Monday, April 20, 2009

The Vision of Herzog

Reading this week about Werner Herzog in Alan Singer's article "The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History" really motivated me to look up and watch what I could of Herzog's films. I had only seen two of his films; Grizzly Man and Encounters at The End of World - two of his most recent films and arguably two of his most popular. Reading the article first by itself made little sense to me and watching clips from YouTube really provided me a better context to connect with the criticism and language of the article.

A scene from Heart of Glass, 1976

The plot for Heart of Glass is set in an 18th century German town that contains a factory which produces a brilliantly colored "ruby glass." When the master glass blower dies, the secret for producing the ruby glass is lost, and the townspeople go crazy. The main character is Hias, a "seer" from the hills, who speaks prophecy to the townspeople. The clip I posted is the "vision sequence" that Hiar has while watching a waterfall. I think this clip incorporates a lot about what Singer is writing about and what Herzog is trying to achieve.

Singer states of Herzog's vision: "Herzog seems to presume a need for making desire itself the definitive limit of the human. This crisis of representation is faced by Herzog in his often cited statement that "we live in a society that has no adequate images" (p. 189).

The quote seems to back up what I believe is a Kantian and Romantic notion of the Sublime by Herzog. The article defines Kantian as "an object (of nature) the representation of which determines the consciousness to think the unattainability of nature as a sensory representation of ideas." Meaning: "the sublime is the mind's limit, a threshold of transcendent knowledge"(p. 185). Singer goes on to explain further that in the Kantian sublime, Nature will inspire the imagination to image its own failure and by that, the imagination can't really come up with anything else to explain what it is seeing.

I'm still a little lost by this but it is starting to make sense. This idea of the sublime is very related to the ideas that I understand about Romanticism which are at their core, part of the German national identity. An identity that is eternally searching for that inner-longing that can be satisfied by a sublime landscape. A landscape such that when one encounters it, one will have an experience that can't really be described using language. I think, photography is the language though that can describe it. And I think Herzog mastered it at an early age.

The most recent film by Herzog, Encounters at The End of The World, looks curiously at the continent of Antarctica through a lens that engages science through an understanding of Art. In the article by William Fox, Terra Antarctica, the occurrence of Fata Morgana is explained and I only wish Herzog could have captured this in his film. I can only imagine what it must look like, but by Fox's description alone, I think it could be an essential part of what Herzog wants to examine. What is in the film though is quite spectacular. The volcano stuff is the best!

After looking up some artists that work in Antarctica, Xavier Cortada was the one that caught me as the most interesting. Using painting and sculpture, Cortada examines how we come in contact with and describe the desert continent. Here's an article about Cortada working within the intersection of Art and Science in Antarctica.

Markers, Xavier Cortada (is that a bucky dome I see in the background?!)

1 comment:

  1. great post- but what is this class 'human nature image' that you and the others are going on with?