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Prix de Rome, Film & Video, 2002

Sandra Smallenburg:

Prix de Rome / Igor Sevcuk

The first prize-winner in the history of the Prix de Rome Film & Video, Igor Sevcuk, produced the least accessible yet most intrinsically personal piece, using the camera almost as though he had never seen a film. In his black and white work, a thirty-minute quest for identity, the transition between scenes is created by passing a hand in front of the camera. Or the camera free-falls to the ground to close one scene and begin another. A painterly quality is derived by Sevcuk's playing the video on a monitor then filming the on-screen images. His film is slow and very low-tech. But the coarse, out-of-focus, and shaky images are metaphors for the loss of identity. Sevcuk's deliberately degraded images may play into the bands of some critics: for the jury this is one of his strengths. In the words of Mani Kaul: "I don't care if a painter works with elephant dung as long as the end product is good. A wonderful painting doesn't need expensive pigments. Technical quality means nothing to me. It's odd that this is considered so important to film." Ultimately, what matters most is that Sevcuk's film is actually about something. He engages with themes ranging from authenticity, Diaspora, language and war, skillfully interweaving them. The film doesn't reveal itself in a single viewing - deciphering the layers and rich symbolism takes time. In awarding the first prize to Igor Sevcuk, the Prix de Rome jury is making a clear statement - this year, it's about content.

Who am I and where do I come from? And how do people construct and transform their identity. Igor Sevcuk's films try to answer these and similar existential questions. Ten years ago he fled to the Netherlands from Bosnia. He may be a stranger here, but even in his homeland, Sevcuk felt alien. His forebears were from the Ukraine. Sevcuk's grandmother was imbued in the culture of hers parents and although none of his family has even been to the Ukraine, everyone knew what it means to be Ukrainian,
During the period spent working for the Prix de Rome, Sevcuk returned to his birthplace in Bosnia. He filmed his parents' house and the environment he grew up in. In the film, we meet his grandmother, singing a song in an unknown language in the living room. "Language is all to do with identity", says Sevcuk. "My film is about a language that is almost never used and that symbolises a distant, elusive originality. The film shows how the language gradually loses its meaning."
Igor Sevcuk's films are typified by an almost documentary style. He lets the camera glide through the interioi of the flat, pausing at interesting details. Dialogues are interspersed with atmospheric impressions of the landscape. His rough filming style leaves room for viewers' own interpretations. Sevcuk takes you into his world but deliberately avoids telling finished stories. "Someone's memories have no clear beginning or end. This film is about more than just my own family history. I've also tried to touch on universal issues surrounding identity."
In many ways, Igor Sevcuk is a painter. He only started experimenting with moving images a few years ago. But he never completely forgets his background as a painter. Sevcuk has an eye for balanced compositions and unusual perspectives, Both in his films and his paintings, there is little use of color. Sevcuk: "I love the dramatic contrasts and raw aesthetic of black and white images. Colours are anecdotal and, in my opinion, unnecessary because they don't play an important role in memories."
The probing and personal way in which Igor Sevcuk portraits his family's everyday life is reminiscent of the work of the English artist Richard Billingham. His rudimentary filming style closely parallels the style of Dogma films like Festen and The Idiots. Sometimes the images are jolting or poorly lit. "I deliberately choose a primitive filming and editing style", explains Sevcuk. "I'm not interesting in making glossy images.The most important thing is to communicate a feeling."

The poetic visual language of Sevcuks' film is much appreciated by the jury. The artist prefers his own pure, persona/ filming style to editing and shooting conventions. The members of the jury are impressed by his exploration of the theme of identity in layered images. His work is sensitive, well thought-out, and demands attention: the film's rich symbolism is complex and not easily deciphered. The jury awards Igor Sevcuk the first prize of twenty thousand euros.

Sandra Smallenburg (1973) is an art historian and visual arts correspondent of the NRC Handelsblad