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film as process

TXT.FLM#3 - Watching Words Becoming a Film  screens in MO Museum - Vilnius, Nida and Klaipeda (Lithuania) as a part of Suspaustas Laikas Experimental Cinema and Arts Festival

21/7 - MO Museum, 18:00
5/8 - Nida, Evangelical Lutheran Church / Amphitheatre, 22:00
12/8 - Klaipeda, Hofas Yard, 20:00

text by Miki Ambrózy

Called Upon: Activating the Spectator

Conversation with Belgian artist Herman Asselberghs about his work TXT.FLM#3  Watching Words Becoming a Film

August 2021

Miki Ambrózy: Let me start with an easy one, perhaps. If this is TXT.FLM #3, were there other text films?

Herman Asselberghs: Number 3 indeed suggests a series. I regularly use a sort of indication that identifies the work as an excerpt of a bigger whole that not necessarily exists. For example, my film After Empire ends with ’to be continued’ even though a sequel was never planned.

MA: For me, the film is an exploration of the relationship between what is "filmic" and how writing and language can encounter the linearity of the screened image. I notice a certain formalism that goes with syntactic observations and playfulness. There's a restricted use of what I call "design codes": a faint afterimage, like an impression of the words. The typeface changes a couple of times, and kerning is used on "waiting" to add the graphic language to the mix of codes. Could you elaborate briefly the time frame and process behind this work?

HA: On the making of: every word was printed seperately on the same-format paper and then glued on top of each other, as it were posters that one would put up clandestinely on the streets. Each poster was filmed. So, the texture in the image and the superimposition of some words come from the wet glue that made the paper semi-transparent.

MAI can sense a response to media images, as we watch the film unfold beyond the space of the cinema. Did you have any intention to extend the poetry towards the political? I called it, at the time, a sense of guilt - just knowing about people drowning throws into doubt the legitimacy of me writing or making art. I notice especially the word-play on WORLD and WORD, as well as the reference, perhaps, the period between 2015-2017 migration wave.

HA: On the political, I do not aim to saddle the spectator with a sense of guilt, but I do try to work towards installing an awareness. In my films, I approach spoken word often through the rhetorics of ekphrasis: describing a media image that I think many viewers have seen / checked / witnessed / experienced. Tapping into that shared image database by way of putting it into words is for me a way of activating the spectator as well as of creating a textual version of the found footage genre. With TXT.FLM #3, I was interested in adding the act of reading and, at the same time, treating the written word as image.

The mode of address is something that I think about a lot when composing the film and the film text (for example, the use of the letter format in Dear Steve*). Here I wanted to both explore direct address and situating the viewer/reader. That’s why the installation version and the cinema version have two differences: one vertical, the other horizontal in format and there is a reference to the venue accordingly ('this place’ vs 'this cinema’). Finding alternative audiovisual forms to deal with known media images/messages/ideologies is high om my list, and one might call that (very cautiously) a political layer to my work. Of course, TXT.FLM #3 was also very influenced by me delving into the writings of Walter Benjamin and his idea on a politics of waiting: the film was part of the exhibition in which For Now (explicitly dealing with Benjamin and waiting) premiered. It was shown street side on a display, 24/7 — Beursschouwburg (Brussels) showed it at their front door in the same way.

About Herman Asselberghs

Herman Asselberghs (°1962 in Mechelen) is a Belgian artist whose work focuses on the questioning of border areas between sound and image, world and media, poetry and politics.

Dear Steve is a video letter made by HA in 2010: