By Alanna Lockward
My experience tells me that while art cannot quickly change social or political reality, it is important for art not to be apolitical.
In one of the sequences of Orson Welles’ F for Fake (1974), we see the famous director and accomplished actor explaining his fascination with the great magician Houdini to a little kid, using a key and a handful of coins. He transforms illusion into a ‘rational’ attempt to describe the ‘reality’ of a man’s life, a biography that unfolds in filigree cuts; no wonder this film has been regarded as a pioneering essay on film editing. Nataša Drakula has successfully quoted this experiment in her search to expose the crude realities of sham-marriages in a reverse mode, converting the acceleration of this paradigmatic film into a serene sequence of oversized tableaux-vivantes.
The subjects sharing their stories in extensive interviews are filtered by a unifying screen, in each one of the eight vertical projections their shadows perform the ever present gloom of fear in a explicit manner but without the slightest hint of sensationalism. One of them explains how the learning experience of marrying a non-German citizen has transformed her perception on German society:
“…there's this notion that these people need to be integrated or assimilated – and when I got involved with the [Turkish and Arab] community, that started to fade for me. Also because I think everyone has a right to live where they want, and if they want to live in this kind of community, then so be it.”
There are many difficulties brought up by the question of representation within the broad spectrum of politically engaged art. Many committed and successful artists taking this path, forever dangerous, literally a minefield, are confronted with this dilemma, which more than too often carries the potential of having a very unhappy end (1). Nataša Drakula has solved one of the challenges of what Alfredo Cramerotti (2009) calls Aesthetic Journalism, by means of incorporating a simple and effective strategy: “removing the visible, adding the meaningful”, as the author describes it.
It would be unfair not to call the spatial solution of M for Fake as elegant. I would even go further than that and risk the idea that in fact this quality becomes ‘transgressive’ due to its deceiving purity. The eight oversized projections are mirroring each other on each side of the room. A white screen unifies them, as mentioned before; the milky atmosphere created by this filtered light in the semi-dark room invites the audience to share a different approach to time. There is an invisible pact co-signed by all of those involved in time-based art, on the one hand there is the artist expecting the audience to stop and watch; and on the other, there is an audience ready to offer her/his time as retribution, in exchange for the artists’ work. Time is hard currency in politically engaged art, and there is no other way to access these narratives of marriage under strenuous circumstances, than by enteringNataša Drakula’s theatrical video drawing room with a willingness to invest time in order to learn how is it like to live the fantasy of a white Europe with no “East”, no immigrants and no colonial past, from the perspective of the Other. At the time of writing this essay, the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy has successfully (sic) manipulated the expulsion of Roma citizens under all kind of protests. The vote, we all know that is what it is all about. For the moment he got away with it. In Germany, a similar episode is being staged by a former Minister of Finances, Thilo Sarrazin, who has written a book with all kind of racist constructions against non-white Germans. His agenda is a bit more obscure than that of Sarkozy, since at the moment he is not running for any particular office.
For the sake of approaching the shadows of white European modernism reflected in the racialized constructions of Otherness that offer the discursive scenario in which this transgressive and corageous project (no provocation involved) inserts itself, let us remember with Enrique Dussel that:
“Modernity is, for many (for Jürgen Habermas or Charles Taylor) an essentially or exclusively European phenomenon. In these lectures, I will argue that modernity is, in fact, a European phenomenon but one constituted in a dialectical relation with a non-European alterity that is its ultimate content. Modernity appears when Europe affirms itself as the “center” of a World History that it inaugurates: the “periphery” that surrounds this center is consequently part of its self-definition. The occlusion of this periphery (and of the role of Spain and Portugal in the formation of the modern world system from the late fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries) leads the major contemporary thinkers of the “center” into a Eurocentric fallacy in their understanding of modernity. If their understanding of the genealogy of modernity is thus partial and provincial, their attempts at a critique or defense of it are likewise unilateral and, in part, false.“(2)
The last word of this quote is (almost) circumstantial. If you do not believe in coincidences, like I do, you might find it also symptomatic, that M for Fakehas been developed by a citizen of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, that has thoroughly researched the life of Nikola Tesla, also born there, with whom Orson Welles sustains long dialogues in the movie The Secret Life of Nikola Tesla (1980), directed by Krsto Papic.
Nataša Drakula has taken the challenge of quoting Welles’ F for Fake rigorously. This is indeed an inspiring and utterly honest project, carefully thought and above all extremely relevant for reasons beyond the personal and the political. By means of exposing these shadowed but defiant narratives together with the full color oversized projection of her wedding with a German citizen (an experience that put her in contact with all the difficulties any marriage with a foreign citizen implies) she has given voice to an utopian Europe. In this new reality, people like Sarrazin and Sarkozy might appear one fine day as unimaginable. To paraphrase the above mentioned interviewee, Europe shall be the space where radical humanism will finally materialize and sham marriages will be considered a thing of a distant past:
“Of course there are reasons why people can’t or don’t want to [marry for papers]. And you have to accept that. And it’s not a political solution, just marrying whomever. That doesn’t change the political situation or the laws that say that it’s not possible for people to enter a country and live there whenever they want. And in that sense, it’s not really revolutionary. But I think that history – even German history – shows that people are always dependent on others for help”.
(1) “The Rwanda Project lasted six years. I ended up doing twenty-one pieces in those six years. Each one was an exercise of representation. And how can I say this? The all failed.” Alfredo Jaar in Cramerotti 2009:93.
(2) Dussel, Enrique quoted in Mignolo, Walter 2008:8.
- Cramerotti, Alfredo 2009: Aesthetic Journalism. How to Inform without Informing. Bristol: Intellect.
- Mignolo, Walter 2008. Delinking. The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and
the Grammar of De-Coloniality. North Carolina: Duke University Press.