LISL PONGER [Passangen/Passages, 1996]

Lisl Ponger creates an imaginary map of the 20th century on which the stories of emigration are engraved like well-worn tracks of occidental memory. Ponger uses the found footage (amateur film material such as 9.5mm, Normal 8, Super 8, etc), made by observant tourists, to tell another story one which is all the darker for its contrast with the coloured brilliance and exoticism of the images. The normality of the travel memories slowly begin to take on another dimension when we concentrate on the sound track, …as a postcolonial journey. A journey through exactly those countries which long ago have been shrunk together in space and time.

The lessons available from Lisl Ponger’s cinema take many forms, but perhaps one could claim that most of them are separate versions of the same lesson — the lesson of coming to terms with our own ignorance. This is already apparent in the most elementary way in the earliest film of hers, Film — An Exercise in Illusion 1 (1980) and Film — An Exercise in Illusion 2 (1983)

What do we mean at this point by “real”? This is the question most of Ponger’s films ask, and the answer to that question typically turns out to be that we do not know. 

By the time we arrive at Passages (1996) a decade later, Ponger’s methods for structuring the delayed recognition of our ignorance have become far more elaborate and taken on a good deal more ideological weight. From the beginning of that film, while we hear the voices of travelers recounting various details of their trips, we see various touristic images that momentarily seem to match these accounts but much more often collide with or contradict them. This evokes a lesson imparted by William S. Burroughs in the final section of The Ticket That Exploded (1968), a chapter entitled “the invisible generation”:

what we see is determined to a large extent by what we hear you can verify this proposition by a simple experiment turn off the sound track on your television set and substitute an arbitrary sound track prerecorded on your tape recorder street sounds music conversation recordings of other television programs you will find that the arbitrary sound track seems to be appropriate and is in fact determining your interpretation of the film track on screen people running for a bus in Piccadilly with a sound track of machine-gun fire looks like 1917 petrograde  you can extend the experiment by using recorded material more or less appropriate to the film track for example take a political speech on television shut off sound track and substitute another speech you have prerecorded hardly tell the difference isn’t much record sound track of one danger man from uncle spy program run it in place of another and see if your friends can’t tell the difference it’s all done with tape recorders consider this machine and what it can do […] 

"When the background sound, the synchronized sound, and the image match up, the result is a filmic unity, a constructed reality” -Lisl Ponger-

In fact, what Ponger is both explaining and demonstrating is that maps of all kinds — meaning all systems of arrangements, including catalogues, exhibitions, and compilations — are ideological constructions. Some are voluntary and conscious and others are involuntary and unconscious, but all are profoundly political. And the exploration proposed by her cinema is ultimately spurred by how little we know about them.


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