Interview with our June resident Pim Zwier

Pim Zwier, an artist and film director from the Netherlands spent the month of June at the the CEC ArtsLink Back Apartment Residency St. Petersburg. In this interview, CEC ArtsLink intern Maria Ivanova talked with Pim about his previous work in Russia, the influence of S.M. Prokudin-Gorskii (a 19-20th Century Russian photographer) on his work, and his current project in St. Petersburg.

What is the effect in Prokudin-Gorskii photography that interests you?

He needed to take three black and white filters to create a color image, and there are small time differences in between these photos. Every thing that doesn’t move gets a normal color, every thing that does move – the color starts falling apart, which is this beautiful effect. And it becomes a metaphor for our mortality of humans and very often within the landscape your moves become like a ghost.

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How do you work to achieve this effect?

So when I was looking at these photos, I became really curious how to transform it to the video and what it’ll do if I use it in video. [There is] a short film (“Three Dimensions of Time”) that I made almost two year ago when I was in Kansk in Siberia for the Kansk Video festival. I arrived at this festival, and I already knew the photos of Prokudin-Gorskiy, I knew the technic and was curious about it. Of course, they didn’t expect me there, so they didn’t have filters and I did all the filtering later in postproduction. You can do it traditionally with actually putting a filter on the camera, which I don’t do. I just do it in my editing program.

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Could you tell me more about the film you made in Kansk?

When I was in Kansk, we were really fascinated with all these traditional wooden houses “izba”. This film really focuses on that architecture and how this architecture as a tradition stands in time and doesn’t disappear and modern life rushes by in different colors. It’s just emphasizing the long period of time of tradition together with modernity, like what’s the contrast between them. So this film just looks at the architecture, but it’s architecture that represents a part of Russia, this is a part of Russian tradition.

You also traveled across Russia like Prokudin-Gorskii…

I’m not literally doing the same circle that he did, but he traveled around the country to get, create an impression of Russia by portraying people, by filming, by taking photos of architecture and I’m doing something similar. I’m looking for a specific form of architecture – in this case the izba. So I’m also trying to create an impression of Russia, my impression. In total it’s going to be a series of short screens or single screen installations, but together at some point it’s going to be a multi-screening installation.

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What about your project here, in St. Petersburg?

Here I’m actually not focusing on historical city center, I went from the center into the suburbs. I’m focusing on Khrushevka and Brezhnevka and also what came afterwards. And it’s very much what I’m fascinated with is when Khrushevkas were built. It was like a dream house. It was a huge step up for a lot of people. It was a huge improvement. People really loved them when they were constructed. And throughout time they got a really bad name, so there’s this duality between them. And the beauty of it – if you meet elderly people they can still talk about Khrushevka quite enthusiastically and happily, which is quite beautiful.

So I’m trying to portray that they had this beautiful future. [W]e still want to do a few interviews with people, to get a few lines of people saying their opinion about Khrushevka. In the final version, you’ll get every now and then a few sentences specifically about Khrushevka and Brezhnevka. It’s going to be a voice over and meanwhile you look at portraits of people, small details of their interior and then the film will go outside again.

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What about the colors and how do you use this technique for the work?

I’m actually combining it now with black and white photos. Most of Khrushevka and Brezhnevka are quite grey – because of that technique I can give them color, which make them look slightly more bright and colorful towards a nicer future so I’m looking at this combination. You can feel ideology behind it; some of them were built in a very green area. It was very pleasant there. I want to capture part that there is a pleasant part. To get a positive image also I’m using it to show. Some photographers who’re focusing on it, they make it very depressing; you can make very depressing photos if you want. It’s about what point of view do you use. Putting black and white photos in between is to get the other side. Briefly to take you back, but this is still working progress so it might not stay the same.

The plan is to create a completely different soundtrack for the film because you’re looking at houses, the idea is to only have domestic sounds like washing machine, somebody doing the dishes, cooking – like all those small sounds from houses and nothing else. We’re going to do a lot of folium recordings for this and to completely construct a soundtrack based on all domestic sounds.

What are the specifics of doing this project here in St. Petersburg?

One of the reasons why it didn’t work for me with this technique in Amsterdam is that Amsterdam is also historic except that it’s so renovated that it almost becomes like a film set. You don’t feel the time. And although it’s a historic city, Amsterdam feels like it is only about here and now. And if I move to Russia, it feels like there’s different sort of time here, which is very fascinating. It’s a different mindset and also through a lot of the buildings you can actually feel time. More decay is allowed and you literally can see layers and layers of history. In Amsterdam it’s completely brushed away, you don’t feel it anymore, which is a shame. There’s no connection with history. Here I felt way more connected with history as well.


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