Design & Decoration S02 ep14 : Werner Nekes, Neks Collection, [?????]
Interview with Werner Nekes
Eyes, Lies & Illusions contains more than 500 historic objects, books, prints, instruments and optical ephemera drawn from the Werner Nekes Collection. This extraordinary collection began in the mid-sixties when Nekes, a German experimental filmmaker and professor, started collecting examples of optical phenomena as teaching aids. The Nekes Collection has since grown to become one of the world's most important and encyclopaedic private collections of pre-cinematic media, housing more than 20,000 objects.
Nekes: I am like a Director of a zoological garden of a Zoo but my animals are artificial items.
Nekes: I was starting as an experimental filmmaker doing intuitive work in trying to invent new
expressions, and then I thought it is possibly important to show, to see what my ancestors have
done in the media.
Nekes: I was asked by people in Hamburg to write an article about my film theory, what I am
thinking what media could do and I understood film for the first time as it is was the medium of
transportation of information.
Nekes: So I did experimental films with cuts every fourth frame which were not semantical cuts
syntactical cuts which means I used film as an instrument to make something see-able, perceptible,
literally what you cannot see in nature. Between every two frames there is something, which you
could call a montage and this montage could use a maximum difference which I found to realise in
a very old optical toy the Tommertruk, which is the Wonder-Turner in English they called it which
was invented in 1827 and you blow a disc, and it’s spinning and spinning around showing a bird on
one side and a cage on the other and the brain makes it that you believe that the bird is sitting in
the cage. And I was fascinated, and I tried to find it. It took me nearly 15 years until I found it in
Barcelona in a magician shop, a handful and I thought oh they are nice and I gave them away as
presents to my friends and I didn’t understand it that they were really rare and it needed another,
nearly 30 years until I found the very first set of 24 Wonder-Turners which were printed first in
Nekes: You call it in English, ‘Magic Lantern’ so and it was in the very beginning used by
magicians to get contact to other worlds, or to impress the people to make them anxious not to sin
and in Dutch it’s still called Toverlon Lantern, Lantern which means Tover is a magician and the
relation, because the people were very astonished to have images in huge size when they put all
the scientists were afraid of the little fleas when they saw them through the microscope so, there is
a strong relation and also to skulls and to deaths and to ghosts and you still have that nowadays.
Nekes: There is a strong interrelation between art, science and entertainment. One cannot always
separate these areas from each other. For example, the inventor of the Magic Lantern was Christian
Hoygoods, who was a very famous physician as Newton, he was Dutch and he invented the system
to project to blow up the dance of death because he was fascinated as a child of Hoolbad’s
drawings of the dance of death, and he made a drawing of the first moveable slide but he was
anxious that the world would not regard him as a serious scientist if he would continue to publish
it. So one knows it just from the letters he has written and he had built one lantern which he gave
to a Frenchman and later on, the travelling showmen took over and went through the world,
through Europe to make the performances. Later on when the scientists, the astronomers used it for
their studies for the lectures, the lantern became very popular as an educational instrument and
then it entered the rooms for the children to play with it.
Nekes: As a modern science, you can only understand if you use visualisation. You have to invent
a specific key to enter a specific world which you don’t see, but the visualisation makes it
understandable what is happening.
Nekes: It is an international effort to develop the grammar of vision and what I am doing is in a
way working on an Encyclopaedia of all the expressions.
Nekes: In the exhibition there is a very new work of art, The Zoatro little figures standing, and
when I see it I am reminded immediately the work by the German artist Unschutz who was not
able to transport the images on a disc in an intermittent movement because the size of the images
was too big, and so he was using a geyser-tube which has the possibility of flickering very quickly.
What he was doing with the stroke he did with the geyser-tube in the very first projectors which
were automaters standing at railway stations where the people could see a sequence of 24 different
images. So just in looking at these old machines you could invent and bring a new technology to
make a new work of art.
Nekes: We really wanted to make a 3D animation and so we were just thinking of different ways
you could make the 3D animation and that’s how we came across with the idea of making this
zooatrope with a strobe.
Nekes: Originally we were concentrating on the idea of creating a shadow, a shadow play on the
wall and so that’s kind of how it developed in the way that it did. You know, then it was a disc
with the figures on the outside and the light in the centre.
Nekes: One reaction which is not really funny but that we particularly enjoyed seeing children
often get up and dance and start dancing away with it.
Nekes: Even not even children sometimes you will go in and they will be like adults, like just
Nekes: Now we are at a specific break in media because all this mechanic and chemistry will be
changed by using the computer, but the computer has many more possibilities which aren’t yet
used and all those technologies were transferred on the menu list where you can change whatever
Nekes: I am still working in the experimental film area using old technologies, renovating them
and using them for knew ways of thinking and new ways of expression. So it is a kind of
inspiration, continuous inspiration what could be done.
Nekes: Many filmmakers are influenced by my work starting from the 70’s until the 90’s mainly.
In the ‘90s I started to concentrate on the collection and making more exhibitions because also
when I showed my film, for example Hooliasses dedication to Jen Joyce and Tormier travelling
through the history of media as well. What Joyce did with language I did with cinematography and
when I tried to explain what I did I understood that nobody knew the old techniques to which I was
referring. So I thought it’s all so very important to work on a bit … level.
Nekes: I was possibly the first to use a computer together with film technology and because film is
a medium worker in time. I was thinking I am a composer working within the time and I was
building a shutter in front of the camera. You know in every camera, a film camera, is a shutter to
separate image from transportation and I could give in the numbers of frames which were exposed
and the numbers of frames which were not exposed and so I could make like a tucked. You have
different knowls and with different knowls are different images fields and so I can by rewind the
film and expose the second, third, fourth etcetera knowl the images in between. So I can compose
a whole structure of composition in time but with images.
But how do you play back this technology then? Do you have to have a special camera to do that?
Nekes: No, I am just using the normal camera and using the … where the hand crank is turning
through, so the computer knows when the image is exposed and when the image should, how long
the sequence should be and when the images are not exposed.
And what does this give you as a result?
Nekes: It is a flickering world of your surrounding. Like the cubistic painting for example you
could see around the situation at the same time in a much quicker way.
So like a 360 degrees view?
Nekes: For example, all around a scenery. You see it’s a different, you perceive the landscape
differently when you walk through or if you fly over it. So it is a change in meaning and that for
example, a technology that makes film more like a visual medium than a medium of theatre or just
recording the scene.
As a person now working in this media, what are some of your startling discoveries?
Nekes: For example that the ear controls the speed of looking.
Nekes: Yeah. So if the images are flickering or changing very quickly then the ear always tries to
slow it down, to make it synchronize. It has been possibly quite important in evolution if you hear
an animal behind you, you will hear it possibly before you see it.
So and then what else did you discover as well?
Nekes: That a social perception determines the size what you are seeing. For example if you were
living in a poor work and social neighbourhood you see the coins much bigger than if you rich.
Nekes: Filmmakers for example make educational films, went to Africa. We showed the film at a
specific point all the people were getting nervous and the filmmakers asked why and they said
because there was a chicken and then the filmmakers did not know that there was a chicken but
when they looked on the editing table on one frame was a chicken. So the chicken was very
familiar to them, not the content of the film so you see mainly what you know. For example when I
walk through the shops just in, I was in Geelong I saw this thing. What you think why it interests
me? I turned it around in my head
And frilly knickers.
Nekes: Two legs of a woman. All the messages that could be hidden in the image, that’s the thing
what interests me.
Nekes: The crowd was an experiment we were working with the idea of artificial crowds and
seeing how, what it feels like to be watched. Trying to give life to these beings.
Nekes: What we did was we programmed the eyes so that if some of their friends, their neighbours
are looking in a specific direction then I would be influenced by that as well and also decide to
look over there.
Nekes: Filmmakers haven’t yet received the emotional quality that the musicians have achieved.
Oh, in other words to get lost in the music?
Nekes: That is a little bit easier but we could as filmmakers reach it as well.
Nekes: Better films could be done if the filmmakers orientate more to music than to literature, at
the moment the best films are good literature but not good music.
Nekes: And it did also documentaries on artists like Boyce or Wilding or on scientists. The kind of
documentation work, which I did also media-magical series which are six movies showing the
items in a way that you possibly not even can see it in the exhibition.
Nekes: For example my last feature film ‘The Day of The Painter’, I was reflecting how different
painters in the past would have used a camera if they would have had a camera, like the p… or the
expressionist or like Dura, so this is a walk through the history of the view of the painting, which is
much more freer than just making a documentation of the situation.
Nekes: I know too to work with mistakes. You see one of the first eggs that fell down on a stone
and became an omelette and that was quite useful. My best films I did in improvisation. Did quite
a bad film, which I never ever brought on the screen. Travelling a 1,500 kilometres carrying the
camera to the top of a mountain and the situation was very impressive, but not when you saw the
image. So and another film I shot just in one afternoon at my home in Sweden, and this playing
with a medium, won the best German film in that year. And so one has to be free to use the
medium spontaneously and for Hooliasses I used the technique that Joyce was using that he called
epifanea. Joyce was collecting little sentences in when he was going with the tram and then he
wrote it down and at home he put it together and formed it in a montage. Because he was saying
even in the smallest universe, all the Godly principal is showing itself. And so we have to collect
little bits and find the gold.
Nekes: You know they found clay, plates in clay from the Zoomera, like 2,000 years ago and
somebody wrote on it and complained there are no new stories that could be invented, every story
has been told.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Werner Nekes, Nekes Collection, ????