Encounters in Columbus, Ohio
From September 1978 to June 1979, I was a professor in the cinema department in Columbus and also met Skip two or three times. But it was little more than brief small talk because I had never met him in Germany and his name only indistinctly meant something to me (per Helmut Herbst). My memory, at least, is extremely vague. In any case, he never came into the bar where I would go in the evening. And I’d also say that he was not studying film at the time, but English (or something else?). Can that be? It seems very unlikely to me that he was doing a PhD in the cinema department. I think they didn’t have a PhD program. Although there was enough intellectual potential going around with Ron Green and Thom Andersen, with whom I spent a lot of time back then, and also later with Noël Burch, who I helped get in the door for my job when I left—since one year in Ohio was enough for me. Most of the students were likely undergraduates.
Photograph by Skip Norman, c. 1982
Be that as it may: we weren’t so close as in the video that Gerd Conradt made with him on Cyprus (and that I just watched). Which I now regret because I also got to know Holger Meins for a few weeks in his early phase and Skip’s description of Holger’s openheartedness is accurate. He was obviously very observant and could describe things with nuance.
I can now recall how I first encountered him in Columbus. It was at the school and, in fact, at one of those dull meet-and-greet events. Yeah, he was sitting there. Which is why I initially thought he had an assistant teaching position in the documentary film section. Since it had extremely luxurious facilities: The entire department lived off of college football. College football: At Ohio State, that meant 100,000 spectators every week and there was a lot of money in it. Therefore, all of the games and all of the training sessions were filmed with 16mm cameras so that the trainer could optimize the plays using an analytic projector. To this end, a small film lab was even constructed where 16mm reversal could be processed night and day. Good for our students. There were 15 or more professors in the department, some with a misty Hollywood past—Robert Redford stopped by once when he was shooting Brubaker (1980) nearby. But also an Egyptian who, because I shared an office with him, at some pointed offered me a job in Tripoli under Gaddafi, although he had never seen any of my films. Well, with the rise of video, all of this probably disappeared. But in 1978, it was still going strong.
At this get-together, I joked around with Skip—Helmut Herbst, Bitomsky, Farocki, etc. etc.—and it consequently took me completely by surprise when he said that he didn’t have a job there but was in Columbus—to study! And I—this is why I remember this so well now—simply did not get why someone who had finished at the dffb and already directed multiple films, was then pursuing a silly BA in a subject that still sounded like nonsense to me at the time. Well, since then I’ve changed my opinion about visual anthropology, but I still remember that—shock. That someone who was over forty would begin such a degree. I myself was only 33 and did not yet have any feeling for urgently necessary strategies to ensure one’s existence.
Today, I think that he had understood that the dffb was useless for him in America, that it had led him down a one-way street, as nice as it had been. And that he saw more realistic chances in a new degree. It’s admirable, then, that he even managed to finance it all the way to a PhD.
From e-mails from August 27 and 29, 2020
Translated by Ted Fendt. German version available as a PDF.
Klaus Wyborny has been a prolific filmmaker, theorist, and teacher since 1967. In 1968, he was one of the founders of the Hamburger Filmmacher Cooperative. His films have been screened at numerous international festivals and his theoretical writings on film have been published in three volumes in 2012, 2013, and 2016. For more information, see his comprehensive websites www.typee.de and http://wyborny.cinegraph.de.
[Suggested citation: Klaus Wyborny, “Encounters in Columbus, Ohio” Rosa Mercedes 03/B (April 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/04/30/encounters-in-columbus-ohio/]
go to top April 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / B
Lauren Berlant, the brilliant theorist of “cruel optimism” and related issues, died of a rare form of cancer on June 28. The following, devastatingly optimistic quote is from a 2016 essay on the commons as “infrastructures for troubling times,” part of a book that they worked on with the typically double-edged title On the Inconvenience of Other People: “What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation and that, at the same time, hold out the prospect of a world worth attaching to that’s something other than an old hope’s bitter echo. A failed episode is not evidence that the project was in error. By definition, the common forms of life are always going through a phase, as infrastructures will.”
Some basics from the Strike MoMA site: “Campaigns, actions, and letters chip away at the regime’s facade from the outside. Inside, every time workers organize, defy the boss, care for a coworker, disrespect secrecy, or enact other forms of subversion, cracks are created in the core. Cracking and chipping, chipping and cracking. As the walls that artificially separate the museum from the world collapse, we reorient away from the institution and come together to make plans. Let us strike in all the ways possible to exit from the terms of the museum so we can set our own.”
Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”
Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”
Sara Ahmed on the performativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”
November 7th, 2020
David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”
September 7th, 2020
T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk: “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”
August 21st, 2020