Harun Farocki, director of documentary and feature films, film essays and video installations, lecturer, critic and curator, is one of the most important artistic figures of post-war Germany. His observational documentary films and essays, often made up purely of found material, create a comprehensive critical image of the transformation of Western civilisation over the last few decades.
Farocki examines the growing influence of technology and electronic media leading to the gradual superfluity of humankind amidst its own products. He examines the power of the photographic and film image, as well as its role in social surveillance and control ensuring the cohesion of modern society. At the centre of his interest are changing forms of work, industrial production and modern military conflicts. In Farocki’s films prisons, shopping centres and office blocks are artificial environments, whose main function is the distribution of power and the enforcement of discipline.
His films are based on thorough research, serendipitous associations and unexpected parallels used in order to conduct a penetrating analysis of the current state and future possibilities of Western civilisation. Across topics stretching from military technology and shots of concentration camps, to film history, sport and computer games, Farocki’s films and gallery installations chart the organisation of life across broad networks of power and social relationships.
Farocki’s early works grew out of the environment of the student revolts of the 1970s. In his film essay Nicht löschbares Feuer (The Inextinguishable Fire, 1969), about the use of napalm in the Vietnam War, the artist examines a range of themes linking technology and military conflict, the fragmentation of the work and the loss of responsibility for its outputs. In his early work dating back to the first half of the 1970s comprising borrowed footage, he criticises television news and the manipulabibility of work with visual material (Der Ärger mit den Bildern – The Trouble with the Image; Moderatoren im Fernsehen – TV Anchormen – both for the West Germany television station WDR).
Farocki’s observational documentaries include the film Leben: BRD (How to Live in the FRG, 1990), a portrait of Germany society comprising scenes from different classes, training courses, exercise, examinations, therapies and interviews and shots of the load testing of industrial products. Both people and goods appear as commodities that must be constantly tested for their stamina and utility.
One of his most discussed films is Videogramme einer Revolution (Videograms of a Revolution, 1992), a visual analysis of the end of the regime led by Ceausescu based on material shot over several days in December 1989 by people who had featured in the revolution and broadcast by demonstrators in an occupied studio on television. The film foreshadowed the powerful role of audiovisual transmission in modern revolutions and political uprisings.
The film essay Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik (Workers Leaving the Factory, 1995) is typical of Farocki’s work with associations. He returns to the work of the same name by the Lumière brothers from 1895 and selects scenes with a similar motif across the history of cinematography. The space in front of the factory gates becomes a kind of boundary between the workplace and private life, as well as being a place of potential social conflicts. Farocki also makes a parallel between factory and prison, and the motif of the workers hurrying from their workplace offers the perspective of a period in which surveillance of similar spaces is carried out by thousands of CCTV cameras.
Since the mid-1990s a growing focus on the gallery space has led Farocki to create different work with visual analogues in multi-channel installations. He reworked several of his older works for galleries (Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik in elf Jahrzenten – Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades), while others arose directly as multi-channel installations (Deep Play, 2007). A striking example of the artist’s recent work is the double-channel projection Vergleich über ein Drittes (Comparison Via a Third, 2007), in which he focused on one of the most fundamental elements on which the development of civilisation can be demonstrated: the creation and utilisation of bricks in Burkina Faso, West Africa, as well as in India, France and Germany. The path from the traditional method of production to full automation documents perfectly the alienation of work, or rather its transformation into the supervision of a mechanised process. The work becomes isolated, monotonous and for the outside world a completely invisible activity.
SERIOUS GAMES. Krieg – Medien – Kunst, Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Německo (společně s Antje Ehmann)
THE IMAGE IN QUESTION. WAR – MEDIA – ART, Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, Cambridge, Velká Británie (společně s Antje Ehmann)
Kino wie noch nie / Cinema like never before, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Německo (společně s Antje Ehmann)
Wie im Spiegel (Filme über Filmen), Filmmuseum, Wien, Rakousko (společně s Antje Ehmann)
Kino wie noch nie / Cinema like never before, Generali Foundation, Wien, Rakousko (společně s Antje Ehmann)
Einseitig perforiert, schmaler Steg, Mumok, Museum Moderner Kunst, Wien, Rakousko (společně s Antje Ehmann)
Selbstbilder – Fremdbilder, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Köln, Německo (společně s Antje Ehmann)
bed of film, Kunst-Werke, Berlin, Německo (společně s Antje Ehmann)
Monographies and own texts (selection):
Yilmaz Dziewior (ed.), Harun Farocki. Weiche Montagen / Soft Montages, Bregenz 2011
Harun Farocki, Rote Berta geht ohne Liebe wandern, Köln 2009
Harun Farocki – Susanne Koppensteiner (ed.), Harun Farocki. Nebeneinander, Köln 2007
Volker Pantenburg, Film als Theorie. Bildforschung bei Harun Farocki und Jean-Luc Godard, Bielefeld 2006
Thomas Elsaesser (ed.), Harun Farocki. Working on the Sightlines, Amsterdam 2004
Tilman Baumgärtel, Harun Farocki. Vom Guerrillakino zum Essayfilm. Werkmonografie eines Autorenfilmes, Berlin 2002
Susanne Gaensheimer (ed.), Harun Farocki:Nachdruck: Texte / Imprint: Writings, Berlin 2001
Harun Farocki – Kaja Silverman, Speaking about Godard, New York 1998