Directors Robin Klengel and Michael Stumpf on „How to Disappear“ and the short form / interview

Robin Klengel is an artist, illustrator and cultural anthropologist has been vice chairman of Forum Stadtpark, an interdisciplinary art and culture space in Graz, Austria since 2017. His work has won prizes including the Vimeo Staff Pick Award, the award for Best Austrian Film at Vienna Shorts, the Audience Award at the Short Wave Festival in Poznan and the Explorer Award at A Maze Berlin.

Leonhard Müllner is the third director of „How to Disappear“. The visual artist and media researcher studied visual art and media art and is currently writing his PhD on a cultural studies topic. His work has received several prizes including the Vimeo Staff Pick Award, the Best Austrian Film Award at Vienna Shorts as well as awards at the Short Waves Festival in Poznan and at A Maze Berlin.

Michel Stumpf was born in Wels, Austria in 1985. Having studied philosophy at the University of Vienna, he is currently taking a degree in Media Art and Culture Theories at the University of Art and Design in Linz. He works as a cultural theorist, artist and designer.

What was the starting point for How to disappear?

The starting point for our work is our fascination with the medium of computer games. To be more precise, it’s a love-hate relationship. Because on the one hand, it’s a medium that offers an incredible number of possibilities and creates important social spaces, especially for young people. On the other, mainstream games in particular are pervaded by a capitalist logic and their potential remains unexploited. We enjoy working in a playful way with the artefacts and landscapes that games produce. In our work, we break the implicit rules of these spaces and give the games alternative narratives – as in How to Disappear, which is dedicated to the history of deserters. We call this “narrative upcycling”.

In addition, the history of deserters is incredibly relevant but it only rarely appears in history books. Running away and military disobedience have been around for as long as war itself and yet, although we know a lot about the people who wage war, we know very little about those who refused to kill. Whoever wants to fight a war must convince people to commit their lives – and must prevent them from taking off at the first opportunity. Thus, deserters have always influenced the way war is waged and also how society develops.

Likewise, in video games the character of the deserter remains largely obscure, although there are many games in which you take on the role of a soldier. The bulk of large video game companies prefer to stick to tried and tested concepts and tell “non-political” stories, or so they claim.

The demand for a separation of playing and politics expressed by developer heavyweights like Epic, Ubisoft and Blizzard reveals the schizophrenic attitude of the scene. It is based on the misapprehension that the status quo is always apolitical and that only rebelling against it is a political act. Each reactionary agenda of the developers in their narration of the playing world thus remains supposedly apolitical. This is why we don’t interfere in these games with programming interventions but, instead, use rule violations. These suddenly make the ideological visible as if it were magical ink. We are a pseudo-Marxist communication guerrilla!

In our work, we’re also addressing our original natural habit, the art world, by proposing a narrative turn. This opposes the current tendencies towards formalistic and self-referential tedium in the visual arts. We’re trying to combine aesthetic questions with a conceptual imperative that, if possible, is presented in a humorous language.

Do you have a favourite moment in the film? Which one and why this one?

We value the appropriation of the video game medium, but even more, the direct interaction with the gaming community – that is, with the gamers themselves. In our anti-war film, How to Disappear, our central interest is in disrupting the events of war and exploring the possibilities of military disobedience. It gives us an immense, childlike pleasure to keep the players from fighting. So during filming, we had the most fun in the scenes where we pestered the other gamers – harassing them in a joyful and playful way – and throwing ourselves, for example, in front of the snipers’ rifle scopes.

What do you like about the short form?

Short films are less work.


260220_DT_2861©DOROTHEA_TUCH crop
Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner, Michael Stumpf

photo ©Dorothea Tuch

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