They desired these haughty women and they fired at the animals

Root Event

Werkleitz Festival 2011 ZOO
They desired these haughty women and they fired at the animals

An interview with Peter Kubelka about animals that make films, his film Our Trip to Africa and the ennui of killing without the desire to kill while on safari.

Cord Riechelmann: Mister Kubelka, the old argument about animals’ inferior faculties purports that animals can’t make films. I am not sure this is true.

Peter Kubelka: Animals can make films and films are made by animals, namely by human animals. Different animals can do different things. The lark can make music better than I can. It has an entirely different apparatus for it. It can sing much more complex melodies. It has a greater power of expression than any human. From this power it can draw the conclusion that it is the pinnacle of creation and all others are merely its creatures. This is what humans conclude from the fact that they make films, simply because they haven’t seen any other species making films.

The point of departure for my thinking is that it would be good for all humans to accept that we are a species of animal like all the rest and that there is absolutely no principle difference between ourselves and other living beings.

CR: Would you say that the degree of self-authorisation is hardwired into humans or did they need to construct it first?

PK: My opinion is that this self-authorisation is built into every species. It’s part of evolution, because it’s the precondition for feeding on the others, which is in turn the precondition for survival. That means it is innate to every species to regard itself as the centre of the universe and as claim the right to kill and eat other animals. The wolf eats the sheep and the wolf cannot say; we are all equal, let us eat no more sheep. It doesn’t work like that. Today, the human race can claim for itself the right to live, meaning to eat others and yet at the same time we must be aware that, seen from outside, we are not the centre of the universe. And we must be able to assume this view from outside in order to be able to adapt and improve the view from the inside.

CR: When a human being films an animal is this in some sense a view from outside?

PK: In a certain sense perhaps, but in reality every deployment of a means of communication, like painting or poetry, is perhaps planned as an outside view. But self description is nevertheless unavoidable. Every speaker speaks of herself, every novelist writes a novel about her ‘soul’. Dostoyevsky wrote about his own ‘soul’.

I made a film called “Dichtung und Wahrheit” [Poetry and Truth]. I took images that I hadn’t at all designed myself, that I picked off the cutting room floor. I used them to make statements that the makers of these images would not at all have approved of. The maker is written into the works. To come to the topic of eating, the oldest communicative human activity: no one could cook the same way as her neighbour even if she wanted to. The meal bears your unmistakable individual mark; your stinginess, generosity, wastefulness, fussiness. The maker brings herself in with every hand movement.

CR: For your film Our Trip to Africa a group of safari tourists invited you to film their trip. In this film you seem to me present in a way which makes it difficult to imagine that the group who invited you and who you filmed would have thought they had been ‘positively’ represented.

PK: On the one hand it was a portrait of these people. On the other hand it was the expression of my opinion about them or about the events. I consciously did not want to do a polemical film. If the film is sometimes seen as polemical it is just a partial aspect. Imagine two people standing next to each other looking at the moon. One laughs, the other cries. That’s how I’d like the film to be seen: one time you laugh, another time you cry. Both judgements are always there.

CR: I didn’t see the film as polemical either. You once referred to it as a synch event. For me there are four protagonists, namely the travel group, then the people already there in Sudan, the landscape and the animals.

PK: The trip starting in Yugoslavia in winter. That’s where the last shot comes from, namely this peasant woman moving towards me in the snow. For me she represents my homeland. Before that you see a completely naked archaic person from Sudan walking by with a spear, a lump of meet in his hand and an uncovered penis. You hear a voice with a strong accent saying in English “I like to visit your country”. Then you see this woman trudging through the snow in silence, no sound – my country. You see the archaic person again, now exiting, and the voice sais “If I find chance”. And that’s the end of the film, where I stimulate the viewer to imagine the whole thing the other way round: that the naked people from Sudan come to us, stare at us, shoot our dogs and cows, stare at our womenfolk and at least symbolically conquer them. Just as in football where the goal scorer gets to ravish the wife of his opponent.

CR: “The sound event ‘shot’ tears the fish from the water and ignites the bushfire” as you once said of your film.

PK: Yes, to say a few words about my film language: in my opinion everything we have learnt about our thinking, the way we deal with our environment, is a myth. A lot of work has been done on thinking recently and we know now it consists of entirely simple processes; namely of the archiving and comparison of sensual impressions. We have our senses, they have been given to us, innate machines, and they transport impressions to the brain. They are at work constantly. There are therefore simultaneous impressions for the eye and the ear and also for the other senses. In order to survive we absolutely have to recognise familiar events, e. g. the lion attacking us. For this purpose I don’t at all need continuous information from all the senses. I just need to know what’s happening now. Which sense identifies it is totally irrelevant. In the human system it’s the ear that notifies us of a change in the environment. We hear that something is moving and movement is a change I need to analyse. The movement of the air that we refer to as sound betrays the event and the eye is then sent to see if it is a dangerous event. If the continuous optical information corresponds to archive material about danger there is a decision to run like mad. That’s about it actually. We know that an event has to send out distinct signals. If our brain assesses them correctly we survive.

As a filmmaker I work with impressions for the eye and the ear and construct with them my audio-visual metaphors. I articulate between image and sound. The simultaneous presence of synchronic image and sound events, as they occur in nature, is superfluous to understanding a situation. E. g. when I see the sniper thrown back by the recoil from his rifle I don’t need to hear the shot in order to represent it, I can simply use the image of the shot and add another sound event; in the case of my film the blasé “so” made by the hunter writing his diary. He hasn’t shot the animal because he needs to eat it but simply as a trophy, for later on, to show his business friends. He doesn’t write full of enthusiasm “I shot a gazelle!”, but rather asks himself casually: “So now, what have I shot this time.” In the film, which the viewer correctly regards as reality, she sees the shot and hears the word “so” at the same time. At the same time she experiences both the death of a living creature and the boredom of its killer.

With simple juxtapositions of images and sound I construct credible, artificial, natural events that the viewer interprets as real occurrences.

CR: Wonderful. But I want to pose another question about the women in Our Trip to Africa. They are after all very present in the film.

PK: The women are always there, the object of sexual desire, which is a human duty from the point of view of evolution. During the trip I could sense that the men in the group desired these naked women, who are naked in a completely different sense for us than for the men in their own culture, desired them and wanted to possess them. Since they didn’t manage to get them their desire expressed itself in the hunt. They desired these haughty women and they fired at the animals. The women in our group also desired the naked Sudanese and they fired too. I shot with the camera. I put myself in their position and filmed as though I were a traveller with rifle. And as though I saw the world as they did.