“At first you will close your eyes before the pictures, then you will close your eyes before the memory of the pictures, and then you will close your eyes before the realities the pictures represent.” – Harun Farocki

What Susan Sontag said almost five decades ago is still relevant today. “Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth.” Because images not only represent the world, but also create it, shaping our subjectivity and implicitly our lives. What contemporary artists seem to want from the art of the future is a dialogue with the public, established to gain critical openness to images. A documentary, collaborative project of this kind is Labour in a Single Shot, initiated in 2011 by curator, artist and writer Antje Ehmann, together with her partner, documentary filmmaker and writer Harun Farocki.

For three years, from March 2011 to April 2014, Ehmann and Farocki held a series of video production workshops in fifteen cities: Bangalore, Berlin, Boston, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Geneva, Hangzhou, Hanoi, Johannesburg, Lisbon, Lodz, Mexico City, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro and Tel Aviv. Starting with 2013, they curated exhibitions in which the video-documentary works produced during the workshops were presented. The Labour in a Single Shot archive includes static or dynamic one- or two-minute uncut videos made with the single-shot technique – a continuous, unedited sequence. Participants pay attention to hidden activities carried out behind closed doors. The project inquires about the types of labour that are invisible in the context of late capitalism, shedding new light on the characteristics of the morphology of labour and the ways in which it structures the individuals’ lives and the economy of each city. According to the two curators, “often labour is not only invisible, but also unimaginable. That is why it is vital to undertake research, to open ones’ eyes and to set oneself into motion. What is hidden? What happens in the centre of a city, what occurs at the periphery?”

The project is based on the filming method of the oldest proto-documentaries consisting of a single, continuous image, such as Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory or Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, made by the Lumière brothers at the end of the 19th century. Farocki and Ehmann argue that, “These early films, made in a single continuous shot, declared that every detail of the moving world is worth considering and capturing […] The single-shot film, in contrast, combines predetermination and openness, concept and contingency.”

For Farocki, the image is a tool for training. The political is embodied in the image. We can understand the other’s suffering only through images of suffering; therefore, we can never truly understand it. The distinction between the active interaction with an object and its consumption as an image seems to be crucial for Harun Farocki. Roland Barthes, one of the authors of great importance for Farocki’s practice, gives a revealing example: a woodcutter has a direct relationship with wood, established through action. Those who are not woodcutters talk about wood, as if they have gained their knowledge “from experience”. The tree is no longer the meaning of reality as human action; it is mere representation. Barthes also argues that revolutionary language is necessarily non-mythical. The worker, the one who “makes” the world, speaks a non-mythical, active and transitive language. The oppressor, trying to maintain the world as it is, uses a mythical language. Since myth is depoliticized discourse, discourses that remain political are necessarily non-mythical. The single-shot technique used in the films included in the Labour in a Single Shot archive offers the possibility of understanding the political through a language as organic as political reality.

After Harun Farocki’s death in 2014, Antje Ehmann continued to coordinate and support video production workshops together with documentary film director Eva Stotz and architect Luis Feduchi. Such a workshop also took place in August at the “I.L. Caragiale” University of Theatre and Film in Bucharest, organised by the Ephemair Association in cooperation with Harun Farocki GbR, Goethe-Institut Bukarest, “I.L. Caragiale” University, Deutsches Kulturzentrum Temeswar, ArtEncounters, Contrasens Cultural Association and Rezidența BRD Scena9.

Labour in a Single Shot is a collateral event of the 2021 Art Encounters Biennial. A selection of films produced during this workshop can be viewed in an exhibition that will take place between 6 and 20 November in the following locations in Timisoara: Calpe Gallery, Bastion Multifunctional Centre, FITT, Optilux, The North Station, “La Două Bufnițe” Bookshop, Timișoara Project Centre, Scârț – A Chill Place, Casa Artelor (House of Arts). A subsequent exhibition is planned for 2022, at Rezidența BRD Scena9 in Bucharest.