interview with Kathrine Bolt Rasmussen

Overgaden Press, febuary 2008

The title of your exhibition at Overgaden is Unbreakable Space which is also the title of one of the video installations included in the exhibition. Could you tell me a little about how you chose this title and how it relates, thematically, to the exhibition as a whole?

Johanna Domke Unbreakable Space has become a working title for several of my recent works. My videos take as their starting point situations where the private sphere confronts the structures of public space. The individual is portrayed within a superior system of public power structures, capitalistic strategies and formalized behaviour. Most of the works portray what might be called a situation of ‘institutionalized’ waiting, a passive state in which people are impelled to remain in a specific place for a defined time. They are detained in a limited time-space constellation in an ‘unbreakable space’. I am interested in the psychological dimension that these situations generate and how the individual constitutes private space in a public context. Some of the videos have their origins in a documentary strategy and make use of a very subjective approach. The camera overcomes the distance between public and private space and portrays people’s passivity and serial isolation. I use the camera to condense these situations into almost hermetic states, which in themselves become a spatial continuum.

KBR In the work Sleepers, shot in Stansted Airport at night, you could be said to work almost as a documentarist in that you are filming a real situation. This is also the case in Unbreakable Space, shot in a London railway station, and in Crossing Fields, shot in a bookstore in Beijing. In several of your earlier works, however, you worked with a fabricated and staged set-up, which is something you take up again in your latest work. How does this method affect your works?

JD It is true, that I am back to staging my videos. In earlier works, the ones where I worked around issues such as youth culture and boredom, I was staging scenes, which quite accurately portrayed a particular youth scene. They show their way of hanging out, partying and having fun, but at the same time their lifestyle is their limitation. I was interested in the same kind of dominant structure that I was talking about earlier, and ways of behaving in public under certain conditions. In this case these structures are related to the juvenile problematic of identification and individualism. I chose to proceed in a media specific way, in the sense that I was using the mechanisms of the moving image to create a standstill and to transform the video image into a time-based puzzle. I was creating videos where the individual was presented in his or her own time sphere, which followed a Moebius-strip-like structure, always repeating their actions within a set structural system. These works are technically quite complex and at a certain point I wondered if I could find situations with a similar appearance that I didn’t need to stage.
The first work in that direction was Sleepers that I filmed at Stansted airport, the main British airport for low-cost airlines. Dumping prices for internal European flight connections means that large numbers of people sleep overnight at the airport in order to catch an early morning departure. In this way they save money on transport and accommodation in town. I was interested in how a specific situation forces people to use a public space for something as private as sleeping. The situation itself was so surreal, that I decided to work with a hidden camera, which made it possible to create quite close and intimate pictures.
The next work Unbreakable Space is filmed in one of the central train stations in London. It shows commuters waiting under a big information panel during rush hour. As in all British stations the gate is announced on the panels just a few minutes before departure, so people are forced to stand and wait on the spot, in order to get a seat on the train. It is also a transit- like situation but here I was more interested in the psychological phenomenon of waiting in the public sphere, one in which people are awake and self-conscious.
Similarly, Unbreakable Space is filmed with a hidden camera, but more than documenting the proceeding I portray the people within the situation, which works as a kind of mirror for their condition. The camera is in a resting position and intimates duration through the expressions on people’s faces.
Crossing Fields works in a slightly different way, but is again an actual situation, one that I came across while travelling in China. It shows people that spend their time reading in bookshops, which is a common phenomenon in major cities, as libraries are obsolete and people save on the cost of the books by reading them there and then. As the management approves of this behaviour, people spend entire days in the shop. I was interested in how a commercial space is used for private activity and how the commercial structures of the place were thereby undermined. Due to the political situation in China it was impossible to film with a hidden camera, so I had to go back to staging. It was quite an interesting process, as I had to stage an authentic situation in a rather personal way. Even if the situations I work with originate in real scenarios I am more interested in the psychological level of the structures the individuals are conditioned in. This is also the point of departure for my newest work. It obscures the situational context even more and focuses on the state of the individual as an unconnected entity.

KBR How do you feel about staging a situation vs. filming real people secretly? I mean, it must be quite a delicate matter, filming people with a hidden camera. In a sense, you are using the depicted without allowing them to make themselves heard and have a voice in their own representation?

JD There is of course a difference between staging a situation and filming with a hidden camera but both work for me. My early staged works take their starting point in real occurrences but they have a more distanced, observational quality. Filming with a hidden camera enabled me to get into the situation and present the relation between public and private space on a more psychological level. It is a level of identification, which is present in a more filmic approach, based on insistent camerawork. My newest work takes the quality of both, staging and empathetic camerawork, which leads to rather surreal re-presentation and a more symbolic language. Regarding the second part of your question – I am of course conscious about the legal position of the protection of the private sphere and the rights of the personal image. But now we live in a digital age – is there really still such a thing? These works are about the private sphere and I think one has to overcome a certain distance in order to talk about that, even if that means taking a rather radical approach.

KBR In all your video works, you are, in one way or another, always working with the phenomena of time and space, initiating an investigation of the relation between movement and standstill, between private and public in our ‘super-modern’ surroundings. In Sleepers you point to the airport as a kind of non-space in which Man is exposed to a lonely individuality.

JD I have for a long time been interested in the phenomenon of “non-places”, which is a term established by the anthropologist Marc Augé. Non-places are characterized as anonymous sites that cannot be defined as relational, historical or concerned with identity. As society is adopting increasingly transitory and commercialized structures, the individual figures as a solitary being unconnected to its surroundings. Nevertheless it is the reconstitution of such a space or better said the coexistence of a private sphere and an anonymous environment,which is the starting point of my productions. I am particularly interested in the use of time at places with such characteristics, as they provoke a form of stasis, even if they are of a transitory character. My works are concerned with stasis both as a social and spatial concept. My method of work is an attempt to slow down or even stop the progressive nature of the proceedings and to tell a story in the resultant stillness.

KBR According to theorists such as Fredric Jameson and David Harvey, post-modern society is characterised by a compression of time and space – spatial and temporal borders have collapsed – a compression that affects our perception of reality radically, but also our social identity, which is something you keep coming back to in various ways in your work. In your latest work, you don’t work with a standstill – unlike several of your earlier works – but rather with the changing, fleeting and collage-like experience of time and space that makes it difficult for us, physically as well as mentally, to find our bearings and take up a position. Could you describe this shift in relation to the works included in the exhibition?

JD My the work has its inspirational roots in the classic novel The Trial by Franz Kafka. It refers to a scene where the protagonist is getting lost in a mazy structure of rooms and corridors inside the courthouse, where he encounters groups of other defendants waiting. It seems as if everybody has given up questioning the system they are trapped within, one which the protagonist himself ends up unable to leave. In my newest work, I am taking my method of staging to a different level. I am still referring to real situations, but in this case it is not just one, it is many. In a spatial sense I am also not creating one specific place but rather a kaleidoscope of elements taken from different settings. The settings are joined in a labyrinth-like structure, were the viewer gets lost finding a logical order or spatial correlation. There is a technical aspect that references earlier works; each scene is connected to the next through an invisible edit. In this way it is always possible to combine the sequences in new combinations and therefore create an even more complex labyrinth structure. I see a labyrinth as a state of standstill even as one wonders around in circles - unless one is able to find the right track.

KBR The exhibited videos are all characterised by a constricted and slightly disturbing mood. What you do is relatively simple, and yet – by the way you combine image and sound and by the way you work the paradoxes in our sense of time and space - you manage to create a condensed mood that is physically conveyed to the viewer. How would you describe the work process, how do you work with image, sound and mood in your works?

JD The atmosphere you are describing is very much connected to the representation of time and space. In my videos space is not unfolding in a logical order, as in classic film language – it remains a conglomeration of many spaces. Due to an insistent camera the viewer has a rather intrusive position, establishing a physical relation to the occurrences. But besides this rather cryptic spatial aspect, it is about how we think time. Stagnation, repetition and endlessness are concepts of a quite existential nature. Even if we can think eternity on a logical level it leaves us with an uncertainty in the end. It is this uncertainty in understanding the correlation of space and time that leaves us with a sense of the uncanny.The interview was conducted