A man is running head over heels across a rundown football field and flees into the barren landscape of Patagonia. Washes of piano music roll in, while the 'The man with the bag' leaves the remains of the civilized world behind, a pack of dogs, judging by the sound of their barking, hot on his heels. Chased by the wind and unseen assailants he leaves the beaten track and makes for open country.
Geert-Jan Strengholt: How would you characterize the main theme of 'Man with the Bag', and how does it relate to previous work? You mentioned that in some ways it is related to 'The Apocalyptic man'?
In Sebastián Díaz Morales' new installation the spectator finds himself somewhere between the man and his assailants, sharing his anxiety and paranoia. Is the spectator the pursuer or is he, like the man, being chased himself? What is he running from or towards? And what's up with the peculiar 'split screen' that makes the 'vanishing point' manifest itself so quite literally?
I met Sebastián Díaz Morales in April this year and, as we watched an advance version of 'The man with the bag' together, we talked about the work in progress.
Sebastián Díaz Morales: The theme of 'The Man with the Bag' is very simple when you define and see it as an existentialistic story. What you see is what, metaphorically speaking, you get. A man walking a path in a deserted and open landscape, carrying a bag containing all his belongings. Again and again he stumbles over the same obstacle, a stone. Running from his fears, from a never materialized sound. Crossing limits, going always in a same direction.
This simple storyline encloses, as a metaphor, a portion of the basics of man's existence. From that notion you can relate and bring the signification of actions, subjects and objects of the movie into multiple relations. This is because the elements of the movie are general metaphors of the bases of our existence.
On the other hand 'The Apocalyptic man' (2002) brings out a dilemma of a character that deals with his existence as well but in a very different way. 'The apocalyptic man' deals with guilt, pardon and punishment. He is enclosed in his own body and cannot escape from it no matter how much effort he does. He is confused, lost in a vast darkness.
GJS: Among the installations in the Double Vision show, your work is almost literally responding to the theme. It's almost like seeing cross eyed... Could you explain how this came about, where the idea of using dual ocular vision with the 2 camera's stems from? How did that work exactly and why did you decide to edit them together into one image afterwards?
SDM: There was a decision of boundaries and limits, which could be visible in the audiovisual language that I wanted to play with. Furthermore, on a more technical level, I needed to be able to visually materialize the vast landscapes of this area in the Patagonian desert.
So I decided to use the two cameras, one next to the other. This changed quiet a lot from the idea to the realisation. At first I wanted the line, which is dividing the two images, to be visible, but one image to be the exact continuation of the other. Since I was using two different cameras that line would be created from the differences in colours of the two images.
In that way the viewer would always have to deal with an image that, pictorially speaking, were two images. That would create a divisory line and the character would always be either on one side or the other. This line involves a decision and a boundary. For instance, he could get stuck on a train track just before crossing to the other side of the image. Or he could stumble right on the middle of the crossing. The line would represent another obstacle to the viewer, and a problem in getting onto the other stage.
This is the main idea. Technically, lateron in the production, it changed. It became very complicated to find the exact middle point for the panoramic image with the two cameras views. Technically this was a matter of deepness. When you would have the subject or an object that is far away from the cameras, exactly divided by the middle, it happens that when you get closer to the camera it is no longer in the image. It has disappeared due to the angle of the camera views. The opposite happens when you have something close to the camera, exactly divided on the middle, because then you get the far away landscape repeated. So then as there was lots of travelling and changes in the perspective of what I was recording; the man with the bag either becomes his double or disappears.
When I realised this, while recording, I started to make use of it.
I used this panoramic technique with two cameras before, on an installation called “The Enigmatic Visitor”. There the division of both images was not that marked but was present in the story by the differences the two characters had in their opinions; each occupying a different side of the image.
GJS: To me this notion of this 'Vanishing Point' you just described, gained importance after viewing 'The man with the bag' a second time, due to the fact that there is a gap in the dual vision of your image this becomes a very literal 'presence'... Almost as a faulty recreation of human perception...
SDM: Divisions exist only cause we make them. Sometimes they are physical and sometimes only a limitation of our way of understanding. By playing with the double subject or by making him disappear, the movie avoids or reinforces this idea of division. When he is double basically there are not two different images. There is only one image repeated twice. On the opposite by creating a gap on the image where the man falls in and disappears the boundary is very notorious.
GJS: How would you describe the position of the viewer in relation to the man with the bag? To me it switches between pursuer and pursued, taking into account that in the installation part of the sound comes up from behind.
SDM: We always, as viewers on movies, tend to put ourselves on the position of the main character. This movie is not an exception; the man of the bag is our daily companion. The viewer is the character. And yes, we are chased by what we fear and we fall once and again till we resolve and transform the meaning or function of the obstacle of our fears.
SDM: You mentioned that this area in Patagonia is of special importance to you; you keep coming back there. Why, what draws you there?
SDM: Well, I was born there. There I grew up. I think that is logical. We always tend to come back to the point where we started. The desert was always my playground in one way or another. It was a way to escape, to hide and to make distance. The wind there is an impediment. Since the cities were built in this region no more that 100 or 150 years ago, the wind has always be the molesting aggressive thing. Everything becomes harder when the air blows hard on you ears, on your walls, on your way to get something. Then I decided to make use of it in a different way. And just like that it started to become the force, the character and the reason of my needs.
I needed to create and reinforce a myth of this land. We, as new Patagonians, don't have many myths to see reality through. We elaborated our history on the bases of a little of historical facts and a lot of economy. Thus it will always be more difficult to see forward. There is always a need to believe in something to construct something new. And in this process I think myth and common imaginary, as part of history, are very important.
My motives for the movies I do in this region, have a very regional and local purpose. That is to create the basic elements of that myth. 'The Man with the Bag' tries to give different meanings to the spaces and the outlook on things we have there. You see that all these places I shoot in have a certain meaning to the people in these surroundings. The idea is to give those meanings another view and perspective. The character of the man with the bag would, in a local context, be seen as an immigrant. This is part of the history of colonization of Patagonia. This character in this landscape, in an absurd or unreal situation, gives shape to fiction, to a possible other level of occurences.
It is funny how people outside our country see Patagonia in a different way. In many places people recall Patagonia when they have to name a place that doesn't exist. An imaginary place.
GJS: Sound is also very present in this work; the strong omnipresent sound of the wind is almost a character in itself. What does it mean to you, what role does it play? What made you decide to alternate it with the music of Simeon ten Holt. We discussed the endless circular principle of his music, how it seems to build up to a climax but never really gives release...
SDM: The wind in this specific movie plays the same roll as the landscape. One will always come with the other. The repetitive cycle of the music engages the desolated image of the space, its repetition mirrors the fysicality of this land, as well as reinforces the emotions of the character and the situations. It gives a feeling of an eternal sense of being.
GJS: While we were watching the stumbling man you made a reference to slapstick (Buster Keaton i seem to recall). How does that come into play? In a way I feel it adds a feeling of empathy with the struggling man, a sad comedy...
SDM: Gregg Smith, the actor who is the man with the bag, plays this role not only on this movie but also in his own video work. Although in his own projects he plays a role, which is much more intellectual and less active. The idea was to use his character to suggest the inage/concept of a man in an unknown space. A curious and erratic character, unaware of his surroundings, dealing with comical and at the same time critical situations.