Polish artist Marcin Malaszczak’s Centrum installation explored his personal connection to the mental health institution that dominated the polish village Sieniawka, where he grew up. Amidst a formal filmic language that deals with space and time and places the viewer both as an ‘insider’ and outsider’, borders of ‘normal’ and institutional life, sanity, chaos, and ultimately humanity, nature and civilisation are crossed and re-crossed.
Marcin Malaszczak, a film and video director based in Berlin, has continues to work on a series of projects inspired by Sieniawka, including a feature film of the same name - see trailer below.
In conversation between artist Marcin Malaszczak and Kate Squires (Centrum)
Marcin Malaszczak is a film and video director based in Berlin. He has been working on a series of projects inspired by the mental health institution, Sieniawka located in the Polish village of the same name in which he grew up.
KS You have created an installation at Centrum from the material you filmed at Sieniawka, as a filmmaker what made you want to develop an installation in a physical space other than a cinema?
MM I started to work on the project Sieniawka in late autumn 2009 which at this moment consists out of four works: a feature film with the working title Sieniawka; the video installation presented at Centrum; another concept for a video installation, The Hi – room; and an installation Atavisagen. Above all I am concerned with and passionate about the moving image. By the amount of material that I have filmed and already while I was filming I felt that a big part of it will need to be presented in a different space than the cinema is in order to find complete expression with it. I would go even so far saying that the space of a cinema is a "non-space" or lets say the actual space needs to be neglected in favour of the imaginary space of a cinematographic image. There is no dialogue with the actual space because it is completely subservient to the cinematographic image. With this particular video installation my aim was to create a physical experience of fragmentation, disorientation and timelessness. Each screen shows a different long take that has been divided into four parts. Each part is being shown on the split screen at the same time. This fragmentation of a long take leads to a fragmentation of time and space in the work and in the space. Or time and space become relative to each other not only on the screen but also in the actual space itself, which is mainly due to the mirroring effect of sound and image. The spectator is never able to oversee the whole installation at the same time but is rather being put inside it, seeing only a fragment. The spectator has to move in order to see the other fragments. By not being able to see them all at the same time he or she has to put them together in his/her head. The speakers are facing each other like the screens so the spectator is not able to tell which sound is coming from which image. Therefore the sound becomes autonomous and in a way creates a 'third image' that fills the actual space in which the spectator is trying to orientate and connect image to image, sound to image, image to sound and the actual space to the space of the cinematographic image. The spectator's body becomes the meeting point of all of these elements, which he or she tries to put together. Eventually the spectator is left to experience present moment after present moment and so on which becomes one endless present moment.
KS Could you talk a little bit about the background to this piece, your relationship to Sieniawka and what led you to make this work?
MM I consider Sieniawka my most personal project so far. My aunt Irena Bielecka and my grandfather Piotr Malaszczak worked and lived at the hospital for the mentally and nervously ill in Sieniawka, for around 40 years. When my parents decided to immigrate to Germany around 1986 they couldn't take me with them. Sieniawka became the place where I saw the world for the first time. The so-called first images of my life reach back to that place in my memory. I remember being trapped in a playpen in a quite obscure room surrounded by handmade woollen pictures made by the patients. I had a hard time as a child to get used to the new world after finally arriving in Germany. I remember this constant light everywhere the neon signs, very much different to this anachronistic world of my grandparent's place and Sieniawka. I couldn't grasp as a child how it was possible that these two worlds actually existed on the same planet they seemed so extremely disconnected from each other. I realised through that how much as a human being one is basically disconnected from everything or some people call it the fundamental loneliness of a human being which reminded me of the feeling being trapped in the playpen in Sieniawka with no orientation whatsoever. At the age of 13 I underwent an operation were I was given a general anesthetic. The state I was in didn't feel like sleeping or even dreaming. It felt like someone would have cut out a piece of my lifetime and these lost hours never existed. That reminded me of my memory of the playpen. It dawned on me that a human life is basically surrounded by this nothingness. For the first time I realised the non-existence of God which contradicted my catholic upbringing. I do believe that the energy we carry with us goes somewhere after death but our consciousness comes out of this nothingness and goes back into it again. Being aware of that it is hard to believe in the continuity of time and space or something that could be grounded because I see my life floating on this nothingness.
KS How did you begin to approach making the film, confronted with both the emotional “familiarity’ and feelings of disconnection that you associate with it?
Around 2009 I felt that the time had come to take on that project but still it took me I think at least another two years to fully realise it. I soon noticed that it wouldn't be about recreating a certain memory or emotion but rather confronting myself with the state of the place at this particular moment in my life. As a child I wasn't fully aware of the different hospital wings and the patients inhabiting them. Now I could build up my own personal relationship to the place and the first thing to do was to enter the patient areas and get to know the patients (some of them have been living there for several decades). What was very different from my last work, Der Schwimmer and basically all the previous works was that for the first time I had decided to start filming without applying a preconceived aesthetic form or structure and to take the cinematography of the film entirely into my own hands. The only thing I was certain of was that it had to be a direct account and documentation of my perception and experience there, however it might turn out eventually. I arrived to what you see in the installation quite early on. I think it happened on the second day of filming when I felt how to position myself to what I see. My intuition would make me look for a place in a particular room where I would be static but at the same time able to pan in every possible direction. In the case of the video installation at Centrum, dealing with, so to say, the social room of a patient area (which is situated in the middle of every station being directly connected to the corridor from which you can access every room), I would choose to place myself in the centre of it. Then I started to make these very long takes, which consists of moments where the camera is panning and tilting and where it is completely static. When the camera moves it always does so at the same pace. I would always decide in the very moment of filming when it should move and to which direction and when it should be static, showing someone or something. The outcome of each long take would be unpredictable. My performance of movement can be linked to the state of the patients. In a way, they also move constantly without arriving anywhere, this movement would continue endlessly if death wouldn't cease it finally. This is the illusion of movement and the deconstruction of time and space - you are witnessing a present moment that lasts endlessly in a space that falls into pieces.
KS The installation that we see at Centrum doesn’t show the very personal connection that you’ve talked about, did you make a conscious decision to remove yourself in installation and focus on more universal themes?
MM I think it is important to differentiate between what you explore personally as a human being and what you explore artistically and philosophically as a filmmaker. There are of course touching points but sometimes there can be also none. It had to be a direct account of my perception in the very moment of filming which differs from what I perceive as a human being. Although I am talking about my perception it is actually more about what the camera the instrument that I direct and use sees. The camera always sees more than the human mind can grasp. Rather than creating a personal diary I am confronting myself with the unthinkable in relation to mental illness, the institution and, universally speaking, time, space and the human condition, in the very moment of filming. There was a greater need to approach everything in a more universal manner which I also think is far more important to confront the spectator with. By that I also believe to be even more personal because I am dealing with collective fears and what it means to be a human being or just simply to exist.
To see an extended trailer for the feature film Sieniawka: http://vimeo.com/18998825
To see Marcin’s previous work Der Schwimmer visit: http://vimeo.com/18991655