A central figure in the Berlin experimental film scene since the 1980s, Ute Aurand is one the most vital filmmakers active in the diary and portrait tradition today. For Aurand, who works in 16mm just like her precursors Jonas Mekas, Margaret Tait and Marie Menken, “the diaristic form develops out of an inner dialogue with my surroundings, a silent visual conversation. The source of inspiration is daily life, the fountain which never stops and offers itself to everyone. It is a great joy and challenge to transform my inner dialogue into film.”
To Be Here, the title of Aurand’s most recent film, perfectly encapsulates the sense of immediacy, spontaneity and intimacy that characterises her filmmaking. Ute Aurand’s work celebrates the here and now, the people she meets, the places she visits, the very fact of being alive. Hers is an honest, warm and vibrant cinema, which eulogizes artistic spontaneity and improvisation. These two screenings in Ghent and Brussels mark the first monographic presentation of Aurand’s work in Belgium.
In the presence of Ute Aurand
Curated by Maria Palacios Cruz. With thanks to Els Van Riel and the Goethe-Institut Brüssel.
- OH! die vier Jahreszeiten (Ute Aurand & Ulrike Pfeiffer, DE, 1988, 20 min, 16mm)
- Am Meer (Ute Aurand, DE, 1998, 3min, 16mm)
- Susan+Lisbeth (Ute Aurand, DE, 2012, 7min, 16mm)
- To be here (Ute Aurand, DE, 2013, 38 min, 16mm)
Monday 27th October 2014, 20:30h
Art Cinema OFFoff
Begijnhof ter Hoye
Lange Violettestraat 237
To Be Here is the title of Ute Aurand’s most recent film – a portrait of the United States, which completes the trilogy of travelogues started with India (2005) and continued with Young Pines (2011) in Japan – but could in fact refer to any of her films. It perfectly encapsulates the sense of immediacy, spontaneity and intimacy that characterises her filmmaking. Ute Aurand’s work celebrates the here and now, the people she meets, the places she visits, the very fact of being alive. Hers is an honest, warm and vibrant cinema, in which there is joy even in sadness.
Aurand, who has been a key presence in the Berlin alternative film culture scene since the 1980s, works in the solitary tradition of 16mm filmmaking. In her work, it is the same hand that holds the camera and cuts the film, unwinds and rewinds the film rolls. As Robert Beavers has written: “A continuity develops for the filmmaker between the physical structure of the medium and each action involved in the filming, whether simple or complex and this bodily sense is extended in other ways during the editing”[i]. How then to separate living and filmmaking, when filmmaking is so closely connected to the filmmaker’s body? To her movements and gestures, her observations and gaze?
As Erika Balson has pointed out, Aurand’s is a cinema of intimacy “populated by friends and family in which daily experience forms the basis for a practice rich in lyrical beauty.”[ii] Aurand’s films are often titled after the people that she films, such as Susan + Lisbeth (2012) (included in the programme in Ghent), or the places that she visits. In her portrait films, she films her subjects over a number of years, stressing this inseparability between living and filmmaking.
There is of course a contradiction between the “now” of living and the time that it takes to make a film. Whereas the act of filming, especially in diary film, shares the present tense of the filmmaker’s existence, the task of editing, a much lengthier and time-consuming process, accentuates the distance between making a film and the lived experience that is at its origin. It is through rhythm that Aurand replicates the sense of lived moments in her films and attempts to preserve the personalities of the places and people that are recorded, as well as that of the filmmaker behind the camera. There is the rhythm of editing, but also that of her hand-held camera. Constantly moving while filming, for Aurand the notion of rhythm is essential: “You can call it ‘music’, but for me it is rhythm. Rhythm is energy and movement, rhythm creates space in my films.”[iii] The rhythm of her films combines the fleeting nature of looking with the idea of the caméra-stylo. Am Meer (At The Sea, 1998) is a sublime example of Aurand’s rhythmic filmmaking. For Robert Beavers: “More like a song, Aurand's film seizes the moment. She brings together the images of her walk in the nature of Hiddensee and the sound of a visit with friends in an unseen interior. The texture and sense of the different visual and acoustic space help us share the moment. The rhythmic camera carries us along as it joins the music.”[iv]
The first film in the programme at Art Cinema OFFoff, OH! die vier Jahreszeiten (OH! The Four Seasons) co-directed with Ulrike Pfeiffer, marks a turning point in Aurand’s career. Inspired by Jonas Mekas’ He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of his Life, the film begins with the following text on improvisation, written and read by Mekas:
“Improvisation is, I repeat, the highest form of concentration, of awareness, of intuitive knowledge, when the imagination begins to dismiss the pre-arranged, the contrived mental structures, and goes directly to the depths of the matter. This is the true meaning of improvisation, and it is not a method at all, it is, rather, a state of being necessary for any inspired creation. It is an ability that every true artist develops by a constant and life-long inner vigilance, by the cultivation – yes! – of his senses.”[v]
It was after this film that Aurand began to develop a distinctly diaristic film practice. Up to that moment, she had always felt close to films with a strong subjectivity, but having completed this film, she bought a Bolex camera and an editing table and made Detel + Jón, her first portrait work. As Aurand explains: “The diaristic form develops out of an inner dialogue with my surroundings, a silent visual conversation. The source of inspiration is daily life, the fountain which never stops and offers itself to everyone. It is a great joy and challenge to transform my inner dialogue into film.”[vi]
Other than Mekas, Margaret Tait and Marie Menken are strong influences on Aurand’s work. She also acknowledges the importance of filmmakers such as Robert Beavers, Ulrike Pfeiffer, Renate Sami, Maria Lang, Helga Fanderl and Jeannette Munoz, all of whom are close to her, stressing the importance for the solitary 16mm filmmaker to be part of a community.
To Be Here was initially titled America The Beautiful after the patriotic song that originates in a poem by Katherine Lee Bates. Early in the film, a series of close-ups of the hand written poem are combined with portraits of its author. Later on, and throughout the film, Aurand intersects images of landscapes and interiors in New England, New York and Arizona with photographs of exceptional American women, including the African-American activists Hester C. Whitehurst Jeffrey, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. A visit to Mount Holyoke College, a liberal arts college for women in Massachusetts, constitutes the central point of the film. In contrast to male-dominated representations of America that focus on the mythology of the frontier, Aurand’s “America The Beautiful” is a female portrait of the land of the free and home of the brave. Katherine Lee Bates’ poem was to be masculinised in the lyrics of the song with references to a “brotherhood” that are not included in the original text. In her vision of America, Aurand returns to a moment of promise and opportunity for all, when America was “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties, Above the enameled plain! America! America!”.
Maria Palacios Cruz
[i] Robert Beavers “La Terra Nuova” in The Searching Measure. Writings by Robert Beavers, published by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive on the occasion of The Films of Robert Beavers: My Hand Outstretched, February 2004.
[ii] Erika Balson, “Introducing the intimate films of Ute Aurand”, February 2014 : http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/introducing-intimate-fil...
[iii] Interview with Ute Aurand by Federico Rossin. “Fragment of a Filmmaker’s Work: Ute Aurand and Margaret Tait”: http://www.lussasdoc.org/etats-generaux,2013,401.html?locale=en_US
[iv] Robert Beavers, programme notes for screening at the Courtisane festival 2014.
[v] Jonas Mekas, “A Note on Improvisation”, 1962.
[vi] Interview with Ute Aurand by Federico Rossin.