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Zygosis (1991)


Main image of Zygosis (1991)
16mm, 26 min, colour
Directed andGavin Hodge
Produced byTim Morrison
Production CompanyGorilla Tapes
 BFI Production Board
In association withChannel Four
ScriptJon Dovey
CinematographyTim Morrison

Narrator: Gavin Hodge

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The development of photomontage, exploring the pioneering work of John Heartfield and the contemporary use of these techniques in advertising and video.

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'Zygosis' is a biological term meaning the union of cells in sexual reproduction to create a new organism, borrowed here to describe photomontage, the combination of disparate images to create a new work of art. Gavin Hodge and Tim Morrison's film is dedicated to the master of photomontage, John Heartfield. Born Helmut Herzfeld, Heartfield changed his name in protest at Nazi xenophobia. With his brother Wieland Herzfeld and painter George Grosz, he founded the Berlin division of Dada, the most political of all Dada circles. In an interview, Heartfield's friend Barbara Cartlidge speaks of 'Johnnie' as a politically-engaged artist and a member of a strong anti-Nazi underground movement.

The film mixes documentary footage, newsreel materials, chroma-key techniques, computer animation and contemporary interviews - all narrated by Hodge. The director compares the construction of photomontage to the process of editing in film: both use cutting, pasting and mounting of different types of images to produce a desired effect. Zygosis illuminates this idea by referring to Sergei Eisenstein's principle of 'intellectual montage', as shown in a famous sequence from his Battleship Potemkin (Soviet Union, 1924).

Zygosis notes that Dada emerged in a quantum leap period of the modern era, shadowed by the consequences of World War I. The development of photomontage coincided with the advent of new media technologies, including photo-illustrated press, radio and broadcasting. Heartfield opposed use of the machinery of media culture for propaganda reasons. The Nazis were the first political party to make active use of the mass media for political ends, and Heartfield's reaction was immediate: every public appearance of Hitler was followed by Heartfield's own version of the event. The best way to alter reality, he felt, is to create an alternative world in which oppression is fought with satire. Hodge presents animated versions of Heartfield's photomontages to underline the power of ridicule. But this animating of the inanimate reminds us that the moving image has today all but consigned the art of photomontage to history.

In its content and form, Zygosis is a homage to one of the 20th Century's most influential artists, whose impact can be felt in advertising and in the work of artists like Andy Warhol, Peter Kennard and Barbara Kruger and the graffiti artist Banksy.

Kamila Kuc

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Video Clips
Complete film (26:06)