Apr 19, 2013

Visual Relicts of desert Spheres

Degree Dissertation in Visual Communications from Hristina Vardeva

Hochschule für Bildene Künste Hamburg 2012


is not only a geographical region but a whole cultural and historical thematic park itself. Te term occurs in variety of diferent disciplines: from mythology, religion, philosophy and literature to fne arts, flm and comics. Wherever I looked in and compared, I found an extraordinary discrepancy between polyvalent defnitions and interpretations, often tenably captured in metaphors. Desert spheres built a whole universe of symbols and images, each one unique and true for itself. Tey appear as an ideological concept, political platform, art practice and metaphor of life. Te images of deserted landscapes became a symbol of the alienation of humanity and a metaphor of the relationship between man and machine, civilization and wilderness.

Before I started working on my flm “ In the middle of the Desert” I had a vague idea of about deserts and their signifcance as cinematographic landscapes. With the typical naivety of a beginner, I was simply trying to imagine what kind of space would be able to visually express the existing alienation and emptiness in the todays ́ society. I thought of it not as a modern phenomenon but as normality that accompanies our daily life. I read that some people, who were chronically sufering from depression and melancholy, often depicted their state as an disorientated walk through a barren landscape. It is not only the sick imagination that makes the desert appear but the “reality of absence” that surounds us. Te modern urban surrounding is a gigantic labyrinth of sounds, walls and streets, in which people move and behave like machines. Tis modern life with its psychological, ecological and economical facets, has devastating impacts over people ́s imagination. What is thought to be an individual disability to adapt, is for me a clear sign of a modern disease, deeply-rooted in the fear from the inevitable end of human progress. From the moment in which we realize that democracy, global wealthiness and freedom are just an illusion, in which our parents desperately believed, we become children without future. In the era of modern apocalypse, we all witness how human lives, dreams and desires disappear, but we shrink with shoulders and continue, as if we know- this story was already written. So isn ́t this world without any meaning and dreams as empty, inhuman and hostile as the desert itself ? Is the desert a visual relict of the end of human civilization or the image of one new beginning?

In my flm “In the middle of the Desert” I don`t try to fnd answers, I just point out a way out of the general disorientation and show the reality that surrounds me. In this essay I don`t try to make general conclusions about the relation between and modern reality, I just try to encrypt its metaphorical meaning in modern cinema. I start my explorations with a short introduction in the etymology of the word , that would inevitable lead us back in the past to its cultural and historical backgrounds. I put an accent on desert ́s signifcant presence in ancient mythology and 19th century literature. Tis retrospective shows how the desert transformed from natural event to culturally produced space and fnally reached the modernity as an esthetic concept. I will try to distinguish the borderline between cinematic setting and landscape, referring to Martin Lefebvre`s observations on paintings from the end of 17th century and their later transformation into modern cinematic forms. I will mention couple of Land art projects which played essential role in the further conceptualization and politicization of the desert landscapes in the end of the  ́60s and the beginning of the  ́70s. Tis period of political turmoils and ideological transformations will influence the appearance of new abstract visual forms and shows the eforts of some modern flmmakers to show the ambivalence of human nature through the metaphor of the desert.

The conjugation reflects the constant confrontation of nature and culture. With the fast-growing industrialization of the rural zones and the urbanization of the city, the image of the desert became visually present in human lives. Modern city landscape was a human invention but it surely appeared to many who were unable to adapt to it as another planet, like for Giuliana in Antonioni`s “Red desert” . Te feeling of alienation, disorientation and forlornness of many flm characters fnds expression in the threatening monstrosity of the industrial sublime. It is amazing how exact the cinematic landscapes can reflect the storm of feelings, how near the mirages from the desert can appear to the modern reality. becomes projection surface of extraordinary kind that overthrows the conventional order, deconstructs the space and the time and disbands the imagination. In many flms the barren landscapes reflect the disrupted situation of human civilization, lost in the ruins of its social order, torn between animal instincts and artifciality.

In the modern civilization deserts represents anti-spheres, opposed against the normality, against the logically explainable events or answerable through science phenomena. Tey are a places, where every moment something can appear and disappear, where the modern civilization does not have control and thus loses its superiority over life. Like a white piece of paper on which one could draw, the blank barren landscapes encourage the explosion of phantasies that go far beyond the dream- like illusion. As a ground zero, from which nations were built and identities have been grown, the empty desert suddenly hosts flm characters and encourages them to start a dialogue with their inner and think about the meaning of their lives. Under this groundlessness of the desert the reflexion about existential questions appears almost automatically. Te lonely fgure of wanderer in the desert is a metaphor used in many flms to illustrate the disorientation and estrangement in the modern civilization. Trough the medium of flm the desert becomes a world of poetic phantasies and political utopias, a new beginning and an inevitable end.

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