Harun Farocki, one of the most prominent and subversive artists of our times, is a Berlin-based author, filmmaker and curator who was born in the German-annexed Czechoslovakia in 1944.  In 1966, he was expelled from the German Cinematic and Television Academcy (dffb) in Berlin for political reasons.  His long list of credits since then includes over a hundred productions for video and cinema, the authoring and editing of the influential Filmkritik (Munich) and numerous gallery and museum shows.  His writings include Speaking about Godard (1988-9) and Serious Games. War I Media I Art (2011).  His summer 2011 retrospective at the MOMA Images of War (at a Distance) was the first comprehensive exhibition of his work in the US.  In the 90’s he was visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and since 2006 is full professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.
Harun Farocki stayed at the JCVA for three weeks in March 2012.  In the course of his stay – his first in Israel in nine years  -- he and his life-partner, artist and curator Antje Ehmann, led an artists’ workshop at Hamidrasha, the School of Art in Beit Berl College; the workshop was made possible through a collaboration between the JCVA and the art school.  Called “Labor in a Single Shot,” the workshop examined the concept of labor through video films made with a single shot.  The work is part of a world-wide project the two artists are holding in some 15 cities (including Vienna, Lisbon, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Phnom Penh, Beirut and more).  A number of the students’ films will be selected to be shown in the larger project.  Farocki found the workshop and the dialogue with the students a particularly effective way to encounter the local reality.

Farocki also went to several museums and art happenings, saw a theater production, and visited the Mamuta collective at the Daniela Passal Art and Media Center in Ein Karem, whose approach he found ground-breaking.  After staying in Jerusalem, he continued on to Tel Aviv, and said “that unlike planned modernist cities like Chandigarh, in India, Tel Aviv functions in a lively, moving way.”  Farocki also visited Ramallah, where he was glad to see daily life in progress.  He said:”You never know what goes on behind the wall, and the Other never looks the way you imagine him.  In Berlin there are still people who don’t go from West to East just because of this fear.” 

Towards the end of his stay, the JCVA set up a talk and screening of two of Farocki’s films at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.  The talk and the two films, Serious Games (2009/2010) and Nothing Ventured (2004), raised a great deal of interest among a crowd of artists, students, film lovers and curators, many of whom were exposed to Farocki’s highly relevant work for the first.  This was Farocki’s fourth visit to Israel; his first took place in 1979.

Nothing Ventured
2004. Video (color, sound), 50 min. 

The film follows two days of negotiations on the terms of a 750,000 
 loan from a venture capital fund to a German start-up.  After long discussions, the negotiations stall, but are turned around when it emerges that other funds are also interested in the start up.  Towards the film’s conclusion, we discover that the venture capital fund is also trying to raise ready funds for itself, just like the young start up.  The race for financial assurances via virtual investments reveals itself as yet another link in the chain of Capitalism’s constant self-armament.

Short bits of animation interwoven into the filmed negotiations show mechanical production and transfer of industrial materials.  These act as a reminder of the industrial context and the historical and political changes it has undergone, and remind the viewer that the film, too, is part of an industry.   The slowness of the animation generates a parallel between the pulley blocks used in industrial production and the strategic moves employed by today’s negotiators.  The film’s documentary and animation sections can both be read as instruction manuals on the nature of industry today, and how one should operate in it. 

The “fly-on-the-wall” effect of the camera’s seeming absence places the film firmly in the Direct Cinema genre of documentaries that developed in North America in the sixties.  The apparently bare reality creates a playful confusion: are these excellent actors, or men so fully engaged in the negotiations they have forgotten they are on film?  Farocki presents the participants as actors so committed to the game of Capitalism that they authentically expose its codes.

Without pathos, a romantic Hollywood sub-plot or any particular aesthetic visual sting, Farocki breaks down the mystery surrounding men in suits and supplants it with human gestures, methodical pauses, vagueness, boredom, the wish for a cookie, the long hours and the Italian restaurant.  The film’s name, Nothing Ventured, points to the fixed, immobile social roles and structures that govern the process of investing in a new company. 

The film, like other of Farocki’s works of the last decades, offers an uncompromising exposure of the hidden narratives behind economic and political practices governing the West in the post-industrial era.