The Alps in the Morning Sun
Show The Alps in the Morning Sun, “running” on Internet television Artyčok.TV is prepared by Czech videoartist Mark Ther since 2008 is the sentence to begin this article with. Even though this sentence contains every essential fact we wanted to highlight, we are aware of the fact that we owe our readers little explanation and small number of clarifications, especially if we assume that most of them are not familiar with the Artyčok.TV phenomenon or with the name (not speaking with the person and especially the work of) Mark Ther. Connecting television (to make matters even worse, an Internet one) with the section “Experimental film” can be also confusing. And for some readers of course the name of the program itself is totally confusing – what can it be about?
Answer to these questions will be suggested in the following article – devoted to what The Alps in the Morning Sun is about, but mainly, what is it like. Everything essential has been already said in the first sentence – now we will try to supplement it with meaning and plenty of pleasant experiences.
Is an “Independent platform mapping exceptional authors, exhibitions and video art.” It does so since 2005, in the form of reports from various cultural events (usually supplemented by an interview with artists or curators), profiles of artists (thus creating a collection of their audiovisual vignettes), lecture recordings (Federico Diaz, Vasulkas, Slavoj Žižek, Lev Manovich…) and fore and foremost by collecting the audiovisual works themselves – Artyčok is the largest archive of Czech video art. ((Aside from physical archives of universities, that are certainly more difficult to visit and less easily/quickly accessible in contrast with works accessible on-line on Artyčok.))
Another very important fact is that the whole Artyčok.TV is bilingual – there are not only English versions of texts, but fore and foremost, the reports and records are translated and provided with subtitles (accessible also separately bellow the posts). The subtitles can be switched on or off as desired or needed (so you don’t have to have the image disturbed by subtitles if you don’t need them). The entire project, whose “key idea was to create a space for publishing projects that had no coverage by the media, although their position on the live scene is important”1 is under the auspices of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU), where Artyčok also resides.
After all, more information and much more soundly prepared can be read on the web of Artyčok itself; you can also listen to the recording of radio program Čajovna ČRo 3 Vltava from January the 3d, 2012, concerning Internet portals Artyčok.TV and jlbjlt.net (Czech only).
What concerns us in this moment most is the fact that one of the people involved in Artyčok.TV, and that is on the position of director, is prominent Czech video artist Mark Ther. Since 2008, he prepares for Artyčok his own program that can be found in the section “Strawberries”. And The Alps in the Morning Sun is indeed such a strawberry or titbit.
Knees, strawberries, genial boys in yellow shirts, post-modernism and loads of art?
The Alps differs from other material produced by Artyčok both in its focus and style. It is still primarily about cultural news, reports from various events, exhibitions or places. However, in Ther’s viewfinder found themselves among other things also places other reporters of Artyčok wouldn’t possibly even dreamt of visiting – gallery combined with a café, art nouveau villa, cemetery, botanical garden. An exhibition of ceramic tiles or costumes used in famous 1979 television series for children, Arabela. Flea market in Vienna, an exposition of late entertainer Vladimír Menšík in Ivančice, shopping center, party for invited. Ther even takes us through pages of illustrated magazine or fashion catalog.
The selection of topics is closely related to the style of the reports that are dealt with in very authorial and postmodern way. Now let’s look at it closer.
This might be the place where the weaker personalities could be tempted to put some subheading
The first episodes of The Alps in the morning sun have typical intro2 (shot on a group of young, promising people dressed mostly in yellow shirts,3 sitting in front of postcard background of the Alps and looking in unison somewhere into the distance, towards the …? as on some kind of propaganda poster.
Stiff, expressionless faces slowly turns toward the camera and the heavy German accent can be heard in the audio track trying to pronounce Czech sentence: “Alpy! In…the morning sun.” Show can begin.) that is hoverer abandoned in later episodes, as well as the character of silent guide dressed in the dress evoking the times long past (see Figures 1 and 2).
Our guides through the program are men dressed in yellow shirts or black and white (female?) historical costumes. They take us quietly to various places, without speaking a word to the camera or to anybody within the frame. As if they were invisible, and yet they are almost constantly in the viewfinder. The difference between what is the object of interest of the camera and what is not is somehow blurred – in one moment it is our guide, it even seems that the exhibition itself can be glimpsed only in the background because HE decided to visit it, in next moment it is an interesting artifact and the guide is just “rather inappropriately” blocking our view. Handheld, insatiable camera is supporting and feeding voyeurism, observing from the distance as well as from dangerous proximity. Recording interviewed people long before they begin to suspect they are already being filmed, and letting the shot die away equally long, it benefits from their discomfiture and mischievously observes the atmosphere slowly soaking with embarrassment.
The typical way of capturing exhibition space is by turning the camera 360°, thanks to which we get fairly good idea on spatial arrangements of the exhibition, some outline of the exhibited works and we can also examine the visitors and custodians.4
The speed of camera rotation is subject of experimentation – it can accelerate till the image blur into undistinguishable color stripes, it can follow the guide, running in circles around the perimeter of the room. But the camera also gives the exhibits very close examination and you can never be sure what will caught the interest of its inquisitive lens – sometimes, it focus on the surface of the painting, sometimes it examines how will the texture of old chandelier change by switching the light on and off, sometimes it remains on some detail disturbingly long which forces us to notice – and appreciate – tiny things.
When visiting the gallery ‘Scarabeus’ (situated at Letná, Prague), which is a gallery combined with confectionery ‘Alchemist’ (see episode two), the exhibits in the display case of the confectionery are dealt with equal, or maybe even bigger amount of attention than the object on display in the gallery, which leads us to think about the Sacher-Torte for 50 CZK as a piece of art. A unique cake, beautifully decorated and placed in a glass showcase in the vicinity of gallery space and provided with tasteful sign, was probably initially exposed with completely different intentions than letting the visitors to contemplate about its aesthetic and artistic value. However, when the author of the program discovers it and puts it in the focus of the camera and in the context of art program and of other exhibited works of art, our perception of the cake will be altered.
Exaggeration, ironic detachment, humor, intentional operation with the element of awkwardness, aesthetization of everyday, revealing cultural potential here and demystifying it there. The camera with silent and inexorable objectiveness watches how people make fools of themselves by taking themselves too seriously and with the same detachment observes also the works of (“)art(“) or nature. Under this rigorous point of view, the differences between who “live the art” and who just pretend to do so, between The art and the “art”, between the nature and what we remember from it, are getting visible. Not everyone can handle this effect; thus between the lines of Alps sort of post-modern “message” emerges, created somehow by the way, is if nobody (paradoxically) even cared about it or, on the contrary, devoted much attention to make it look this way. Artistic value. After all, it is not important if it was the author’s intention or if such an element was introduced into the work unconsciously – whether by its creator or by its reader.
In his Artyčok show, Ther explores the structures – not only in the image or on the chandelier, but also structures of society, art, medium or genre.The Alps in the Morning Sun is full of interviews; it is, however, only the interviewed who speaks. The interviewer-Ther is never seen. On the other hand, who can be seen is the guide, quietly sitting aside, staring into the camera. Ther occasionally sweeps somewhere through the background between the gravestones. The presence of the cameraman or the whole supporting “team” standing somewhere off-screen can be however implicitly sensed – after all, as soon as in the very first episode there is a microphone, carefully composed into every shot, which draw our attention to the “documentary” camera that is capturing reality. It also implies that this program is not pretending being objective and unbiased record of reality (which is hardly possible), but rather recognizes how much is the result influenced, even unconsciously, by him who “objectively” captures the reality.
Thus the process of capturing objective reality is in The Alps in the Morning Sun perhaps even more important than reality itself. This is an exploration of when the reality can still be taken as objective and when we are prevented to see it as such by those external elements (guides, interludes, and in the latest episodes even aftereffects), introduced to this reality by Ther, that are too distractive.
Related to this is also the insertion of text into the image in postproduction. The text has not only informative character (program name, description of cultural event, localizing the coverage in place and time), but it is also commentary on what’s happening in the visual track (e.g. in form of the question mark, as shown on the image below), or the passage from intimate (probably web chat) conversation concerning the making of the program.5 During the last episode when this article was written (The Alps in the Morning Sun ep. 17, December the 1st, 2011), a small snowman, drawn in the bottom right corner, keep us company.
And there is of course the work with sound, something The Alps are especially good for (it is worked with its total absence and therefore with the total silence, changing into the roar of circular saw or – especially popular – twitter of birds, with shifting the diegetic sound so in the image we see silent person, while in the sound track we hear him or her still/already talk, etc.).
For The Alps, the play with language and human speech is also typical (not only already mentioned incorporation of a variety of text labels, insertion the text in postproduction, shifts of the sound track, but also the language expression of individual participants and its possible substitution or involving multitude of languages from Czech and German to Polish or English).
Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
The subject of Germanity or Sudeten-Germanity respectively, which is persistent in Ther’s video-art, made its way also into his program on Artyčok. After all, the very name of the program itself and its introductory sequence is telling enough, as well as the pleasing outfits of Ther’s guides, evoking the bygone times of Hitlerjugend.
In earlier episodes, there are in addition to the intro also short intermezzos, scenes inserted between individual reports, the hero of which is corpulent man (one of the guides) with a sleek forelock, dressed in yellow shirt, shorts and knee socks. The slicking of forelock stuck to the man’s sweaty forehead, or the grazed knee, belongs to the main visual themes developed in otherwise static, never-ending and rather disturbing shots of the guy standing motionless in front of the postcard scenes of the Alps, whose action is accompanied by extradiegetic twittering of the birds in the soundtrack.
This article should not end just as should not end the extraordinary show of Mark Ther. Let’s just tumble into silence, as the sound track in The Alps often does, and quietly await the arrival of the next episode. Or at least of Ther’s next videofilm.
The Alps in the Morning Sun
18. episodes, 5.11–10.57 min
Mark Ther, David Landa, Erik Sikora, Max Fischer, Jan Vidlička, Jan Habrman, Jan Mucska and others
The Alps in the Morning Sun can be watched here.
You may be interested in:
JEPPESEN, Travis. „Four Films by Mark Ther“. disorentations.com. 27. 3. 2008. http://disorientations.com/2008/03/27/four-films-by-mark-ther/ 25. 1. 2012
JEPPESEN, Travis. „Mark Ther, Czech Video Artist. The World According to Mark.“ Yahoo! voices. 25. October 2009. Dostupné z: http://voices.yahoo.com/mark-ther-czech-video-artist-4650087.html. 24. January 2012
JEPPESEN, Travis. „Queer Art in Central Europe: Travis Jeppesen on Mark Ther“. disorentations.com. 30. 4. 2009. http://disorientations.com/2009/04/30/queer-art-in-central-europe-travis-jeppesen-on-mark-ther/. 25. 1. 2012
Ther’s profile on Artyčok: http://artycok.tv/lang/en-us/8051/ther-mark (dir. Petr Hátle)
YouTube chanel: http://www.youtube.com/user/MARECEKTHER
For Czech biography please see Czech version of this article.
- JANČÍK, Alexandr. „On-line databáze českého audiovizuálního umění.“ In. PTÁČEK, Luboš (ed.) Současný český a slovenský film – pluralita estetických, kulturních a ideových konceptů. Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci, Olomouc 2010. p. 132; translated by MM [↩]
- the closing titles, on the contrary, vary from episode to episode [↩]
- among them, in a tie, Mark Ther [↩]
- “You don’t know who custodian is? Well, it is this quiet lady who unobtrusively sits or stands somewhere in the gallery or museum. She guards. Whenever she sees some mischief, she drops her knitting needles or Christmas cake and go after you! She catches anyone who examines the paintings too closely, who keep poking their fingers towards exposed sculptures or taking photographs where they are not allowed to.” MATUŠKOVÁ, Lenka. „Strašidlo v muzeu.“ Žena.cz, 5. 12. 2008. http://zena.centrum.cz/deti/clanek.phtml?old_url=deti/pohadky/2008/12/5/clanky/strasidlo-v-muzeu/ . 27. 1. 2012; translated by MM [↩]
- M.T.: ”I have a dress ready for you. Yellow shirt, black shorts and white socks. Will you wear it just for a while, won´t you? You don´t mind, I hope? Ha ha.“
M.K.:“Nooo! I am a descendant of Greek komo-partisans. If it´s necessary, then red uniform. Don´t be naughty, Mark.“ see episode 2 [↩]