Shoah Film Collection -  Interview Project

Metsähuone, KirsiMarja

KirsiMarja Metsähuone
Finnish media artist

Her video included in Shoah Film Collection
Known Named Identified, 2014, 5:37 min

Interview: 10 Questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background
Over the years I have thought a lot about the potential of art to influence and even change lives while teaching art, animation, photography, video etc. to special education youth, recently emigrated teens, homeless children or art students and general public.
I have studied film, video and photography at the San Francisco Art Institute (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in United States and media arts at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts (Master of Fine Arts). Prior to that I have also studied sociology, anthropology, psychology and communication in the United States and after that media scriptwriting among other things. I work as a professional visual artist with photography, video, film and collage. I also teach, currently mainly photography and video.

2. When, how and why started you filming?
During the first year or two at the art school in the US my photographs tended to be serial in a moving image kind of a way, either same or similar images with maybe color variations and presented in a film strip like manner or images that in my head were naturally interwoven together like film shots. I seemed to visualize series of photographs as moving images which appeared to perplex both other students and my teachers. The move to start working with film followed quite naturally. Simultaneously I continued with photography as well. I was drawn to film without being able to explain verbally the motive. Film felt familiar immediately and I understood it’s language.

3. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
My films are experimental and non-narrative in nature. I am not interested in telling straightforward stories with plots, actors and film crews. There may be fragments or notions of stories but nothing definite.
My working style is visceral and intuitive. I don’t know beforehand what the end result will be. If I knew it, if I could visualize the work in my mind in advance there would be no point in actually realizing it because I would have already solved the creative problem, finished the work in my imagination. I enjoy the process and prefer the finished work to be a suprise.

Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
I started creating films with actual film, super 8 mm film and 16 mm film, and learnt editing technigues with film: working on flatbed editor, splicing and taping clips together which obviously is completely different from digital editing or even video editing. The equipment was old and a certain amount of improvisation and creative problem solving was needed on daily basis. This approach also encouraged experimentation which I am fascinated by to begin with. Like scratching film emulsion and taping leaves, flowers, pepper and salt for instance on film and then digitizing the film footage. This hands-on practical experience and background has been useful in today’s digital editing just as shooting on film has been an advantage while working on video. Today I use digital SLR cameras and video cameras – but also super 8 mm cameras – and edit on Final Cut.

4. What was the reason to start your film included in Shoah Film Collection. Tell me the story behind your film? Why did you choose the given form of representation? Is your film included in Shoah Film Collection the first one dealing with the Holocaust?
I was in private artist-in-residence in Krakow Poland one summer during the last decade. It was self-evident that I would go to Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and museum. Everyone should experience the memorial. It is almost one’s duty and responsibility. I know people who visit Krakow and refuse to go to Auschwitz because it is too shocking and makes one feel sick, sad and disturbed and the images of the place will stay with you forever. This is exactly why one must go there. The visit should be a requirement for all.
Even though my first visit was unbearable I went there again. To make sure I would never forget any part of it. To make sure I would never forget the emotions felt there. Every scene and site there is touching beyond words but one of the most lasting visions were the wild flowers growing there by the wire fences. The other were the ‘standing stones’ scattered near the wire fences reminiscent of prehistoric megaliths except that they were wrapped in black and white plastic which made them look like standing humans covered in plastic bags.
I have kept the footage I shot there and watched it from time to time. Until the turn of this year I have had no clear vision of how to work with the footage. This has bothered me because the subject matter is important to me. After coming up with the words ‘Known Named Identified’ I knew instantly how I would start the work. The idea for the audio, the repetition of the word ‘name’ in different languages, was as sudden and clear.
My deep concern with the film was that I did not want it to be too evident that it was shot in Auschwitz-Birkenau or that there was even the slighest suggestion that somehow I was taking advantage of the place and pain of so many millions of people. The first version of the film, however, was so abstract and minimal because of my fear of being too literal that my test audience could not understand it at all (this has never happened before). So I worked and reworked with the footage, edited and added more materials and eventually I felt it was finished.
Moving image for me is the most powerful form of representation for this subject. In my other works I have examined and dealt with issues such as war, destruction, massacre, intolerance in a broader context but this is the first work that deals specifically with the Holocaust.

5. What kind of meaning has the Holocaust to you personally? Are your family or friends affected or did the topic come by chance?
In order to have strong feelings and reactions to Holocaust or other monstrous atrocities against humanity in the past or present, I don’t think one has to have a personal connection to the matter. Obviously the situation however is different if that is the case. My family, friends or relatives have not been affected. To me the Holocaust, the persecution, the dehumanization, the entire ideology and lack of respect to life is sickening, infuriating and profoundly inconsolable. The Holocaust is humankind at its worst.

6. Besides the historical relevance related to the persecuted Jews and other people, the Holocaust has a universal relevance. Why is the Holocaust affecting all humans anywhere?
When one feels empathy and sympathy, when one has the ability – and the will – to picture oneself in the position of another person, to enter into their emotions and experiences, this inevitably adds understanding. That which happens to one of us, happens in fact to all of us. When one feels pain, we all feel pain. — Or that is how it should be. All human beings are connected to one another. We all come from the same origin.

7. Now, nearly 70 years after World War II, unfortunately the last Holocaust survivors will be dying soon, and no authentic witness is left to transfer the memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is about to be marginalized and dehumanized to any other historical incident, whereby it is measured by its final result and less as an escalating process, countless human individuals were undergoing. What do you think might be ways to re-humanize, touch people again emotionally and keep vivid the memory this way?
Art, plays, films, documentaries, web sites, photographs, museums, literature, personal accounts. There are still countless stories that have never been told. Countless names to be found and remembered. Visiting the Holocaust Memorials. The Shoah film collection is a beautiful way to keep the memory vivid. Education. Interactive projects for children, youth, students to focus on their vision. Any attempts to increase the compassion, good will, kindness and trust among humans and nations. In today’s world this may seem hopeless and naive but empathy has the potential to create more empathy and humaneness more humaneness which in turn can make it easier to touch people emotionally and may even make it harder to commit heartless acts of violence against humankind.

8. As a phenomenon, the Holocaust is blasting human imagination, which makes it nearly impossible for people to identify themselves with. What needs to be done, that people may find ways for self-identifying? What can art do for it?

What I said in the previous answers about empathy applies here, too. Education as well.
On a larger scale also special measures should be taken to make sure all children could have a safe environment to be children and to grow up to realize their full potential: self-identification among other things is much easier then as an adult.
Art can function as a mediator, as a reflector, as an interpreter, as a challenger, as a preserver, as a provoker and as a power for change. Art can show us a way to be more in touch with ourselves and with others. Team projects with artists and senior citiziens, with immigrants, with other minorities, with people locked up in hospitals, in prisons to come up with new voices, different perspectives and multidimensional experiences to help share unheard views and expand understanding in the form of film and animation for instance.

9. After the Holocaust and World War II, the traditional (static) visual art media were failing in transferring the memory of the Holocaust, while literature, theatre, music and film were much more successful. On the other hand, due to the new technologies, the boundaries between the “arts” dissolve nowadays and the doors are open to a new interdisciplinary approach. What are the chances for this new (interdisciplinary) perception based on socializing concepts for keeping vivid the memory of the Holocaust? In which way have they to influence the manifestations of Shoah Film Collection via the interventions like a symposium, artists meetings, workshops, exhibitions, performances, screenings, artists talks, discussions etc.
I think they have a good chance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust vivid. As long as it continues to be the topic and there continues to be discussion, the memory will be alive.

10. What are your future artistic plans? Do you plan to work on new projects dealing with the Holocaust or related topics like “collective trauma caused by totalitarianism”?
Probably some of my future projects will also focus on Holocaust related topics because I will always feel strongly about these matters. And there can never be enough projects that deal with human rights violations because such violations go on and on. Even though I am an optimist I sadly doubt there will be a day when it will no longer be necessary to bring up these issues. I hope to be wrong. Currently I am slowly finishing up among other things a moving image work about the global invasion of privacy and information collection abuses committed by the American intelligence community.

Can works of yours be viewed online besides on the Shoah Film Collection?
List some links & resources
My website is one of the best possible venues to view my works: photographs and films, and films as either video excerpts or entire works. My photographs can also be seen for instance on Galerie Lichtblick*s Images Against War web site (two series), on Saatchi Art online Portfolio, on The Register of the Artists’ Association of Finland site, on San Francisco Art Institute Alumni site.