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Guerin, Frances and Eisenberg, Daniel (2012) Archives and Images as Repositories of Time,
Language, and Forms from the Past: A Conversation with Daniel Eisenberg. The Moving Image,
12 (1). pp. 112-118. ISSN 1542-4235.

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FORUM 113

archivist, Lampert is an artist whose lms, Characteristic of Eisenbergs lms from


videos, and performances have been screened the twenty years spanned by the four that are
at museums, festivals, and arts venues across the focus of both the recent anthology and
North America, Europe, and Russia. the DVD, each turns to the archive in search of
Joel Schlemowitz is a Brooklyn-based material to interrogate, recast, and perpetuate
experimental lmmaker whose work has shown a host of otherwise unresolved relationships:
in the MoMA Cinemaprobe series, the New York between past and present; between genera-
Film Festival, and the Tribeca Film Festival. tions, continents, political systems; between
He has taught lmmaking at the New School the personal and the private; and between dif-
since 1996. ferent media. All of Eisenbergs lms embrace
the breadth of formal experimentation oered
Notes by the medium of cinema. And simultaneously,
This interview has been edited for clarity and through their dense weave of moving and still
length. images, literary and philosophical quotations,
1. William C. Wees, Recycled Images (New York: sound and silence, the lms oer a concep-
Anthology Film Archives, 1993), 57. tual and historical richness that challenges
2. A very special series of lms screened on their viewers to rethink the grand historical
a repertory basis, the Essential Cinema Reper- narratives that have propelled the twentieth
tory collection consists of 110 programs/330 into the twenty-rst century. Eisenbergs is
titles assembled in 197075 by Anthologys an intellectual cinema whose concerns cross
Film Selection Committee: James Broughton, continents and generations, all the time main-
Ken Kelman, Peter Kubelka, P. Adams Sitney, taining a deep commitment to history and the
and Jonas Mekas. Anthology Film Archives, world beyond the lms themselves.
About/Essential Cinema, http://www.anthol- Daniel Eisenberg lives and works in Chi-
ogylmarchives.org/about/essential-cinema. cago and is professor of lm/video/new media
and of visual and critical studies at the School
of the Art Institute of Chicago. Copies in 16mm
Archives and Images as of Eisenbergs lms are available through Can-
yon Cinema, San Francisco; Light Cone, Paris;
Repositories of Time, Freunde Der Deutschen Kinemathek, Berlin;
and Daniel Eisenberg Films. Digital video and
Language, and Forms DVDs are available through the Video Data
from the Past Bank, Chicago, and Daniel Eisenberg Films.
This conversation with Daniel Eisenberg
A Conversation with takes up and takes o from the issues raised in
Daniel Eisenberg Postwar as they engage with the relationships
that emerge between the lmmaker, his lms,
F R A N CES G U E R I N and the archive. The book is a creative venture
that sits side by side with, rather than as a
Daniel Eisenberg was born in Israel in 1954 denitive interpretation or closed theoretical
to Holocaust survivors. In the late 1950s, his analysis of, Eisenbergs lms. The conversation
family immigrated to the United States, where took place on March 17, 2011, between Paris
he has been making experimental lms for over and Chicago, and it was recorded in London.2
thirty years. Black Dog recently published the
rst major critical study of his lms, Postwar: frances guerin (fg): I was struck by how
The Films of Daniel Eisenberg.1 To accompany the authors in Postwar consistently place your
the publication of the book, Video Data Bank lms within often very dierent historical tra-
Chicago has produced a DVD box set titled jectories of the avant-garde and other forms.
Postwar. It will include the lms Displaced One trajectory that is not mentioned, one that I
Person (1981),Cooperation of Parts (1987), see your work converse with, especially as it re-
Persistence (1997), and Something More Than lates to the love of the archive, is the work of Jo-
Night (2003). seph Cornell. Particularly, I see the relationship
FORUM 114

to Cornells building on the surrealist wont to the life of archival objects. Objects, images,
appropriate (from archives or dustbins) and to and information that are kept from us, hidden
take on the object as its own. from view, and then as the lmmaker, the artist,
daniel eisenberg (de): There are a lot of the archeologist, you come along and expose
connections to Cornell. Growing up in Queens, them. This process of exposure is a process of
New York, I probably lived ten blocks from him. nding what is in between, of revealing what
He was very well known in the neighborhood is not said, the silences of history.
as the crazy artist. I went to Binghamton and de: I see that more as a process that is
studied there, and of course, Ken Jacobs was like a stamping machine that stamps out an
there, and he and Jack Smith made pilgrimages object for use. What remains from the stamp-
out to Utopia Parkway to see Cornell. Cornell ing process is then saved as part of the stu
in his cryptic way would engage them in their that is produced from the process. Oftentimes
collaborative projects. And of course, Cornell is I am more interested in that, in what is left
probably the most accessible to Americans as over, the excess. This is more the overlooked
a romantic surrealist. Hes not really a classical than the secretive. Because the images that
surrealist in that he didnt have a larger social are normally used from the archive are almost
project, but he superimposes the romantic always motivated by some kind of narrative,
dream state onto the techniques of surreal- driven by a narrative production. And when you
ism. And he indulges the archive in that way. come across something that is somehow freed
His personal archive and his love for the from these narrative constraints, all of a sudden
cinema is then processed through many of it has many dierent new meanings attached
these techniques, through collage, through to it. And I nd those images really exhilarat-
parataxis, these are the kinds of forms through ing, because they exist in a presentnessa
which collisions occur. His archive also resides context that can only be produced at the mo-
in personal memories, and in the lms and the ment of their apprehension, which the other
boxes, their sense of space, of interior space, material cant possibly produce because of
and the way his personal memory of childhood its overdetermination. You somehow enter
reaches out to popular culture as well. From them through the present, whereas most of the
Rose Hobart (1936) on, there is a deep interplay narrative-driven images can be only accessed
between the personal and popular. through a reference to the past.
fg: Whereas in your lms, there is an fg: But there are images that you use that
interplay between the personal and the histori- are anything but overlooked. How would you
cal, grand history. see the images of the concentration camps, the
de: Exactly. And in that way, there is a gates at AuschwitzBirkenau, Hitler at the Eiel
parallel: there are things that are accessible Tower? How are these images overlooked?
to all, there are things that are not that then They have been so overnarrativized.
become touchstones for parallel kinds of pri- de: Right. Well, if I am producing them,
vate experiences. then all of a sudden it is a dierent kind of ar-
fg: Which raises the whole idea of secrets. chive. My presence there is very much a kind of
Cornells work is so much about secrets. inscription that counters the archival. If you are
de: I feel less of an anity to the world of talking about the images of Hitler in Displaced
secrecy, and in Cornells sense of the world, Person, the whole point is to free those images
there is a lot of sexuality built in. When you so they can be seen in a dierent way. Its a
say secrets, it leads me to think of what is linguistic exercise and formal exercise of lm
and what is not known, what can and cannot language: once they are put into my lm narra-
be known, and ways of exploring those things tive, using a new lm language, the bonds that
through the archival. we normally associate with those images are
fg: I was also thinking about this notion freed, and we see them dierently. I am very
of the secreted, something hiddenI am talk- conscious of the rhetoric of cinema, as you are.
ing about your workbut at the same time, And I am always trying to see an image for what
escapes through the crevices, in between the is behind all that rhetoric, to see what can be
juxtapositions. Somehow this is a mirroring of accessed from deeper strata that havent yet
FORUM 115

been accessed. One of the only ways to do that forms of cinema are capable of being reani-
is to mobilize some formal language that has mated in multiple ways, depending on the way
not been really used before. that the images are used. The archive is not
fg: So then what makes an image over- just a repository of images that have histori-
looked is not immediately present to the im- cal or indexical referents; it is a repository of
age? It can be hidden as well? Every image has language or of rhetorical forms from the past.
some level of the overlooked. Which is to say Take the use of the Signal Corps images
that the sense of what has been thrown away that used color lm for the rst time in 194546
is nevertheless in every image even when it is [Persistence]. The cameramenwho are in civil-
as produced and reproduced as those of Hitler ian life lmmakers from New York and Los Ange-
in Paristaken from Ophlss use of the images lesare completely aware of the fact that they
in The Sorrow and the Pity (1969), who in turn are using color lm for the rst time; I did not
took them from the archives? manipulate those images as you suggested.4 I
de: Yes. And in that case the optical print- did not. That was Kodachrome, and they were
er becomes the pointing device, the arbiter of quite aware of what it could do. So they were
meaning. Between the archive that collects and referencing classical landscape painting with
the optical printer that directs, the view [of the deep focus and very far perspective points.
overlooked] can be very highly specied. Lets I was able to use the originals, straight out
take that image of the woman handing owers of the camera. The archive had the originals,
to Hitler at the train station in Displaced Per- and many of the reels were shrunken. To print
son.3 The way the hands meet at the bouquet is them optically, I had to fashion a gate with
of interest to me. This has nothing at all to do smaller pins, and there was a lot of frame-by-
with the meaning of the shot except as an act frame work to get that footage to be stable.
of giving and taking. If we say, it has nothing But I was very keen on making sure that it was
to do with Hitler, it has everything to do with reproduced that way because thats the way
Hitler, it has everything to do with us, it has it was seen by the cameramen. And it com-
nothing to do with us. All of that combined municates something entirely dierent with
makes that image so powerfulit is set free by that density of color.
the language of lmic rearticulation. So if we They also reference other artistic forms.
read it as handing Hitler a bouquet, then it is All of the dierent thematics of Persistence are
framed. But if we read it as a woman giving a tightly wound around each other. Whether it is
man a bouquet of owers, then all of a sudden, a meditation on the archive or a meditation on
it reads so dierently. the monument or a meditation on observation,
fg: Can you tie this to what you said about we see the transition of an object from the
seeing the archive lmicly, through lmic or everyday to the archival to the museal. And in
cinematic language? How do you create the that particular moment [194546], just after an
new language that says this is not simply a event of historical rupture, all of those things
woman giving Hitler a bouquet? are so tightly wound that the lm becomes
de: In repetition, its simply a woman giv- prismaticeach subject reects a bit of the
ing a bouquet to a man; Hitler is out of the others: thats why those images of the ruined
frame ... at the same time hes never out of landscape in that beautiful color material echo
the frame. Lets put it this way. [Roberto] the Caspar David Friedrich paintings in the
Rossellini problematizes the dierentiation of gallery sequence.
narrative cinema and documentary cinema in fg: Which leads to the complicated lay-
the war trilogy and solves the problem three ering of time, and the relationships between
separate ways, actually multiple ways. I am times. There are so many dierent times at work
most interested in the way he solves it in Ger- in Persistence in the weaving together of visual
many Year Zero (1946). The whole point is to fragments, which then give over to the weaving
read narrative cinema as a document or to read together of times and dierent temporalities.
documentary cinema narratively. The archive de: And of course, each composition has
has all of those valences, its an archive of its own time. Not just the time of the compo-
language as well, and the dierent rhetorical sition but the ways in which compositional
FORUM 116

strategies are formed are very historically and isnt used, what is and isnt saved, and
marked as well. I am very aware of that. by whom. Its for others to dene somewhere
fg: Thats one thing I nd so exquisite down the line.
about the footage taken in the Stasi oce in fg: Is there a distinction between the role
Persistence: its temporality echoes the inertia of images in the creation of todays revolutions
of the East German system. Were you conscious and the role of written documents? As much
of that? as social media and cell phone images have
de: Well, I wasnt going for that metaphor, created revolutionsfrom Romania with the
though it isnt inappropriate. At that particular overturning of the Ceausescu regime to recent
moment in 1991, I believe I was the rst person events in Egypt and Tunisiadocuments from
to actually lm in those spaces. It was a very an archive, documents that didnt exist, but
intense experience. I certainly had the experi- documents nevertheless, brought us weapons
ence of going to places that were inanimate, of mass destruction [WOMD]. It was a war that
that had huge kinds of historical power, the was predicated on fabricated knowledge.5 Im-
power of site. Certainly the Stasi archive had ages create revolutions, but in the case of the
that, though there was a banality that the other most recent war in Iraq, written documents
places didnt have. Birkenau is not banal. It is create war and modern intelligence, even when
immense and incommensurate. But the Stasi they do not exist.
oces are reproduced thousands of times, de: There are lots of lapses in history, and
down the block and everywhere else, and its in certainly that was a huge one. That doesnt
fact the invisibility of the activity that occurred mean many of us werent demanding the im-
there that is so powerfully in friction with what ages and the evidence. Whether Colin Powell
you are seeing. So thats one reason why I su- steamrolls the United Nations into declaring
perimposed the endless sound of the telephone WOMD as being present in Iraq, I dont know
ringing in that space, as an insistence on the how much that has to do with the archive or
uncanny normalcy of the space. with image production as much as it does with
fg: Would you say that this supposed power, unalloyed power. Its just being mobi-
normalcy is a questioning of these bureau- lized there for whatever use.
cratic systems of observation that, in turn, fg: Dont these kinds of power need an
become a way of questioning the relationship archive, as you show in Persistence?
between your lms and the archives that they de: It doesnt need an archive; it needs a
come from? body of laws. Thats a kind of textual archive
de: Well, the regimes of observation are of course. Law is the place where language is
not lost on me. The archive depends on them dened and redened.
... in other words, in the past, what was visible fg: To come back to the question of the
was the product of either politically authorized reuse of the footage, the accidental frag-
or highly capitalized forms of observation. Film ments that become iconic images of particular
was not cheap. The people who controlled eventslike the Zapruder footage of John F.
it controlled either the means of production Kennedys assassinationcontinually escape
or the State. We are at a very dierent point the mechanisms and institutions of control.
in the history of moving imageswhere cell And the way that you redeploy the footage of
phones more likely produce the documents of Hitler or images of AuschwitzBirkenau does
history. I routinely trace this movement from the same thing. It ensures the lm itself con-
documents produced ocially to unocial stantly evades the mechanisms and institutions
documents to our present moment, when we of control.
can see everyday revolutions being mobilized de: Right, it slips. You can replay it over
by cell phones and social media. Its a much and over again, and each time you want to see
more democratic space of image production. something that you cant see, or conrm, or
So the question is, what constitutes the archive verify. And this is Nietzschean, and Freudian
today? Is it the Cloud? I dont know if this can because it does in fact register an event: we
be answered, except in the use of images. In want to keep replaying it over and over again to
the end, the archive is constituted by what is nd the moment that never occurs in real time.
FORUM 117

Because it doesnt occur in time, it occurs as a de: Well, the reason that I have that shot
concept of an event. is because I was working as an assistant editor
fg: Do you see the way you reuse the on a lm in New York called America Lost and
iconic footage as doing thataccentuating Found (1978), and I was dealing with archival
the nonexistence of the moment? materials every day. It was another one of those
de: Yes, I think the images are pointers shots that didnt make it into the cut because
to the irresolution of residue and events. They it had nothing to do with anything, and there
cant come together again, they cant reproduce it was, insisting.
the event. Because the event is constructed There was a moment of contact between
from so many dierent things. Because lm is those boys and the camera, and that moment
immaterial. So we keep replaying it over and of contact was extraordinary. In whatever way
over again, as a strategy against its immaterial- one can describe that, and I can only describe
ity. But it doesnt produce anything other than a it as a point of contact. There I was, watching
repetition of its immateriality. So I think the way this moment in time, and making contact with
I use archival images restates that problem. I these boys across the abyss of decades.
use the repeated archival lm images, lets say fg: Those two boys look so like the boy
in Displaced Person, in multiple contexts that in Germany Year Zero, and this resonates with
always, in the end, point to the way that every Cooperation of Parts.
repetition or every return can be seen from a de: They are all of the same time ... but as
dierent perspective, and so it can then be someone who spent a lot of my own childhood
interpreted dierently. When you see an im- on a bicycle, I was superimposing all kinds of
age in relation to other materials, it produces meanings on the images. Not autobiographical,
dierent meanings, and the accumulation of but the sense of a bicycle as a magical object.
meaning then constitutes another event. The material has its own signature. We all
fg: Which extends to the meanings cre- know, when we see it, when it was produced,
ated by the spectator? For example, as he says how it was produced, so we are brought back
in his contribution to Postwar, the footage of to the time of our own experience of those im-
the young boys on the bike create Raymond ages in our own history. They are very hypnotic
Bellours memories of wartime France thanks ... they really produce a moment in time. And
to its juxtaposition with other material within again, its a combination of the ephemeral,
Displaced Person. And yet that footage came the material, the peripherality of what is being
from an archive in Chicago. seen, all of those things accumulate into that
de: No, it came from an archive in New particular way of transporting it.
York. I was in New York at the time, 1976. It fg: And thats the magic of lm as a me-
came from an American newsreel company from dium. I think thats one of the primary tasks of
New Jersey. It was one of those crazy things at experimental lm: to explore what cannot be
the end of the newsreel. There was the news replicated in other media. And the strategies
of the day, then sporting events, and at the of exploration are placed in the foreground of
very end, a human interest item. This one was the image, in the soundimage relations, or in
called Everybodys Doing It. The it is play- your work, the textimage relations.
ing paddleball. You can barely see iteveryone de: Theres something about working in
in the frame has a paddle with a ball attached an experimental manner that means that you
to it with a rubber string. And in the middle of dont have a teleology, you dont have an end
this stupid story, there is this one shot of the point, a goal for the material or for the work.
two boys on the bicycle. And when I saw it, I You are moving with it, you are exploring,
dont know what happened. Something about uncovering, deeply involved in that process
the way they were looking at the camera, and yourself. And the reason to do it is to share
the way the camera followed them, had this it with somebody else. Thats the point. Its
enormous power. I became obsessed with that not to specify the end point where you want
image; I kept wanting to see it again and again. someone to go, its to have someone go on
And that was the beginning of the lm. that ride with you. And so the work is really
fg: So the lm was begun by accident? constructed to have the viewer take the journey
FORUM 118

along with you, of destabilizing both cinema picture you oer of the present moment, that
and language in such a way that things become nevertheless expresses some form of hope.
very much alive again. de: The idea that we can live in the post-
fg: Again, this resonates with Cornell, war is a rethinking of the term because postwar
his sheer love of lm and celebration of the in the past was that moment of destruction
medium. Your lms are not celebratory so to when the world had to rebuild social institu-
speak, but there is a reveling in the possibilities tions, rebuild condence, rebuild a sense of
of the image. There are also moments when the the future. After 9/11, in our present condition
images (as in Cornells lms) become romantic; of endless, eternal war, if we can recast the
even if they are someone elses images, they postwar as that moment when we can think
are romantic within your narratives. again in that way, then it can be a utopian
de: Yes, well, certainly in Displaced Per- conceptwhere we can think again about a
son it is undeniable because its about the way future that is not just about the next impending
those compositions are formed. And I was ex- catastrophe or the next setback.
ploring the political relationship of those com- fg: Does this potentially echo what you
positions to desire, or how desire is produced are doing with your lms and their relationship
politically. So yes, I was very much exploring to the archive, your lms as a place where the
the regimes of the romantic image in that lm. past is recast and rebuilt for the future?
In Cooperation of Parts, I dont think that de: I cant make that parallel structure,
is particularly the case, it is really hard on as my new work deals less with the archive
the eyes. Theres a lot of camera movement and much more with these other issues. But
going on ... and intentionally so. Its about Persistence is also about producing images
an unstable image. Persistence returns to this for the archive. The cycle between Displaced
idea of the primacy of composition. Id like to Person, Cooperation of Parts, and Persistence
point to the last sequence in Persistence shot in begins with the archival image. Everything in
Berlins Marx-Engels-Platz, titled The German Displaced Person has a source outside of my
Question ... There are school kids taking the own production and ends in Persistence, with
picture of the Marx and Engels monument. And my camera hopefully producing images for
on the plinth of the monument, theres grati someone else in some future. Those images
thats been spray painted that says wir sind will hopefully be used again elsewhere out of
unschuldig [we are not guilty], which is also context and in new contexts. Thats the hope
what they [the Nazis] said at the Nuremberg for the future.
trials. The lm then cuts to the verso of the fg: We have a responsibility to remember,
monument, and the plinth has been painted and the culling from the archive in your lms
beim nchsten Mal wird alles besser [next is a way of doing that, creating that possibility
time everything will be better]. And there is this for memory in the future. Enabling the viewer
older couple taking a picture. The entire lm is to have a relationship with history, however
really about preparing the viewer to be able to vast it is. So there is a sense that 9/11 changes
read those two images, that one monument, the landscape of how we see the world. At
from front and back, with all thats going on least, this is what your lms are asking: that,
around it, in all its depth. So thats what the through their relationship to the archive and
lm is trying to do. So you can read the world the past, we will ourselves remember our own
with all of that history and association attached relationship to the past.
to it, including the two historical lmed gures de: I can see that, certainly. Every impor-
from the rear, facing east toward the Soviet tant event that requires a reinterpretation of
Union, and within the lm, its reference to the present is also important for any archive.
Caspar David Friederichs Rckenguren [liter- I see what you are saying: that our personal
ally translated as Figures Seen from Behind].6 experience of the past is reanimated, brought
fg: Leading on from this interweaving back to life and to reconsideration, so that the
of times and histories, I wanted to ask you past can be read with a very dierent set of
about your postscript to Postwar and the bleak possibilities. The past still has possibilities.
FORUM 119

Daniel Eisenberg has been making lms and hands Hitler a bunch of owers through a train
videos since 1976. His lms have been screened window. Other women are eager to shake his
throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, hand. Each repetition of the seconds-long frag-
with solo exhibitions at MoMA, New York City; ment is slightly dierent from the next: in long
at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and in shot; in close-up, focusing on the exchange
festivals such as the Berlin Film Festival, the of the owers; overexposed. The images are
Sydney Film Festival, the London Film Festival, overlain with an equally fragmented sound
and FIDMarseille. Eisenbergs lms have won track: a Beethoven string quartet, a radio lec-
numerous awards, fellowships, and honors, ture by Claude Lvi-Strauss. The images and
including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow- texts move lyrically, guided by Beethoven, from
ship and a DAAD Berliner Knstlerprogramm the train station to occupied Paris to the boys
Fellowship. He has also researched and edited on the bike. Through that movement created
documentaries for National Public Television, via the formal manipulations of editing and
including Eyes on the Prize: Americas Civil printing, the image meaning shifts in unex-
Rights Years and Vietnam: A Television History. pected ways.
Eisenberg lives and works in Chicago and is a 4. Eisenberg here refers to an earlier conversa-
professor in the Departments of Film/Video/ tion in which I had assumed that he manipu-
New Media/Animation and Visual and Critical lated the images due to the brightness and
Studies at the School of the Art Institute of clarity of the color. My knowledge of images
Chicago. from this period is almost entirely based on
Frances Guerin is a lecturer in lm studies Agfacolor footage in German archives, which,
at University of Kent, Canterbury. She is the due to the dierent color base of the stock, not
author of A Culture of Light: Cinema and Tech- only behaved dierently but has deteriorated
nology in 1920s Germany (2005) and Through in surprisingly dierent ways.
Amateur Eyes: Film and Photography in Nazi 5. In 2003, the governments of the United
Germany (2011). She is coeditor of The Im- States and the United Kingdom claimed that
age and the Witness: Trauma, Memory and Saddam Hussein attempted to purchase nu-
Visual Culture (2007). Her book The Truth Is clear material from Niger to make what they
Always Grey: From Grisaille to Gerhard Richter termed weapons of mass destruction. Their
is forthcoming. Her articles have appeared in claim was based on documents that did not ex-
international journals, including Cinema Jour- ist but nevertheless provided the justication
nal, Screening the Past, and Film and History. for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Her work in progress includes Industrial Views: 6. In his most well known paintings, such as
Art, Industry, and Identity in the Ruhr Valley. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) or Two
Men Contemplating the Moon (1830), the Ger-
Notes man romantic painter Casper David Friedrich
1. Jerey Skoller, ed., Postwar: The Films of painted human visionaries in the distance,
Daniel Eisenberg (London: Black Dog, 2010). from behind, as they contemplated the natural
2. Thanks to Heather Green for her orchestra- landscape at dusk or daybreak. The gesture
tion of this technical feat. accentuates our own blindness to their insights
3. A repeated image in Displaced Person shows and thus the loss of historical consciousness
a fragment in which a woman on the platform to our own nite vision.

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