2016: Issue 1: Pilar Mata Dupont: Mountain

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Still from Mountain by Pilar Mata Dupont, 2015, single channel projection with sound, 8:11 minutes

The appearance of this work here is somewhat idiosyncratic, but when a contributor to this issue fell to a later one, the possibility of writing something else arose, and as there was an unintentional theme, this work was the first considered. June was by now a long time ago anyway, and as much as Sensible Perth is a publication based in time, perhaps there is also some other function, in the breaking wave of contemporary art, that we can create or excavate: as some kind of memory. Mountain was exhibited close to a year ago, in PIAF at PICA, as part of An Internal Difficulty. There, the work shone, and if we can talk about artworks that do not use video so successfully, it seems appropriate to discuss an artwork that uses its audiovisual medium in the most poetic and powerful way.

We turn again to Jacques Rancière, who in The Future of the Image, argues that ‘‘Image’ … refers to two two different things. There is the simple relationship that produces the likeness of the original: not necessarily its faithful copy, but simply what suffices to stand for it. And there is the interplay of operations that produces what we call art: or precisely an alteration of resemblance.’ He mentions these operations often take the form of coupling and uncoupling the visible and its signification, or speech and its effect, which create and frustrate expectations. This idea, of alteration and coupling and uncoupling, seems particularly appropriate to Mountain, where the visible and audible operate in conjunction with, and yet remain distinct from, one another. They also, through this relationship, enact a transformation and alteration of resemblance. They tell two different stories: a journey through the lakes and mountains of Berchtesgaden and Schönau am Königssee in Bavaria, and a discussion between Sigmund Freud and an unspecified ‘Tyrant’ – partially based on the possibility of Freud and Adolf Hitler’s having met during simultaneous residence in Berchtesgaden. The landscape is a romantic or gothic one – and these are after all the mountains Caspar David Freidrich painted. The visible part of this work seems to relate to a particular history then, it is the history of the sublime, the romantic, and the gothic. Yet the narrative that surrounds it uncouples the expectation of grandeur, and rather seeks out an inspection of Freud’s own vulnerabilities, curiosities, and theories.

Mountain-still-3_670 Still from Mountain by Pilar Mata Dupont, 2015, single channel projection with sound, 8:11 minutes

The movement that the film undertakes could almost be the slowed down, slow-panning motion that is typical to art cinematography, except that the movement is often simultaneously slow and fast. The effects of parallax on the landscape are immense, and the mountains drift past with majesty, whilst the water and snow fly past in a flurry of activity. The telephoto lens that appears to have been used often exacerbates this relationship, compressing the landscape’s planes and offering us no vision of the sky. The different levels of motion and movement in the planes of the video, even using only the landscape, are extreme. These layers of motion and parallax open up a space within the video for our eyes to wander, and drift like the camera drifts, through the opaque, rough landscape of the mountains. It can also be seen to perform a metaphoric role, in that the layers offer an easy analogy to the different levels in the conversation taking place, and the notion of an unclear or unconscious internal movement – one that is perhaps contrary or slower or more massive than the apparent movement. Though the unconscious as Freud thought of it is perhaps more an invention than a reality, the video offers an eloquent metaphor for ulterior or simultaneous divergence of intention and movement – and the presence of something unknowable. Beyond potential analogies, the work offers us the possibility of a meditative view of the landscape, and the time to become introspective in our contemplation of it. Even if the metaphor is perhaps too much to read into the work, there can be little doubt that the motion, and the time given to us to view these landscapes, allows them to glide seamlessly into our own thoughts, the voices of Freud and the Tyrant rising over our shoulders.

I was recently listening to a Radio National podcast from Mary Zournazi and Wim Wenders – another master of landscape cinematography and photography – where they expounded the idea of inventing peace, and that part of this invention necessitated an engagement with place. They advocated, after philosopher Martin Buber, an approach that emphasised relationships, in particular with places and spaces – something very appropriate to this work. The landscape here though, the mountains that were the base of the National Socialists, have a violent past. Yet this work that has been produced is not the story of violence. It is the story of a discussion, where cigars are Freud’s ‘weapons of choice’ in the combat of life – a sort of quiet self-immolation against the Nazi’s attempts to stop smoking for the national health. In this sense, the work is an incitement of a kind of peace, a contemplation of the situation of the Tyrant and the Doctor. Within the strange quietness, the question that sits in my mind is the relationship of the Tyrant to Freud. There is no clear antagonism, though clearly Freud had to escape Vienna because of the tyranny of a group of people, there is instead only the echoes of ominous events in the dark laden skies and still forests that slide past the lens of the camera. It is also not the story of the sublime overwhelming, or of heroic triumph, that can come from narratives of the mountainous sort – this kind of narrative is even brought up in this work when the Tyrant says of the mountains that ‘men can ascend and conquer them’ – it is instead Freud’s version of the mountain proffered in the discussion – indifferent, unknowable and immovable – that triumphs. The absence of directional, dramatic action is typical of Wender’s films as well, and they are some of the only films in which almost nothing happens, that yet remain so highly affecting. Wender’s says that, ‘it’s a serious issue for a filmmaker to be very careful not to add more stuff, produce more stuff. You have a certain privilege.  As a filmmaker you have people’s full attention for a couple of hours. I want to use that space to build peace.’ though this video is only 8 minutes long, it is suffused with pauses, and does not visualise either of its characters. The simplicity of the choices, and their easy poetry, reminds me of Wender’s work, and even the possibility of peace that exists within them.

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Still from Mountain by Pilar Mata Dupont, 2015, single channel projection with sound, 8:11 minutes

The work is powerful because the images in sequence are uncoupled from, yet related to, the imaginary dialogue that takes place. The mountains, and the silent swift movement we take under their looming shadows echo the powerful undertows that are present in the dialogue of the work: where the idea of the unconscious and the nature of tyranny and oppression meet – in the unspoken and the silent. There are surely dark parts to humanity, and the mountains seems like an appropriate visual accompaniment to the possibility of this darkness that both tyranny and psychoanalysis make visible. Interestingly, the second work of Mata Dupont’s – Zauberberg – that was seen in Perth in 2015 also featured a mountain – this time based on Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, where it is again not actively battled, but the site of a passive retreat – a sanatorium. That the idea of the mountain occurs in both works though, strongly indicates a certain symbolic language being employed. The implication of vastness, and particularly of hidden mass, is remarkably affecting in this work, and gives gravity to the insubstantial and imagined conversation of dreams and cigars that Freud and the Tyrant have. The work becomes like something of a dream itself – it constructs a new image out of an accumulation of historical fact. That Hitler and Freud shared their holiday destinations; that Freud dreamt of Rome, and sympathised with the plight of Hannibal to enter the city; that Freud wrote and theorised the psychological role of the tyrant. They come together in this work in an enormously powerful poetic combination. It is this combination – of audible and visible, and the coupling and uncoupling thereof, that make film an art form, and that are used successfully here to make this work so powerful.

written by Graham Mathwin