How to be utopian in the face of all that awaits us? — Interview with Ben Russell

Ben Russell’s latest film Good Luck runs in the Locarno competition. Current Dokumenta 14 in Kassel shows Russell’s film-installation.

This interview took place in 2016 on the occasion of our joint screening in the framework of Speculative Fiction Series by D21 Artspace Leipzig in collaboration with Clemens von Wedemeyer. We start the discussion with the LET US PERSEVERE IN WHAT WE HAVE RESOLVED BEFORE WE FORGET a short that was selected for the Speculative Fiction Series.

When did Beckett come in?

My retrospective re-narrativizing of this film places Beckett and Godot in the earlier stage of research, pre-travel – I think this is the right place for it. Prior to traveling to Vanuatu, I already had the notion that the cargo cult was a successful construction, that the contemporary visitors (tourists, anthropologists, documentarians) were engaged in the same ancestral gift-return that the WWII soldiers had done 60 years prior. In a very real way, the anti-colonial cargo cult movement had worked – although of course it is now being eroded by the operations of capital – and the question of how a syncretic culture persists in the wake of a certain kind of success was present. It’s something that I’ve circled around with regard to Saramaccan culture in Suriname as well – it seems important to recognize the tenacity, vitality, and originality of culture; to resist the impulse to celebrate a „traditional“ that will be lost and instead look towards an adaptive culture that will persist.

To get back to Tanna and Beckett, though – the text certainly revealed a lot more with regard to Vanuatu once I dove into it upon my return home. I had a memory of what the text was and had seen some commonality between the anticipation of John Frumm and all of that Waiting for Godot – though the lines about magicians and happiness had much more weight than I would have imagined. The imposition of Beckett’s text onto the words of John Frumm (via Chief Isaac) and later Isaac himself felt like a reasonable deployment of Herzog’s ideas around „meta-truth“. I.E. This is what they were saying, in parallel. Weiterlesen