• International Competition


Daniel Eisenberg

Picture three places. 1. A workshop in Germany where we follow the making of a prosthetic hand. 2. A traditional glove-making workshop in Millau, in the south of France. 3. A jeans factory in Istanbul, illustrating large-scale industrial production. A succession of three workplaces, but with a common viewpoint and subject: the relationship between the hand and the machine, the work and the material, all of them patiently and rigorously observed. Daniel Eisenberg scrutinises these interactions and gestures meticulously, and he pays close attention to each action involved and to the time required for each operation, from the starting point to the finished forms. With this film, Eisenberg continues the work he started with his previous one, The Unstable Object (FID 2011), in which he also used a triangular structure to compare the work in a high-tech car factory in Dresden, then in an antiquated clock repair shop in Chicago, and finally in a cymbal factory in Istanbul. From one production site to the next, the film focuses on hands, bodies, images: reconstructed bodies, modelled bodies, dressed bodies. And on the social body as well – either collective bodies at work, or their images, shaped by the very objects which are being produced. The patience of an attentive camera and the fascinating rhythm of this choreography let the gestures fully unfold. The geography of production modes also shapes the story it underlies, like the globalisation of exchanges. And what is also paramount here is that the time it takes to make the objects seems to mirror the experience of the viewer watching the film, like an echo between absorbed gazes, theirs like ours. A nice piece of actual work from the gaze and the mind about the ever so unstable object that is work.
(Nicolas Feodoroff)Daniel Eisenberg

Interview with Daniel Eisenberg

With The Unstable Object (Georges De Beauregard International Prize, FID 2011), you explored our relationship to work and labor and the issues surrounding the production and consumption of objects. For this second part, you focus exclusively on three factories, in three countries, and three paradigms of contemporary production. How did this long-term project come about?

For the last several decades we’ve been living amidst one of the most dramatic periods of change in history. The technical turn, or digital turn as it’s called, reconfigured and recalibrated all experience, all values, all meanings. It’s remarkable that with all these changes the world has been as stable as it has been (even with all the destabilizing forces of climate change, wars, the increasing influence of authoritarianism, and the massive movements of people due to displacements of all kinds.)
I was trying to isolate something that I knew had changed and will continue to change as technology continues to transform the daily experience and values we associate with work and labor, and that is, the manufactured object. The factory becomes a microcosm of these changes, and is an opportune site for studying these effects. In the first film three factories are organized according to the senses of sight, touch, and sound. That organizing principle produces both specific and incidental relationships. More than that, it leverages an admittedly disruptive conceptual construct to open up new ways of thinking about what is actually occurring at the site of production: to those who work, those who are the employers, and to those who will eventually consume, use, or be identified with the object of production. Each of us has a different stake in the object, and this conceptual organization loosened the mind to think about those things afresh. That way of thinking about structure, and a commitment to continually reassess the relations between the production of images, those that are observed by the apparatus, and the consumption of images, continues to motivate this project.

From the almost artisanal engagement with the object in the prosthesis factory in Duderstadt to the huge jeans factory in Turkey, via the luxury glove workshop in Millau, the body seems one of the common points between them. How did you choose the locations and these activities? How did you work there?

Yes, the body is key, expanding from the senses of sight, touch, and sound in the first film to the corporeal body in this new film. I tried to research and gain access to factories that would reverberate particular conceptual aspects of mass to individual, and the body is of course its most compelling metonymy and metaphor.
As for researching these locations, that’s often a function of starting at a particular conceptual point and finding a site that demonstrates that point as clearly as possible. So if you’re looking for a factory where every object produced is for a single user alone, there can be no better demonstration of that concept than a prosthetics factory, where each object must be hyper-individualized.
From there the thinking is more organic… what might respond to the first concept, and as a suite of three factories, how can they all work in multiple registers, through different layers of meaning-production, to somehow create a sense that these factories are intertwined with our social values and that they also, in material ways, produce them.

As in the first opus, you use techniques of what you call ‘durational observation’ in The Unstable Object II, only focused on the work, and we see labor with extended takes and multiple perspectives. Why is this method so important to you?

Now, in the third decade of our century, we see through everyday changes how precarious the condition of stable labor has become. Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and computer interfaces are quickly replacing even the service workers who now constitute the largest fraction of the labor force. Many were already displaced from manufacturing work. The workers in the factories that I document constitute some of the last generations of workers to make things… they will undoubtedly be replaced by machines and robots. As someone who spent many days and weeks in media archives and libraries earlier in my career, I need to answer the question of what constitutes a proper document of our own time. How can a future archive retain aspects of time and space that digital representation/reproduction allows? How can we be true to what we can’t yet apprehend in the images we produce? When we come to document with too much intention, we limit what is seen, heard, experienced. I remember well that the most productive documents that I found in the archives were the ones that remained open and full of possibility, multivalent. Also, we now see how documents are so fully inscribed with the conditions of power, capital, technological access, and their social and political forms. With more democratic means, and a conscious self-critical frame, we can relinquish more of our intention, be more thorough, open, and experimental in our practice, and hopefully produce conditions for a future archive that will communicate the complexity of factory experience from multiple perspectives and subjectivities. And with time, spatiality, and ephemeral social formations legible to that future researcher in the archive as well.

In each of the three parts, we can feel very different constructions of the mass and the individual in the place of production. Was this dimension important from the start?

It was fundamental. In this second film, I’m most interested in one of the essential aspects of western social forms: the critical relationship between the individual and the mass, the communal, the state… however you wish to see its opposing term. This is a relationship articulated at the site of production, and we can see how it influences what we make, and in turn, how what’s made reifies and reinforces these social constructs.
The first factory is the world’s largest prosthetics factory, where the forms of labor flow from repetitive semi-skilled labor, incrementally to highly skilled, artisanal labor. Here a wooden form is ultimately transformed into someone’s new foot. Each object produced in this factory goes from mass production to an absolutely singular object, made and fitted for one person alone, as a limb is, by definition, part of the individual.
In the second site, an haute couture glove atelier, there’s an almost one-to-one relationship between the person who makes the glove and the one who wears it… but even here there is a division of labor, if to a much smaller degree. The social space created by this slow labor is entirely unique, and remarkable. And we are given the time to consider what exactly distinguishes a hand-made object from one that’s mass produced… what exactly do we consume or purchase? How and where are these qualities produced?
The third and last factory inverts the relationship that’s established in the first. It’s a distressed jeans factory where 2000 jeans are produced each day, in many cases a product stylized and labored over to look as if it’s been worn by a single person over a long period of time. We are all familiar with such stylized jeans… distressed, worn, dematerialized. These objects require much additional labor and technology, and short-circuit traditional values of longevity and newness. They also produce instant individuality, though when you see so many of these coming off the line at once, what that means is thrown into question.

We observe people at work, people with their gestures, their machines. But the sound dimension could also make us think of a kind of musical performance. How did you work on the audio part?

The factory and atelier produce their own forms of rhythm, whether it’s the deafening interplay of machines and human movement, or the radio in the background of a quiet space. You have to be open to using what you hear, not what you think is important to hear, and work closely with that material. The rule is simple: be more sensitive to what’s already there.
Interestingly, in Maison Fabre, the glove atelier, we initially asked that the radio be turned off so that we could later work the materials without too much trouble with sound. After a day of filming, sensing that things were not quite right, I insisted that the women in the atelier turn the radio back on, so that they could re-establish their normal working patterns. It was tougher on me in the editing room, working with the audio of the radio in the background of every shot, but it would have been impossible to accurately record the daily work of the atelier without it. In the end the sound is far more interesting with the radio on than without it.
I am sensitive to the fact that sound creates space, that the ears locate, that they quantify volume and scale. These are essential working concepts for me, equal to, or even in some cases, more important than the image.

And how did you conceive the rhythm produced by the editing?

When working for months at the editing desk, I’ve learned to see and hear my materials with rigor and clarity. Assessing what the material can actually communicate requires distance. It’s that distance which allows new relationships to form through seeing and hearing detached from memory of the site of production. That’s a duality that people don’t like to talk about, usually giving primacy to the experience at the site of production, and with it privileging first impressions and one’s own subjectivity. I would argue that it’s more important to see what you didn’t see then, and what you hear with greater attention in the editing room. It’s with those materials that the work can speak to each viewer equally, and not privilege one’s experience at the site of production. It’s more often true that understanding is achieved slowly and methodically.

Your team is composed of Ingo Kratisch and Matthias Rajmann. Why did you choose them? How did you work?

If I understand the question correctly it’s more about the working team that worked on the films of Harun Farocki (who was a friend.) Both Ingo Kratisch and Matthias Rajmann were essential partners in Harun’s film work. It may be hard to believe, but I met Ingo Kratisch 31 years ago, during a DAAD Berlin Artists’s Fellowship, completely independently of any knowledge of his collaboration with Harun Farocki. He was a neighbor who I met at the house of Ulrich and Erika Gregor, and over the years he and his partner Jutta Sartory became very close friends with my entire family. Our collaboration grew out of our friendship, and I only found much, much later that he produced the images for Farocki’s films. He simply never at first talked about it. Ingo appeared in my film Persistence (1997) and has shot every subsequent film of mine. I was drawn to his films made with Jutta Sartory, especially O Logischer Garten (1988) and Das Gleiche Wollen und Das Gleiche Nicht Wollen (1991) for their compositional integrity, poetic sensibility, and social commitment.
I began working with Matthias at the suggestion of Ingo when we first started The Unstable Object. He was a great Associate Producer for all of our work in Germany, and did location sound on the sequences in Dresden at the Volkswagen Phaeton factory, and at Ottobock in Duderstadt. I did the sound on the other two factories, in Millau, France and in Istanbul and Düzce, Turkey.
Ingo and I have an intuitive way of working, we know how to think with and through the image, and we speak about strategies of production every night after viewing material on site. We leave plenty of time for experimentation and exploration after our initial and secondary ideas are exhausted. We are on site for at least four days, an unusual amount of time for these factories. I am extremely grateful for their cooperation and understanding in what we are trying to achieve.

Interview by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • International Competition

Technical sheet

France, Germany, Turkey, United States / 2022 / Colour / 204’

Original version : no dialogues
Script : Daniel Eisenberg
Photography : Ingo Kratisch
Editing : Daniel Eisenberg
Sound : Matthias Rajmann
Production : Daniel Eisenberg.

Filmography :
The Unstable Object, 2011
Something More Than Night, 2003
Persistence, 1997
Cooperation Of Parts, 1987
Displaced Person, 1981.