MIRAGE – my latest filmic project

About two weeks ago I began working  on a new film provisionally titled ‘MIRAGE’ made possible due to a small bursary from Brunswick Club. My trigger for the idea was ‘The Wall’, a novel by the Austrian author Marlene Haushofer, which to me pre-empties some aspects of the current situation of uncertainty and change. In this psycho-sociological novel first published in German in 1963 Haushofer engages with the implication of a major disaster which wipes out the majority of the world population. The narrator in the story, a woman in her 40s happens at the time to be staying at a small holding in the mountains and survives by sheer chance. What has rescued her is an invisible wall that separates this alpine valley from the rest of the world. Haushofer does not make it clear whether what she creates is a dystopian view of a future, a radical criticism of modern civilization or the depiction of how a person in the state of catatonic depression perceives the world. What interests me the most though is how living in post WW2 Austria has contributed to the creation of this story. Brian Massumi (1998) suggests that a threat always implies potential danger, a sensed danger, not necessarily a fact-based danger. This kind of risk that is always there, as a ‘virtual in the actual’, has been instrumentalized, I suggest, to justify the implementation of the cold war.

Haushofer born 1920 in Austria had not only experience of a succession of radical political changes but also of what it means to live in a country that shared a section of the iron curtain with at least two if not three member states of the Eastern bloc. Seen like this, Haushofer’s story could be understood as a reaction to a politics dealing in affective facts where a glass wall conflates fact and fiction within an all too convincing mirage.

Drawing on my knowledge of digital porosity I want to engage with today’s glass wall, the shimmering shield inherent to online mediation, and highlight its deceptive reflections through collating self-generated footage and gleaned online image material. The outcome will be a dimensional collage in form of a 10 to 15 min long moving image piece.

So far I have read the book, earmarked lines and many paragraphs, and, thanks to Google Street View, have spent time taking myself for a walk in the virtual simulation my neighbourhood. In the middle of the week I will take my camera on this route to see with my own eyes what is there on the day and capture my own footage. Then I aim to compare my recordings with Google’s online mirage created by moments fixed in the past. Is this exploration of the suture between the virtual and the actual a futile endeavour? Most likely. Nevertheless, showing the cracks and overlaps in the unevenness membrane of online mediation could also be worthwhile. It may not only remind us of the possible linkage between fiction and facts but also show that, unlike Haushofer’s transparent and impenetrable wall, the virtual mirage of this shiny screen is far from perfect.

My Online Dive into RAI FILM Festival 2021

‘One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk’  by Zacharias Kunuk

Having invested a lot of time over years into understanding photography and the digital it was refreshing for a change to look at film, a to me less familiar topic. For this I went online, as you have to at the moment, and checked into the RAI FILM Festival 2021, an event organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute in London. I dare say I would not have attended where it not for my friend Niyaz Saghary. As it happens her film ‘VHS Diaries’ (2020) was chosen to be screened  as part of this festival and once I had watched hers  I seemed not to be able to stop exploring the many waves and depths in this reservoir. Over the course of seven days I watched nearly 30 films and listened to the two key not presentations even though I am not even particularly interested in anthropology. The reason is that I simply was fascinated by the many different approaches the researchers and filmmakers chose to take. I spent hours observing how a narrative was introduced, which kind of cameras and positions they deployed, whether and how captions were placed. To me as these pieces are not main stream it was much more noticeable and varied and left a lot of room for reflection on how this medium can be utilised to create entries to a topic.

I admired and marvelled over most if not all of the films that I watched regardless if were deemed prize worthy or not. Some of them I quickly want to mention here: I loved ‘Oyate’ by Dan Girmus for its power in allowing the film with its edit becoming the narrator, ‘VHS Diaries’ by Niyaz Naghari as it merged so skilfully subject and object leaving little room for the other, ‘A Columbian Family’ by Tanja Wol Sōrenson  for the skilful usage of the family album as a third voice in some of the scenes and for showing me how filming with two cameras can make such a difference. Of course, I really got drawn in by ‘Ayouni’ by Yasmin Fedda  and ‘Not in my neighbourhood’ by Kurt Oderson, as both topics are close to my heart, and could not but love the re-staging in ‘One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk’  by Zacharias Kunuk. The timing and filming in and out of white were simply divine.

Below: ‘Oyate’ by Dan Girmus ‘VHS Diaries’ by Niyaz Naghar

Initially, I thought that viewing this festival will be for me just like the other countless events I have attended online over the past year. But no it was not. Thanks to the week long access I could dive in and out, could pause and replay certain scenes where and when I wanted in contrast to the normal screening experience. Nevertheless it was immersive and I was somewhere else most of the time, not staring at but into the screen. I even told a friend when having coffee in the park that I had to get back to my festival! It simply was exciting and stimulating to the point that I not only wrote endless notes but also dreamt about it. So what’s not to like about online film festivals? It’s easier to opt out and because of the skipping one can miss vital elements. There is no vibe other than the one coming from the sensation of pure watching. And no cup of coffee with someone or  the  glass of beer or wine over which to share each other’s observations. Hopefully, film festival organisers will take forward from this year long boot camp in online isolation that streaming has its value. Personally, I would love to able to access films for a period after a festival so that I can watch those I have missed or wanted to see again. Or take up the opportunity to attend solely online when I am unable to go.

For now though, the next aim for me will be to attend a film festival in person! Who knows? It might be in Cefalù if flying is feasible, as my film ‘Days of the Triffids’ is part of the programme.

‘A Columbian Family’ by Tanja Wol Sōrenson

Playing Happy Families – Meddling, Squashing, Questioning the Family Square

What has happened over the last week in this collaborative exploration of family histories? Not much, yet still enough. Petra Suko and I had another conversation on Zoom where we started to look together at some of our experiments with photographs of various relations. As to be expected, Petra focusing currently in her artistic practice on ancestry showed a lot of different works, whereas I, still fumbling with how to approach this new terrain, had created just two simple collages. Petra shared not so much her paintings but mostly moving image works and a few multi-layered photographic collages. I am still thinking about these pieces but for this post I want to focus on my first stumbling steps, partly because they triggered a shift in me that made my doubts about engaging with such personal material through my artistic practice somewhat dissipate.

Excerpt out of one of the two collages

Yet what did I actually do in these collages? During our exchange of family images I was often stunned by how the images in Petra’s email were coming together, edge on edge with no distance or apparent spatial order. At times I could hardly look at it, it felt too close and oppressive as if one capture tried to outdo the other. Being what I am this made me want to try it out for myself. I must say that I failed miserably and placed my mementi mori on plenty of white background.* I gave it another stab and I decided to see what would happen if I used my own pictures as a quasi response to Petra’s family photographs. Following on from our discussion on siblings I created a loose collage of four images in a square. Something visually quite timid but to me far from boring as it made me look beyond the content of the individual image at what they seemed to share, the self-representations of family.

I recognised what I had long known that is that family photographs are highly selective and used to create mostly rosy tinted stories. This intention tends to be fuelled by what can be described as an economy of happiness, an idea put forward by Sara Ahmed that suggests that affect in the form of a quest for happiness is utilised to sustain consumer behaviour. Yet why does it matter so much to me, and likely to many others as well, that past moments in family life are portrayed as oozing with happiness? That we had a fun childhood with loving parents? The visual language to create this myth is quite simple. Any laughter captured seems to be sufficient enough to symbolise this desired good, to create sets of happy families seems the main purpose of the family album.

I made another collage, this time choosing images where the representation of family bliss starts to show cracks of discord. I combined two group shots with forced smiles with two images where ‘the brother’ steps out of the bounds of childhood and represent themselves as teenagers and not only as sons and brothers. I tried to engage with visual traces that reveal that the representative surface starts to show crevasses, like a glacier, as family bounds tend to become loose. What I actually make of it I really do not know quite yet, other then that what photographs capture goes often beyond the intentions of the people involved. More on this next week.

As I seem to write mostly out of my own perspective in this blog, I will suggest to Petra to pick up the thread and share her thoughts. I hope she will pick this baton.

  • Later on I found out that Petra had not created these collages but that the arrangement was down to coding.

How to Explore what is Conveyed through Family Histories – in Dialogue with Petra Suko

About a little bit over month ago I started to collaborate with my friend and colleague Petra Suko on a new project. Petra works with traditional approaches such as painting and drawing but also uses digital media to make short films and screen based works.

But maybe it is best to start at the beginning that is last August when I first visited her studio in the 7th district in Vienna. Petra Suko creates large scale, layered, figurative paintings which simply stunned me with their vibrancy and even more so through the topic they addressed. In this new work, she engages ruthlessly with her family’s history and how it impacts and connects with her everyday. A topic that has also been loosely shimmering at the edge of my own practice ever since I emptied my family home in Austria following the death of my father in 2015. At the time though I felt slightly overwhelmed and, probably for the best, I postponed to open the door to this potentially explosive Tardis.

To create some sort of order I stored the jumble of documents and photographs, with some of the negatives going back as long as the 19th century, in two large boxes and keeping them firmly shut I put on the storage shelf in my studio. My justification was that this would allow me to focus on my doctoral research whilst getting to terms with the loss of my father. Having this sprawling puzzle out of my sight worked really well and it turned out that these repositories were actually not too dissimilar to the carpet in the average English home where unwanted issues get firmly buried.

That is until recently when Petra and I decided to use our artistic practices and embark on a dialogue centring on our families histories. Lifting the lid off these boxes has raised, as I feared and partly wished, many unforeseen queries. Neither neat nor particularly organised. What I could not foresee though was that these questions have opened up and expanded into all kinds of directions making apparent that so much in the family narrative was spared out or left unanswered.

At the moment, we tend to talk mostly via digital platforms about individual members of our families, about relationships and what we have been told, what was based on facts and what turned out to be fiction. From time to time we also explore how to develop a collaborative piece that can reflect both practices but how we approach this is not quite resolved. It might be in part because of how family histories are conveyed through a mostly skilfully edited combination of tales and photographs. And on top of this, not to make it any easier, the link to the past and how we remember adding to the narrative of family is deeply personal. Taking a few steps back helps, but what foot will lead us and when has still to be decided.

More on our how we move forward in a week or so.


Several months ago Joana Cifre Cerdà and I started a loose collaboration initially triggered by a then for me topical book: The Day of the Triffids. I made a moving piece about this, got it out of my system so to speak, and our meandering conversation gradually drifted to how the politics of fear and social distancing has affected our behaviour and interactions. We worked slowly, communicated via Zoom to share our experiments. The outcome of this process is now on show as part of BEEF’s (Bristol Experimental Exanding Film group) Department of Moving Images exhibition in the large Centre of Gravity show at at the old Soapworks/Gardiner Haskins in Bristol.

Below is a short text that describes the piece. If you happen to be in Bristol come and have a look. The show is open Wednesday to Sunday. The old Soap Works is a large and airy building complex near Temple Meads railway station.

Preparations by Joana Cifre Cerda and Claudia Pilsl

In this moving piece we explore possible reactions to an unforeseeable event and deal with the persistent numbing anxiety of something that resides outside of our control. The kitchen as a safe zone and locus of comfort is the stage where we engage with our own unique responses and copying mechanisms. Joana vents her fears in a frenzy of cutting and wraps, like a spider, perishables in fine string to store for later consumption whereas Claudia engages with the some of the objects that live in her small kitchen in  Vienna. These cooking paraphernalia, with their concrete physical presence  and humble functionality affirm that there is still an everyday albeit filled with uncertainty and anxiety. They suggest a continuity from past to present moment with an implied promise of a future where food will be prepared and eaten.


The Return of the Triffids

It has become reality, finally. The Day of the Triffids, this story of a dystopian world where the ones who survived the carnage of the war are then attacked and killed by plants. As a threat, this could barely be worse because the majority of the people had gone blind after watching a meteor shower that was meant to be a harmless entertainment during post-war reconstruction. Surrounded by permanent darkness, they could not see what comes at them, the viciously snarling tongues, the thick clouds of green dust that these invaders use to slay their prey. The Triffids of 2020 stay also invisible whilst trying to satisfy their craving for human flesh. Even though we have not lost our eyesight, we are unable to see when they attack us with their sneeze of particles nor do we feel the sting of their first contact. Yet these invaders from outer space are not quite like the ones described by Wyndham in 1951. They have evolved. Before they start to devour us by eating our lungs whilst we are still alive, they use our bodies as hosts and to travel around expanding their population with each encounter. The Triffids of 2020 love globe trotters, jetsetters, commuters, and everyone in between. All of us are fertile ground, without us they cannot live, with them we may die. To do what we love, what defines us as individuals has become suspicious and potentially dangerous not only to one but all the ones with whom we share the air. Hundred days in, we have learned to distance ourselves and keep safe. We vigorously wash hands as if we were Pilatus and the sins of selfishness and human greed could be revoked. Masks to cover our breaths have become the norm, a stroll in the neighbourhood is now a highlight of the day. Many have developed a craving for a change of scenery, to leave where they live behind even if it were for a few hours. The only safe way is to use virtual simulation as within the digital realm air cannot yet travel. This is hard and even the socially introverted crave the company of others. Sometimes we gently touch the screen, share some words and the air with our neighbours across the road to briefly forget and feel alive. Only few can see the triffids within their hosts, they wear special glasses or have learnt to squint, like artists, at an early age. There are also the brave ones that risk their lives caring for the injured or working on new ways to kill the Triffids as the salt water cure does not work anymore. The rest have to hope, are reduced to waiting, whilst seeing the world as they know it crumbling. They dream and travel in their minds, they can make plans for a reconstruction, work hard at staying human and kind. The Triffids have returned but so has spring and so will summer.


Resident: Exhibition Info

 Below is the the main info on Resident. Please share! 

Claudia Pilsl:  Resident

Exhibition  28th January – 4th February 2020


Exhibition Opening: Tuesday 28th January 2020, 5 to 8pm


Beginning of 2018 Claudia Pilsl undertook a 3 months residency at x-church in Gainsborough. Her proposition to the community was to explore the question What does it mean to be a resident?. For this she spent time with everybody who was willing to let her join in and become, if only temporary, part of their lives. The wish to understand better what it means to be a UK resident stems from her increasing anxiety about the status of EU citizens post Brexit. Having lived longer in England than in Austria, the country of her birth, the place she identifies with most is not a particular country but Europe as a whole. For her as a migrant and future EU guest-worker it is therefore not easy to define what means to be a resident within the borders of a nation state.

The main piece in the exhibition is a video (1h 44min) in which the artist merges footage from a long drive in a white van around Gainsborough and an audio track edited from over 15 hours of recorded interviews during her residency. These conversations center on what it means to be a resident, how it is to live in his area, what the future could hold for this small market town. The two exhibited series of photographs were generated during a walk with Clive Maclennan, a resident of the south West Ward in Gainsborough, and during various sessions at x-church. As part of the exhibition, the artist also hosts the pop-up gallery Chateau Marcus, a temporary show space in an old shed. This shed initially intended as a studio during her sta soon became a show space for local artists. As an exhibition space within the exhibition Chateau Marcus will show a series of works by Joana Cifre Cerdà, Clive Maclennan, Kev Snell, Knaithan Parks. Also on display will the collaborative project facilitated by Michael Bowdidge: Slumgothic Live Collage and a slideshow of the arts activities at x-church from 2006 till today.

Bio: Claudia Pilsl is a photographer and media artist based in Bristol and Vienna. She creates installations and projection works and engages diverse audiences in and beyond the gallery space. Her work is included in major collections such as the Museum of modern Art Vienna, Kestner Gesellschaft Hannover, the DG Bank Collection, the Art Collection of Upper Austria, SK Stiftung Cologne, and the Photo Collection Austria. She won two major fellowships (Arts Council Austria, City of Bremen), the Prize for Visual Art of Upper Austria, and a Research Fellowship at Southampton Institute. She has just submitted her doctoral practice research on ‘Photography and its Contribution to the Understanding of Digital Porosity’ at the University of Plymouth (Funding by The 3D3 Center for Doctoral Training Programme). Prior to starting her doctoral inquiry, she undertook an MA in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London (2013) and an MA in Combined Media at University of Applied Arts in Vienna (1994).

Contact: Claudia Pilsl, mobile: 07563698599  email: claudia@claudiapilsl.com

websites: www.claudiapilsl.com Blog: https://loosespace.wordpress.com   https://chateaumarcus.wordpress.com/


Resident will be shown at Project Space Plus in Lincoln!

IMG_9746Beginning of 2018 I undertook  three  months residency at x-church in Gainsborough and explored with the local community what it means to be a resident. Gainsborough is a 20 min train ride from Lincoln and this gives everybody involved a chance to come to the show and see what I have made. Middle of November I went with Kev Snell, a local artist from Gainsborough, to have a look at Project Space Plus in Lincoln. And it is great! A beautifully structured space that will fit perfectly to show my work and to host Chateau Marcus. Yes, the pop-up gallery is on the move and I am really exited about  being able to curate a exhibition within the exhibition. But more on this soon!


Thinking in and beyond with a bilingual brain

IMG_9229.JPGIn October I handed in my doctoral thesis which was simply put a relieve.  Even though I have lived a long time in the UK, at times I still struggle  to find the exact words for what I want to say. This is because often my thinking takes place in a space between my two languages, German and English. Both have a specific grammatical structure and offer words that do not exist in the other. At most times I relish this as it allows my thoughts to move beyond their lingual borders. A slice of EU in the brain. It opens up a possibility to meander outside  the confinement of the individual cultural context, allows for the mind to embrace both and spread out. As Elisabeth Wehling a linguist and expert on political framing states, words are not just words but trigger reactions in the brain.  A  multi-lingual intellect is therefore likely to have much more layered reactions and I’d like to think that this helps me to engage differently with a question. The drawback with me though is that I make mistakes which can be frustrating at times. It feels that I have done my thesis many times over in order to get to this version. Now, not having to correct and re-correct, adjust and readjust a large document, all day and half the night, makes my life look different.  I still think a lot about my topic, how digital porosity affects the conveyance of data. Yet I also have started to embrace my newly enhanced agility in manoeuvring complex thinking in my bilingual trans-cultural brain. The viva will be on January the 21st and I look forward to this opportunity to discuss my thesis with experts in my field. Fingers crossed my brain will focus on articulating in English!

The terrifying now of big data and surveillance: A conversation with Jennifer Granick — TED Blog

Concerns are growing around privacy and government surveillance in today’s hyper-connected world. Technology is smarter and faster than ever — and so are government strategies for listening in. As a lawyer for the ACLU, Jennifer Granick (TED Talk: How the US government spies on people who protest — including you) works to demystify the murky […]

via The terrifying now of big data and surveillance: A conversation with Jennifer Granick — TED Blog