Thorsten Fleisch is one of those artists that with his works, in my opinion, spontaneously gives meaning to theory, currents, opinions, discourses and discussions confusingly gathered around a specific theme, anticipating, in this, modalities and analysis often understood and shared but rarely expressed in a concrete way in a work.
This is what’s going on in the video-art and audio-visual contemporary world, experimentations of sounds and images, audio and video through the obsessive use of digital and its instruments, it doesn’t matter if new software or tools for the managing of live flux. It is pointless to remember the consequent stimulations, aesthetics and representations flattening that turned lots of artists into similar copies, sons of an époque that sees the multiplication of festivals and exhibitions of any type, reachable through low cost flights able to interest a net of audio-video nerd that even a budding sociologist could recognize as the ideal melting pot of any aesthetic-cultural plateau.
So here’s the Berliner Thorsten Fleisch , an audio-visual artist in the most analogical meaning of the term, a director in the most modern meaning of the experimental cinema, able to brake down every artistic barrier, every definition, every primordial instinct that often annoy the new-media critic, that affirms: “well, nothing special, already seen!”.
Well, some of Fleisch’s works are already dated, clearly they’ve been already seen. His most famous work, Gestalt, had the Honorary Mention at the 2003 Ars Electronica and travelled around the video and new media art festival of the entire world. Unfortunately, it’s been travelling since three years ago, often accompanied by some more exciting companions, such as Energie!, Friendly Fire, Kosmos, Silver Screen, VideoSkin, BloodLust . What does it mean? First of all, their works are, unusual in his area, without time. They’ll live through the years and emerge over the creative chaos of nowadays. Secondly, his videos have a unique concept, cinematographic set up, experimental approach between analogical and digital, and pure audio-visual aesthetical result.
I had the honour to chat with Thorsten Fleisch of his work. His favourite themes of the relation between body, nature, matter elements and technological instruments (as in Energie!, where an energetic electron beam is impressed on photographic paper; Kosmos and Friendly Fire, where the combustion processes of the film are visualized; Silver Screen, where the modification of the light parameters and prospective on a sequence of paper sheets brings unexpected audio-visual dynamics; BloodLust, where the artist blood paints pattern under the effect of a video projector with an optic sound; VideoSkin and SkinFlick, where the beams emitted by a TV are visualized observing the effects on skin), 16mm recording techniques placed side by side to the ability to customize digital software and HD techniques, fascination towards the fourth dimension theories and quaternary fractals to describe unreal universes, whose visualization is the work itself (as in Gestalt and in the yet inedited Dromospehere ).
A unique character in the foreground of the video art that, going back on what said before, gives a living answer to interpenetration between video art, experimental cinema, audio-visual techniques and work modalities interconnected between analogical and digital.
Marco Mancuso: Your movies seem searching for a dialogue, a common sense and a unique and concrete interconnection between human body and its fluids, with nature strengths and phenomenon, of which the audiovisual dynamics are beautiful descriptions of something powerful and out of control. With movies such as Energie! (where an electron beam is impressed upon photographic paper), Kosmos, Friendly Fire (where film combustion processes are visualized), Silver Screen (where the modification of light and prospective parameters on a sequential series of paper sheets brings unexpected audiovisual dynamics), you seem interested to both, as well as to their possible interconnections and reactions.
Thorsten Fleisch: Yes, it is true. you touched some key elements of what I’m interested in. I like to look for patterns and new insights in nature (which includes my own body) and use technology to investigate it. technology that I can understand and use, technology that works on a visual level. I use technology because it gives me a different perspective than my own senses do. in using technology I come across its limitations and the fabric of technology itself which I then try to incorporate in my work as well. the result is sometimes a blending of the technology I’m using and the natural phenomenon I’m examining. sometimes the natural phenomenon even destroys the technology like the fire that burns the film material in ‘friendly fire’ or like the electrical discharges that sometimes made holes in the photo paper (for ‘energie!’) when the discharge was very strong. I have to admit I very much like disastrous outcomes in my visual experiments.
Marco Mancuso: And again. Looking at your movies, you seem interested to the frailty and beauty of our body under the influence of machines, energy and nature. I’m talking about BloodLust (where the artist blood paints patterns under the effect of a video projector with optical sound), VideoSkin, SkinFlick (where the beams coming out from a TV is visualized through the effects brought to our skin).
Thorsten Fleisch: Yes, there is a lot of beauty that needs to be seen. this is what I hope to find, what motivates me. I like the tension that comes from regular order contrasting chaotic order. for example in ‘bloodlust’ the chaotic order would be the patterns of the blood on the filmstrip which are put into order by the machinery of the projector, the regular rhythm it gives the chaotic texture.
Marco Mancuso: How do you usually work on you idea? What inspires you, where do you study the physics reactions described, how do you work on set ups, on a video technique, on audiovisual techniques and on the use of possible digital instruments?
Thorsten Fleisch: That depends on the project I’m working on. I can give you a very recent example of the film I’m working on now. it’s called ‘dromosphere’. the original idea was to have a representation of einsteinian spacetime. to give a visual idea of 4d space not in the geometrical sense like I tried in ‘gestalt’ but more in the physical sense. normally when you ask people about the 4th dimension they’ll reply that time is the 4th dimension. that is true of the physical description by einstein, but of course it is not the only truth as it can also be described geometrically. anyway, so I wanted to give a visual representation of 3d space with time included to make it a 4d space. to achieve this I build a camera dolly that could control the shutter of the camera. the camera would face perpendicular to the tracks of the dolly. at position 1 it would open the shutter and at position 2 ( a few centimeters after position 1) it would shut it again. after each frame I would move the tracks of the dolly in the direction of where the camera was filming (perpendicular to the direction the dolly moves). so in a single frame I would also have movement (from position 1 to position 2) and thus time. now with moving the tracks I could move in this 4d spacetime. problem was it didn’t really look that interesting. so I tried other things and now came to the solution that the most promising is to put 1:18 scale model sports cars on the dolly and move the camera around them. so I have the car in motion but at the same time very still like a speed sculpture.
As you can see the concept pretty much changed from the spacetime concept at the beginning to the experiment in velocity and the phenomenon of speed it is now (who knows what will still change until I finish the film). on the theoretical level I now moved away from einstein to jeremy clarkson with drops of paul virilio sprinkled upon to add a little philosophical flavor and a few grains of futurism for a touch of history.
Marco Mancuso: Your movies are appreciated and acclaimed by critics, both the experimental cinema and the electronics audiovisual professionals. Do you think the technologic dialogue between analogic and digital can be the key to understand this polarity or is it all up to your abilities to create suggestion, mixing different techniques to obtain something new and never seen before?
Thorsten Fleisch: Well, I come from experimental cinema and always liked the materiality of film compared to the ones and zeros of the digital world but on the other hand working with 16mm film feels more and more like being a dinosaur. I don’t like to fetishize the material. all this discussion 16mm against video I find very boring and not inspiring. it’s like whether you like the old star trek better than the next generation. geek talk. nothing is better just because it’s done on film. both film and video are just media, carriers of visual and aural information. they differ because they represent different concepts of technology and also different times in history. on an aesthetical level I never really liked video in the past, but now with HD I find it is a very good visual medium to work with.
I like the immediacy that you don’t have with film. and also it’s so much cheaper. what counts for me is how to generate the images. in that I think I’m very analogue (except for ‘gestalt’) because I’m not really a programmer or coder. I have only superficial knowledge of computer languages. also I find 3d modelling software much too complex. I tried getting into maya but gave up. I think it is very powerful but I’m too chaotic and disorganized to work with it. the problem with digital technology that I have is that you have to be really exact at what you’re doing. there’s not much room for error and disaster. but I like errors and catastrophies which I only get with the machinery that I build myself and that is not digital but mechanical and electrical mostly. of course I’m aware of glitch art that deal with errors in the digital but to work there you still have to have a good understanding of computer languages.
Marco Mancuso: Talking about Gestalt, lots of the avant-garde styles (as Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism) and some of their most important artists (Picasso, Boccioni, Duchamp) were influenced and fascinated by the potential and dynamics of the fourth dimension, principally in Nature, universe and physics, not reckoning with any maths or scientific approach. With Gestalt you worked on the visualization of this fourth dimension starting from algorithms and scientific studies about quaternary fractals, as engine of a real “expanse dimension”. How did you work on those theories and how did you visualize/animate the algorithmic transformations of the fourth dimension in a simple three-dimensional space? Did you use some kind of special framework of spatial geometry or a particular software?
Thorsten Fleisch: I first worked on 4d fractals using a photoshop plugin called KPT5 (kai’s power tools 5). it had a filter called frax4d and I used it to make small animations. but I soon reached the limits of this filter and when I learned that those 4d fractals were called quaternions a google search brought me to a quaternion image generator called quat. this little freeware was much more powerful. after experimenting with it a while I wrote a small plugin to serialize the image generation process as I wanted to do animations. so it was basically the freeware that did all the work. I just spend months changing parameters like diapers of my fractal baby.
Marco Mancuso: Gestalt received a Honorary Mention at the Ars Electronica 2003 Festival and it’s acclaimed all over the world as one of the most innovative piece of experimental cinema. I think it’s a perfect combination of what we were saying a few minutes ago, that is the visualisation of algorithmic four-dimensions sequences (as possible extension of 0 and 1 at the basis of the electronic known world), with techniques at the borders between analogical and digital. A strong contrast
Thorsten Fleisch: Well, sorry to correct you but ‘gestalt’ didn’t receive the golden nica. it went to ‘tim tom’ a french computeranimation. ‘gestalt’ received an honorary mention’.) I think that the visuals look really unusual from what the digital is usually associated with. once someone told me that he had a sort of deja-vu when he watched it as he dreamt about stuff like this before. personally I was very interested in superstring theory at that time and liked the idea to explore a visual world of just a single formula. and of course even more exciting that it was originally from a complex 4d geometry that can only be seen by downgrading it to our 3d world.
Marco Mancuso: One of the next idea of Digicult is the opening of Digimag its magazine to the form of the so called hyper-architecture. What do you think of those architects that work with digital software and precisely with the fourth dimension (as Hadid or Novak)? How is it possible to visualize their concepts, the architectural forms they foresee, in our 3D world, urban space or city?
Thorsten Fleisch: I’m very interested in these new architectural expressions. marcos novak’s work is especially inspiring for me. he takes the concept to the most extreme. it’s a pity he no longer seems to pursue his transarchitectures. I heard that he’s now doing secret research about nanoengineering/design which sounds superinteresting but there’s no solid information just rumours. I think there is a lot of potential for really interesting architecture not only because of the new means the computer offers but also because of the new fabrics that offer new static characteristics for example. now there is not only the architecture of the actual buildings but also the architecture of the fabric. and with the help of computers these two parts will hopefully merge together for unseen buildings and cities in the future. well, that sounded probably a bit too optimistic.
Marco Mancuso: Have you ever thought working with audiovisual live show or immersive installation for example? Have you ever thought playing a little bit more with the public, controlling some parameters of your video live or using interactive sensors, instead of “filtering” the projection on a screen?
Thorsten Fleisch: Hm, yes and no. every once in a while I think I should go into vjing for money’s sake as there’s really no money in experimental filmmaking. but then, I’m not really interested in the real time aspect of abstract visuals. or the performative aspect of it. also I wouldn’t really want to tour a lot. I like to visit new places every once in a while but I don’t fancy a life in a bus or on the plane. I’d rather stay at home and do boring things like sleeping, reading or play video games. I was in a metal band as a kid and we played a few live shows. it’s not really what I enjoy (even back then I much more enjoyed recording our songs in a studio).
I’m nervous in front of a crowd, also especially in new media performances there are ALWAYS technical problems. even with the film festivals I travelled to to present my films there are very often problems with sound and/or image that delay the program a lot. I wouldn’t want to rely on other people when performing. when I make my little films I don’t have to rely on anybody except myself. now I’m not the perfect reliable person myself but I know myself pretty well so I can deal with it; and I don’t have another choice anyway;-) the only thing I’m really interested in concerning the real time experience would be video games. I’d love to be involved in developing an interesting game with abstract gameplay. I think we need more experimental games! killing zombies, aliens or soldiers is fine for a while but sooner or later it’s getting very boring even with new crispy HD graphics.