Still Life (1997) - full transcript

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STILL LIFE

by
HARUN FAROCKI

This is a precursor of a Still Life.

People and animals can be seen in the painting.

But the majority of the picture is taken up by inanimate things

these cucumbers, grapes, melons.

Historians have taken these paintings as sources
through which they can determine what food was available

in the sixteenth century Netherlands.

Art historians have discovered,
from examining written sources,

whether such cucumbers, grapes and melons were present in the marketplaces of the Netherlands in the sixteenth century.

Archaeologists have researched the remains
of sixteenth century compost heaps



to determine precisely which of the fruit and vegetables
that decorate these pictures would have been present at the time.

Only recently, art historians have been able to make comparisons

between the results of this modern archaeology and the paintings themselves.

After four hundred years the question remains
as to how one should understand these objects.

What is this all about?
These inanimate objects taking pride of place in these images?

Does this lead us somehow to the things themselves?
At least upon first interpretation.

The Farmer's hands want to hold sway over the produce

but the human forms seem to be pushed into the background.

If one reads this painting as people today read advertising images,

it seems to say that the mound of produce
might culminate in the pleasure of an embrace,

that one must eat their way through the mound
in order to achieve pleasure.

From these details we can see
how the inanimate goods claim the foreground,

pushing the religious imagery to the background.

If one reads this painting as people today read advertising images,



they would be given to understand

that the commodities obscure the view unto the religious scene.

Here, the flight into Egypt.

At the front,

pig's ears.

One might also read, that although the produce takes pride of place in the painting,
there remains a window held open on to the religious imagery.

Painting,
first in Flanders and the Netherlands,

turned away from religious imagery so as not to lower its sacred character.

Painting did not want to diminish the sacred and so struggled to avoid this through an elevation of the everyday.

Painting does not want to humanise the divine, yet the inverse can happen: that man-made objects become deified by painting.

The inconceivable should not be represented with false images, and so it can occur that human creations are themselves converted to the inconceivable.

This Still Life brings together and an orange blossom and different fruits at various stages of ripeness.

International trade and new agricultural techniques
make it possible for these things to be present alongside one another.

The temporal order of nature

is suspended.

The unripe and ripe fruit

are, together, an expression of ephemerality and the brevity of life.

These fish are placed in a cross,

a sign of the crucifixion.

And the fish itself is one of the many names of Jesus.

A nut can also be understood an allegory:

A soft sweet kernel within, representing the Son of God
and the hard wooden shell, his cross.

Around the peak time for Still Life painting in the 17th century, arrived the modern natural sciences.

The scientists attempted to avoid symbolic and allegorical expressions, leaving such things instead to the alchemists.

The figurative arts found it difficult to completely abandon allegory and symbolism -

or other such interpretations.

Still after centuries, these objects in the paintings appear as though they were the ciphers of some secret language.

As if they were ciphers of some hidden code - a code that does not want to be recognised as such, and so its signs appear as non-signs.

A drinking vessel as drinking vessel.

Bread as bread.

The background will bother me for sure.

Let's put that over here.

It isn't level.

Maybe we should fasten down the leg.
- No.

We need something small
to use as a base.

That's good, so we can move it around.

That was a good decision.

Won't that look a little strange?

It seems to work.

It isn't wide enough.

We still have it a little too high.

The whole thing
will be a little too high.

l think it's a little too high,

but it's not a problem.

Here it should be
a little more slanted.

This is almost right.

Not bad.

The size is right, isn't it?
- Yes.

And the board looks really good.

For this version,
which is the most important one,

l wouldn't add anything else.

l would. I'd add something.

The round Four me would be good.
- Or the Camembert.

l saw it. It fits really well!
But it isn't as high.

And here l would add a pretty big piece.

It has to seem inhabited.

And here maybe we could add something.

That looks even more real.

It can't turn
into a huge cheese platter,

but it still has to look plentiful.

lf we just do this,

then it'll be
just the same as last year:

A ''Butterfly'' cheese
that's too obvious.

You shouldn't see it
until the second glance.

Actually, last year
we didn't have any element

that didn't fit
the form of the ''Butterfly.''

this year people should have
to look for it a little longer.

Yes, like in children's books,
when it says:

''There is a butterfly hidden
in the picture. Can you find it?''

We'll give it
approximately this angle.

Not too wide.
That's too much.

This thing sure is sharp!

That big?
- Yes. Don't you think it's good?

Yes, this really is a pretty piece.

Come on. Cut it.

Try to cut it.

This piece is really high.

Let's take a little off the bottom.

Yes, l think so too.
Even though the bottom is nice.

Yes, but you don't see it.

It's actually better if
we take a little off the bottom.

So we should
take some off the back.

And leave the front as is.

But then this edge
won't be vertical anymore.

This looks good too.
- Well...

It does look good, doesn't it?
- Yes, you're right.

Do you want to look through the camera?

No, I’m sure it's how l told you.

Yes, it's straight.

Okay, let's
cut off a centimeter.

A good centimeter.

Maybe you should
open up the angle a little more.

Yes, I’ve been
looking at it for a while.

Yes...

We shouldn't open it up too wide.

Or else cut off a little more.
Maybe it's too high.

No, open it up more. You're right.

Maybe it really is too high.

Not really. Look.

Not bad.
- No. Don't you agree?

It isn't centered.

l have to take away
a little light here,

and add a little there.

That's nice. Very, very nice.

That sticks out too much.

That's nice and round.

The wood looks okay.

Here it needs a little more light,

in order to bring out the contours more.

Or put a reflector above it.

It can't come to a point here.

This one can be pointed,
but this one should be square.

This way we can
practically keep this light.

It doesn't work with the Camembert.

This works really well.
This is okay; this too.

l insist. Let's do it,

and then we have a finished picture!

Let's take out the Camembert
that's been annoying us.

Imagine the picture like this.

Without the Camembert.
- Exactly.

They've bothered me from the
outset. I’d leave them both out.

Here we have a nice cheese platter,
with a ''Butterfly.''

l don't know. I’m not sure.

You're right. You see the
eye-catching element right away.

Maybe we should move in closer.

We saw it on the big Ektachrome.

You always tend to go in closer.

It’s good that we
cut the board in front,

so there's only one leg.

This way we have
the best part of the platter.

What if we put
something in the back?

In the back?
Where we put something before?

lf we add a blue cheese...

Here, and maybe...

We had agreed to cut it there.
Should we do it?

No, no.

No, l can't see anything.

Don't you see it?

No, you have to take it out all the way.

and turn it a tiny bit.

Exactly. lf necessary,
we could even cut it.

That might look really good.

It breaks up the image a little.

On the other side
- the light side -

we could add the other cheese.
That looks good.

That's good. It extends
out too far, but it's good.

It sticks out a bit too far.
- But it looks good.

Well, turn it inward a little more...

l mean outward, sorry!

It still extends out too far.
- l don't have enough room.

We can trim it down later.

We'll cut it down. Look.

Besides, it breaks up the image.

Every single time.
- Strange.

Actually, there should
be nothing on the sides.

Too bad, the picture won't be so rich.

That isn't necessarily bad.

We want to sell
a pretty picture with food,

and with a ''butterfly''
to catch your eye.

At first it was just too much

with these two big wings.
That didn't work.

That's it!

Voila!

l think it's okay.
It’s fine.

Except for this piece, maybe.

It should point like this...

On the other side.
- Yes.

What are you doing?

It wasn't in line with the rest.

Now it's a little too much...

You just have to fasten it down.

Like this?
- Yes, that's good!

Shouldn't we put
something behind the Cantal?

l don't think so.

Let's do one like this.
Did you have a look?

Let's do a standard one.
- Okay.

That's good.

You shouldn't be able
to see any of the background.

The lower part is good.

Let's not change anything else.

The picture is good.

Do you want a magnifying glass?
- I’ll get one.

Objects in relation to other objects.

Objects placed together in a composition.

The idea seems to indicate that such things could form their own system -

their relations with one another forming rules that culminate in something like a language.

This language is created by humans, and requires as much study as would a natural system.

But there are no rules of syntax to express these things,

the character of objects neither precedes nor follows.

Unlike words, the properties of objects are inscribed, not ascribed.

As with words, we do not know how these adhere to them.

Do these properties cling like an odor after being soaked in a preservative?

Or do they radiate out from the objects like a magnetic field?

Objects enclose their properties within themselves -

they embody them.

The grape - matte.

The metal jug - greasy.

The cheese - crumbly.

There is a continuum between material and idea.

The figurative arts operate in the vicinity of alchemy.

Alchemy strives after the irreducible qualities of a thing.

In the alchemical view, Gold is a combination of yellowness,

specific weight,

flexibility, malleability,

and so on.

If one could induce an element that embodied all these qualities, one would have gold.

In the seventeenth century, during the height of Still Life painting, arrived the modern natural sciences.

Their discoveries would become the basis for an immense profusion of new objects.

For every need, for every distress, a new object shall provide the remedy.

Just as each age has its own kind of divinity.

The new natural sciences abandoned their attempts to produce gold...

...but art did not.

It sought after truth in appearances.

l could imagine...

A simple pane of glass,

where three glasses
could stand like this.

with a width
of 20 centimeters, or 30...

At the edge of the glass...
- The base would have to be cut.

Yes, definitely.

Push them a little more to the center,

there, where the left glass is.

Move the other two to the left.
A bit more, more...

and stop.

The middle one
is right behind the glass.

Out a little more,
little more, more, and stop.

So now we have the
three glasses standing there.

You know what l think would look
good? lf we fill them with beer.

Then l can better
imagine the formal aspects.

We need another
little lamp in back, right?

Jenny, could you
get out from in back there?

Exactly. - Is that enough?
- A little more. Stop.

Yes, that looks really nice.

Scan with the light a little.
A few more millimeters.

Yes, up a little, down a little.

Just a little.

Stop!

The position is nicer
like that. That's good.

Great!

No, a little more.

A little more...
more... more... more. Stop.

It has a leak.
We'll have to check it out.

Yeah! Now it's
starting to get better!

l think it would look good if
right around here somewhere...

light would shine in the beer.
Know what l mean?

lf you could get
right in back there

with a small lamp
or spotlight, a small light...

Or a little mirror!
- Exactly!

That isn't bad at all, is it?
- It’s really good.

8, 9, 1 0...

That means ten
from a whole bottle?

Yes, well, you prepared
400 milliliters, right?

A whole bottle has 33 cl.

Yes, but it must be 400 if it
comes up to there. -Yes, almost.

Jenny, do we have a Polaroid in back?

Is it ready?

Yes. Perfect.

Yes, that must have been
just the right amount.

Let's see what the Polaroid says.

l don't know. Maybe we should
pull this glass out a little.

Should we separate them,
so they don't overlap?

But it's really nice
like that; it looks so natural.

It looks good just like that.
There's still some foam on top.

The only problem is maybe that
it ruins the form over here.

It might be clearer if you see the edge.

l might like that better,
because here it was different.

I’ll have another look.

We might have
to move it over just a little.

Which lens?

Look, Uwe.
- Yes?

l wouldn't ruin the outer
contour. I’d do it like this...

You mean of the beer glass?
- Yes, the one in front.

Would someone turn on
the spotlight in the back,

so l can see better
how l shape the beer foam?

Yes, that's better.

Yes! Not bad!

That's enough now.

l think this
is the best one so far.

Yes, it looks the freshest,
and the color of the beer too...

lf you cut it really close...
- ...the better it gets, right?

Yes, the better it gets, because...

l think the cut off things
look a little too static.

Yes, that doesn't mean it should
be done like that up here.

No, that's for sure.
You can't do it like that.

No, like this.
l would do something like this.

The closer the better.

Yes, though...
l like a little space too.

Yes, but l think...
don't you think it's too dark?

No, l don't think so.

You know what
l would do here, Uwe?

l would cache it.

The slides?
- Yes.

Well, not the whole...
l just like it better like that.

l like something like that.
l like that here a lot.

With the yellow
in the background,

I’m not so sure.
- Yeah, not so sure.

Yeah, l think it's too loud.

We can set it up simpler,
l was thinking the same thing...

before the test.

So, if it's
as high as you have it now,

then it looks
too artificial here.

l think you can
see it's been cut.

l think the edges have to be...

It needs to be
more refined, doesn't it?

Though if l could decide right now,

I’d go in really close.
l would see it like this.

l don't have to show the tap,
do l? Who cares about it?

The main thing is to know it's
there. We don't have to see it.

Yes, but the tap is important for them.

Yes, but it's just a tiny tube.
- Yes, l know that.

I’ve been thinking the whole time...

That's nice, too.
- Yes.

And l think
with the strong yellow color...

of cause you have
an unbelievingly warm beer.

That's great!
- That's it!

World Class!
- Yes, it's a great picture.

We do have a little space here.
- That's right.

That's still okay. It isn't
like you get the feeling that...

the thing is 20 meters long,
do you? - No, it looks okay.

l think it would be good if the foam
level in the glass were lower.

Then the glass wouldn't look so high.

Then maybe l could go like this,

and still have some white in there.

l also like it a lot here.
I’d like to take it like that.

We might even need a square format.

Then it would be perfect.

And if l go here with
the yellow, is that a problem?

No.

l think it looks
a little artificial up there.

lf you need a vertical picture...

then you'd go like this
anyway, and that's okay too.

Then it's a wonderful photograph.

Yes, like this.

But if you use this background
at the top, that's ridiculous.

It isn't done like that.

l think it's good
just like that. That's perfect.

And if we cache it as a vertical shot?

That's great.
- Yes, just right.

It’s great!

The word 'fetish' - originally a Portuguese term -
arrived in the Netherlands in the 17th century at the height of Still Life painting.

Sailors reported that along the African coasts there were cults
which worshipped arbitrarily chosen objects as divinities.

Fetishes - things which posses something divine that is beyond meaning.

Three centuries later in 1906 Marcell Mauss writes:

“The term 'fetish' must be definitively abandoned, it corresponds precisely to nothing.”

Thus it appears as if Europeans invented a religious practice
which, once separated from them, spread throughout their commercial empire.

But the word 'fetish' has returned and can haunt now every object.

The word 'fetish' denotes something that ought not to exist,
and yet in being so has a certain power -
it produces, for itself, new prestige.

Europeans, especially Protestants, rejected the idea
that any object could have come from divine power.

They surrounded themselves with an increasing amount of objects
and must have feared becoming pagans.

For these people, things should not have a faith value, but rather a market value.

How would one establish global trade based on faith?

Things must have a value that can be accounted for.

A selection of exotic fruits against Venetian glass.

Venetian glass beside a Chinese porcelain bowl,

and so on.

For trade these things must mean something,
not just be something.

Truth cannot be expected to show itself.

l like the angle
with the casing.

That too.

Maybe we should raise it a little.

l did it a bit too much here,

but l think it looks better

when it is turned inward.

The white background has to be visible.

Something in between, maybe.
- Yes, it's a little too much.

It was hard to see.

Now it's better.

Yes, it's much better now.

l like it better like this.

l like it.

l would like to make
a lighter print for Hugues,

so he can see it clearly;
it's a little too dark.

l like this whole part.

l like the lower part,
but l would emphasize it more.

By turning it like this?

Or the other way.
Roll it like a spiral.

Okay, and that comes over here.

l would leave it as is,
but highlight it more.

l would roll it like a spiral.
Turn it more toward us.

I’m afraid it seems
less pronounced like that.

This is better; that's for sure.

I’m not so sure.

l like the form.
- Do you like it better?

Yes, but there is something
else l don't like very much.

l think it is still a bit too long.

Is it possible
to pull it in a little tighter?

To push it together here,
or to shorten the distance?

Shorten this distance?
Or do you think it's too long over here?

No, that's good. l think that's good.

But you could pull it down.
It’s too long.

So you want me to lengthen this
and shorten that?

The wristband is better,

but l think
l should push it further back.

It looks a little broken like that.

You mean one hole farther up?

That's rolled much tighter.
- Yes, that's good.

Does it look broken to you?
- Yes, a little.

This is really somewhat baffling.

Now it looks like this.

l can also make it look like this,

but then it will seem smaller,
since it's farther away.

Wait. Let's compare these three.

And here's something else.
See how it points upward?

It’s a little broken.
Is it because of the leather?

Yes, it won't go away.

It’s good like that.

Should we do it?
- Yes.

Lower.

Higher.

Raise it in this direction.

Now lower it like this.

No, like this.

We did it this way, now this way.

It looks really impressive,
and the casing is very good.

Everything is in focus.

It looks good.

The only markings are actually

the little chronometers on it.

That is the only
marking except for the grain.

l like this picture a lot.

It is one of the most beautiful
pictures we have done recently.

And the casing is great, too,
and the angle worked out well.

Ultimately the objects testify to the existence of their producers,
whose work allows something of themselves to be revealed.

The producer however does not appear alongside their object.

If one keeps looking at these things,
the producer becomes unimaginable.

Observers will perceive
themselves as unimaginable.

This is the point of departure
for a new conception of the human.