This video essay, “Tear Away, Turn Back, Breathe,” was created by Martina Probst and Chantal Hann. The video was nominated by Kevin B. Lee, who co-taught an intensive eight week video essay seminar at the Lucerne School of Art and Design (HSLU) in Switzerland, organized by Prof. Florian Krautkrämer. The sessions were taught alternately by Lee, Krautkrämer, Johannes Binotto, Chloé Galibert-Laîné, and Michael Baute. Probst and Hann made this video essay in a workshop taught by Baute, who required all students to work with Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
The answers below were given by Martina Probst. First published on Notes on Videographic Criticism on July 25, 2020.
How did you arrive at the idea for this video essay? It seems that even though the film was released only last year, video essayists have already been drawn to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. What drew you to the film? Is there something about the film that makes it suitable for videographic work? 
Michael Baute teaches an approach to video essay making that departs from a very detailed analysis of a scene or even a second of a film. He inspired us to investigate a short moment of the film in a text consisting of precisely one hundred words. By writing the texts and discussing them in our group we discovered many things that laid dormant under the surface of the film. This exercise was the very starting point for our essay.

It’s not surprising that Baute — as somebody who declares himself a “sucker for repetition” — chose that piece of film for us to immerse ourselves in, as the story itself is being narrated in a feedback loop or circuit of remembrance: from art to memory and back again. Thematically the film is about two women and their love relationship in a conservative surrounding. With that narrative the film exploits grand questions of cinema itself: questions of the gaze (the seductive force of the gaze), the relationship between the bodies in space, of hand (gestures) and object, and so on and so on … . There is definitely something about the film that is meta-cinematic or essentially cinematic and therefore makes it a prime candidate for cinephile fetishism.
The use of black screen is incredibly effective. How did you arrive at this decision? How, in your view, does it enhance the piece and achieve your desired effect?  
Not long before I visited Michael Baute’s workshop I read a book by Alain Bergala with the French title La création Cinéma. The book offers an approach for understanding the movement that is caught on film by what Bergala calls “L’intervalle.” The scene we chose (the separating of the two lovers) is – among many other scenes in the film – a brilliant example for that play of the bodies in space. Intuitively by cutting I chose to play with the elements of the performance – the walk and the breathing – the scene exposes so marvelously. In other words I chose to play on the interval by going a step further: by filling and emptying the screen by introducing the flicker-style black canvases. But only now that I’m explaining my approach do I get a grip around it. While cutting I didn’t think about it, I just played with the images and the sounds.
The video is brilliantly paced; short yet rich. Is it harder to make a concise video? Did you always imagine making the video this length? 
When we started experimenting we didn’t have any guidelines or binding rules for the form or the length. The video essay simply underwent a trial-and-error-process; by simply doing we found out what worked and what we should rather leave aside. I’m not a great fan of the ‘praying’ some video essays perform over the images, because of my experience as a subject being prayed upon – as a devout christian child until the age of 10 and a devout schoolgirl until the age of 20 – that shaped my notion of the viewer as an agent of his / her own. The images as well as the spectator want to move out of their place they are fixed upon and in that sense I long for reduction in the form and the words to leave room for the viewer to take a chance and involve himself/herself with the images.
How did you go about collaborating on this piece? Did you each take on different roles? How does collaboration enhance the creative process and the video essay itself? 
The workshop with Michael Baute took place during quarantine and was mainly conducted over Zoom, Etherpad, etc. As a working couple we were also separated in space and had to challenge the task to somehow bridge the distance between our laptops / editing suites. Each of us experimented on her own, but we found time together to consult each other and discuss our experiences over the phone and Zoom. These working conditions already laid the basis for a working method of montage and demontage and the patchwork aesthetic of our final video. At a moment, I found myself in front of a very neatly composed rough cut, a close-reading of the scene Chantal had performed over the images. I was stunned by the resonances I found in her composition and tried to built my own reading of the scene around it. So I chopped bits out and inserted others – I guess this bit-by-bit structure is clearly discernible in the final cut of our essay.
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