Harun Farocki

Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades


Not on display

Harun Farocki 1944–2014
Video, 12 monitors, black and white and colour and sound (stereo)
Duration: 42min, 26sec
Purchased using funds provided by the 2014 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2015


Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades is a video installation by the German artist and filmmaker Harun Farocki. It comprises a row of twelve monitors showing excerpts from different found films that all depict workers outside factories. Each excerpt is looped and begins with numerical characters denoting the year of its production. In every excerpt but one, this text is white against a black background, the exception being ‘1968’, which appears in red. The monitors sit on the ground and the films are arranged chronologically, with the earliest on the far left. Half of the films are silent, and where they do have soundtracks viewers can listen to these through headphones, which are labelled with numbers denoting the film’s position in the sequence. The films differ in length and run out of sync with each other. Some appear to be documentaries, while others are works of fiction. Although there are correspondences between the formal qualities and content of the films, it is never clear whether these are intentional or meaningful. For example, two of the films include representations of violence between workers and police or other agitators, while another depicts a discussion about a strike, the significance of which is uncertain. Although usually presented on a series of cathode ray tube monitors, it can also be shown as multiple video projections, displayed in a row. The work is number five in an edition of five plus one artist’s proof.

The installation was made by Farocki in 2006 for Cinema Like Never Before, an exhibition at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, which Farocki co-curated with Antje Ehmann. This piece was largely based on research that Farocki had conducted for an earlier work, Workers Leaving the Factory 1995, a film comprising found footage relating to the same theme, accompanied by Farocki’s narration. Farocki made the earlier work around the centenary of the first cinematic film, Workers Leaving the Lumiére Factory in Lyon 1895 by Louis and Auguste Lumiére, which features in his 1995 work and is the earliest footage in this 2006 installation. In 1995 Farocki discussed the research for his film, stating: ‘Over the past 12 months, I set myself the task of tracking down the theme of this film – workers leaving the workplace – in as many variants as possible. Examples were found in documentaries, industrial and propaganda films, newsreels, and features. I left out TV archives which offer an immeasurable number of references for any given keyword as well as the archives of cinema and television advertising in which industrial work hardly ever occurs as a motif’ (Farocki 2001, accessed 8 March 2016). This installation draws on many of the same films that featured in Farocki’s earlier work.

Farocki employed found footage throughout his practice and often used montage techniques, presenting multiple images from different sources side by side (see also Eye / Machine 2001). As in Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades, connections between the pieces of footage are often implied but never fully defined. The art historian Jan Verwoert has argued that this leaves interpretation up to the viewer, making them an active collaborator. However, Verwoert also claims that through their lack of any clearly defined narrative Farocki’s works often leave viewers wondering whether the montages are meaningful at all (Jan Verwoert, ‘See What Shows – On the Practise of Harun Farocki’, in CSW Zamek Ujazdowski 2012, pp.12–13). The film historian Volker Pantenburg has argued that this sense of ambiguity is heightened in Farocki’s installations which include simultaneous but physically separate sequences (see, for instance, Feasting or Flying 2008), since the necessity of moving between the sequences provides ‘an opportunity to exhibit images in the flexible state where they keep their potential; where they lend themselves to comparison and commentary, where the relation between images becomes as important as the images themselves’. (Volker Pantenburg, ‘Harun Farocki: Against What? Against Whom?’, in Ehmann and Eshun 2009, p.97.)

In 1995 Farocki stated that his interest in the theme of workers leaving the factory stemmed from the fact that ‘The first camera in the history of cinema was pointed at a factory, but a century later it can be said that film is hardly drawn to the factory and is even repelled by it. Films about work or workers have not become one of the main genres ... Most narrative films take place in that part of life where work has been left behind’ (Farocki 2001, accessed 8 March 2016).

Further reading
Harun Farocki, ‘Workers Leaving the Factory’, Senses of Cinema, no.21, July 2001, http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/harun-farocki/farocki_workers/, accessed 8 March 2016.
Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun (eds.), Harun Farocki: Against What? Against Whom?, London 2009, pp.100, 123–7, reproduced pp.21, 23.
Harun Farocki: First Time in Warsaw, exhibition catalogue, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw 2012, p.33.

David Hodge
March 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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