Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

Journal No. 1 – Traces of a Lost Film

19. June 2008

Hito Steyerl’s video installation “Journal No. 1 – an Artist’s Impression” (2007, 21 min) documents the search for a Bosnian film from 1947 that was lost in the upheaval of the Yugoslavian Civil War. The installation will be on exhibition in the basement of the arts and cultural center Kulturzentrum am Münster from June 28. At the vernissage on June 27 Jurij Murašov, Professor of Slavic Literature at the University of Konstanz, will talk with the video artist about the role of art in war and the (im-)possibility of reconstructing a work of art.

Konstanz, 19. 6. 2008: What happened to the film reels containing Film Journal No.1? Were they really destroyed during fighting on the Bosnian frontline in the Yugoslavian Civil War? Or were the reels looted by Serbian soldiers and taken to Belgrade as some witnesses claim? This scenario is not as unlikely as it might sound. After all, Film Journal No. 1 featured a report on an alphabetization campaign for Muslim women and girls conducted during the Tito era. The campaign reduced the level of illiteracy in Bosnia to just 25 percent from a pre-WW II high of 75 percent. Does it really seem so unlikely that the opposing side might have attempted to capture such cultural artifacts?

Hito Steyerl search to uncover the fate of the reels begins in the archives of Sutjeska Studios in Sarajevo. In the course of her inquiry Steyerl speaks with eyewitnesses and visits the ruins of the former archive. The floors of the archive are littered with film cans and the tangled remains of archived material. None of this material can be restored. Along with Journal No. 1 the material forms a gaping hole in the history of Bosnian and Herzegovina cinema. These images from the archive suggest that actual fate of the reels is not central to Steyerl’s work. Rather, her fascination lies in the quest of rediscovery itself. Steyerl attempts to fill the empty space created by the disappearance of the Film Journal reels with images born in the memories of eyewitnesses.

Steyerl documents the efforts of Devleta Filipović and Halid Bunić, two employees at the Bosnian Cinematheque in Sarajevo, to reconstruct the scenes from the missing reels. Steyerl then asks artist Arman Kulašić to create two sketches based on these quite different memories. Viewers watch over his shoulder as he draws the sketches: a simple classroom with a blackboard, benches and women in traditional Bosnian headscarves.

The film employs split screen techniques to simultaneously confront viewers with two versions of the Film Journal reel. Steyerl uses the technical potential of the medium to (re-)construct a fragmented and damaged (film) his/story: An Artist’s Impression. But Steyerl’s work is more than mere reconstruction. She comments and juxtaposes the eyewitness accounts with scenes and sound recordings from preserved archive material such as the partisan film “Walter saves Sarajevo”, Emir Kusturica’s “Do you remember Dolly?” and another episode of Film Journal. An Artist’s Impression is a work of reconstruction and construction, and a unique blend of commemoration and interpretation.

The eyewitness accounts are complemented on another narrative level: artist Arman Kulašić is not the marginal figure he at first appears to be. Kulašić juxtaposes the reconstruction of the classroom as a place of education and alphabetization with the horrific memory of his own childhood – Kulašić’s family were victims of the ethnic cleansing that occurred during the Yugoslavian conflict. Kulašić sketches a third classroom. But here the teachers let their pupils leave the school to join other villagers in throwing stones at refugees. This image of the classroom as the site of barbaric cruelty stands in stark contrast to its portrayal in Film Journal as the site of enlightenment.

Hito Steyerl filmed the material for this video installation during her time in Sarajevo as the Goethe Institute artist in residence. Steyerl has held a guest professorship for Experimental Film and Video (New Media) at the Berlin University of the Arts since 2007.

The exhibition is staged by GALERIE DER SCHWARZE PUNKT in co-operation with the Center of Excellence “Cultural Foundations of Integration”.

Steyerl-Plakat_01.pdf587 Ki