Harun Farocki is not a household name in the US, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. First and foremost a video artist, he has made hundreds of films over the past 40 years or so. Yet in spite of his long and prolific career, replete with solo shows and retrospectives, he is not among those blue-chip artists who are immediately recognizable in the mainstream contemporary art market. That might change soon, because, as evidenced by his current show at contemporary art space The Model in Ireland, Farocki has been saying a lot for a very long time. From directing several episodes of the German Sesame Street to exploring post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans, there are few issues Farocki hasn’t examined and deconstructed, only to build them back up in a way that makes us realize how tragically oblivious we are to the objects, images, and influences that condition our livelihoods.
One of Farocki’s most interesting works is Deep Play, previously exhibited at New York City’s Greene Naftali Gallery in 2008. Deep Play is a multi-channel video installation in which Farocki simultaneously projects full-length broadcasts of the 2006 FIFA World Cup final from 12 different vantage points. These include the official live TV broadcast, the artist’s own recording of the event, stadium surveillance, real-time action charts of player and coach statistics, 3D animation recreations, among others. It’s an all-encompassing and visually exhausting work – just imagine dissecting Zidane’s head-butt from 12 different angles. It’s pretty overwhelming.
And “overwhelming” is precisely what Farocki is exploring. Deep Play is a meticulous examination of a single event, a massive cultural spectacle watched by over 1.5 billion people across the globe. While rich in specificity, it’s impossible for the viewer to focus on any one thing at a time. Farocki doesn’t give his viewers a break. We are bombarded with data – facts, viewpoints, images – and even though it’s all extremely controlled and organized, we lack time and space to process everything for ourselves. Consequently, in spite of the overabundance of visual information, we are not seeing more or better. We are entranced – constantly distracted, not concentrated.
Deep Play, then, ends up being about much more than a football match. It references key concerns in Farocki’s oeuvre: the dynamics and politics of image production, mass circulation, and perhaps most importantly, the effects those have on individual and collective reception. Farocki demonstrates that how we perceive and witness images – our own subjectivity – is just as important, if not more, than the image itself.
Through many of his works Farocki tries to draw attention to our own ability to look deeper, to search behind what is readily apparent. Deep Play splices even the most minute data point into a myriad of renderings and outlooks, and each angle is a vibrant challenge for the viewer. In a society that constantly bombards us with images and rhetoric, it is our responsibility to rebuff passivity and become active and critical participants of the displays at work. Farocki urges us to look even deeper into the plays – searching for meaning within our bustling socio-political reality and its many perspectives, technologies, and means of production.