Unlocking Passages by Helen Broms Sandberg
Text by Marco Müller, Director of Venice Film Festival, at the preview, Palazzo Farnese. April 2010.
What are we asked to do tonight? To go and look and see what we find at the bottom of Video, looking to its side at first, looking at that part of Cinema in which Video doesn’t appear. It was fascinating for me to be spurred by Helen Broms Sandberg to: plunge into time and space; retrace the course of Video well beyond its source; dive into that part of primitive cinema that was still enmeshed with modern theater; finding once again the autonomous space, the state of grace of silent cinema in the late 1910s and early 1920s – the years when, before the advent of German Expressionism, Swedish and Danish films shattered narrative conventions and established the new aesthetic norms (and dominated the European market).
I had the possibility of following Helen’s work on Unlocking Passages through all its phases, from development to post-production. From the outset, I sensed that she proceeded by letting herself be drawn into the hidden convergences between Cinema and Video, those undercurrents that might originate in the Visual Arts but always reemerge within Cinema, entangled in it.
I was drawn to this aspect of Helen’s new work, and stimulated by the recurring figures, by certain devices with which words are staged (their power by now emerges only rarely in cinema), and by certain techniques of manipulating images. Despite the risk this entails, Helen began by searching for something that is not immediately apparent: a logic, an aesthetic, a writing choice, a set of figures and “effects” that are one with Cinema and yet are also found at the heart of Video. She dug to the point where everything is entangled, beyond the historical, technical or technological separations, the point where everything intersects – and also connects on the level of creative thought.
When she arrives, however, her gaze is completely different from that of Cinema, because Video can offer something Cinema cannot. And it is this archaic something in which Helen submerges her gaze in order to free it.
In this immersion into “past” writing effects, never taking shelter in preconceptions, Helen rediscovered a way to work with time. Regardless of the digital medium you choose to use, when you work with moving images you inevitably work with time: the raw material you start from is time and – in a wider sense – experience. Cinema has been considered the art of bringing to light beings and things in such a way that one gaze can modify their essence. Instead, in Helen’s work, Video becomes the art of diverting one’s gaze from beings and things in order to direct it to the different ways they can be portrayed.
As is often the case with video-installations, in which originality is manifest, in Unlocking Passages everything happened in the intermediate stage between the end of the filming and the first edit. That was the moment of real “shooting”. The visual and sound “effects” were not simply added as a touch-up to a pre-established representation, but rather they happened in the moment that they reproduced it: the representation could not exist without them. The hands of the director or the editor, operating the post-production controls, launch within a phantasmagoria of images and sounds an actor or just a movement; the sequences and effects that modify them are stored in the same memory, and participate in the same present moment. It is reminiscent of playing an instrument: Helen changes style, tone color, dynamics and key, in order to reclaim a space for improvisation, injecting elements of spontaneity even in the (extraordinary) moments of theatricality of Agneta Ekmanner.
To me Unlocking Passages confirms that Video is Cinema, though we must distinguish between Video and Cinema as we would distinguish music and instruments: there is Music and there are musical instruments, there is Cinema and there are different cinema practices inside Video, Synthetic Images, and the Digital realm. In twenty years time, most moving images will be digitally generated. Those who practice mainstream cinema will continue to use them as they always have. Artists instead – and Helen bears witness to this – will continue to use them their own way, each time in a different way. In this case, a way to look over one’s shoulder in order to better see what’s ahead.
(Translated from Italian by Melinda Mele)