De Onzichtbare Berg

Ben Russell

Ben Russell - Video still The Invisible Mountain

‘This is how I sum up for myself what I wish to convey to those who work here with me:
I am dead because I lack desire;
I lack desire because I think I possess;
I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;
Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing;
Seeing you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to live.
- René Daumal to Véra Daumal (1), read by Tuomo Tuovinen in De Onzichtbare Berg

‘I want the audience to move with the subject until they become the subject; I want them to go from outside to inside, from not-knowing to understanding to being. I want transformation! Given all that cinema can do, it’s a pretty small request - but given the right conditions, I really believe that it can happen.’ - Ben Russell

De Onzichtbare Berg is an immersive multi-channel video installation sketching a portrait of a man’s pilgrimage, the Finnish artist and wanderer Tuomo Tuovinen, from Finland to Greece in search of the utopian summit. For this work, Russell drew inspiration from the novella Mount Analogue (1952) by French author René Daumal, in which a group of explorers embark on an impossible quest to find an invisible mountain floating in the ocean.

In De Onzichtbare Berg five looped videos offer snippets of this journey in which Tuovinen and Russell are joined by other companions, participating in this experiment in movement and seclusion. ‘Beautiful footage of Tuovinen placidly swimming in a central European lake is paired with shots of a slender green human figure wandering across lush fern vegetation, waiting to be chroma-keyed to invisibility, or with images of Tuovinen on a beach holding a mirror with a triangle cut in the middle towards the camera: the superimposing of the geometric form both frames the landscape and turns it into an abstract, unreachable mountain. (2)’ The physical and spiritual journey of Tuovinen is interspersed with musical performances by Helsinki all-female trio Olimpia Splendid and American percussionist Greg Fox.

Road trip, concert tour, pilgrimage and voyage into an altered state of consciousness; the journey in itself, without obvious beginning or end, is the essential subject of this work. The installation invites you to travel between the different canted screens and arcane light symbols, yet simultaneously offers you the possibility of a vantage point at the peak of the hypothetical Mount Analogue from which everything can be experienced at once. The dynamic and hypnagogic soundscape, as if in witness to a dream, was realized in collaboration with sound artist Nicolas Becker, and pushes the journey forward, from one site to another, from one state to a higher one.

(1) Véra Daumal describes how René Daumal envisioned Mount Analogue to end: ‘On one occasion he did describe in concise terms the path he saw before him. The text appears in one of the last letters he wrote me’ - Postface to Mount Analogue (2019) Exact Change publication
(2) e-flux Criticism: Ben Russell’s “La montage invisible

2020 - 6-channel video installation with 15 speakers and 2 neon sculptures
10:00 / 5:00/ 75:00 / 75:00 / 75:00 / 24:00, loop
Director / Editor / Camera Operator - Ben Russell // Steadicam Operator - Chris Fawcett // B/W Camera Operator - Ben Rivers // Sound Recordist – Jakov Munizaba // Sound Designer – Nicolas Becker // Sound Editor / Mixer – Rob Walker // Producer – Ben Russell / VSBL MTN // Executive Producer - Christos V. Konstantakopoulos / Faliro House Productions

Courtesy of the artist

Ben Russell
°1976, Springfield, MA, United States

Ben Russell is a filmmaker, artist and curator. In his practice he challenges conventions of documentary representation from within to produce intense, hypnotic, and, at times, hallucinating experiences. His curatorial work follows his filmmaking, which unfolds between experimental cinema and a form of speculative ethnography in a process that he sometimes refers to as 'psychedelic ethnography.' Experiencing a film/installation by Russell means going on a non-narrative, ritualized journey, one that short-circuits the visceral subjective charge of psychedelia with ethnographic protocols of visualization and objectification.

The work of Russell has been shown in solo screenings and exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Viennale and the Museum of Modern Art NY. Russell studied arts and semiotics at Brown University and film and new media at the Art Institute in Chicago. He currently lives and works in Marseille, France.