Liza Dorrer, co-curator of Open, discussed Dina Karaman’s The Letters About the End of the World with the author. The film is the next installment of Into the Sandbox, the film programme of the Russian Pavilion at the 2021 Architecture Biennale.
Let me offer a tentative interpretation of your work from my own perspective and also from the perspective of the Pavilion’s programme. From a sequence of individual imaginaries and reflections of the unconscious, the film construes a single virtual space, or a metaverse, to use a buzzword. It creates a powerful landscape full of utopian buildings, sad malls, orchards, suspended bridges, computer rooms inhabited by the minds of the dead, and home interiors. There are cars and trains, seas and ships, zoos, mobile phones, and radiation, all blending in smoothly with flying motorbikes, dinosaurs, and escapes to other planets. How did you manage to plug the ultimate isolation of people’s dreams into a shared space? What did it feel like?
I guess I owe the shared space to the new outlook on the familiar landscape seen from my window. It has always been quite special, but in the spring of 2020, during the first weeks of lockdown, I began filming it more often and with more attention. As I accumulated ever more footage, I realised it was permeated with a sense of longing and loss, a strange expectation with no explanation. People kept walking their dogs across the sandy waste lot, some even sporting face masks. Cars kept tearing up and down the highway and builders kept erecting new highrises. It was just the harbour that turned empty without the noisy tourist ferries from abroad. Every now and then I would hear loudspeaker announcements telling everyone to stay at home. The landscape seemed enchanted, as if it was shrouded with an eerie mist, a stuff of dreams, a subtle warning that whatever was going on was going in the wrong direction. As I looked out of the window again and again, I began wondering about other people’s dreams, trying to understand if it was my own mind that had put a spell on the landscape or it had actually changed.
As soon as the recordings of people sharing their dreams arrived, I began juxtaposing them to my own visuals. All the dreams were in different languages, some of them quite lengthy. So I started asking for short Russian or English summaries. It was enough to go on because what mattered to me was the mood, the emotion, the tone, tempo, and voice patterns that resonated with the landscape. In the timeline, I would go through dreams and videos and the right ones just anchored together. Some of them stuck so tight I was unable to tear them apart. So I had to use them in blocks. Astonishingly, when I received detailed translations of the dreams for subtitling, the feeling of a shared space got even stronger, enriched with new harmonies and visual affinities. I could say that my experimental film suggests an answer to the main, agonising question of the 2021 Architecture Biennial, How will we live together? And the answer is: try stopping and listening to yourselves and to each other. The connection between us is stronger than it would seem. It sounds a bit like an Eastern prophecy, but this is what I felt while editing. I was sure it was not me linking all the different dreams, narratives and identities into a shared space beyond geographies, but rather the space exposing itself during the dark days of shared troubles. I do not know how to learn to feel the affinity, the connection on a regular basis. Probably some video games do just that.
Just as the stories of all the characters, the three layers of the film — its visuals, storyline, and sounds — are only held together by your director’s will. Beyond that, there is no connection. The soundscape consists of field recordings made in various countries where the characters were locked down. Could you please elaborate on the soundscape and the logic behind it?
I set out some house rules for myself. I would use three elements: dreams, sounds, and the landscape. All of them would accumulate on equal terms: nothing was ever recorded on purpose. As if I was dealing with three reels of coloured thread that would eventually interlace into a pattern during editing. Field recordings are a different kind of yarn, completely disconnected from the dreams. As a rule, I would use sounds from two different countries simultaneously on top of a dream from a third place. The sound layer is like an eminence grise, a shadow figure behind an image or a narrative that bestows them with an extra emotional load. As a result, the film is rather manipulative: a kaleidoscope of manipulating sounds and stories. This is another reason behind the notion of shared space: all the direct associative links are gone or confused.
Taking up on the notion of dreams, I cannot but make a parallel with Cemetery of Splendour by Apichatpong Weerasethakul where the heroine is a medium that uses her power to help relatives of sleep-sick soldiers communicate with their loved ones. Many of your characters struggle as well, trying to come to terms with their anxieties and helplessness. Was the film a kind of a therapy for yourself, the characters, and the audiences during dark pandemic times? Were the other narrators immersed into the joint effort of dream processing, or did the big picture only appear at the end of your editing?
My inner goal was to capture the moment, making sense of the new vibe that was in the air in the spring of 2020. I do not mean the fear of the virus, but rather the fragile sense of belonging together, a connection that has long evaporated. For sure, my daily filming sessions scrutinising the view and the warm messages exchanged with strangers from all over the globe felt quite therapeutic, just as the waiting for new messages or recordings and the editing. It was a happy time altogether. The storytellers did not know each other but I often felt it was special for them as well: sharing their dreams or sounds with someone in faraway Russia who was experiencing more or less the same situation against a similar background. Dreams and sound clips are actually very intimate, like a conversation where lovers share their secrets. But in this case my correspondents were complete strangers. The message exchange only became possible because of our shared confusion in front of the terrible New. Hence the title, Letters about the End of the World. But doomsday, typically, is already over.