Sara Eliassen’s project The Feedback Loop explores how screen technology and the moving images we surround ourselves with affect our thoughts, gazes and movements. Eliassen invites the viewer to a film program with invited guests, a public screen intervention and an exhibition.
Lisa Bernhoft-Sjødin: Can you talk a little bit about these stills and how they fit in to the overall project The Feedback Loop?
Sara Eliassen: The photos are digital stills from a 16mm filming of digital screens in NYC. The analogue distance pointing to the relation between screens, screen material and humans, as well as the image itself examplifying for me a totalitarian aspect of dominant screen language.
LBS: In what way is «collective memory» a prerequisite to understanding your work?
SE: I'd rather say that my work points to how moving images and film history takes part of shaping our collective memory. My work explores how moving images and the multitude of screens surrounding us (and our interaction with both material on screen and screen technology) is part of the production of memory and subjectivity. And further, part of presetting our future actions.
LBS: The Feedback Loop is a three part project shown consecutively at three different spaces, The Munch Museum, Munch Museum on the Move - Kunsthall Oslo and Oslo Central Station. What are the three projects?
SE: The starting point for the project was the public screen intervention. In June, I will feed new produced and appropriated material into commercial public screens centered around Oslo Central Station. The Feedback Loop vignettes are meant to function as slippages, entering in-between the other material displayed on the public screens.
Programming and looking at other filmmaker's strategies have become central to my work, as one of my overall interests is examining what kind of works produced with moving imagery could open up questions rather than force truths running the risk of becoming propaganda itself. So when discussing the project with curator Natalie Hope O’Donnell, the screening series grew naturally out of our conversations. I have become increasingly interested in creating a dialogue by screening the work of others, and there are so many amazing artists and filmmakers out there. Sometimes the work you want to see and make, already exists. I wanted to screen works and invite guests from both my network from working abroad, as well as works that are pertinent to the research I'm doing now. Also, bringing the works of e.g Lynn Hershman to Oslo feels very important to me, she is such an important filmmaker, artist and pioneer thinker- who deserves to be introduced in a Norwegian context.
The exhibition is thought of as a final iteration; to display the research and 16mm works that has been part of the overall exploration of the topic. The art space gives room for the project process and allows for subtleties that 30 seconds vignettes in a public space not necessarily does. I am also working on some collaborative film works that I hope will be part of the exhibition.
LBS: In principle, propaganda films and tourist films has a similar agenda, nation building and romanticising the collectively national, right? Historically speaking though, propaganda films, and especially from the decades you’re exploring, has proved devastating. What makes this constellation interesting to work with?
SE: I am particularly interested in the tourist and branding films of the era, and looking at how these films employ the exact same tropes as the national branding films of today. They use similar techniques and imagery, showing a clear division between what is inside and outside national borders and in that way stimulating a desire for the national and creating a fear for the outside and of not belonging etc. It's the same principles that ads use, though the branding of ideology is here more outspoken. Films like Iconic Norway, Welcome: Portraits of America (Produced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of State in partnership with Walt Disney), México en tus sentidos and many others. They are all pretty similar, though Iconic Norway stands out because of its whiteness.
LBS: Film has been quite influential all through our latest century to the present day, at which the US cultural expansion and Hollywood is a prime example. In your upcoming project at The Munch Museum you look at European tourist and propaganda films from the 1920s and 30s on nationalism and how certain elements influences us today. What similarities have you found between then and now?
SE: Propaganda films of the 20s and 30s were extremely powerful, and through the use of montage, morphing, music, strong imagery and affective close up’s- these films worked to create identification with ideological goals. And then since the late 20s and sound-sync cinema, identification with characters became possible in a different way, and ideology could be presented not as overt as earlier. But my initial question was: can aesthetic strategies and filmic techniques in itself carry ideology, and has this become part of a dominant cinematic form that cannot be separated from its origin and early days.
For this particular project, I've been looking at films from a period in Norwegian film history; Norgesfilmene, beautiful nation building films showing Norwegian nature, but also the growing industry in the country etc. I was curious to the fact that these films were made in the same period as nation building was happening throughout Europe. Introduced to films like Symfonie des Nordens, a German-produced ‘Norgesfilm’ from 1938, I saw a much more 'dynamic' cinematic language than the other Norgesfilmene. This film was the Norwegian contribution to the Venice Biennale in 1939, and points to an interesting linking moment in Norwegian film history and history. So, I appropriated extracts from Symfonie des Nordens for a piece that will be shown on commercial screens in and around Oslo Central Station in June. Appropriated material will be mixed with newly filmed material of a spectator's interaction with the very same site-specific screens in Oslo. The vignettes will function as a multi-channel public piece, pointing to the material, but also to the relations between different screens, and human/ screens.
How has the different spaces impacted your work? Ex. public space (Oslo S) vs institution (The Munch Museum)?
SE: I always think about communication in my work. The site where it is to be displayed, and the anticipation of a specific audience is always part of it. Making a work for a public space affects the work a lot, as in this case I can't conceptually separate distribution and production. I have in previous film works placed my own cinematic form quite close to a dominant cinematic language that I have aimed to critique, and I'm thinking the same for this, that the vignettes I am producing need to play with the very language of the material it will screen next to. I have between 20-30 seconds for each vignette, and contrary to the other works played on these screens I am not trying to convey a message, but rather open up for reflection and that's tricky in such a short format. I have no control of the material coming before/ after my own vignettes, so there is also that element of chance, which I somehow try to take into consideration when developing the work.
The Feedback Loop. 19 April–16 December 2018. The Munch Museum, Oslo Central Station and Munchmuseet on the Move – Kunsthall Oslo. Read more here.