- Archives and Images as Repositories of Time, Language, and Forms from the Past:A Conversation with Daniel Eisenberg
Daniel Eisenberg was born in Israel in 1954 to Holocaust survivors. In the late 1950s, his family immigrated to the United States, where he has been making experimental films for over thirty years. Black Dog recently published the first major critical study of his films, Postwar: The Films of Daniel Eisenberg.1 To accompany the publication of the book, Video Data Bank Chicago has produced a DVD box set titled Postwar. It will include the films Displaced Person (1981), Cooperation of Parts (1987), Persistence (1997), and Something More Than Night (2003).
Characteristic of Eisenberg's films from the twenty years spanned by the four that are the focus of both the recent anthology and the DVD, each turns to the archive in search of material to interrogate, recast, and perpetuate a host of otherwise unresolved relationships: between past and present; between generations, continents, political systems; between the personal and the private; and between different media. All of Eisenberg's films embrace the breadth of formal experimentation offered by the medium of cinema. And simultaneously, through their dense weave of moving and still images, literary and philosophical quotations, sound and silence, the films offer a conceptual and historical richness that challenges their viewers to rethink the grand historical narratives that have propelled the twentieth into the twenty-first century. Eisenberg's is an intellectual cinema whose concerns cross continents and generations, all the time maintaining a deep commitment to history and the world beyond the films themselves.
Daniel Eisenberg lives and works in Chicago and is professor of film/video/new media and of visual and critical studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Copies in 16mm of Eisenberg's films are available through Canyon Cinema, San Francisco; Light Cone, Paris; Freunde Der Deutschen Kinemathek, Berlin; and Daniel Eisenberg Films. Digital video and DVDs are available through the Video Data Bank, Chicago, and Daniel Eisenberg Films.
This conversation with Daniel Eisenberg takes up and takes off from the issues raised in Postwar as they engage with the relationships that emerge between the filmmaker, his films, and the archive. The book is a creative venture that sits side by side with, rather than as a definitive interpretation or closed theoretical analysis of, Eisenberg's films. The conversation took place on March 17, 2011, between Paris and Chicago, and it was recorded in London.2
I was struck by how the authors in Postwar consistently place your [End Page 112] films within often very different historical trajectories of the avant-garde and other forms.
One trajectory that is not mentioned, one that I see your work converse with, especially as it relates to the love of the archive, is the work of Joseph Cornell. Particularly, I see the relationship to Cornell's building on the surrealist wont to appropriate (from archives or dustbins) and to take on the object as its own.
There are a lot of connections to Cornell. Growing up in Queens, New York, I probably lived ten blocks from him. He was very well known in the neighborhood as the crazy artist. I went to Binghamton and studied there, and of course, Ken Jacobs was there, and he and Jack Smith made pilgrimages out to Utopia Parkway to see Cornell. Cornell in his cryptic way would engage them in their collaborative projects. And of course, Cornell is probably the most accessible to Americans as a romantic surrealist. He's not really a classical surrealist in that he didn't have a larger social project, but he superimposes the romantic dream state onto the techniques of surrealism. And he indulges the archive in that way.
His personal archive and his love for the cinema is then processed through many of these techniques, through collage, through parataxis, these are the kinds of forms through which collisions occur. His archive also resides in personal memories, and in the films and the boxes, their sense of space, of interior space, and the way his personal memory of childhood reaches out...