After These Things
Matthew Berka and Dominika Kieruzel
Matthew Berka is a London-based artist and curator from Melbourne who works with film, video and sound. Through audiovisual assemblage he creates speculative films that explore associations between place and the unknown.
Dominika Kieruzel is a London based performance and mix media artist. Her work touches on themes of memory, time and body. Her performances often convey a strong sense of the haptic, the symbolic and magic spheres, akin to the world of liturgical mass.
Dominika and Matthew started working together in 2016. Their collaboration developped through experimenting with places on both sides of the lense.
The opening verses - quotes from 'Inland', a novel by Gerald Murnane give a clue to the reading of the composition.
Matthew Berka and Dominika Kieruzel in Conversation
Dominika: I re-watched the film before our conversation and it surprised me, it seemed new and different than before. I remembered going to the site for the first time, Two Tree Island. You said something along the lines: 'Would you like to perform for me? I'd like to film a portrait in the dusk'.
Around the same time you showed me a painting by Albrecht Dürer, 'Heavenly Body in the Night Sky". What was on your mind at the time?
Matt: I think it slowly built up in my mind... It starts as a lead, you have to follow the lead and this lead can be very tenuous and very fleeting.
I saw the Dürer painting in the National Gallery, quite a few years ago, maybe the first time I visited after moving to London. It's a devotional painting, so it is made for the purpose of one person. It has this intimate feel to it, it is very small. It's encased in glass and it has two sides to it. I was struck by it. One side is the image of the night sky, but there is an abstract look to it, it is almost like a Turner. On the opposite side is the figure of Saint Jerome, kneeling and looking up at the sky. It is a strange painting, ambiguous, apocalyptic I suppose, with biblical references. So all those things stayed in my mind. And it's not so much that I had a very clear idea of making the film about that painting, but I was interested in whether a work of painting or a piece of fiction can propel other images and other possibilities. That led me to think about spaces on the fringes, light and darkness, spaces disappearing into other spaces. I started thinking about the edges of the city. Having just moved to London, I wanted to see the mouth of the Thames. Those things linked up. But initially it was very open and very loose.
I asked you to be in this film, not really knowing what I was doing and then it gradually formed from there, we gradually started building the work together, which was surprising, it was something I wasn't expecting.
What was that like for you? I'm always curious what your experience of filming was? If you can remember that? For me the experience of the film takes over the actual memory of the experience of filming.
I remember the filming very well. We filmed for a few hours at a time and we decided to not talk to each other throughout, unless absolutely necessary. So it was a strange situation. If you are silent with someone for a long time and film in landscape, it is strange. For me a lot happened during the filming internally, a lot happened in my relationship to nature and to my senses. It was unexpected, but I think it makes sense, performance sharpens the senses - a time of performance is exactly the time dedicated to being, feeling, experiencing. So I think that a certain relationship formed between my inner space and the outside, nature if you like - which included you and the camera. This channel, openness, the rhythm of it - I think it comes through in the film.
We talked about the camera a lot. One of the things to keep in mind while we filmed for both of us was not to think of the camera as something that's just documenting but something that has actual presence and autonomy, it is its own thing. Acknowledging the strangeness of the camera.
Yes, presence of the camera changes behaviour, changes awareness. This was very interesting for me. At first that presence created a tension and later it became something to overcome. I clearly remember the moment when I had to focus on plants, start feeling them and listening to them - in order to stop feeling self aware. I also remember the moment when I started to look at the camera as though it was an animal, a mechanical fly or something of a kind, when self awareness disappeared and curiosity came in its place. Strangely you and the camera were one body - or the camera was a sort of growth on you that took you over - as though you were a host. But it was all sort of biology, nothing felt sinister, even if occasionally scary. I think what is interesting is the darkness and depth you see when you look into the lense. It really is like an eye... The strangest thing happened, the lense became something of a safety raft for me when the elements scared me. Sometimes the sound of the birds, the cold, the loneliness was overwhelming. It was a strange state. I think I felt a little as though I turned off my prefrontal cortex.
I am interested in the way you bring the past into your work, both music and film. Sometimes those are very personal things and you bring them up as glimpses of those saturated moments. An example is the postcard that appears in 'After These Things'.
That postcard was found, I can't remember where, during some travel in Europe. I guess I'm always looking for things that resonate with other things in my life but also have connections to things that stick with me. The idea of figures walking up to promised land of Jerusalem, it is something that has been in my mind for as long as I remember. My grandparents were Christadephain and I remember as a child reading about it and hearing my grandmother's descriptions. She would read the passages of the bible and show me illustrations of Jerusalem and this idea of it being this kind of both real physical place but also a place that is in potential or isn't fully realised. It exists in many states: past, present, future... It stuck with me. The idea of a small part of land that so much has happened within, it fascinates me. This small part of land is a Universe in a way. I'm always picking up on things, and they come back in various ways, not always as direct references. Sometimes I can't remember if it's my memory or something I've read. It all kind of blurs together. I'm interested in that. I'm often disoriented in my own work. I don't know where things come from, but I try to trust the resonance of the images and the association of the images. That's the only thing that I really care about. So a glimmer of something is fine. It's about getting a feeling of it.
Quite soon after we started filming you said to me 'maybe this film is about the future of the past of London. There seems to be a link between the two cities.
Yeah, not something I thought about but that's true - connecting the place of Jerusalem to the place of London, which don't have obvious connections but you can bring them together and maybe they are connected. At the start of the filming I was thinking about an 'after London', an apocalyptic vision of London, or much further back in its past, before there were people here, it's an idea that interests me.
The scene on the postcard is not strictly set in Jerusalem, it is on the outskirts, which also relates to the Two Tree Island setting, the outskirts of London. The other setting we filmed at - Erith Marshes - marked the historic outskirts.