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.
That is also interesting, it relates to the fringe space, where the city disintegrates and falls into something else, maybe ocean or the desert or nature or something. I'm very drawn to those sorts of places where you can see a perspective on where you are from the distance. You can only do that by venturing out to the borders. That occurs in the bible quite a lot actually.
Yes, often the wilderness is where you meet God, you have to go outside of the city.
I'm thinking of Abraham, Moses, the idea of turning back at the city and turning into a pillar of salt. All that sort of stuff. That image has stayed with me for a long time, being on a periphery of the city and looking out to it.
There is a lot we could read into the film because we played with associations, so I guess it is quite open in that way. At the time we thought a lot about pairs of things. We filmed in two places: Erith Marshes and Two Tree Island, we also used the quote from Gerald Murnane, can you tell me something about your interest in him?
I've been very interested in his work since discovering it. Essentially what he does in fiction is... he strips plot and story out of the equation. He focuses on what he calls 'connecting images through feelings', which seems deceptively simple. His work is very complex because of the nature of mental association, the mind being infinite. His work is about opening up to associations and really listening to his own mind. He does something very similar to what I felt I was doing in film prior to this work. I made a work called ''Exhortation'' and a few other works. I was not sure what I was doing at the time but looking back I think I was making maps and diagrams and making associations between things. Building up the work slowly and creating those connections based on logic and then sort of improvising a lot during the filmmaking process, and editing, selectiting. There is no real story in these works. Although the concept that started the process might be very simple. And then there is a series of images and sounds, the connections are really based on that.
When I first read Murnane's work I was very affected by it. I saw a connection with what I was doing. I also found his philosophy challenging and interesting in terms of his approach to images. He deals with the relationship of what's visible and what's invisible. He's focusing on what he calls the 'invisible world'. You could say he’s dealing with the imagination or the mind but he's really just focussing on the images that he can see in his mind and making precise descriptions of them. His relationship to the outside ‘real’ world is sort of a strange one. Biography and memory and his past are very abstracted in his work. He doesn't say his work is autobiographical but it has so many things in it that are about him. I found that interesting in terms of filmmaking, because filmmaking is based on images and sounds, capturing the world, all this stuff that he's essentially against. He has not watched a movie in 50 years. There are a lot of things that he doesn't do and he is very strict in a way and lives like a monk or a priest. But I found it quite provocative in terms of thinking about film. How could you make a film that tried to deal with the problem of what happens in the mind and what happens in reality. It's kind of an impossible thing but I find that interesting anyway. So that informs how I'm thinking about the work now.
The phrase that we used in the film is from his book 'Inland'. I thought it summed up the film and summed up the whole book: one thing is always more than one thing. It's a repetitive phrase that appears throughout 'Inland'. It occurs many times in different ways, it is a kind of a musical phrase. It's exactly what he's doing in his fiction and exactly what I think the film is attempting to do - one thing is more than one thing. Strange resonances between things that you don't think are related to each other. The camera and the subject - they collapsed in a way - they are each more than one thing. So the quote sets up the film - it is the only language in the film. The second half of the film is really silent - I think it echoes the start of the film. I am still thinking about Murnane's work, his work has been profoundly influential for me.
On the subject of collaboration - I know you like it, and I know I like it too...
Yeah, collaboration is a huge part of what I'm interested in.
We discovered at the start of this project that it was important for both of us to not know where we were going, to be open about the process. We've been making this work over the period of 4 years. You started it, then it turned into a collaboration. And so by inviting me to co-create this work, you gave me freedom to explore performance, it was very much a bottom up process, venturing out - it had more to do with exploration of the world than with owning and using it. This was incredibly refreshing.
I really enjoyed working with you because you are such an open person and an open performer. That was very lucky, I felt very lucky, because making work like this on your own it's sort of boring. Ultimately you want to get outside of yourself and you want to connect with other people. Even though the work is quite intimate and about 1 person, I think that making the work, it didn't feel like that. It felt like we were kind of talking about it, it was a shared thing. It was very nice to let go. I think it is rare. I think it would have been very hard to apply for funding for this work beforehand. Because how it started and what it ended as it's a huge story and a journey. We haven't just executed something. That's what interests me in making stuff. Ultimately you want to be surprised.
Conversation was recorded in June, 2020, edited by Dominika Kieruzel