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Tag: oral history



In Aide-Mémoire, Orlow presents salvaged material of a future film and explores the territory between travelogue, slide-show, obscure history lesson and immersive sound-scape.

Chains of association, visual clues and narrative fragments are woven into new configurations of past and future. Biblical Mount Ararat, a Ghost Town in Northern Armenia on the site of an earthquake, a Kurdish village in Turkey built out of the rubble of an ancient Armenian monastery, death masks of Soviet luminaries conjure more symbols, ghosts from the past and constructions of the future.


Old Haunt

In English, the idiom ‘old haunt’ refers to a place frequently visited in the past. This expression, which resists literal translation, conjures the image of the ghost. Ghosts of the living and dead alike, of both individual and collective spirits haunt places. In a word, places are personed and ghosts help constitute their very real, yet intangible historicity: namely their living memory. Memory, insofar as it is affective and magical, only accommodates those facts that suit it; it nourishes recollections that may be out of focus or telescopic, personal or political, global, local or detached, particular or allegorical. Memory is subject to both (self-)censorship and projection.

Around a table an ensemble of five speakers re-visit – in the Swiss German dialect and accompanied by wine and cigarettes – their memories of the famous Café Odeon in Zürich: a contemporary, not yet crumbled ruin in whose still intact art-nouveau interior lie former utopias, stories and characters.

The video Old Haunt re-imagines this event as a polyphony of names, dates and anecdotes performed by a choir of soliloquists who move through harmony and dissonance. Joined by members of the audience, the a capella quintet delves into the past but performs in the present.

Workshop Participants: Martin Dreyfus (literary historian), Urban Gwerder (artist), Peter K. Wehrli (author), Sissi Zoebeli (fashion designer), Stefan Zweifel (art historian). Moderated by Michael Hiltbrunner and Martin Jäggi


The Transgenerational Memory of Monkeys

By Uriel Orlow & Marcia Farquhar

“In planning The Transgenerational Memory of Monkeys, Uriel took a rather lateral approach to the choice of work, pulling at a very particular thread in Marcia’s work, and in a very particular way. Keeping Monkey House as a motivating and framing device, the film quickly goes past that performance and, drawing forms and ideas more from other works than from Monkey House itself, into the underlying, recurring subject of Marcia’s relationship with Imre Goth. (Goth was a father figure to Marcia, an artist, inventor and family friend who died in 1982).

In my recollection, Monkey House was suggested for Uriel very early on in 12 Shooters’ planning. He had an interest in Marcia’s stories of Imre, and, as is mentioned in the film, a circumstantial connection to Imre through a coincidence in his own family history. Somewhere in the discussions, though, the plan took a very satisfying turn away from Monkey House, and toward the subject of Imre’s presence and importance in Marcia’s work and life. It also took a turn toward the form of the guided tour, which itself has frequently recurred in different variations in Marcia’s work. In these tours, she is usually a guide through physical or thematic territories where she is in some way an outsider, somehow alienated, by time or circumstance, or both. They are usually places or subjects which have some intermingled personal and social history for her. As a guide, she acts with great purpose but without authority, and always with an openness to coincidence and contingency. It’s a very flexible form.

Uncoincidentally, Uriel first worked with Marcia on her Walking Talking Living Yarn tour (1999), playing the pipes at a distance while she led her audiences from site to site in an area south of King’s Cross, where she had once belonged but never actually lived. The tour touched mainly on places where people she knew had lived, coloured in by a richly associative string of stories she had heard from them. This idea of discovering the presence of history in the physical environment is, to my mind, the overlapping interest most responsible for bringing The Transgenerational Memory of Monkeys to life. There is a very deep vein in Uriel’s work concerned with this often ghostly archeology of history, the recovery of memory from the physical remains of past events. In a way they are both together on very familiar ground here – the documentary of past and absent things, the search for traces of meaning in otherwise unremarkable locations, the come-what-may tour. There can be no reconnaissance for a tour such as this, though, and there’s a very particular unknowingness around the corners of this tour, which gives the performance and the film an atmosphere of both vulnerability and fearlessness.

I have a special relationship to this film for two reasons. I had the honour of playing a character closely based on Imre Goth in The Londoners (2005), Marcia’s serialized, semi-improvised live soap opera. I have studied him closely, through her stories, and I identify with him somewhat. But more importantly, I was the only witness to the one and only, belief-defying and utterly unrepeatable original performance on which this film is based. My photos of the event (which to my amazement came out fine, in spite of the most forlorn lighting conditions imaginable), along with two brief testimonials which we wrote shortly afterwards, are Monkey House’s only documentation. In the gloom of the Berlin Zoo, Marcia moved from window to window, furtively unveiling Imre’s hardboard self portrait to the monkeys there. Imre had told of having had a kind of relationship with one of the chimps there before he fled Nazi Germany, and she was looking for some ancestral memory, a flicker of recognition – any response at all. As can be seen in the photographs, the response beggared belief, with the monkeys calling their friends over, pressing their faces to the glass, doing wide-eyed double takes, jumping up and down and pissing themselves in excitement. Because of a painting.”

J. Mole Maizlish, extract from ’12 Shooters’ by Marcia Farquhar (London: Live Art Development Agency, 2009)


The Visitor

The Visitor is a photo-essay of the artist’s audience with Oba Erediauwa, the current king of Benin. A local narrator follows the artist into the Oba’s palace and recounts the conversation between the European visitor and the royal host and his court of chiefs. The exchange centres on the Benin Bronzes (famously looted by the British in 1897 and now in over 500 museums and collections worldwide), collective memory and the demand for restitution. However, communication remains somewhat elusive, slipping in and out of gaps of cultural and historical difference.


Housed Memory

Housed Memory constitutes an exhaustive video archive of the collections held by the Wiener Library, London. The Wiener Library has its roots in early 1930’s Berlin but has been based in London since 1938 and was the first Holocaust archive in the world. The collections includes eyewitness accounts, collections of documents, books, photographs and films. The video is an endless but discontinuous, handheld tracking shot, in which the camera takes on the role of an historical witness and records—shelf by shelf—the contents of the archive. Nine hours in duration, Housed Memory both reveals the sheer materiality of a collection which is otherwise hidden from view and at the same time produces the sense of the unknowable in the face of a totality which cannot be grasped.

The accompanying soundtrack consists of staff and volunteers talking about their work with, and their relationship to, the documents.

“A liminal work, Housed Memory plays on the two extremes or limits of memory as defined by Derrida: the interiority associated with the voice, and the exteriority of the physical support. The tracking shot of the shelves (‘shelf’ was one of the possible meanings associated with the Greek and Latin terms for ‘library’) supporting the volumes and boxes is seen from outside and contrasted with the voices of those who work in the archive, which often speak of memory. The two limits of memory are juxtaposed: memory as testimony, given in speech; and memory as the physical ‘stuff’ retained by the library. What we are not allowed to see, except in the form of labels, is the writing that mediates between the two. Thus the ‘inwardness’ of spoken memories and experiences is brought into proximity with the physical support—quite literally in the case of the shelving—of the archive. Since this is a recording, we are reminded that ‘inward’ memory also depends on a support. What is at stake here is the relation not just of memory, but of testimony, to the archive. Orlow juxtaposes the tracking shot of closed books and archive boxes—we can only read the titles and numbers, there is a sense of exclusion here—with the voices of those who work in the Library, some of whom are survivors themselves, others witnesses to the witnesses.”

– Michael Newman