Portrait of Akmal Oktanow 1st secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan painted in black ink by Alexander Rodchenko in 1938

(Film scenes)

Description:

All scenes are accompanied by an intense, yellow beam running irregularly through the entire frame, resembling a light beam from copying devices such as scanners.

This is a deliberate quote of one of the work by the Japanese group Dumb Type. The difference lies in the variable intensity and unpredictability.

The introduction features a face of a Japanese actor similar to Toshiro Mifune, who says in Japanese, “the food for artists is light.” The camera immerses in the water; women in white robes and masks appear; cut, fade in – the face of a young pearl hunter appears. She is swallowing huge air bubbles filled with light. The Toshiro Mifune look-alike says, “this is the only rescue. Oxygen and light”. The women disappear, the camera  falls into a darkening depth, blue turns to black.

Scene I

A ray of intense yellow light moves along the backs of books.

The viewfinder of the digital camera cuts the space too fast for us to recognize the titles and even when the camera’s movement stops, only one title can be recognized: BADIOU.

The word PHILOSOPHER appears at the bottom of the screen.

The frame, still stationary, now shows the area under the bookshelf.  It focuses on the face sticking out from under a ugly, bright-coloured seersucker duvet.

The face is still, the eyelids are not blinking, only slight movements of the eyeballs reveal that it is not just a photograph or a stopped frame. The duvet is pulled up under the chin, which can indicate panic or impending madness. Over the philosopher’s head there is a poster depicting a multiple murderer and genocide with a slogan:  ПРИДЕМ К ИЗОБИЛИЮ – soon we will reach abundance( his promise of abundance was quickly fulfilled by the annihilation of tens of millions of lives). Žizek (the philosopher) belches loudly. Cut. Fade out…

Blackness. For a moment, however, like an afterimage in the dark, pulsating letters flash: “I do all my work to escape myself. The truth is outside”. The appeal to the subconsciousness lasts so briefly that it only reaches those who know it is a quotation from Žizek. The yellow beam erases letters like a huge vertical rubber.

Scene II

Opening:  the word MEDIUM shows up on a damaged map of Kolyma .

Through a frosted window the camera crawls inside the barrack in the Soviet gulag. There are revolutionary posters and slogan on the walls. White letters on a red background. In the improvised audience, there are frozen people wearing quilted jackets, with white masks on their faces. It is the middle of the typhus epidemic. A woman wearing a smock on her quilted jacket operates an old projector. Next scenes feature photographs from spiritual séances and moving scenes from London streets. The accelerated black-and-white projection formally brings the street crowd closer to the one that has recently poured out of the Winter Palace, making a deliberate allusion that it will soon happen there too … In one of the yellowed photographs we can see a woman holding a ray of intense light in her hands. In another, a glossy shape of ectoplasm is coming out of her mouth, and English words written in green ink are visible at the bottom of the screen:‘‘ a fluidic image of a deceased friend“.  Only one person in the room can speak English. The remarks of the guard sitting behind the screen make the audience burst into laughter. One of the things that the guard says drowns out the cracking sound of the broken tape. The characteristic clattering and flickering of the light released from the projector bring out of the darkness, with a quantum regularity, faces wearing masks. You can’t see the lips, but some of the eyes reveal, through an ironic flash, disagreement or rebellion. It all fades away once, due to the premature end of the film, they come out into the dazzling glow of the frosty, snowy landscape. Spinning snowflakes are transformed into a digitalized, stroboscopic image of yellow and black spots, which is an abstract exaggeration of snow blindness.

This time, from behind the frame, which through the stroboscope effect became a common screen for the viewer in the cinema and for the prisoners in the film, one can hear the voice of the guard reciting a fragment of Joseph Brodsky’s poem,

‘’Don’t be a fool! Be what others weren’t. Remain.
Don’t leave the room! Let the furniture have free reign,
blend in with wallpaper. Bolt the door, barricade in place
with a dresser from chronos, cosmos, eros, virus, race.”

Snowflakes slow down and the camera moves back. It goes through the window and shows the inside of the barrack. The bunks are filled with wretched prisoners. Slow zoom shows the strangely familiar face, the duvet pulled under the chin. This is an example of an outstanding digital montage takes Žizek’s face 80 years back. This time the anxiety finds a much better context.

Scene III

A private library with heavy, velvet courtains. It’s a late evening in Russia in the 1930’s. The beam of yellow light we’ve already seen illuminates the bookshelves. A man dressed in a suit (artist Alexander Rodchenko – artist) performs a strange, incomprehensible and mysterious activity:  he walks up to the bookshelves, takes out brochures with portraits of political leaders, puts them on his desk and laboriously blackens their faces with black ink and then puts the books back on the shelf.

The film does not explain why he does it. For the few inquisitive ones out there, the camera, wanders around the books, stops for a moment, and shows a close-up of the back of a thin magazine entitled The Cabinet. The adnotation reads issue: The Enemy. When viewers in their persistent investigation reach the sources, they will find that one of these black portraits depicts Akmal Ikramov, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. Rodchenko blackened his face with ink in 1938, after Akma Ikramov was sentenced to death in a show trial.  During the Stalin era, Rodchenko, like many others, would blacken faces of slain communist activists. He did in in the privacy of his library…(5)

Scene IV

Interior of a car. The camera is placed on the back seat. It follows moving the landscape moving through the windscreen. This is a suburb of Manacapuru, a city located in the state of Amazonas. The road is bumpy and the rocking of the car makes the amulets and key rings hanging from the front mirror move rhythmically.  A slow zoom on a small head decorated with bands of raffia and birds’ feathers,. The lips have been sewn-up. The passenger in the back seat reads the text aloud, translating Portuguese into English, speaking  monotonously as if he were an old pharmacist reading prescription:

  • kill your enemy with a stone axe,
  • chop off the head, leaving as much of the neck as possible,
  • run away from a crime scene with a head that still holds the soul of the enemy
  • be careful when escaping in the jungle, as your soul can direct falling trees into your path
  • while running, skin the head and throw the skull into the river as a gift to Pani –the anaconda goddess of the river,
  • when you get home, put the head in a pot of water and cook it for no longer than half an hour, otherwise it will lose hair,
  • during this procedure, the head shrink half its original size, except for hair, eyelashes and nose hair, which will remain just as long,
  • stick thorns in the lips to make sure the enemy’s soul doesn’t leak out of the mouth,
  • put a few hot stones inside…

At this point, the recitation is interrupted by a laughter, because in slang ’’pebbles” sound the same as cocaine. Someone says ‘’remedios” and the laughter continues once again. It’s almost like a code, because everyone slowly puts a mask on their face and check their guns. In the trunk of the car, small, one-kilogramme packs with the sign of the Red Cross bump rhythmically next to a severed head. A boat arrives at the wharf. It is a floating hospital. Men in white uniforms throw moorings. It’s the last thing they do. They are about to die.

Scene V

A young girl with a mask on walks into a cafe. She wears a white blouse with a print of Che Guevara’s severed head.  A transparent recycled bag hangs over the shoulder. There is a note on it that says  it was made from 30 bottles fished out of the sea.  Through the matt Surface of the bag, we can catch a glimpse of the latest book by Slavoj Žizek: PANDEMIC !. The girls says, ‘’oat latte, please”, leaving a mist of her breath on the plexiglass screen. The barista is played by the same actor that moored the hospital ship at the wharf in Manacapuru. They are both silent. The man’s eyes are full of fear. After all, he was in the previous scene.

Scene VI

Front door of UCL in  London. Cut. Camera slowly zooms in on a vessel  filled with formalin that contains Jeremy Bentjam’s head. Cut…

The wooden cabinet housing the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham (which was on tour to the USA at time of photographing), in the South Cloisters of the University College London main building.

The young Jeremy Bentham enters the prosectorium. Three dead bodies lie on the stone autopsy tables: of a woman, a man, and a child.  It’s Bentham’s first time in this place. He isn’t afraid, but rather curious.  Suddenly, he notices a disturbing thing: all faces are beared, which looks grotesque, particularly on the woman. The old man who works as a preparator and assistant to pathologists explains in a hushed voice, ‘’ to take out the brain, cut the skin at the back of the head and slide the whole scalp onto the face, thus revealing the access to the skull and the possibility of taking out the brain without damaging the face”. Jeremy Bentham sighs with relief, although the persistent deja vu brings back the image of a woman with a beard who appeared among other freaks at a travelling fair in Birmingham. He thinks about cyclical nightmares that the image brought to him. He can remember a creature called The Elehpant Man that would haunt him in his dreams.  The camera shows the hands of the old preparator sewing together human skin with surgical thread. Cut. The camera “runs ” together with the operator into the interior of UCL and stops in front of a huge wax figure of Jeremy Bentham and description of the panopticum. The yellowed plan with Bentham’s invention is accompanied by a piece from Henry Purcell’s opera King Arthur.  The aria Cold Song by Klaus Nomi who is dying from AIDS. As Nomi sings the phrase: „let me freeze…” with his high-pitched falsetto, the camera comes back to Bentham’s face. The face of the singing Conchita Wurst is projected on his face, though the voice is still  Klaus Nomi’s. Thanks to a special application  the words that Klaus sings  perfectly match Conchita’s lip movement. Now, the cameraman is retreating and smoothly moving from UCL across the street, to an empty pub with a Bentham image swaying over the entrance. Slow motion: it’s empty inside. As the black bartender puts ice in a tall glass, he completely out of tune hums, „let me freeze…”

The yellow ray runs through the street, the bar and the entrance to the university, mixing with the moonlight…

The camera turns into a dark alley where you can see a neon sign that reads elucidations.

A short woman dressed like a nurse reads out loud with her Eton accent:

spaces (between words)

motto 1:
Rage, rage against the dying of the light1

motto 2:
question: „what is behind computer ?”
answer: „dead empty mass”.
2

Edmond Jabes said, “the writer can express himself only in the future tense” (by this he expressed his anticipation for being saved from the approaching word).

The future (the speed of which can be only measured by the speed of light).

In two hours, a beam of light of the rising sun will reach the southern Tödi ridge, the highest peak of the Glarus Alps; it will later slip over to the Biferten glacier, bringing back the day . Having returned a bit of the dispersed light to the ice crystals of the peak, it will move on unstopped and faster than words can describe. It will puncture the window and hit the wall in a small, azure building located in the suburbs of Forch, outside of Zurich. The distance between the peak and the window overlaps almost exactly with the border between Schwyz and Glarus cantons. Intense, yellow light will seep into blue gleam fulfilling the room, and beaming from the computer screen. Spots of blue and yellow light will bounce off from one another, projecting flickering reflexes onto the bed and onto body of a man who is lying still. He will seem asleep, but stillness of the body will give away the inertia, lasting already long enough to realize its reason, which is much deeper and stronger than sleep or rest. 

Future tense is justified here, since it’s a beginning of a script and therefore the director – the screenwriter carries on writing, quoting after William S. Burroughs, “The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls. Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren, the Secret Name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception of death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that’s where Ren came in”. 

The blue house is the premises of the Dignitas clinic, responsible for conducting euthanasia. The man, whose name in Beniamin, was brought into the clinic eight days ago. As you enter the room, you might get an impression that the man is staring at you. His eyelids are half-closed, they do not cover the pupils and irises of the eyes completely; they keep moving, seemingly wandering after the gleams of light reflected by the screens of snow-covered hillsides, and by the sun rising above them. Yet the place and the state he is in, definitely contradict this impression. The man’s body has been completely paralyzed for years and the progressive, terminal illness has attacked also his eyes, covering them with darkness.

In contrast to the immobilized body, Beniamin’s brain functions unusually efficiently. His morbid hyperactivity is induced by serotonin inhibitors that ease the pain. Affected also by chronic insomnia, his mind resembles the garden described by Borges. Its  paths  simultaneously lead in different directions of space and time.

Cut – fade out – change of tenses.

Now he’s taking the path leading towards childhood. A memory appears.  It is a memory of a flickering image projected by a magic lantern onto the doors in an enormous, long corridor. The image represents the earthquake in Lisbon (1755).  He can hear his father’s voice, a voice breaking with agitation. He was never to find out the true source of this agitation. On 31st of October, 1931 the Berliner Rundfunk radio station broadcasted one of the eight plays for children written and read by Walter Benjamin. On that very day, The Earthquake in Lisbon was transmitted. Never, in any conversation with his son, had he mentioned this memory. Both the father and the son were of apodictic and critical nature,  which quickly and permanently torn up any bonds between them and filled their relations with silence and lack of affection.

He suspected that his name had something to do with Walter. Suspicion turned into  certainty when, after his father’s death, in one of the drawers he came across a reproduction of a painting by Paul Klee representing an angel. Walter Benjamin would bring the original version with him anywhere he went,  until he committed suicide in Portbou. The reproduction found in the drawer was folded, and the abrasion over the lines indicated that it had been straightened multiple times. Inside, between the two folded sides, there was a letter from Gershom Sholem addressed to his father. The camera reveals part of the letter, which clearly proves the connection between the name and the friendship his father had concealed. Retrospective: a child is staring at white corridor door, on which an image of burning Lisbon will shortly appear. The child is convinced that this didn’t really happen. The Grimms’ Fairy Tales  projected with the same lantern before seem truer. The fugitive, neon glare of this statement, is now illuminating the place of the final scene. We can hear an artificially generated, off-camera voice. A a speech synthesizer allowed him to meet all the legal procedures.

There is the dilemma that always concerns paralyzed people – how to take the poison. Doing it requires an assistant. A helper that will push the syringe piston with their own hand, or administer the glass. With one’s hand. Charon’s hand squeezing the paddle…

An employee of the Dignitas clinic appears on the screen. The face is intentionally blurred, all we can see are trembling pixels. He talks about dr Kevorkian’s modernized machine. It’s a syringe connected to a computer. The monitor displays the text:

Question 1:
Are you aware that once you move to the last screen and press the “enter” button, you will receive a lethal dose of medication?

Question 2:
Do you clearly understand hat once you press the “enter” button on the next screen, you will die?

Question 3:
In 15 seconds you will be injected a lethal dose of medication…
Press “enter” to continue.

The speech synthesizer turned each message into a text, which enabled Beniamin to communicate with the world. Now, as in a reversed interpretation of the Torah, he would need to turn the word into light to part from his life.

He sees a decoration reconstructing the forbidden room with green curtains, into which a two-and-a-half year old Mircea Eliade rushed in. He later wrote that he had an impression of being inside a huge, green grape.  Never again did he manage to reopen the door to this room.

He is thinking about the light. He is thinking about the uncanny similarity of chlorophyll and hemoglobin particles. He is thinking about a transfusion from green chlorophyll. He is thinking about the Biferten glacier, shining at night with a green, pulsating light, like a frozen strip of polar lights or liquid phosphorus. He is thinking about the desk on which he left an open book: Techniques of the Observer byJonathan Crary. He left it open on the page with an engraving by Johann Evangelista Purknije from 1823. It depicted
a so-called ‘Nachbilder’ – images generated by the eye retina, related to afterimages, blind spots and patterns generated through intensive “gazing”.

He is thinking about his father’s watch, useless now, which hands coated with phosphorus, pushed continuously by the self-winding mechanism. Now, they are glowing in one of the drawers, besides the Klee’s angel. He is thinking about the phrase important to Eliade: “coincidentia oppositorum”. In the order described by these words, reside (of which poeple are not yet aware):

  1. on the nightstand beside Beniamin’s bed, there is the Bible in which the word “light”, both in Aramean and the contemporary versions  appears 187 times;
  2. in Hebrew the word for light is “or”;
  3. phosphorus (gr) means “bearing the light”; phosphorus is a macronutrient indispensable for any cell to function;
  4. in 1824, Goethe wrote a letter to prince Sternberg , in which he introduced Purkinje as an exceptionally original mind; through the intercession of Goethe and Karl Rudolphi, professor of anatomy and physiology, Purkinje obtained the title of professor;
  5. in the same year, the Tödi peak was reached for the first time;
  6. in Czech the word death (smrt) is, unlike in German,: feminine (der Tod)
  7. in the ancient, pre-Christian rituals called „todaustragen”, the word Tod used to be changed to feminine: Todi
  8. Johann Ewangelista Purkinje, a Czech scholar and the author of „The Pathology of Eye”, conducted experiments examining a phenomenon of sudden blinding,  which  neuropsychologists today refer to as „cross activation”.

The approaching night blows out the gleams of light. The man is dreaming a dream in which he’s standing on a balcony near Teotihuacan at night. Under the balcony, a young Mexican is juggling human skulls. They fly out silently from the dusk, approach the balcony edge and then they sink back  towards the juggler’s invisible hands.

Cut.

Morning. A nurse will enter the room. To her surprise, she’ll hear a regular and even breath and she will see the man’s eyelids closed. Dr Kevorkian’s maxim, heretofore displayed on the screen, is now being replaced by something undoubtedly said by Beniamin falling asleep:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
1

Piotr Kurka, Poznań, April, 2016-04-05


  1. Dylan Thomas, „Nie Wchodź Łagodnie do Tej Dobrej Nocy” [] []
  2. Wiliam S. Burroughs, „The Western Lands” []

Piotr Kurka
Piotr Kurka

Piotr Kurka, born 1958, graduated from the University of the Arts Poznań, currently a lecturer at his home university. He creates spatial arrangements using many media. He also practices painting and drawing. He took part in the most important events of Polish art in recent years, he also repeatedly represented Poland abroad.