With an audience of only sixteen people, Janek Turkowski’s Margarete, curated by SummerWorks for the Progress Festival, is an exceptionally intimate presentation. I was made to feel like an invited guest. After accepting an offer of coffee, I took my seat in front of Turkowski, who greets each member of this small gathering.
The set-up is very cosy. Amidst some cushions and a throw rug, the audience sits just a few feet from Turkowski and his odd assortment of props: some spools of 8mm film, two projectors (one film, one digital) and his laptop. Over the course of an hour, we will learn a little something about the mysterious Margarate… and even more about our own imaginations.
With a soft-spoken charm, Turkowski shares his obsession with us. His approach is so easy and conversational that you barely notice his tight structure. He tells us how he came upon this private movie footage at a flea market in Germany. He shows us the grainy imagery that spans a twenty-year period, from the late fifties to the late seventies, and features a woman named Margarate and her small social circle.
Never belabouring any particular aspect of his process, he describes how he learned how to operate the film projector, digitize the footage, and experiment with the images as both historical artifact and artistic creation. In detailing his exhaustive examination of the footage, he shows us eerie and fascinating patterns. The footage itself is mundane, but Turkowski casts a spell over us, enabling us to invent a story for ourselves.
Eventually, we spend some time with real woman behind the footage. She’s open to this man’s strange fascination with this document of her life, but you get the sense that she isn’t quite as connected to the material as Turkowski.
There is something very poignant about his documented attempts to involve her.
While it satisfied the voyeur in me, I expected more in the way of revelation. Was there some shocking event in this woman’s past? Was there a private trauma or dark secret hidden here? Nothing so sensational ever occurs, but the experience of this strange piece is far from disappointing. There is something haunting and beautiful about this glimpse into a personal history.
If you’re fascinated by found footage and the possibilities that exist in analyzing another human being’s personal effects and creating your own context, then Margarete will be a treat for you.
- All Progress Festival performances are being held at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. W)
- Tickets for Progress Festival Shows range from $10 – $30, several events are free
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at thisisprogress.ca
Photo of Janek Turkowski and audience by Pierre Borcasci