Monopol magazine reported Thursday that German filmmaker Harun Farocki passed away on June 30, 2014, at the age of 70. Born in German-annexed Czechoslovakia in 1944, the Berlin-based artist was known not only for his provocative films, videos, and installations, but also his critical practice as a theorist, editor, curator, and educator.
Farocki studied at the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB) from 1966 to 1968. He would later become editor of the Munich-based journal Filmkritik and teach at numerous institutions including the University of California, Berkeley.
From the start his films demonstrated a concern for media and the agency of images in contemporary society. He analyzed images as they related to real-life expressions of political and cultural power, often focusing his lens on subjects like war, labor, and sport. His seminal film Inextinguishable Fire (1969) traced the chemical weapon napalm, as used in the Vietnam War, back to the chemical companies and often unwitting civilians that produced it. The film implicated its viewers, forging uneasy connections between the seemingly distant horrors seen on television and the everyday lives of Western observers.
Harun Farocki; Foto: Janni Chavakis
Investigations linking images and ideologies would continue throughout Farocki’s prolific career as a filmmaker—his website cites over 120 films and installations. Later, Farocki’s provocative documentary approach would give way to more experimental and immersive video projects such as Deep Play, a twelve-channel video installation picking apart broadcast footage of the 2006 World Cup final. The work was considered a highlight of 2007’s documenta 12.
In 2009, ArtSlant spoke with the Farocki on the occasion of his exhibition with Rodney Graham at Jeu de Paume in Paris. Francis Guerin described the artist as “unassuming, generous and ever the intellectual ready to engage in discussion.” Speaking about his four-part series, Serious Games, Farocki said at the time: “There's no need anymore for the real thing, we have the images.”
Harun Farocki, Serious Games II: Three Dead, 2010, Video Still; © Harun Farocki 2010
Serious Games is currently on view at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin until January 2015. Presented as a multi-channel video installation, the work documents visual tools used in both military training simulations and the subsequent psychological treatment of American soldiers returned from Iraq. Sonja Horning reviewed the exhibition for ArtSlant earlier this year, describing the work as in the “tradition of agitprop.” It “demands…critical observation.”
Over a forty-five year career Harun Farocki added countless images to the very media-scapes he so incisively interrogated and critiqued. He will be sorely missed by art, film, and academic communities alike, but his fire is inextinguishable—we have his images.
(Image on top: film still of the artist from Inextinguishable Fire,1969)