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Transcript of an interview with Jakob Kirchheim which was recorded by Astrid Ule for Deutsche Welle TV on the 7th of April 1997

Q: How do you create a linofilm?

A: A linofilm can be created in many different ways. I started out with something very simple, with linocuts like this one (shows one) and then I´d – let´s say – write a phrase on it and this phrase I´d break up into different bits of text – like an anagram – and so I´d slowly put together a little story.
The prints are then filmed – one by one – and that´s how the first linofilm came about (lifts up the plate). Later I got a bit more complex – with faster sequences on the one hand – with linoprints on top of photo prints – combined with shots of real scenes … and … well…

Q: How do you create a linofilm, what inspires you?

A: It´s a typical work in progress – you get started, carry on, you realize it´s not quite coming together, it´s not working, something needs to be added … it´s experiences, really it´s lots of experiences … which are then transformed into pictures, into bits of text, word games … and that´s how things develop. So it´s not like there’s a finished script right from the start which is then simply realized.
Sometimes there are several different complexes of filmed prints and they don’t fit in. Then maybe at some later point there´s a chance to use them elsewhere and so... I do work a lot in parallel, on several film projects at once and it´s only in the final phase that it becomes clear what goes where, how it´s going to be presented.

Q: How long to produce?

A: Depends – usually it takes quite a while – anything from 3 months to years.

Q: Relationship between craft and modern technique?

A: Well, the starting point is really the even older technique of painting and compared to that linoprint is already a medium of reproduction, which is also quite easy to handle, so you can do it without a lot of technical requirements. Really it´s the basic and most simple idea of moving pictures, almost like a flip-book but of course on a different level aesthetically.

Q: How do you relate to the computer?

A: I hardly ever use computers – with my earlier films I didn’t use them at all – but now I feel increasingly tempted to work with the computer. I don’t want to replace the creative work with a computer but … well, you can correct, manipulate, you can do a thousand interesting things – but what attracts me to this so-called old technique is the very fact that it imposes conditions you have to adhere to, and within this framework you can do whatever you like, what you’re capable of … where there are too many possibilities from the start it often leads to standardized effects and simply a lack of direction as regards the content, the technique and also the topic.

Q: How much does the big city influence your art?

A: Well, Berlin … especially in the beginning it was quite a strong influence. Optically as much as in terms of language, this way they have here of abbreviating things, of finding short forms for expressions, for words – for a long time now I´ve been using this in my films. And then there are the commonplaces of city life – to pick up on those was something I was really interested in.

Q: Nostalgia?

A: I don’t see any nostalgia at all in my work. The fact that there’s a certain connection to the 20s, to wood cuts, to expressionism – that´s part of a tradition which is still being followed by many painters today - and hardly anyone asks them if it´s supposed to be nostalgic (laughs). It´s a stylized kind of vocabulary, it´s used in the same way as pop art or hard edge, abstraction.

Q: Linofilm – what’s old, what’s new about it?

A: It´s a medium with its limitations. But so far it´s actually worked out alright – finding a public for it, using it as a means of communication. It´s a new technique. But it´s not new in the sense that everybody is going to want to make those films. This much is obvious. The new thing today is the mixing of different disciplines – you´re not going to always reinvent the wheel, but you mix different techniques and that´s how new things develop.

Q: Where does painting fit in for you?

A: I hardly do any pure painting any more. I did study it – painting – but then I went off in the direction of films. I´ve also always produced larger scale prints, prints with elements of painting, but the pure painted picture isn’t the main thing.

Q: How do painting and film complement each other?

A: The paintings and the films do very much work together – they complement each other. So in paintings I find ideas for films, while films and topics inspire paintings. You could say both areas stand equally side by side.

Q: Concepts for exhibitions: painting, film?

A: Most of the films were first shown in art galleries where works from the films were also on show.

Q: This niche you have created for yourself between painting and film, is that part of a strategy to gain profile in the art market?

A: I can hardly think back today (smiles about the question of calculation). Maybe in the beginning there was a bit of that, that you wanted to escape the simple classifications … but today it has become second nature to the point where it has become a condition rather than a voluntary distinction.

Q: Your films have developed from a style that was pretty in-your-face (Mind the Doors) to more poetic and finally purely abstract works. Where will this development lead? A new political approach in sight?

A: Actually, my last film about the African states already contains both. There’s the political in that it´s about borders, and on the other hand it´s been abstracted to the point where it works purely as a pattern. For a while now I´ve been working on a film that´s probably going to be a bit longer – 30, 40 minutes - again about Africa – this time I´m not using the map as a starting point but several different angles, political, aesthetic – so I´m also looking at African art, that is one influence … this is the project I´m working on at the moment.

Q: Which techniques – other than linoprints – have you used in your films?

A: I´ve made a film in ink and watercolours … I´ve glued words on photos and made collages … some integrate linoprints, others don’t … lately I´ve been improvising with ink and brush directly onto paper for the camera as single frame animation. I´ve also coloured in photo prints, worked on news photography …current events in Africa, Zaire, that´s what I´m following, collecting material on.

Q: You’ve been making linofilms for almost ten years now – where’s the breakthrough?

A: (JK laughs, touches his head) Well, I don’t think you’re going to achieve the big breakthrough with a technique like mine. If there was any breakthrough it happened right at the start. Now it´s about making interesting films, interesting projects, interesting shows - then there always is a reaction – always has been, always will be.

Q: How did your ´career´ in film begin?

A: It all started quite playfully. For my first film I got a prize at the Hamburg Film Festival. Then I was able to get the director of the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival interested and together we produced a 35mm version. Then for a couple more years I went back to Super8, making films which were actually shown and so slowly a momentum built and I got public funding with which I made the next film.

Q: Strategy for planning your career?

A: Every TV interview, every exhibition, every time I show a film it´s part of this career. You move ahead with your work. You make contacts, keep chasing them up – sometimes it takes longer, sometimes things happen quite quickly, like a surprise – you just can´t plan ahead 100% and even less can you predict anything. Every artistic expression – if you want it to be exiting it involves risk and this risk remains. Where the risk ends is where management and planning begin and for me personally … well I can´t ignore it, everybody has to have contacts, approach certain people, make connections … but it´s not my priority, it´s not like I´m saying: whatever happens I´ve just got to pull a career out of a hat somehow.

Translation: Anna Kirchheim

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