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jotta: Many congratulations on winning the Film London Jarman Award. How long have you worked together, and what are the advantages for you of working collaboratively?
AK/DP: Thank you. We've worked together for almost 6 years now. Collaborating means we’ve been able to take on more ambitious projects and support each other through different stages of each project. The inevitable debate and discussion between us is also a way of distilling thoughts and pushing ideas forward. But the differences that often arise do not always have to be fully resolved - we’ve always attempted to retain a certain degree of autonomy both in the separation of production tasks but also in the ideas embodied in the work. This was especially true of The Empty Plan, with one of us more focused on the Californian exile period and the other primarily interested in a close observation of actors deploying different performance modes.
You mention, The Empty Plan (2010), which dramatises Bertolt Brecht's exile in Los Angeles in the 1940s, interweaving a 'biopic' element with scenes from his 1931 play The Mother. What inspired you to make a film about Brecht?
Brecht had always been a reference point in our work and we'd approriated some of his devices – like 'chorus' style narration or anti-naturalism. But we wanted to go beyond using Brecht as a 'sign' for a certain political/didactic approach and interrogate his methods both in regard to their historic specificity but also their continued use today. The Empty Plan became a way of thinking through questions we have about the relation between form and politics, theory and practice, in an art context where critical gestures have become ubiquitous but somehow lost their broader resonance or connection to social reality.
In the film, Brecht carefully pins on his wall a motley collection of images - reproductions of paintings and an etching of Galileo, diagrams of the moon, a photograph of a bridge. Does the arrangement in some way mirror your own strategies of juxtaposition and allusion?
During his exile Brecht experimented with juxtaposing text and found images and his Arbeits journale were full of annotated cuttings from newspapers and magazines. For Brecht these cuttings were part of a process of figuring out how to represent modern life under capitalism, not just as surface phenomena but so that often invisible connections between events, things and people are also revealed.
We wanted to use similar cuttings to indicate the historical context to the film but also to illustrate the progression of key ideas in Brecht’s work during that time. By enacting Brecht’s gradual move towards the past we're also questioning his use of history to comment on the present. One of Adorno's greatest criticisms of Brecht was that, in plays like Mother Courage or Galileo, Brecht tended to use pre-capitalist settings to shed light on late capitalist problems. But this question is also one we put to ourselves in relation to our films – how far can our evocation of history shed light on the present, and to what extent can it point up the precise difference between past times and our own?
Your film The Last Days of Jack Sheppard (2009), based on supposed meetings between Daniel Defoe and eigthteenth-century criminal Jack Sheppard, was accompanied in exhibitions by installations of archival texts relating to Sheppard. What was the idea behind these archival installations and do you regularly create physical 'parallels' to your films in this way?
Every film we've made has had some kind of accompanying material or exhibition that compliments and extends the questions of the main work. For Polly II and Trail of the Spider we created photocopied zines, but we've increasingly had the opportunity to work with archive displays. We're interested in the conflicts in and between different ways of presenting or embodying ideas.
In The Empty Plan Brecht tells his wife, "works dealing with guessing are far more artistic than those dealing with knowledge." Is this your own view, and if so in what ways do your own works deal with "guessing"?
This quote goes to the heart of the problems that interest us, for example when we work between ‘research’ and speculative fictions. In all our work we want to gesture beyond the current opposition between, on the one hand, a cliched idea of 'artistic work' - that is open ended questioning for its own sake, intuition, play, freedom, and so on - and, on the other hand, an 'empiricist' idea of 'provable' hard facts, research.
A lot of our work involves playing different positions against each other to try and point to a future beyond these dualisms/binaries. But like Brecht, we recognise that such a future must involve a real material horizon of social and economic transformation - it can't be wished into
existence by art or theory.
What are you currently working on and what, if any, ideas have you had for your Channel 4 film feature prize? Do you see television as new territory for which your work might have to adapt?
We're about to move to Athens for a year and work on a new project there. The Channel 4 work is likely to be related to that. It's definitely interesting to think how we might approach television, especially as our work is already full of references and devices from popular culture, but we're not sure what that might mean yet...