Alphaville Videoteca

INDEX #010: Lisl Ponger - Travelling Light (1996-2004)

Austria. Experimental. 60 minutos
Título Original: INDEX #010: Lisl Ponger - Travelling Light
Director: Lisl Ponger
Intérpretes:
Formato: DVD  Calidad: DVD
Idioma: Alemán   Subtítulos: Inglés

Lisl Ponger´s photographic and cinematic work investigates the circumstances of places and their territorial occupation by the camera, the acquisation of images, the function of photographic and cinematic representation, and the presentation of cultural values. Her works are characterized by that which is no longer present, which refers to that which is already absent. This is a latent component of each of her images and at the same time the particular political stance of her works. (Amine Haase)

»Almost all of Ponger’s films is concerned in some way with travelling. The sequences, from almost every country in the world, maintain their documentary nature even after the editing and re-working process. The end product, however, is never just about surfaces or recording events. Ponger makes use of structure and poetic associative montage so as to raise questions as to the nature of film itself or the function photographic or filmic representation has in reflecting and propagating cultural values.« Tim Sharp
»This is probably how documentary features should be in the new millennium.« (Imdb.com)

Passagen [1996]

Travelling Shots - Notes on the films by Lisl Ponger

Viewing Lisl Ponger’s films, one might be tempted to ask, as Lewis Carroll’s Alice once did, ‘’...but I wonder what Latitude and Longitude I’ve got to?’’ Almost all of Ponger’s films and indeed, most of her photographic work, is concerned in some way with travelling. The sequences, from almost every country in the world, maintain their documentary nature even after the editing and re-working process. The end product, however, is never just about surfaces or recording events. Ponger makes use of structure and poetic associative montage so as to raise questions as to the nature of film itself or the function photographic or filmic representation has in reflecting and propagating cultural values.

In Passagen [1996] the normality of the travel memories slowly begin to take on another dimension when we concentrate on the sound track. These accounts begin in Vienna. What is being described are individual stories of forced Jewish emigration from Austria, refugees fleeing from Nazi terror. The travelogue-like accounts coolly welded to family films of journeys taken for excitement and pleasure makes the private public and the public familial. It engenders a claustrophobic horror in the mind. But there is no respite.

As the pictures wander the exotic places of the world they have become tainted with the knowledge from the sound-track, the sensual pleasure freezes. At the point when you should be relieved at the escapes you remember those who didn’t. At the same time you realise that there are other stories of flights from imprisonment and torture woven in and on their way back to Vienna. This time they are told by immigrants seeking safety in the West. Specifically in Vienna.

From the beginning, as the images of déjà vu [1999] begin to parade across the screen, the viewer is seduced into their foreign but nonetheless eerily familiar flow. As with Passagen, these are documentary sequences of places and people but also of our longing for distant lands, colourful events and the 1001 star-pierced tropical nights which no camera can ever capture. It is perhaps only in retrospect that awareness dawns; that the film, consisting of amateur footage, is an archive of collective Western clichés of exotic Otherness. Geographical nonsense now dancing to another tune. These sequences may have been shot in all innocence but it is the innocence of unconscious complicity in Western cultural assumptions.

At the outset of the film, the sound effects work together with the images, enhancing their documentary character and colluding with the quasi-narrative flow. The courtship does not last very long. It is punctured in many places by something approaching unsettling irony. An example is the shot from the railing of a ship ploughing through southern seas. Sacred choral music wells up from the soundtrack. It has an emotional impact that sends a shiver down your spine. At the same time as it functions as ‘film music’, it has a narrative function and communicates significant information. The associations are manifold. ‘Big ships’ have visited these waters for hundreds of years, bringing Columbus, Cortez and Cook, but always bringing the missionary word and often the vessels of gun-boat diplomacy in their wake.

These correspondences occur frequently enough to be significant, and, in view of the rest of the sound track, act as life belts to be ignored at your peril because the second layer has a strong undertow. Real people telling true stories in a variety of languages and, as Bob Dylan would say, ‘something is happening, but you don’t know what it is’. The effect is such that it appears that part of the soundtrack has made a unilateral declaration of independence. It hasn’t, instead it is hung like a curtain, making numerous points of contacts to what is happening on screen.

There are eleven native languages in déjà vu, each reflecting a distinctive way of thinking and the cultural assumptions of those who speak them. Viewed historically, some of those languages (English, French, German, Portuguese) represent major export items - spreading the word with missionary zeal in the interest of the politics of power, economic efficiency and cultural presumption. In this post-colonial era we are still only half aware of the hierarchies which language creates. It is also worth considering the physical environment in which one watches the film. We are (willing) prisoners captured by flickering images. The soundtrack, however, turns us temporarily into colonial subjects. Fixed firmly in your seat you can escape neither the desire to understand, nor the improbability of having mastered eleven languages. This linguistic helplessness, coupled with possible annoyance or frustration, creates an emotional counterpoint to the seductive nature of the images and reproduces on a small scale the feelings of puzzlement and powerlessness which is the daily fare of the colonised.

By refusing to use sub-titles déjà vu sails dangerous waters, but it never pretends innocence nor allows itself to be categorised. It simultaneously negates and confirms categories - narrative, experimental and documentary. Its centre of gravity is an issue - the way we structure what we see as knowledge in relation to other cultures and the way those structures, in turn, determine what we see. It is an invitation to dance between paradigms and like all good travel stories, the memory lingers.  - Tim Sharp 2000

Phantom Foreign Vienna (2004) is a configuration of works - a book, a photo series and a film, which confronts various aspects of immigration.
While on a multi-cultural journey round the world in the years 1991 and 1992 during which she never left the city of Vienna, Lisl Ponger meticulously collected Super-8 sequences of celebrations, weddings and dances. The initial concern was with making visible the cultural multiplicity which, from the point of view of their public presence in the city, simply didn’t exist. The return - a good ten years later - calls exactly that act of visualization into question. "What am I really seeing?" asks the commentary, spoken by Ponger herself. But it is not only that which makes it clear how conscious the film is with regard to the problems of how ethnicity is treated.

It appears that in every act of ‘making visible’ there is a simultaneous and inevitable tendency to capture the flee(t)ing and diasporic in fixed, stereotypical imagery as well.
In the process Ponger stages things on a number of ambiguous levels simultaneously. In the form of diary entries she shows that her encounter with the ‘multi-culti’ Vienna of the early Nineties as profoundly subjective. Right from the beginning every form of objective classification is rejected.

The project (originally titled Fremdes Wien (1992)) was a book and a series of photographs for exhibition. It was motivated by the invisibility of immigrant communities in Vienna. True, they were present in the media, but always as an issue defined and discussed as a ‘problem’ by the majority of the population, in this case, Austrians and almost always, therefore in a negative light. It meant, quite simply, that the immigrant communities rarely, if ever, were able to talk for themselves. They were talked about. The project gave the people depicted a platform to say what they wanted and the photographs, taken from blown up single super 8 film frames, made an attempt at avoiding sharply-focused, cliché images of cultural representatives in traditional costume.
Looked at in retrospect, the work is only partly successful and it was this realization that led to Phantom Foreign Vienna.

http://lislponger.com/imaginative/htm/001/page-e.htm

Lisl Ponger born in Nuremberg, Alemania, in 1947.
Her politically motivated work continues to investigate issues of colonialism, ethnology, ideology, and constructions of identity.

Works included:

PASSAGEN 1996, 11 min
DÉJÀ VU 1999, 22 min
PHANTOM FOREIGN VIENNA 2004, 27 min
Total duration: 60 min.