(May, August 2012)
Jiří Kotrla's creative method is his movement between the Czech Republic and Portugal, revealing the forgotten sceneries and reshaping their surroundings by using moving images. Through the footage, new film environments emerge, created only by documentation or subtle styling during the process of filming. As a result, Kotrla's creative work in his "role of a foreigner" seems as rather non-violent articulation of forgotten, though by-civilization-inward language composed of traces of post-colonial imprints, and as literally physical work on the shots. The author uses more universal English expression as a title of his exhibition (rather than its more specific Czech equivalents, in translation "colloquial speech" or "commonly spoken language"), reflecting his intentional work with references and fragments of citations – in this case from the book The Practice of Everyday Life by French thinker Michel de Certeau.
I myself classify the works that you prepare for the exhibition as an imaginary "diary of physical processes." Have you ever kept a diary besides localizing places through taking photographs, shooting and a personal archive of discovered objects?
No, I haven't. I have just several workbooks of ideas and notes. I would be happy to read my childhood diary, then nothing for a long time. If I reverse it, I have an intention to process family recollections.
You often photograph various settings that are supposed to become a starting point for your future videos. When documenting those places and stylized actions, is it important for you to know whether you really shoot the future shots? Or do you rather aim to collect subjectively selected film settings?
My initial intention is to transform the recorded locations; their atmosphere is determining for the further procedure during the work leading up to film mise-en-scene. In many cases those places are private and it is very problematic, moreover with zero budget and lacking production background, to obtain permission to shoot. So eventually only intentions and ideas in form of sketches are left. In the better case I keep on observing the settings and think about ways of either sequence production or a simple shot. The works with thus developing diegetic space is actually closer to me than the following installation in gallery premises.
The video Passing New History was made in cooperation with Rado Zrubec at the abandoned railway station Barreir, the little town not far away from Lisbon, in which you have been living for the last years. This camera ride became a starting point for studying "motion picture" in your work.
I don't perceive the ride as a reference to Lumiére's film history, not really. The historicism consists especially in a link to local (Portuguese) postcolonial and postimperial situation. Michele de Certeau referred to railway stations as Lost Paradise, End of Illusion; he also mentioned that means of public transport in ancient Greek were called Metaphorai – it was exactly what the location offered. The cart with a camera was pulled exactly as in Egypt – by rolling of hard pipes.
Formal simplicity referring to silent films is being disturbed by the creator's physical presence. Even though you are not captured, when watching the video for a while, it is obvious that you are the one who provides rhythm. This is straightforward reason why I tend to label your videos as "physiology of film motion." Have you ever thought about the process of your shooting as records of a performance?
I perceive the definition of the expression "performance" quite differently, it is very hard to explain. My life has a character of a performance; I don't separate my work from my life. Actually, I let them mingle which is given especially by the conditions I live in. From the very beginning of my stay in Portugal I enjoyed the role of a foreigner, the way of observing and reading. That is also the reason why I was attracted by de Certeau's texts in which he is describing ways of using individual's strategies and tactics (Common Hero) in everyday reality. Once I transformed my living room in Lisbon into an Internet café; now I perceive it as a strange life chapter. When standing at the office and asking for a licence, it was actually a sitcom. I might have open a bar, travel agency or scooter rental. I perceive those situations as a story (Film-Acting) of someone else. The record of a performance, as you mention, within the framework of the arts, is a different shape and different language for me. In fact it refers to the title of the exhibition.
In the video prepared for the Ordinary Language exhibition, movement is recorded by an unattended string of mature palms which opens into peculiar settings of a little field or a garden. Do you have any explanation for the origin of this paradox of "garden or park urbanism" which acts as overgrown film set piece or a way to a never-built palace?
If you walk through the alley, you suddenly occur in strange timelessness, in the space of fiction. If I show this place to someone from Lisbon, they perceive it impressive and initiation as well. It's not just about the palms, they are everywhere, even if it's true that you can find such a big concentration of them perhaps only in main streets. The route currently lacks its origin significance, in fact it's disconnected and therefore it's not perceived any more. Right behind the corner there is a dilapidated, once apparently significant farm – this is the palace which I didn't find so important to show.
Interview between Martin Mazanec and Jiří Kotrla.