carlos adriano: first i would like you to approach the technical processes of making your films. please comment and describe how you made them - contact printing? optical printer? stop motion? which materials did you use?

thorsten fleisch: for silver screen I made several very big pieces of crinkled foil paper which I then put in front of the camera. I took single frames of each foil paper setting. I also changed the position of the light to get different shadow results. it's kind of a stop motion technique.

for blutrausch I had clear film leader which I covered with my own blood. I didn't use a camera at all. to make the screening print I gave the blood soaked filmstrips to the lab and they made an internegative first and then a screenable print of it.

hautnah involves several techniques. the first approach is similar to the one in blutrausch. I had clear leader on which I made finger- and handprints. I used different inks for this process.
for the next part I had several photos of my hands and also scans of my finger- and handprints in my pc of which I made positive/negative pairs. these I printed with my printer. with my bolex I now took single frames of all the computer prints. at first in a random order but after a while in a way to get the illusion of the continuous movement.
for the third part I filmed close-ups of my skin with the light emphasizing the texture. first in real time filming, after that I took single frames to get back to the flickery motion in the beginning of the film.

around the time I made blutrausch I also made an expanded cinema piece called 'feuer frei' for which I burnt filmstrips. I always liked the texture of that film. unfortunately it was unscreenable because of the fire treatment. recently I built my own optical printer to be able to make a screenable version of that film. that's basically the story behind friendly fire. it's not a frame by frame transfer though. I experimented with the rhythm of the frames and the exposure time. also the position of the light. I discovered that if you do not light the frame from the front but instead put the light at the side so it shines on the frame from the side you see more of the texture of the frame. little scratches for example and deformations. it was very interesting for this physically deformed film because it emphasized its three-dimensional nature.

carlos: was "K.I.L.L." shot on film?

thorsten: not really, it was shot with a hi8 camera. but I made about 180 photos of the skyscraper with no actual purpose in mind with my still camera. just out of an obsession with the building I guess. looking at the photos I found they had some kinetic quality to them which I tried to explore in my film. I reshot all the photos with my hi8 camera and edited them on the pc.

carlos: did you compose "gestalt" entirely with a computer? did you write a program for it? which algorithm did it involve?

thorsten: yes, it was composed entirely with my computer. I used a freeware called quat with which you can create still pictures based on several mathematical formulas (all of the formulas belong to a group of fractals called quaternions). I focused on one formula (x[n+1]=x[n]^p-c) and made series of images changing one or more parameters with each image. this was very tedious work so I wrote an extension for the program to be able to receive a series of images where I could choose which parameter to change for the amount I liked.

carlos: could you tell me some more about the techniques involved and the conceptual approach? what were you looking for or interested in when making this piece? are fractals an inspiring motif for your work?

thorsten: yes, fractals were very inspiring for me for gestalt. while still in high school my brother introduced me to the magical world of 2d fractals, so called mandelbrot and julia sets. we made a little super 8 movie zooming into the fractal just shooting single frames from the computer screen. it was too dark in the finished film which really was a pity. anyway, before making gestalt a friend showed me some 4d fractals. seeing them was a revelation because I have been wondering how to extend fractals to the third dimension and now I saw this beautiful fractals that were even from a mysterious 4d world. I studied a little bit of 4d geometry and fractals in general and found out the name of the 4d things my friend showed me. they were called quaternions. after a google search and found the freeware I was telling you about. I was also reading about superstring theory at that time which is about finding an all encompassing formula for the workings of the universe. superstring theory makes little vibrating strings the basis for all matter and forces. it works in a, depending on the theory as there are several different ones around, 10 to 26 dimensional space. so with this thought in mind about a formula that explains our universe I liked the idea of having one formula and trying to squeeze out the universe that's inside of it. and as you can see in the film it's a very interesting and bizarre universe of alien shapes and transformations. another thought was again the spiritual side of dealing with art and technology. if you assume that it's possible to describe the universe with a mathematical formula then it sure is exciting to work with the same tools to make a film. even if it is a completely different formula it still uses the same language which is mathematics. also if you go back in time there have been the pythagorean scholars that believed in the divinity of science and in particular mathematics. for them only mathematics held the powers to describe the workings of the universe. only with a scientifically working mindset one was able to achieve true enlightenment.

carlos: how did you develop the flicker system for "superbitmapping"? what exactly is the meaning of '0' and '1' in relation to black and white frames?

thorsten: well, the text you see in the beginning of the film was encoded in digital ASCII code. in ASCII code every letter has an 8 bit information made of 1's and 0's assigned to it. for example the capital letter H is written 01001000 in ASCII. I translated all the words from the text to ASCII and then I translated the 1's and 0's I got into a flicker ASCII code where each 0 would stand for a black frame and each 1 for a white frame. with this translation to film it is possible for a human to sensually experience the code that is originally intended for the machine/computer.

carlos: what could you tell me about your interests in working with the basic materials of film, the bare essentials, the very materiality of cinema substance, in relation both to your background education and to your actual personal choices in art?

thorsten: I'd like to describe my interest towards film with the scientific term of the bottom-up method meaning that I'd like to work with the fundamental elements that constitute a film which for me is the camera, the material of the filmstrip, the frame, the light, the sound. by examining these 'parameters' and their connection towards each other I hope to gain knowledge about film as a whole and about the subject I am dealing with in a particular film (the subject being often my body and mind). I'm basically self-taught. but I also studied film theory in marburg for almost two years and avant-garde film with peter kubelka in frankfurt for two years. I didn't finish any of the studies. I was never really comfortable with this kind of institutionalized learning environment. I never liked high school either. I managed but I didn't really care. I feel like I'm better off on my own.

carlos: could you elaborate on your definition of the bottom-up method?

thorsten: bottom-up method is a term which I stole from the scientists. I chose this expression because I like the flavour of it. originally it is used to describe a method of scientific investigation that begins at the bottom of a problem and tries to work its way to the top. the opposite is the top-down method where you begin 'at the top' or with the whole picture of the problem and try to go deeper and deeper into more detailed observations. the way I'd like to translate it to film is that the bottom-up method is dealing with film in an almost molecular sense (the single frame, the material of the filmstrip, the grain, the mechanics of the camera and lenses) and working its way up to the larger picture (the shot, the scene, the psychological effect of the film, the finished film). whereas the top-down method of filmmaking would be to try to understand the film as a whole. how the psychology works, in commercial film for example the importance of the screenplay, how the story unfolds. and then work your way into the smaller elements of film like scenes and shots and finally the frame and the chemistry of developing film.

carlos: your work focuses mainly on material. are you playing with surfaces or are you in search of any ‘soul’ of forms? the deeper you work on concrete subjects, the more abstract the work turns. could you talk about the purposes of your filmmaking? what is the overall concept behind your work?

thorsten: I see the filmmaking process as an extension of the examination of my own soul and the mystery of mental processes. I try to fuse with the machine in a way. it is a means of objectification. since I can't overcome my subjectivity when analysing / examining myself I can use film-technology amongst other things to gain more insight because it offers a totally new perspective on the specimen that is me. but all this happens more in a gut oriented way. I try not to think too hard about what I'm actually doing.

carlos: films like ‘silver screen’ and ‘hautnah’ focus on constructive investigation, whereas films like ‘K.I.L.L.’ and ‘hightech heimwerker’ focus on the nature of destructiveness, although both are de-constructions in a ‘structuralist’ sense. do you see this tendency in your work as dual stances, two poles of the same drive?

thorsten: that's an interesting observation. I haven't yet thought about it that way. K.I.L.L. and hightech heimwerker, as well as the other 'destruction' super 8 films I made, are very tongue-in-cheek. I didn't take them as seriously as my other films. to be honest I am not very familiar with structualist thinking. only superficially so I rather keep my mouth shut here. but I'm interested in it. I recently saw derrida - the documentary and I really enjoyed it. so I might go deeper in the future.

carlos: you have been working with filmic materials and filmic procedures as well as with digital materials and digital procedures. are there differences between working with film / photochemical tools and computer / digital tools for you, as far as structures and goals are concerned? if so, which are those differences?

thorsten: the biggest difference I think is that film is much more immediate to work with. you can really understand what you are dealing with. all the technical aspects are not that complicated. video and even more computers are not that accessible. but computers offer a new handling with reproducing, simulating and examining the world. they can produce three-dimensional scenery instead of the two-dimensionality of film and video. also in regard to the techniques of reproduction of reality they differ enormously. in film reality enters through lenses to be fixed by a chemical process with light being the carrier of the information. video is similar, the only difference being that it works by an electronic process. with a computer reality is modelled mathematically. a three-dimensional scenery modelled after a real scenery for example consists of complex relations to numbers and the interaction of numbers to each other in algorithms. also with a computer you can emulate a variety of processes. even model things that have no representation in reality as we know it as for example in higher dimensional geometry. I'm still trying to get more into computers. I find it a very interesting tool which is also frightening in its sheer amount of possibilities. and a tool not easy to understand. at least not for me.

carlos: you did community service in an institution for the mentally ill. did that experience give to you any feedback or inspiration for your work in film and video? if so, which ones, why, how?

thorsten: at that time I was just about to make my first music cd. so a lot on that cd is influenced by my experiences there. there is even one track where I recorded the voice of one of the schizophrenics staying at the institution where I worked singing a song about 'fritz haarmann' and then telling a few things about him (he was a very famous german serial killer - fritz haarmann, not the singing schizophrenic). but all that was years ago and I don't think it really shows in my current film and video work.

carlos: why did you decide to apply your own blood onto the filmstrip? what were the conceptual and aesthetic aims in view? how do you put this experience of blood stripping in comparison to scratching or painting directly on film?

thorsten: it was part of my interest in my own body and body fluids. when I was at high school I cut my arms open with razorblades just for bleeding's sake several times. I know it sounds very strange, it does to me now. I didn't cut deep though. on one occasion while drinking with some of my friends I cut myself accidentally at a broken beer glass. we were all very drunk already. on the way to the toilet to wash out the wound I sprayed the wall with my blood which the owner of the bar didn't like at all. so you see there's always been a little obsession with blood. for blutrausch I just liked the idea to have my blood interpreted by the machine. to get a different view that's made of a collaborative effort of me and film technology. I also liked the idea of "giving my blood for art" though this is a little tongue-in-cheek as well. by the time I made blutrausch I had the idea of a performance in the back of my mind where I would sell test tubes with my blood in a shopping mall. but I never actually did it.

carlos: in a certain sense, ‘hautnah’ could be viewed as a mix and upgrade of ‘silver screen’ and ‘blutrausch’, as a clear identification of film skin and human skin, mainly taking breathing as flickering. do you think actual cinema lacks breathing and pores? what do you think of the current ‘blood running’ (blood stream) of film production?

thorsten: I totally agree to your observation. well, it's difficult to answer. right now I am not watching many films. I'm on a diet. I watched really a lot of films maybe half a year ago. mostly japanese films, I think some of them had a lot of frantic breathing in them. I didn't watch many recent american or european movies. there are some recent mostly american experimental films I occasionally read about that sound very interesting but I seldom get to actually see them which is a pity. also some of my former fellow students from kubelka's filmclass are making interesting films but I hardly get to see their new works as well. I think that most current commercially produced films are too perfect looking. lacking moles and maybe an occasional scar that would make them distinguishable from each other. I also would like to see more mistakes. mistakes and errors are very interesting. I once attended a screening of a schwarzenegger film, probably eraser, when the film got caught in the projector and melted away. that was brilliant.

carlos: how could you place your ‘superbitmapping’ in the tradition of flicker films (kubelka’s ‘arnulf rainer’, tony conrad’s ‘the flicker’, sharits’ ‘ray gun virus’)? which comparisons do you draw from flickering in film and flickering in digital?

thorsten: I have only seen arnulf rainer so far so I can't really talk about the other two. what I tried with superbitmapping was to have a theme explored in three different ways. a little bit similar to my approach in hautnah where I wanted to show different representations of my skin interacting with film. this time the theme was information. I find information itself very fascinating. it is basically invisible. you can pass information to another being in a variety of ways, disregarding distances. you can also pass information in time (it's only possible in one direction though). so at first we are given the information of what this film is about, then it is transformed to a series of 1's and 0's that are only intelligible for a computer but deliver the same information if you know how to read it. with the third part I wanted to make the computer language physically perceptible. so I chose to have the film flicker the information. the flicker film is a very physical film in terms of perception. it stimulates the eyes very strongly. I think only a third of superbitmapping is actually a flicker film. it is not really about film itself like arnulf rainer is. kubelka made a brilliant film about the essence of cinema reducing it to the most basic ingredients light, darkness, sound and silence. I made a film about transformation of information, and perception of information.

carlos: ‘friendly fire’, along with all mastery of colour, rhythm and time, has an extraordinary power of mystery. considering it as gnosis allegory and the prometheus myth, do you see film artists taking the fire from film gods or film muses to make one’s own work? do you think your films aspire for any transcendence (also in metaphysical sense)? do you believe cinema as ‘alchemy’?

thorsten: thank you. great that you mention the prometheus myth because a project I have in mind and hope to finish this year deals with the prometheus, golem and frankenstein myth more clearly. it's funny that animation, which in a broad sense some of my films can be called since they were shot by single frame, literally means to give life to something lifeless. I think film has great spiritual potential. it's a descendant of painting. and painting evolved from the desire to create something that evokes feelings for the divine. like russian ikons for example. also interesting in this context is the prohibition of pictures for religious reasons. for a fear of secularisation of the holy by depicting it. I also like the idea of alchemy. personally for me filmmaking is a kind of alchemy practice.

carlos: did you shoot actual filmstrips being burnt, I mean, being under fire consumption/combustion?

thorsten: no, the flames you see are from a session where I burned an old guitar on the kitchen table.

carlos: which are the main trends and threads you see going on now and for the future? what are the paths interesting for your art film research?

thorsten: I have high hopes for HDTV. I think it will be a brilliant format to fuse film with computers. the resolution is good enough to make a 35 mm cinema print and you could edit everything at home on your pc with all the postproduction and computer generated 'special effects' (and it's in 16:9. I really dislike 16mm being 4:3. super 16 mm would be better but nobody screens it. you'd have to blow it up to 35 mm which is too expensive for me). I'm trying to make myself familiar with 3d modelling and probably things like compositing and all this after effects stuff. but with all those new gadgets it's hard to stay focused on what's really necessary and what's just fancy eye candy with no relevance at all. I have to be cautious.

carlos: you told me you are building a tank for developing and a tool for printing your films at home. are you planning to do a different set or a regular model? why are you building these specific tools?

thorsten: well, I built an optical printer but the developing tank I got on ebay. I didn't build it myself because it wasn't that expensive anyway. the reason to build the optical printer was an economic one for the most part. I needed it for making friendly fire and buying one was out of the question. I like the do-it-yourself attitude. as a child I was often helping my father doing stuff for our house. he had a well equipped workspace and a subscription of "selbst ist der mann" a magazine with ideas and detailed instructions on how to do things yourself to make your home nicer. I refer to all this in hightech heimwerker. the developing tank is a pretty regular model I guess. the optical printer is very basic so it allows a lot of tweaking. while doing friendly fire I tried out several things like for example shining the light from the side, which I told you about earlier, which gave interesting results.

carlos: you also told me you were thinking of making a film with / about crystals on a filmstrip. how do you intend to work with these materials and what is the concept behind it?

thorsten: yes, I just got this crystal growing kit. when I saw it at the store I was first thinking of filming the process of crystallization which I find very interesting. but now I want to try out if I can get the crystals to grow on clear leader and also on developed filmstrips which I then will optical print. the idea is to also film the process of the making of the crystal filmstrips and incorporate all the different sequences in the final film. going one step further than with friendly fire in which I had different approaches of the fire theme incorporated in the final film but not the actual process of burning the film. I'd like to do that with the crystal movie. but it could be that I don't like what comes out of it and decide to abandon it. who knows.

(interview with carlos adriano via email for trópico. reprinted with kind permission)