CLARISSA THIEME — TODAY IS 11TH JUNE 1993
Quote—Unquote: Video Station presents Today Is 11th June 1993 by Clarissa Thieme, 2018, single-channel video.
To accompany the Video Station open call and commissioning programme for video works, Quote—Unquote presents a series of artists’ films and videos dealing with topics of speech and public speaking. A new work will be published online every two weeks between July and September 2020.
“Today is 11th June 1993. The war has been going on for a very long time. I’ve tried everything to get out, to save myself, nothing worked. The only thing left is to make this videotape that I will give to my son, he to his, and so on, until a time machine is invented and someone watching this will come and get me out of this.”
Today is 11th June 1993 was developed on the basis of intensive investigations in the Library Hamdija Kresevljakovic Video Archive in Sarajevo, a private collection of amateur videos in which the residents of Sarajevo document their lives during the siege. In this collection Thieme found a short science-fiction film in which a group of young people uses black humor to imagine fleeing the enclosed city by means of a time machine. Using simultaneous translation Thieme again formulates the call from the past to the present. How will we react to it? (text by Berlinale / Forum Expanded)
Infinite Conversation: In your work, translation acts as a revival of the past, much like the time machine imagined by the protagonists of the footage. Can language build an arch through time and infuse the same lines with new meanings?
Clarissa Thieme: At the center of “Today Is 11th June 1993” is an archival video I found in the Library Hamdija Kreševljaković Video Archive Sarajevo, a private collection of amateur videos that were shot by the inhabitants of Sarajevo during its siege 1992 – 1995. In the video a group of young people imagine with a lot of humor the escape from their enclosed city with the help of a time machine. On the one hand the video is a document from the Bosnian War that precisely points out what people had to endure and showing how they were completely left alone with the violence they were facing. And on the other hand something very miraculous is happening there: these youngsters being not heard in their own times start to speak to a future counterpart to get them out of the war. Being directly addressed right here right now by someone from Sarajevo in 1993 hit me by surprise. There is definitely a link between the process of translation and the aspect of time travel here. These Sarajevans had sent a message that I found 25 years later. And they had already thought and included that possibility in their message back then. I was able to contact the people that shot the video in 1993 and they were so kind to allow me restarting their time machine. I added what they already had addressed: my here and now. It’s a game with time and the different possibilities of reality that they had started and I fueled again. It became quickly clear I wanted to work with the process of translation and with a non-regional, female voice for this. The translation aspect needs to be perceptible. You need to feel that you understand a lot, but you’re not getting everything.
Language has the ability to bridge people, contexts and times. The same lines being spoken in different times and contexts can be a link that is not denying the differences. We translate all the time not only from one language to another but between different kind of experiences, lived through realities and different backgrounds. The aspect of being not the same but connected is very interesting to me. I see common ground between all kind of people. But it has to stay exactly in the process of constant negotiation. You have different backgrounds you are coming from and heading to. But you can linger on that temporary bridge or go to one or the other side. Although you can’t be at the same time everywhere you can wander around eventually. By putting your bounded focus on different things you can collect a diversity of limited point of views. So even though your perspective stays limited you start to connect in your limitations. To focus on processes of translation in my artistic approach is a way to make perceptible the incredible ability we have to bridge our differences but also to point out our limitations. I hope to encourage a humble approach towards what we don’t know. There is nothing wrong with not knowing as long as you don’t act otherwise. You can still be there and listen.
Your approach is collaborative. How has your practice evolved thanks to closely working with people from different fields?
I want to be in process with others and open up a space of experience. That is true on the level of production as on the level of perception. My practice and training was documentary film before I started doing performances and installations with mixed media too. With this background it comes naturally to me that I am nothing without others. Not only do I need them. But there is a need to be humble and attentive as well as smooth to interact with what reality confronts you with and offers you. The step from that experience to a more collaborative approach in my work was obvious. It has a lot to do with making collaborations more transparent and central and starting this already in the phase of developing. It’s like playing ping pong over a long period of time.
For instance my collaboration with the Library Hamdija Kreševljaković Video Archive Sarajevo goes back to 2006. Nihad Kreševljaković who runs the archive showed me some of its material from the war back then. It offered a very different personal view on besieged Sarajevo. This deeply touched me. I saw people like me. The subjectivity of the material turned things around for me. But it was not the material alone. Nihad invited me through the archival footage to listen to something that he experienced himself. An archive is a medium on its own, a dense gesture to express yourself. (And it’s always an interesting question who is this acting person or group behind it). In the case of Nihad and the Video Archive Sarajevo it speaks of an incredible openness of a group friends that survived the war to share their personal experiences.
There are things you can’t do alone. Working with a variety of people with different backgrounds than mine can be exciting as well as scary but for sure it is a constant process of translation too. Eventually you lose most of what you want the other to understand about you and vice versa. That can be frustrating and even sad. But its synergy effects make you forget the limitations you are coming with. You create things you could have never done without the other. As simple as that. Also later when the work is done I search more for a collaboration than for an audience for it. I believe in this kind of open interpersonal exchange. I try to offer a space for this and hang in there myself not avoiding whatever comes back in the process.
Interpretation gives a new voice to resurfaced pieces of history. How do you find the balance between the echoes of the past and the loud present?
I think time is messy. The things that happen to us we can’t neatly file away as if they would lie “behind” us while we are stepping ahead into our future. I sometimes think there is no past and no future but everything is now. It is simultaneously around us. That doesn’t mean it’s all happening at the same time. But it’s all there. There is no timeline but a vast field where things can be very central and then we lose them out of sight, which obviously doesn’t mean that they are gone. We just don’t see them in that moment. Speaking of trauma it makes even more sense to consider a kind of radical simultaneity that inevitably overwhelms you from time to time. I assume that trauma is also not an exception but in its intensity it discloses this process. There is a simultaneity of many things that do not fit together. The temporal levels are mixed up in us. My work is focused on our time being messy. “Today Is 11th June 1993” in that way is not an interpretation of a kind of fixed piece of history. There is a document that originates in the past. And there are the people that did that video back in 1993 talking with me about it now. And it’s me finding my position towards all of that. And then it’s also you watching this and bringing in something that I don’t know yet. It’s a network spanning different times as well as people and it’s fluid.
How has the performativity of public speaking informed your practice? How has it intertwined with the traumatic episodes of history which you are exploring? The aspect of public space and speech is especially interlinked with my work connected to Sarajevo. The Sarajevo siege lasted for almost four years: from April 1992 until February 1996. At the time, people were subject to constant shelling and snipers as well as a lack of food, water, heating, and medication. Not to mention that they were locked in. In the end, close to 14,000 people perished in Sarajevo alone. But the attacks by Serbian Bosnian forces enclosing the city were not only aiming at the civilian inhabitants of the city but at their cultural and commune spaces and heritage as well. Not only your personal life was under a constant threat but public life and expression became unthinkable as well. Friends of mine who stayed in the city during the siege told me that everyone was in hiding at the beginning. But, at a certain point, it was clear no help would come. The ‘West,’ first of all Europe, didn’t care. This shock in combination with the constant threat of unpredictable attacks created an unexpected kind of resistance. People started going out and doing stuff again – in order not to go crazy as well as putting up a sign of not being shut down by the terror held against them. In Sarajevo public space and speech is deeply understood as a basic human need and right. And you understand that the inhabitants of Sarajevo had to fight hard for this. First and foremost, Sarajevo under siege shows the incredible courage of people daring to be normal in times that are not. That is a very political thing in itself. To insist on your right to express yourself publicly and to have a life and future. This brought me to the sci-fi video which I found in the Video Archive Sarajevo, and which resulted into “Today Is 11th June 1993”.
In collaboration with / Nihad Kresevljakovic & the Library Hamdija Kresevljakovic Video Arhiv, Sarajevo; Performance / Grace Sungeun Kim; Camera & Color Correction / Till Beckmann; Sound Editor / Christian Obermaier; Re-recording Mixer / Jochen Jezussek; Dramaturgic Advisor / Christine A. Maier; Artistic Assistance / Ina Arnautalic; Translation / Ulvija Tanovic
Videoclip Sarajevo 1993 / Emir Jelkic, Elma Jerlagic Muhic, Fatima Jerlagic, Faruk Jerlagic, Hamdija Kresevljakovic, Nihad Kresevljakovic, Sead Kresevljakovic
CLARISSA THIEME is an artist and filmmaker. Working across film, photography, performance, installation and text, she combines documentary and fictional forms focusing on processes of memory, politics of identity and strategies of translation. Her practice is research-based and often takes a collaborative approach.
Her work includes Was bleibt/Šta Ostaje/What Remains (Film, 30′, 2010), The Place We Left (Film, 60′, 2012), Resort (Film, 15′, 2013), Die DDR hat es nie gegeben/Appell (Video, 4′, 2016), Izmedzu Nas/Between Us (Open archive project, ongoing), Weiter war nichts, ist nichts (Installation series, ongoing), Vremeplov/Time Machine (Installation & performance, 2017), Today is 11th June 1993 (Film, 13′, 2018), Can’t You See Them/POV (Installation 2018), Can’t You See Them? – Repeat. (Film, 8′ as well as Installation, 2019), Was bleibt I Šta ostaje I What remains / Re-visited (Film, 70’, 2020).
Thieme studied Media Art at the University of the Arts Berlin (UdK), holds a MA in Cultural Studies And Aesthetic Practice, University Hildesheim and is research alumni of the Berlin Center for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences (BAS). She is based in Berlin.