Monday, 30 September 2013

Omer Fast - An Artist Talk

For the first visit of the London and South East study group we (Siegfried & myself) attended an artist talk given by Omer Fast at The Imperial War Museum. The museum is showing his 30 minute video '5000 Feet is The Best'. It is a shame that all the members of our fledgling group could not attend (about 6 people I think at present) as it was a fascinating insight in the artists creative process.

Firstly I will say hats off to Siegfried for knowing that we would not have a problem getting into the sold out event. The talk was free but ticketed. We didn't have any but they just let us in anyway - something I would not have even thought to try before!

Omer Fast began by showing us a clip of an earlier piece of work 'CNN Concatenated' and talking about the events in his life that led up to the creation of the work. It was a video piece using CNN newsreader footage. The footage was cut a word at a time from different speakers. The words are then re-composed by Fast to create his own sentences forming a new grammatical structure - particularly effective was the use of indrawn breath to create pace and timing to show the beginning of the sentences.

Fast then spoke about trauma and how it underpins a lot of the work that he produces. He didn't specify whether this was personal or more general trauma although he did relate a family anecdote. He told us the story of a time when his father was a young boy who had run home bleeding after being hit in the head by a stone. When the boys father opened the door and saw the blood he slapped his son around the face. Fast tells us that his father shared this story with him and explained that the grandfather had been a Holocaust survivor and the violence was his way of dealing with what he had experienced himself. We were then shown a piece of work that grew from this anecdote in which his father narrates this story whilst we see a clip from The Terminator movie. The clip shown is a scene where the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives at the house of Sarah Connor and when she answers the door guns her down.

I found this multiple layering of stories fascinating. It was very disconcerting to hear the fathers calm narration against the Terminator clip which is visually different but also connected in a way. In fact the beginning of the clip shows Arnie searching through the phone book for all the S Connors so he can annihilate them one by one. This seems to me to be a reference to the Holocaust part of the narration -  thereby combining the actual boyhood events with the father's later analysis.

Fast then goes on to talk about his interest in non-linear narrative and how he likes to use a doubling effect, voice overs, and dissected scenes to achieve this. The narrative thread skips around in time or duplicates itself with minor changes. As a viewer it is difficult to find a path through the work but it held my attention all the same. For instance in another piece 'The Casting' Fast takes an army sergeant's spoken narrative of two events, a war and a personal experience, and edits the soundtrack so that he is able to create new words and put them into the mouth of the narrator. This creates fictionalised events that seamlessly blend with the narrated memories. This time, unlike the 'CNN Concatenated' piece we do not see the narrator (therefore hiding the edits) but instead actors play out the unfolding story. I had no idea that some of the narration had been edited to create new memories until the artist explained this after the clip - it was so skilfully done.

I found the talk and Omer Fast's methods and process fascinating. I've been getting ready to make a short test video to go on my blog in the next couple of weeks. Nothing major, just some stills and video that I want to put together and experiment with. Seeing Fasts effective use of non-linear narrative has inspired me to experiment.


  1. Sounds fascinating. I saw some of Fast's work at the Brighton Festival last year and was very impressed by it. A good start to the group.

  2. Yes, Catherine, I was impressed too.