Thorsten Knaub was born in Erlangen, Germany, 1967.
He studied BA Fine Art at Byam Shaw 1994 -97
and MA Fine Art and Media at the Slade 1997 - 99.
He lives and works in London.
Within the gallery, a cinema environment has been improvised. A row of theatre chairs face the screen in a curtained space. 'The Cinema Machine' presents us with 100 films in 100 minutes, all selected by the artist from a range of 'top 100's'. Each film has been retimed to fit into a 60 second window, with the opening and closing moments being seen in real time.
A discussion between Robert Filby and Thorsten Knaub, Outpost 29th October 2006.
Robert Filby: Watching The Cinema Machine, in which the films feature chronologically, it feels kind of like a bio-pic of cinema, observing the birth, life and then impending end of the medium. (The final frames spelling 'THE END' or 'FINIS' feature prominently through the work, making a nonsense of our efforts as depicted). That they all fall within the last century confirms this idea that it's a retrospective of a phenomenon. Maybe I only really thought of this because to sit through it does remind me of how a character watching their life flashing before their eyes, precluding their death, is rendered within film?
Thorsten Knaub: Yes you're right, one could look at it like that although personally I never really approached the work as being this kind of 'bio-pic' or retrospective of cinema. The cinema movies just fulfilled certain characteristics I was interested in, the fact that their visuals are part of a shared popular memory, that people have seen those films or being familiar with them in some way or another. The chronological order was chosen on the one hand to not go into discussions about which movie is the greatest etc..., what I am not interested in, and to create another layer of time within the installation, spanning from the most distant images and towards the more recent ones, with the most recent one being in the last century as I felt some fog of time was necessary to cloud ones recollection. So in a sense this retrospective quality is one of the consequences of the work but not its starting point.
RF: The starting point is something mass-authored and recalled, that results in a kind of un-authored piece? Because the list format is maintained; so you almost share the ownership of the work with the audience. It's a more democratic list maybe. In a way, well, apart from the conceptual intent, the most significant thing you have done to the material is to reduce the films to their compositional or tonal values. So it has a painterly or surface quality, a sheen that relates the cinema ambience. In one way this works to validate the piece as a film within art; in another it makes the images equivalent to actual memories, not simply evoking memories. I mean, the signifying elements of these films are actually intact; there's that guy in either a tight white T or a red jacket all through Rebel without a cause...
TK: Maybe what happens in the work is that the viewer is presented with a film whose structure is more akin to the fabric of ones's memories rather than that of film, what I mean is that one seems to remember only certain images or short sequences out of the whole length of a movie - some of these images will be of the 'iconic' kind, e.g. guy with a red jacket and purely visual, as one may not even remember the name of the actor - and not the film in its total length. One interesting question for me is what does the viewer take away from this emersion within this kind image stream, new memories or merely a refreshing of the already familiar?
RF: I'm not sure it's about refreshment, more confirmation...? The Cinema Machine is notable, ergo memorable in itself, on the one hand because there's a lot of stuff in a very compacted time frame. I mean, it's quite a mammoth piece - to have undertaken and to have made, but also to absorb. Perhaps though, it cannot be recounted or retold with any more economy than with that which the film itself houses. Again this affirms the idea that this is the retelling of an end-point, and lends the film a satisfaction level I enjoy. Because 'work' and 'play' become more and more joined up in the modern day, with more mobile technology, and leisure time is at a premium, it feels like a 'job done' to have watched even some of your film... The 'Machine' in the titles seems to point at this?
TK: I think the idea of the 'Machine' comes as much from the process of making the work as the way it is presented now and it is experienced. The actual making of the 'movies' became very 'machine-like' as it involved a number of repetitive actions and digital processes and all in all it took about two years to assemble the whole lot. But I see The Cinema Machine also as a metaphor for the huge amount of information and data which surrounds us 24/7, and which we constantly have to filter to find the bits which are actually useful and helpful for us. The 'machine' doesn't take into account the human saturation point, it simply continues to do what it started to do.
RF: I guess I'd also want to ask about morals. The usually tender 'moral of the story' within a film is overwritten within a condensed version - it is completely destroyed by the speed at which it passes, even if some of the storyline itself survives. I wonder if you think this reflects an attitude of cinema audiences today, or even if there are any morals carried within your film in its entirety?
TK: I can't say about cinema audience in general but maybe worth considering to release this kind of 60-second version with any new releases as some people may prefer it and I suppose it is true that the condensed films are drained of any emotional or moral dimensions they may have had, as they are simply reduced to visual and sonic information, which in terms of 'morals' probably means the work has the moral of a machine and I don't know what that may be.
RF: Thank you. Kaavous usually makes a little joke at the end...
TK: HA HA HA