We decided to make a series of interviews -that I called IW- throughout the MAS LA year, with the teaching team as well as the people who are visiting or have been related to the chair. The main topic of these interviews is going to be landscape and vision as we question through our modules and discussions in MAS LA. There are many different points of views, approaches so stories at the chair. This includes not only the teaching team but also the students. Thus these interviews is conceived to add a verbal subjectivity to what we are dealing in the program.
First of this series was with Susanne Hofer whom we had an amazing “3 Days to Amaze” workshop. You can find her short bio here at the chair’s website. Besides her background we talked about her practice, landscape and not surprisingly films.
Enise Burcu: Shall we start with your background? I know that you studied film.
Susanne Hofer: I studied fine arts before the film and video studies. Then I started to work on film sets as camera assistant and cinematographer. In 2003 I founded a company with my partner Katrin Oettli, it is called Firma Flimmer.
EB: What kind of works do you do within Flimmer?
SH: We do a lot of things for museums such as short documentaries and thematic exhibitions. We do also image films for some companies. We record their work progress and try to do it in an aesthetic way. It is a bit an edge work. It is neither advertising nor big documentary. It is in between. I am also doing sceneography videos, videos for theater pieces that define the space.
EB: So regarding your practice there are products at one hand and at the other hand interior such as theaters and museums. We could say the scale is quite different than landscape. I wonder how did you come to the institute to work with Professor Girot?
SH: That was a big coincidence. I have been working with Fred Truniger who was studying at ETH. He is a film scientists. He did his work about filmic measuring of landscape which was quite interesting. I came here and did not know anything about landscape. I really developed a way of looking also for myself and learned a lot of about space. That helps me a lot in the theatre since the space there is as much bigger. Mostly very huge black boxes where there is nothing. I have to create space with just video screens or projections. I think also the way of how I learned to look at the medium itself; the film, editing, and camera work. I developed a lot with the work of students. As a teacher you always have to rethink your way of doing things, otherwise you are not open enough.
EB: I assume in theater and museums you have light, shadow, sound and other conditions under your control whereas in landscape conditions direct you, and we could even say that you are under control of landscape!
SH: I think it is also the same because I do not have everything under control since there is always a collaboration. There is somebody else controlling the light for example, there are audiences or people at the stage. Moving images always drag attention your eye. If you are working for the stage set you cannot take everything to the video screen. You have to do something that keeps the focus in the stage. It is a collaboration. Of course it is not changing or snowing suddenly as it is in landscape. You know what is going to happen. It is about knowing what is there, and knowing the ingredients and then developing something with these different parameters. I think that is also a bit the same with landscape. You know that someday it is going to snow or it could have been rained. You have to take these parameters, and then work and integrate them. It is an equilibrium.
EB: The curriculum at the chair is relatively different than the other landscape institutes. Media Lab is offering great possibilities to the students. What do you want to teach to students?
SH: I really want to guide the view to a different angle. Looking at landscape or spaces in different way than you are used to within architectural studies. Film is very convenient to create new spaces, because you have a filmic space, completely different than natural space so you can combine images and create a new space, and look at the it differently. It is also the element of what frame do I choose and what is off screen? What do I hear? It is a very atmospheric medium. It is school of seeing and listening.
EB: Can we say that the main goal of the media Lab is providing filmic view, approach to design making to landscape architecture students?
SH: It is not just the filmic view but rather a different angle. The film, video or audio are more less mediums where we can try out things and are very convenient as they have so many layers. It is a perception, a way of sharpening the perception to spaces. Not just visually and also auditive in an atmospheric or emotional way.
EB: We have been working with plans and sections. This tools in a way bring an overlooking at the movement and sound in landscape that are the essentials and are the ingredients that cause the landscape differ from many professions. This way of looking certainly helps gaining a wider perspective. How can we use them in practice, for instance in office life?
SH: I think there are different ways how you can use or apply to daily office works. One thing is if you have to analyze the site or go somewhere and you have to take images to home. You should be very aware what images you take home. What are the essentials in a space that you have to see and also record. You have to record in a way that is understandable for people who did not go there. That is why we always try to discuss the video and images that students bring home in a sense of what did you want to show us and what do we see in fact which differs a lot in the beginning. That is why it is very important to talk about images with this topic of the framing and the off frame. What extract do I take, what atmosphere can I record and how? What are the elements that create this atmosphere? How do I want to change it then. If I want to show a status quo. I think you start looking differently if you go there with the video camera – not like a tourist but with a focused view and where you are aware of what you are filming.
EB: I could understand that from the workshop in Einsiedeln. We had the limitations such as the battery, light, weight you have to carry. I noticed that somehow these kind of constraints educate you since you have to be very orderly and planned and care of the timing.
SH: There is also one thing about presentations. You can make things much more clear if you have an atmospheric tool to show what is it like now or how it could be.
EB: I think it is also more convincing.
SH: Even if you don’t want to do yourself you have the knowledge and language how you could apply to give an assignment to somebody who does it professionally. That is another possibility.
EB: I want to ask you whether there is a field called landscape video in art or film terminology? I know it will be too speculative but I have a sense that if such a field were exist it could have a power as much as landscape painting had to influence the people. After you asked us to create a 1 minute landscape painting by using the videos after the workshop this question aroused. Since then I have been thinking about how could I paint using the video as brush. Or how could I replace the camera to brush, or translate this language into this moving dimensions.
SH: We did not have time to talk about that in the workshop. I thought nobody really achieved to make a landscape painting which was also quite difficult task. It is a nice idea to continue this and really think about what is it and how is landscape represented in art. How could it be done with idea.
We are going to go into the photographic representation of landscape because they took over. For example Axel Hütte, he did a lot of landscape photography. If you think about his teachers Bechers, when they started to photography the industrial buildings that was a step in art history to not take only beautiful arcadian landscape but these existing industrial conditions.
EB: My last questions is about your recommendations regarding to film. Tell us your favorite directors or artist that you think that are must seen.
SH: For students I would recommend different works than my favorite works. It is always changing but what I like is experimenting with the medium. That is why I really like Michel Gondry when he works with Charlie Kauffman because it is becoming a strange world that really integrates also the possibilities of the medium. If I don’t want to mention all the old films that are very important such as Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Bertolucci’s Il Conformista of which I remember every single scene. I like Michelangelo Antonioni. Orson Welles of course. There are also some new films I love, for example I like very much Wes Anderson films. For teaching there is one director I would like to show; Jørgen Leth who is a Danish filmmaker who did experimenting and documentary films. He did a very nice portrait of America that is called 66 Scenes from America. I find him very interesting. I also like John Smith who is an experimental film maker from England whom I showed you the video called Black Tower at the lecture.
Of course James Behning who has very different way of looking. His last film was 2 hours long and consists of only five shots. One was one hour long. He is really perceiving, contemplating with the images. I like the work of Bill Viola which is more into video art.
Another one very interesting film that Fred Truniger wrote about in his PHD. That is called Divina Obssesion which is about roundabouts. He just films the roundabouts and he is talking on the phone to the people who are responsible for them.
EB: It is very interesting. I don’t know about this movie, but it reminds me a book called Concrete Island of J. G. Ballard which was about a man (architect) who finds himself in one of the roundabouts after a sudden accident and lose his contacts with city life.
Thank you very much Susanne.