Artist and filmmaker Omer Fast is highly acclaimed for his video-based installations and cinematic films that blur the lines between fact and fiction. Fast has previously explored such themes as desire and trauma, as well as how these themes can manifest themselves in banality or absurdity. Fast does not allow the viewer to rest in the standard narratives and emotional arcs of Western cinema, instead jolting them out of any comfortably false structure they may find themselves settling into. Fast’s filmic style is determinedly avant-garde, toying with truth, perspective, and linearity in storytelling to create highly complex narrative structures of both fantasy and reality.
Fast’s immersive retrospective, Talking is not always the solution, took place in Berlin (where the artist also lives and works) from 18 November 2016 until 12 March 2017 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau. Seven of Fast’s films featured in the exhibition, including three of his most well-known and highly regarded: Continuity (2012), which previously acted as his contribution to documenta 13; Spring (2016), a five-screen video installation he created based on Continuity (2012); and Continuity (2016), which merges aspects of the former two films together. The relationship between these three films—how they repeat as well as stretch each other—exemplifies Fast’s interest in building up and breaking down process and non-linear narrative within a Western cinematic context.
The films exhibited in Talking is not always the solution alternate between being set into dark screening areas and highly staged waiting room installations. The oscillation between the viewer being shrouded in darkness and standing on a theatrical set allows the structures of film to extend beyond the screen. In reminding the viewer of their everyday performances, such as waiting in line for a passport to be stamped or waiting for the doctor to call their name, they are implicated in the larger filmic performances they are watching. Or rather, the line between the two kinds of performance dissolves. The viewer jumps between being exposed and hidden within the range of installation spaces, intensifying a heightened awareness of the nuances of their role as both viewer and present body: ‘I'm not interested in disorientation as an effect but as a cause for reassessing some basic assumptions about where we are and what we're looking at’, says Fast of the transition between installation structures. The exhibition publication itself was created with the aesthetics of a newspaper, blending into the installation as if it were a prop and once more eschewing the assumed dichotomy between reality and pretense.
Fast uses his filmic style to question social constructs. He uses techniques of defamiliarisation in both fictional and documentary-style narratives to force the viewer to confront their preconceptions as well as the rituals and tropes of cinema and life. In Continuity (2012), a mother and father whose son is missing, in response to their trauma, recreate scenes of their life before their son disappeared: ‘The moments of immersion happen when the story seems plausible: We can suspend our disbelief and pretend, along with the parents, that the family is restored and everything is normal’, says Fast. However, this illusion is regularly, and inevitably, ruptured to pull the viewer back into the unstable reality. Stories end, and real life still waits on the other side. Instead of using film to give the viewer an escape from reality, Fast uses it to insist again and again that there is no escape from reality, only temporary reprieve.