by UtkarshMay 21, 2020
According to Greek mythology, Europa was the name of a Phoenician princess who was abducted by Zeus, the god of thunder and sky, in the form of a white aurochs. Zeus later re-created the shape of the white bull in the stars, a constellation we now recognise as Taurus. Yet, when the makers of the film, Her Name Was Europa, arrived at The Tropical Islands Resort to recreate this mythic ending for their film, they would abruptly decide against it, and instead avail a ‘Tropical Dreams for Two’ voucher, enjoying Piña Coladas on the faux beach.
Built in what was once an airship hangar, the resort draws symbolic parallels to the trajectory of the film up until then. Painted horizons and reproductions of Incan ruins raise stark contrasts against what was otherwise a seemingly formalist enquiry into the revival of the extinct cattle, the aurochs. Accompanied by a simultaneous narration, a symphony of image and text is physically brought into view by a pair of hands. The statement, “We planned a fictional ending for the film”, then raises immediate concern as it relegates a sense of authenticity to the rest of the film. This notion of authenticity in the understanding of the subject as well as a transparent sentiment conveyed by the textual narrator lies at the very centre of Her Name Was Europa, directed by Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy who work together under the moniker OJOBOCA.
Beginning with the experiments of Heinz and Lutz Heck to recreate the extinct aurochs, the film remembers this need to resuscitate the cattle ancestor as a part of the larger ideological principle of Lebensraum. Coined by the German ethnographer and geographer, Friedrich Ratzel, the term is used to describe the role of physical geography in influencing human activities and their subsequent development into a society. This concept of Lebensraum was later co-opted by the Third Reich to claim the rights of the German Aryan master-race to pursue a racially-superior society. The ideology extended to the natural world, as the Reich’s hunt master, Hermann Göring, envisioned the revival of a mythical natural past where he could recreate large hunting reserves to enhance his own repute. The then Director of the Berlin Zoo, Lutz Heck, also a close ally of Göring, would play a pivotal role in actualising this vision through the process of back breeding.
Today, the Dutch-based Tauros Programme brings together geneticists, ecologists, historians and cattle experts to revive the extinct aurochs, through a process of DNA sequencing and back-breeding. Its partner organisation, Rewilding Europe, refers to the aurochs as the most important animal in history and the ‘King of the Wild’.
A sequence from the film, where a board of members from the Stitching Taurus Foundation discuss the ‘design’ of the new megafauna of Tauros cattle, the tenor of their conversation raises serious questions around our own position, as humans within the natural world. Moreover, asking the question of what we mean by ‘natural’ to begin with. Inside the studio of the Dutch company, Manimal Works, as a life size 3D model of the Tauros cattle is sculpted by hand, the sequence is interspersed with the sculpting of a human head in another studio of the same company. Eerie montages, such as this, bring forth the sense of our simulative existence in a constructed reality.
If one were to compare the two programs, as suggested by Heck and the Tauros Foundation, the similarities in their deliberation are startling. As one represents a small facet of what once was a larger totalitarian ideology, the ongoing other promotes a unique strain of eco-fascism that is championed by the rigor of modern-day scientific technology. The filmmakers assume a reflective objectivity towards their own position with regards to the subject, occasionally conversing through text as they communicate their own personal journey. This grants the film the quality of a looking glass through which the audience can interpret the narrative at a subjective level.
At the Wageningen University, a research partner of the Tauros program, the narration conveys the need to re-shoot the sequence due to a problem with the prior film stock. This creates a hyper-awareness amongst the audience around the materiality of the film itself. Along with an atmospheric score and ample silences, the film presents multiple entry points that lead to diverse readings of the same.
Her Name Was Europa stands tall in OJOBOCA’s filmography as it cements their practice of Orrorism through a complex narrative that is conveyed by both the subject as well as the material medium. The film represents a kind of cinematic Lebensraum that allows an intuitive understanding of the documentary form by letting the spaces it inhabits lead the filmic experience.