Spaces of Identity - Part 23

posted by usha on 2006/12/27 11:54

[ Spaces of Identity ]

It still seems to be impossible, to travel to the Balkans without traveling back through time and not only forward through space.

Ulrike Ottinger's 6-hour film Southeast Passage. A Journey
to the New Blank Spots on the European Map
ethnographically documenting her voyage from Berlin to Odessa and Istanbul, on the one hand, and unambiguously directing the viewers perception by quoting the story The Specimen,' a short story written by Valentin Katajew in 1926 about a male Sleeping Beauty - fallen asleep in 1905 and waking up in Sowjet times - doesn't only cite the veteran images of the Balkans as the Unknown Lands of Yesterday, to a certain extent it recreates this space.

On Ottinger's asthetically and unpretentiously designed homepage photographs, filmstills, texts, and clippings of her fims can be found. In one respect, the Southeast Passage, visualizing and re-presenting a journey, is another bead in the chain of Balkan voyages: the Balkans aren't only Europe's margin, they - still or again? - are blank spots on the mental maps of today's makers of Europe. Thus, it is no surprise that the commentatiors and interpreters of the film most often pay attention to differences marked by poverty, oblivion, cultural distance. Yet, at the same time these differences speaking of are always on the edge of becoming signs of authenticity and 'something more real':

I was struck by the humanity of these women - no waifs here, no Botox, just big arms, ample busts, and lots of caustic interaction. Heaps of white cheeses, making their visual appeal amid pools of translucent whey, lashings of rich, opaque cream. Then the fishwives, to use the old term, offering up their glistening, fleshy catch, vying with one another to display the superiority of their wet, scaly wares and impatient for the sale. Here, among the market women, Ottinger constructs that seductive amalgam of nostalgia and utopia that so often filters our view of marginal, outmoded lives and practices.
Is the affinity of carnal copiousness, the swelling of the female overripe, abundant flesh with killing (fish) and death in the gaze of the camera or in the viewer's eye? It's almost undecidable, though the emphatic and empathic space created by the camera is also a space of constant passage. The certainty of "passing through" is probably the guarantor for empathy. It's probably that what makes bearable the physical contact with the losers of globalisation and with the above-mentioned female flesh unfamiliar with "Botox" that in our own environment would rather be disgusting.

Much to my delight, Ottinger's own remarks on her film are far more distanced and down to this earth, undivided by too different cultures:

Places and worlds beyond the interest of the media are at the mercy of the law of forgetting. The spotlight fades and that which urgently needs public attention lies in the dark: poverty, hopelessness, and the population's fear in the face of terror from the state or from gangs, of Mafia-like business practices and paramilitary despotism.This is not a journey to a far-off land, outside of our cultural circle; it takes place along the old transport and trade routes through the decaying empires of southeast Europe. The images collected at the side of the road distill something essential from a number of small but significant observations: the coincidence of the lack of coincidence in living conditions.



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