On Skip Norman

Johannes Beringer

There was something beautifully forthcoming about the early days of the film academy when the films still had straightforward end credits. For example, it was almost always possible to ask Skip if he wanted to work on this or that film endeavor. He was available (like me, like others too)—the film crews fell easily into place, sometimes almost by themselves. (Students were supposed to support each other within a group assigned to a directing lecturer, but in fact the collaborations rather quickly went above and beyond this—to “strategic alliances,” “inclinations,” or “elective affinities.”) There was an unquenched thirst to be out in the city, to discover the city – to prove oneself with camera and sound equipment on the streets and squares, in interiors. This desire to see the world was more stimulating than the theory and history courses inside the academy. Moreover, we also got to know each other this way. In fact, it was above all from and among each other that we learned—over time, there were enough reasons to come together.

Skip was involved in both of my first dffb exercise films as camera assistant and miscellaneous crew member. Once, as we were filming in front of the Atelier am Zoo cinema, he playfully struck the zoom lever (at the end of the shot)—producing a rapid zoom in from the film title on the marquee (The Deadly Affair) to the people in front of the cinema.

Skip Norman’s rapid zoom in Johannes Beringer’s film Das Zimmer (1966)

While editing, I thought, Ach, I’ll leave that in—and so his explicit gesture is preserved in Das Zimmer. He can also be seen in Situationen—during the staged conversational situation about the future of the dffb (with Gerd Conradt, Holger Meins, Günter Peter Straschek; Lena Conradt, baby Alfa in her arms, he is also seated at the table).

There was a connection that existed back then that I absolutely need to reconstruct here—the one with Li Antes. In fact, I know hardly anything about her as a person. We spoke very little about our “pre-histories” together since we had quite a lot of the present before and around us. Li Antes “lent” (as an outsider) her body to Skip Norman’s Blues People and can also be seen as an actress in a scene in Günter Peter Straschek’s On the Concept of “Critical Communism” in the Work of Antonio Labriola (1843–1904) from 1970. After I had edited this film and drove to the screening at the film festival in Mannheim, I believe I saw Li Antes for the last time—as she said, she herself was considering to make films. (The time, I assume, would have been favorable for her to do so).


Li Antes (right) in Günter Peter Straschek’s On the Concept of “Critical Communism” in the Work of Antonio Labriola (1843–1904) (1970). On the left: Sigrid Ruschmeier

I saw Skip again at the time of FilmSamstag when he rather unexpectedly came into the screening at the small cinema at Babylon – we spotted each other and hugged. Afterward, I sent him an e-mail to Cyprus to ask if he knew something about Li Antes’ whereabouts—Straschek and I had already been wondering back then what had become of her.

Here is his answer from October 1, 2006 (he preferred corresponding in English “since my writing in German is weak, but my reading is very good”):

“Li Antes suffered from epilepsy. For years she took medication to control the seizures. But the medication made her drowsy, tired, and in need of a lot of sleep. She sought various ways of reducing the effects of the medication and even some alternative treatment approaches to the illness, like meditation, spiritual healing, and shamanism. Nothing seemed to give her the energy she sought to devote more of her time to creative endeavors, like filmmaking. One day, with the help and comfort of a new friend she decided to stop taking her medication. Eventually, she would have a seizure from which she never recovered. Her mother came to Berlin to take the body home and I would visit her grave and spend some time with her mother before leaving Germany. I don’t remember the name of the German village and I don’t remember the time of her actual death, but I do not think she wanted to die and for a while I would see her in my mind’s eye. She was a talented and sensitive human being who struggled with epilepsy since childhood and felt imprisoned by the medication, even though it offered some relief from the seizures.”1

I was thankful to Skip for this information and saddened at the same time: “Ah, finally some valuable information about Li—that was like a disturbing blank in my mind (emotion tinted).”

I’ll add one more memory here (from around 1968). We were walking along Potsdamerstraße late at night—there was an American club with good music down the road. There were three of us, I think, and we were walking in the middle of the empty street. (In any case, this is the image that’s stuck in my head. Also a feeling of the lightness of this nighttime walk, as though we could only go further and further… The street belonged to us.) At the time, I was living with Hartmut Bitomsky and Ingrid Oppermann on Kurfürstenstraße and Li lived on Gneisenaustraße—in a bleak apartment that is now around the corner from me when I go out. But I only look that way if the thought happens to cross my mind.

December 30, 2020

 

Johannes Beringer belonged to the first cohort of students at Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie (dffb) Berlin in 1966. He collaborated with Skip Norman on his two student films Das Zimmer (The Room) and Situationen (Situations). Together with 17 other students, Beringer was expelled from the film school in November 1968. Since then, he has worked as a writer (for the journal Filmkritik and many other publications), translator, and film programmer in various contexts. In the 1970s and early ’80s, he was editor and sound engineer of many Harun Farocki productions.

Translated by Ted Fendt. German version available as a PDF.

Footnotes

1 Editors’ note: In the conversation with Carlos Bustamante published in this issue, Bustamante recalls the circumstances of Li Antes’ death differently. 1

[Suggested citation: Johannes Beringer, “On Skip NormanRosa Mercedes 03/B (April 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/04/30/on-skip-norman/]

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April 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / B
Interface

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.”

 

via 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
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