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I met George Clark at Light Industry in New York in 2017, where we both attended a double-feature of Mok Chiu-Yu and Li Ching’s Letter to the Young Intellectuals of Hong Kong and Vlado Kristl’s Death to the Audience.[1] Over the course of the past three years, we have since communicated only through sporadic messages from Instagram and over a duration of respective multiple transnational moves. These bursts of transmissions often across great distances, permeating through cultural spheres, seemed an apropos context through which to discover his work. Clark’s films are a proposition that cinema is a vision of information across national boundaries, stepping over language thresholds, and even as a channel through which we receive signals and narratives from the dead. These assemblages make up the process-driven elements of his practice, in which he shows us the limits of language, translation and infrastructures of filmmaking. 

 

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[9:18 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: When I went to Chile I didn’t have much of a plan apart from a loose map of places I wanted to visit to film but also realised needed to do something more active in these places
[9:19 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: I wanted to make images that referred to other places, to reflect across pacific and collapse space and time

 

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George Clark’s Double Ghosts (2018), the first in a trilogy of films, takes up Raúl Ruiz’s unfinished film, The Comedy of Shadows, shot in Taiwan in 1995. Clark starts in Chile, where Ruiz was born and left as a political exile after the military coup d’etat in 1973; then to France, where Ruiz later settled and died; and ends in Taiwan, where Ruiz sojourned to make The Comedy of Shadows. Clark weaves filmed and collected materials, including his 35mm footage, sound recordings, script excerpts, video recordings, photography and archival material from these disparate locales. The doubles inferred in the title describe a series of mirrored subjects as the premise of a film within a film: Ruiz telling the story of a filmmaker who, in search of making a film about a sculpture, ends up in a fatal accident and instead makes a film from the dead (“the first posthumous film”). And Clark, in pursuit of Ruiz’s unfinished film, travels great distances and with the help of his friends and past collaborators of Ruiz’s, makes these lost cinematic visions come to life in his experimental works. 

 

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[5:24 PM, 8/25/2020] Tiffany Sia: yeah it’s interesting your work as a curator very much informs the investigative, research and process-driven way of showing filmmaking
[5:25 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: yeah they are totally entwined… at some point it felt like curating was much more expedient way to explore things I was interested in and think about images
[5:26 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: modes of assembly of work and people
[5:28 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: ways of thinking about history, conceptions of the world, means of relation and to understand cultural entanglement
[5:40 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: a lot of my early thinking about language was informed by my readings and in particular work of various Latin American writings – Borges, Bioy Casares, Cortázar, Manguel – it was through them that I started reading english literature through these writers appreciation
[5:40 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: one of first films I made around this was an interview with the argentine director hugo santiago about his work with borges and bioy-casares[2]

 

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Clark’s recorded interviews with Valeria Sarmiento, Ruiz’s wife, in Spanish tell the making of The Comedy of Shadows in Taiwan and are translated with the help of Clark’s friend Miguel Ribeiro. We hear their voices alongside each other, and these audio transmissions are contrasted with footage of the sea port of Puerto Montt, Ruiz’s birthplace. We hear about Ruiz on an adventure to film in Taiwan, and we imagine as footage of fisherman on boats reel past, the sense of Ruiz in movement towards planning and filming across the Pacific Ocean. In his subsequent film, Clark lays out archival photographs of Ruiz’s shoot by hand. The assemblage of these disparate details become the means of addressing the anachronisms and absences inherent in this story: to resurrect the dead, to make something out of what is unfinished from a scattered archive. These meanings are always just in the process of showing themselves, shadows that can only infer through piecemeal information the total vision that could have been. 

 

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[9:51 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: In terms of the dead making films, looking at art or reading books is communicating with dead all the time
[9:51 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: which felt very natural and these works were always big part of my life
[9:52 PM, 8/25/2020] Tiffany Sia: Right yeah
[9:54 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: so in that way I always think of cinema as metaphysical and in this last project that connected with the work of temple projectionists in taiwan as mode of exhibition for living and the dead
[9:55 PM, 8/25/2020] Tiffany Sia: Right yeah especially at the cemetery

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A piece of mirror is mounted on a sand beach at 45 degree angle. The mirror reflects the sea shimmered in the sunlight and small mounds of sand.

Double Ghosts premiere at Chin Pao San Cemetry, 19 August 2018, presented with TCAC and Taiwan Biennial, photo by Ko Hung-Yu 柯泓宇

 

The Chinese title for Double Ghosts is 雙影, literally meaning double projections or twin shadows, includes the character 影, which also is a component for the word cinema 電影. These relations between shadows animate the crux of Clark’s exploration in Double Ghosts. It is as if through activating a daisy-chain of transmissions from artist to artist – stepping across the threshold from life to death, and past filmic projections – Clark attempts in Double Ghosts to illuminate the phantasm of cinema through a film that never was, and at that, about the making of a film by a ghost. These echoes cast a series of filmic shadows. The mark of Clark as the filmmaker, his voice behind the camera, his hand as he lays out original photographs of Ruiz on set in Taiwan, the recorded interviews and conversations, offers the imprint of the artist through cinema, journeying through the process of research and storytelling. These sequences reveal the potential for film to tell stories in the space of absence and incompletion, to bear ghostly narratives that arrive as transmissions from artist to artist. And to borrow the words of Ruiz quoted in Double Ghosts, “A ghost is only a ghost if it is barely visible.” 

 

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“I spent the first day visiting dead relatives. My impending death made them all cheerful and they performed an ethereal and acrobatic welcome dance. I smashed the seven mirrors which shut off the flying souls from the world. And in so doing I unleashed a cheerful avalanche of smiling and healthy mirrors.” – Raúl Ruiz, Las Soledades

 

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A piece of mirror is mounted on a sand beach at 45 degree angle. The mirror reflects the sea shimmered in the sunlight and small mounds of sand.

Double Ghosts, George Clark, 2018

 

In Double Ghosts, the sublime montage of reflections of mirrors enacting Ruiz’s ritual – filmed in scenes around the sea, reflections of the water in a boat, the fisherman holding up mirrors and then breaking them in scenes spanning Puerto Montt to Valparaíso – stir layered meaning. “I have few rules in my head with how they were used,” Clark texted me via WhatsApp, discussing filming these sequences meant to counter the heaviness of crossing the abyssal line in cinema into a realm amongst spirits. “I was spending a lot of time thinking about [the dead] and cemeteries and felt like this was an important way to push back, a gesture of self-preservation or self-care to not be overwhelmed by another artist and histories.” Each of these places bears the components that tell the story of Ruiz. The mirror is used as a device of rupture and reflection, containing with it an evocative and ritualistic power. These frames, too, bear doubles: Images of the waterfall or ocean are not shot straight on, but only appear through the reflection. A mirror within a frame. An image within an image. 

 

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[5:42 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: I used to also spend time on kind of bottom up cinephilia helping to make subtitles for films in languages I didn’t understand but was familiar enough with to be able to follow timing and synch titles
[5:44 PM, 8/25/2020] George Clark: I think I sent you a link for Ruiz’s Zig-Zag… I made the subtitles for that after making illicit photocopy of the dialogue sheets held at bfi library from when they showed the film in 1980s and had someone read translation over the pa during the screening

 

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Against a blurry image of an Asian man holding a piece of paper, the frame is filled with texts. It reads “An article in praise of the work of KI, a filmmaker from Guilin, appears in the fifth issue (1974) of the Taipei film review Film Chronicle. KI was celebrated at the time for two enigmatic medium length films which earned him second prize at Locarno Film Festival and a critics’ prize at Benidorm. In One of these films, KI predicted his own death which indeed took place in the real world, twenty years later. He had foretold it for the end of 1989. In this film, which pays tribute to KI, we have borrowed some images from Homage, a commissioned work KI made in 1973.

Inner Sage / Outer King, George Clark, 2019

 

George Clark’s latter film Inner Sage/ Outer King, filmed in 2018, traces Ruiz’s unfinished film by uncovering a series of collaborators in Paris and Taiwan. The film features interviews with painter Kar Siu Lee, poet Waldo Rojas, musician Jorge Arriagada and indigenous Taiwanese filmmaker Laha Mebow. Clark uses subtitles to translate each of these speakers, employing subtitling in unconventional ways from text overlaid on Kar Siu Lee as he is reading the synopsis by Ruiz and subtitles captioning a translator speaking on behalf of Indigenous Taiwanese filmmaker Laha Mebow. Clark described to me how he sees filmmaking as the essential balance between contingency and agency, especially true in the slippery space of language and translation, when the film’s meaning rests on the delicate process of translation. As a filmmaker who doesn’t speak Chinese, Clark knowingly relents control and expresses the slipperiness between languages in his trilogy on Ruiz. “My discovery of cinema is twinned to subtitles,” Clark described to me. “I am also so moved by the generosity of that act to translate something.” He doesn’t omit the process of translation, but like the sound on set and his voice directing, the translator’s voice is also made a fact of the atmosphere of his films to show the components of filmmaking. 

In Sea of Clouds/雲海, made in 2016, Clark interviews contemporary Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-Jen about cinema culture during the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, juxtaposing these recordings against 16mm footage of urban and rural Taiwan. Chen describes how Taiwanese farmers used film screenings during Japanese colonial occupation as a means to stage covert political assemblies. At these screenings, the act of translation became a way to smuggle ideas of anti-colonial resistance in the dialect of Taiwanese Hokkien, which Japanese soldiers (who were always in attendance) couldn’t understand. Chen describes, “A narrator will translate the film to the audience, but they will torch the real meaning of the film. The interesting thing is what is shown in the film is not what the narrator is talking about… to conduct the revolutionary idea or the anti-colonial idea, the narrator uses Taiwanese language.” When I texted Clark about the translations in the film, noticing some of the styles of Chen’s speech that are perhaps diffused in the translation, he said, “I also really like the spontaneous type of language that emerges in those situations, there is a literalness that isn’t ‘correct’ but more moving… I love her phrase, ‘to torch the meaning.’” 

In Sea of Clouds, the viewer is made aware that the translation into English could only be partial, but the strategies of presenting dialogue and subtitles by captioning the translator, and not subtitling the speaker, allows for gaps in-between that makes this dissonance and incompleteness known. The strategies of incorporating recordings and subtitles make the translator visible as the agent of meaning, who straddles the precarious exchange over the cross-cultural thresholds. Layering these meanings on top of discussions about a history of subversion through language, Clark embraces translation as an act of poetic and political improvisation and as an essential conduit for a filmmaker invested in the historical process.[3] The title of Clark’s film Sea of Clouds refers to the view from the top of Taiwan’s highest mountains where everything below is hidden. Invoking this as a metaphor of obscured histories, Clark demonstrates the potential of the filmmaker as a kind of radical historian to uncover and archive occluded narratives.

 

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Raúl Ruiz never finished a film in Taiwan. Illuminating the fissures and limits of translinguistic and cross-cultural storytelling, this knowledge generates a kind of longing for what visions could have been. And Clark makes these hidden visions known. A Mountain Inside a Cave, shot in 2019, documents the ceremonial projection of Double Ghosts in Taiwan’s Chin Pao San cemetery on the anniversary of Ruiz’s death. Ruiz’s unfinished film was originally commissioned by the cemetery as part of their arts program. The Chinese title of Clark’s film, 山洞裡有山, translates literally as: Inside the hole of the mountain, there is another mountain. To quote Ruiz, “The original idea was, as if often the case with my films, very simple. It consisted of following the stone on its journey from the moment it is found by the sea or in the mountains.” For Clark, this stone he follows on its journey in making this film trilogy is Ruiz. The late filmmaker, as the stone personified, marks the journey Clark follows to illuminate narratives forgotten or lost in cinema: Inside the film, there is another film.


[1]Light Industry, Tuesday, May 2, 2017 http://www.lightindustry.org/deathtotheaudience. In addition to this screening of Mok Chiu-Yu and Li Ching’s Letter to the Young Intellectuals of Hong Kong, Clark has presented this film as central part of his ongoing project Eyemo Rolls, an evolving assembly of his own footage interleaved with works by other artists, exploring the cinema as place of entanglement between disperate histories and localities https://lux.org.uk/event/its-oblique-but-its-all-there

[2] Interview with Hugo Santiago (UK/France, 2008/2012, 25min) Originally published online by This Long Century: http://www.thislongcentury.com/george-clark-nominated-by-luke-fowler

[3] In the interview Chen Chieh-Jen refers to an article he wrote on this film history and the influence of Bitai Thoan (美台團) in Chinese. His short article has now been translated and available here: http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/98/ChenChiehjenOnBitaiThoan


Tiffany Sia is an artist, filmmaker, independent film producer and founder of Speculative Place. She is the author of 咸濕 Salty Wet, a series of anti-travelogues on smut, affect and history of Hong Kong. Sia is the director of the short film Never Rest/Unrest, which premiered as part of a retrospective in the Propositions program at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. She is based in Hong Kong.