Email interview with Lena Lapschina conducted by N. Elizabeth Schlatter, curator, January 2013
Can you tell me a bit about what we are seeing in trance_siberia? Is this all footage that you shot at various points both on and off the train yourself?
Yes indeed all used footage was shot by myself during five years or so of my many interrupted journeys through different parts of the Trans-Siberian railway line. Different places, different trains, different destinations. The places tend to stay anonymous in order to give that abstract feeling of endless space and time without any touristic-geographic touch.
One description of the piece said that the work “gives an impression of some of the pastimes of passengers.” Various scenes in the piece show people laughing, dancing, hanging out, eating, drinking, making crafts, farming, and just waiting around, among other activities. Is this work something of a portrait of both the passengers and of the region? And if so, why did you choose this format to work with?
Actually I would rather like to see the piece as a portrait of life as such. Okay, it’s based on or connected to a specific region and its inhabitants, but even that is not quite true.
The Trans-Siberian railway in Russia is known for its massive length and the duration of the full trip, which according to Wikipedia takes 6 days and 4 hours from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. How do you feel you are using time as a medium or as a concrete form in this piece and do you intend for it to complement the train experience?
Of course at some point the mythos of the “transsiberian magistrale” (as they call it in Russia) stays in the centre of the project with its magical length and sheer unendlessness. With memories of totally unimportant encounters with people (whom you will never meet again)—and their stories. I maybe have to admit that for me personally, in the beginning there wasn’t any magic for me in this train. Growing up somewhere in the middle of that nowhere province, the transsib was just absolutely normal public transportation. I used to ride it almost every week during collegetime. Short distances—a couple of hours per trip. The meaning of the transsiberian movement I realized much later in all its spatial and temporal power.
So I think, time is quite important like a fact of being on the road, offside of a normal life at home or at work or with guests. It’s a timeout time. With no purpose. Only waiting to appear at point B, just after leaving point A behind. This state of in-between initially does not have any sense. It is just a losing of time.
To answer your question in one short sentence: In trance_siberia, time is playing the lead—the train is only the stage.
The visual rhythm of the work is subtle and complex, with different pacing between the three channels. Sometimes images are repeated on two or three of the screens, sometimes there is a sequential relationship, some scenes are sped up and others slowed down whereas others show your subjects moving forward and then in reverse repeatedly. What do you consider to be important when you explore the relationship between the layered and differing depictions of time throughout the video?
I’ve tried to stimulate a visual experience which is as close as possible to the real process of seeing. When looking at a specific scene, we do not “see” just a single two-dimensional photographic representation of that scene, but a multi-faceted compilation of various content (people, objects, events, surroundings etc.). Most important, simultaneously we also “see” all the mental layers of our memories. So the layering/overlayering in trance_siberia is just a reflection of this “perception of the real.” Our visuality is constructed as a mixture of seeing something plus the (your) visual luggage everybody is carrying with her/him.
This work relates to the idea of “flow” on numerous levels, most obviously being the subject of the movement of people on a train. But the soundtrack, adapted from Nuclear Los, and the progression of imagery creates a flowing experience for the viewer, that, at times encourages daydreaming and relaxation. [I’m thinking in particular about the segment around 1:50 to 2 hours, where the images are at night.] What intentions did you have when you were constructing the piece in terms of how the viewer would react to the work?
When playing with the words “trans” and “trance,” I of course had in mind to construct a space where a visitor gets the chance to leave her or his daily life and enter a state of trance. My three-channel video installation goes on for three hours. The first hour is like a prelude: You are still under stress of preparing for a long journey that will begin soon. Then—slowly—the feeling of losing the point A arises, without seeing point B on the horizon. You are still in the past. The process of flowing will start at the very same moment when you’ll stop asking what it is all about and let it go.
To achieve the state of trance is somewhat similar to enjoying a swim in the ocean. You have to make it through the first wave … That could be a hard job … But when you are in the flow, it’s so easy to continue!
The same is with my film. It seems to be slow, in nowhere with no meaning. But if you let go and flow, there will be a lot of inhalt [content] and thousands of contexts. And it will end abruptly and suddenly without any warning—after a sequence of speedy cuts.
Regarding the psychological concept of “flow,” could you talk a bit about your creative process?
Maybe it’s just a creative process by itself? You’ll never get smooth results without flowing. For example, after the trance_siberia project, I created a series of extra-short videos, 17 Seconds Of Art. This was the opposite of trance_siberia in the sense of time. You could never cut such short films without being in a perfect flow.
Lena Lapschina (Russian, born 1965) currently lives and works in Vienna, Austria. She received an Mag. art and Ph.D. from the State Stroganow University of Fine and Applied Arts. She is co-founder of “State of the Art” magazine and is curator for M21. Her many awards include an Austrian state grant for video and media art (2011).
Read more about Lapschina and her work
Lena Lapschina’s artist’s talk at the Harnett Museum of Art, on Monday, March 4, 2013, noon to 1 p.m., has been made possible with a grant from the Austrian Cultural Forum, Washington, D.C.