum and not a strict binary.
We should also note that environmental factors play a role in our biological development and that social context and technological interventions can have an effect. In this respect, there are certain ways we might influence these developments, especially at a hormonal level, but they remain dependent on what is available and what is possible. In this respect, biological sex describes a process that tends to flow in particular directions.
Much twentieth century feminist thought and gender theory makes a distinction between the above biological sex and the social formation of gender. Gender, in this respect, is meant to describe the social category separate from the biological.
Friedrich Engels too sided with Heraclitus’ view which he described as “everything is and is not, for everything is fluid, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away.” (Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, 1877, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/introduction.htm). Yet he also posits a kind of structure or manner in which this fluidity takes place. In his The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State he describes “the production and reproduction of immediate life” as “the determining factor in history” (Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (London. Penguine Classics. 1884/1972/2010. p.35) ). This production and reproduction means, on the one hand, “the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production” and, on the other hand, “the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species” (The Origins of the Family. p. 36). One manifests as labour and the other manifests as the family. This opened the way for a critique of the family that would run parallel with the critique of labour offered by Marx and Engels. Socialist feminists challenged gender as a manifestation of the gendered division of labour which saw women performing unpaid domestic labour in order to reproduce the capitalist workforce. In this respect, gender was fluid, but dependent on the social organisation of the production and reproduction of immediate life. The goal therefore was to imagine and bring about a different organisation of immediate life that could free us from the constraints of the gendered division of labour.
Figures such as Judith Butler tend less to emphasise these material and economic dimensions of gender and instead focus on the performative and existential dimensions of gender. In this context, gender is fluid to the extent that it is performative. For Butler, looking at drag demonstrates the respect that gender is a performance comprising of a collection of learnt codes and behaviours that can easily be learnt and imitated. In this respect, gender is something we do, rather than something we simply are. So gender is a process that is fluid, but not in the sense that we could simply step out of this semiological context and create something entirely new. Nor to the extent that these performances would not have an existential weight for us. As performative as gender is, it is also bound up with our own sense of self. What might appear artificial might in some respects capture some genuine existential sensibility.
So in each there is a kind of fluidity, but not one where anything goes. Even if we were to imagine a radical social transformation (or abolition) of gender as we know it, it would still be dependent upon the organisation of production (and reproduction), our semiological context, our existential temperament and our biological and technological limitations. However, rather than seeing this as a refutation of Heraclitus we should see it as a kind of demonstration of his thought. If these accounts are correct we are in a kind of flux, albeit not the kind of flux where anything goes, rather it is a flux, much like a river, limited and conditioned by particular factors.
This leads me nicely to ‘PART 5: WHAT IS THE CINE-REBIS?’ Here we arrive at your final image of the Cine-Rebis, which draws upon the figure from alchemy that is part male and part female. It is also an image we see towards the close of the film, where both your faces (male and female) appear to merge into one. It is also, it strikes me, worth discussing in relation to Black Sun, which is a film of yours that seems to be exploring, at some level, gender and transformation. Maybe you could explain a little about this in relation to alchemy, and also the way in which gender and transformation works in your films.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis seems to be a kind of Jungian journey, whereby what flows is conditioned and structured by collective unconscious archetypes of the masculine and the feminine. We are on a journey. We are going through a process, but it is a process shaped around archetypes, where some kind of balance is to be sought.
This kind of journey raises, for me, two questions.
1) First I wonder if a fusion of masculine and feminine is the best way to articulate this process. The two terms seem so loaded with associations that it would be, arguably, better to abandon. At times it seems like your notions of gender are founded on old conservative associations (Feminine = Irrational, feeling, play. Masculine = rational, the political, and certainties.) Rather than embrace a balance of the two, maybe we should challenge the paradigm as a whole.
2) The dichotomy of the masculine and the feminine can become morally loaded. Maybe one of the things that makes some of Pedro Almodóvar’s films fascinating for me is the way he subverts traditional gender associations by challenging our assumptions about ‘the feminine’. I am thinking especially of Bad Education and Talk to Her. In these films a gentle caress is not necessarily without violence. An emphasis on feelings over principles does not necessarily create a moral high ground. Thus his films often confront us with a moral provocation. Should we side with the caring, attentive nurse whose care crosses social boundaries that manifest as abuse? Or should we side with the detached visitor, who cannot bring himself to speak to the coma patient, but knows how to keep an appropriate distance? (Talk to Her) My point here is that to call for more so-called ‘feminine drives’ to counterbalance so-called ‘masculine’ ones does not necessarily produce something better. Care, tenderness, play and irrationality can, in certain contexts be valuable, but so too, can principles, reason and strict categories. How and to what extent should we value this balance?
Having said this, I really like the end of The Quest For The Cine-Rebis and the image and associations of the Rebis is rich and compelling. Maybe at its core the Cine-Rebis is, for you, a symbol of transformation. This transformation and this process calls for an artist willing to go deeper, to “break down and transform old modes of being, to use imagination and creativity to explore and expand possibilities. To face their own limits at every moment and dissolve them. To go deeper and further to where words can’t reach, and all the time to bring back the fruits of their experiences as gifts for all.” (The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. p.28) Here the mystical and the creative also meet a kind of union that ushers a journey into the unknown.
The Quest For The Cine-Rebis (2016, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais)
Daniel & Clara: This is an interesting question, is it useful to use the terms masculine and feminine to articulate something about the creative process? Perhaps it isn’t for anyone else but it has been useful and even essential for us, it really did help us understand some aspects of ourselves and of our heritage better and it opened up new dimensions of experience and of our work for us, so this is why we used it here as a part of the language to speak of our own creative process. Whether this is of use to anyone else and in what way – that is beyond us and up to them.
When we speak of masculinity and femininity we are not particularly referring to the biological sex and gender of humans, for us masculinity and femininity refer to aspects of nature, like modes or principles that exist as a dynamic within nature. Because of this we see them both as intrinsic to each of us as humans, but not necessarily in reference to or limited by one’s biological sex or gender. In western culture masculine and feminine are historically the most common terms used for this complementary dichotomy, but the terms yin and yang of the I Ching would perhaps be more accurate as they already imply a relationship of interconnected and interdependent duality that is also a unity, and that not only manifests in the world physically but also underpins it as a kind of primordial form or energy dynamics. Yin and yang also more clearly refer to something more-than-human so perhaps they would be less confusing terms. Masculinity and femininity exist in this way in alchemy and mythology, as symbolic of a certain kind of dynamic, and when images of men and women appear they refer symbolically to this dynamic. That’s how they are interesting to us. In our culture the emphasis is more on the duality and the human rather than in the unity or flux of nature, this is present at the very foundation of our culture as an image of man and woman separated. The fact that this image has also been dealt with for centuries not as a metaphor about a natural dynamic but as if it is actually about men and women, separated from each other and separated from nature, is the cause of much suffering and grieving – this is something we have found ourselves being drawn to look at, especially when we started our period of intensive dream studies.
At some point we realised we could not ignore the significance of this split that is as present in us as it is in our culture, whether we like it or not, whether we think it is outdated or not. One’s experience of this split varies from community to community, it manifests differently depending on where and when you are born, your own disposition, what you do, who you surround yourself with etc, but nevertheless we carry it within us, if not openly then hidden, if not consciously then unconsciously. We became particularly interested in digging into how it existed in us through the stories of our ancestors, through our foundational myths and through the myths of cinema, and our personal engagement with this material became the fuel for The Kingdom Of Shadows and Black Sun. It might seem conservative to acknowledge the duality and the associations that come with it but it doesn’t matter what we think of it intellectually if we still experience it and it is still present within us and in those around us, we cannot heal something that we do not acknowledge, so for us it had to be about embracing these notions and working with them to point the path beyond them. The manifesto is not written from a perspective of the future, it is of the moment when it was written, it is dealing with our past, what we receive from our culture, and projecting onto the future a path for ourselves. It is engaging both with future and past, we cannot change the future if we do not simultaneously deal with and change the past. We cannot write from a position of having overcome duality because we are in the midst of it. For us the only way to deal with it is to investigate it through the films, through images and performance, to see how it really affects us, what aspects of ourselves are affected by it – only through that can we begin to address it and transform it. For us things can only be transformed by our work, by our direct experience of working with images, letting them play out, and opening ourselves to the uncomfortable positions that we recoil from.