Interview: Pim Zwier, director of Three Dimensions of Time

Three Dimensions of Time are captured in three layers of coloured imagery shown simultaneously. This elegant film combines the layers from normal full-colour images of the elements which persist through time. We spoke to director Pim Zwier about how this fascinating film was made. 

You studied a Master of Fine Arts, have created video installations, curated events and made documentaries as well as short films. When did you make the move to films and why?

Even before moving from painting to film about 12 years ago, I loved spending hours and hours in the cinema (and I still do!). It might sounds far-fetched but it is like entering a time machine in which the duration of a film or video-installation has very little to do with the linear passing of time outside the room; a ten minute film can show a lifetime or a few seconds, on leaving the cinema and re-entering the ‘real world’ it sometimes takes a moment to readjust. Cinema is also a collective experience – both making and exhibiting it – which makes it an important tool for communication as it enables me to share my interests and create a dialogue.

Would you define yourself as a filmmaker or an artist? 

My work moves between documentary, media art and experimental film and it is very important for me to have these variations at my disposal, so I could define myself both a filmmaker and an artist, or neither one of them! For me these two labels feel unnatural, they also don’t contradict each other and I prefer not having to chose between them.  

The film was part of a project of NCCA Art Residence in Kronstadt with a purpose of investigating the technology of colour separation. Can you tell us more about the process of filming and what you discovered in the project? 

Between 1903 and 1916 Sergey Prokudin-Gorskii used the photographic technique of colour separation to document the Russian Empire. The colour separation process is traditionally based on three black and white photos: one made with a red, a green, and a blue filter. By superimposing the resulting black & white photos on top of each other, fitted with the same colour filters, an additional full colour image is generated. Sometimes coloured defaults and phantom images caused by the time difference between exposition of the three photographs can been seen. For instance, Prokudin-Gorskii’s portrait pictured below of Pinkus Karlinskii from 1909 shows the lock keeper stood perfectly still when the three photos were taken, thus his face, clothing and the house in the background appear in normal colours. 


Prokudin-Gorskii Collection, Library of Congress, Washington DC.

But due to the flow of the river surreal hallucinating colours appear in the water. Also Prokudin-Gorskii’s photograph pictured below of the glass factory in Borzhom, shows a person walking along the train tracks. Through the disintegration of three brightly coloured silhouettes, three different moments in time have been captured; past, present and future. I consider these phantoms as an allegory for mortality. For me the colour separation also demonstrates that the image is simply an illusion. It is these – unintended – coloured defaults in Prokudin-Gorskii’s photos which I find inspirational. It is an intriguing representation of time which for me relates to “the relation of what-has-been to the now’ as mentioned by Walter Benjamin in his description of the dialectic image.  


Prokudin-Gorskii Collection, Library of Congress, Washington DC.

The film is structured by three moments in time. Why did you decide to structure the film in this way and is this a commentary on memory and traces we leave behind? 

Prokudin-Gorskii’s photos show moments in which those portrayed, the building and landscape are frozen in time. The use of colour separation in Three Dimensions of Time enabled me deconstruct linear time into three parallel layers which accentuate the various lifespans of us in relation to what surrounds us. The wooden houses, part of a tradition which persist in time, reveal normal colours whereas modern live rushes by as brightly coloured transparent phantoms.

The film is focused on time and you have used archives before in your other works. What is it that attracts you to the past? 

It sounds rather cliché, but in order to understand the present, knowledge of the past is essential. Having worked with archive material now several times, I also experienced that archival material -dating back more than a century- hasn’t lost its power to impress or reveal.

As you mention, you were inspired by Sergey Prokudin-Gorski’s photography when making this film. What was it about his work that influenced you, and as he is a Russian photographer, is this why you chose to film in Kansk, Siberia?

My first test were made in the Netherlands and although technically it was promising, content wise a ‘sense of time’ was lacking in these images. Whilst in Siberia in August 2015, to serve on the jury of the Kansk Video festival, and discovering that there was a crew available to work with, all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fitted together. On the one hand because of being inspired by a Russian photographer it made sense to work in Russia but also because a different sense of time was is tangible in Russia. As described by Stefan Zweig in the essay Reise nach Russland, it is not only the hour on the clock which needs to be changed on coming to Russia, it is all of one’s senses of space and time.

Since finishing Three Dimensions of Time, what have you been working on? 

After making Three Dimensions of Time it became clear to me that I was not done yet with colour separation, exploring time, nor trying to understand my fascination for Russia. I proposed to make a new work based on colour separation to the NCCA and was accepted for the residence in Kronstadt in August 2016. During this month I collected material for the second colour separation film Sea Factory (2017). The editing and post production for this film was recently finished and I’ve started submitting it to festivals. Later this year I will return to Russia for another artist in residence to continue working on the series.   

Three Dimensions of Time is part of the International Competion 6: Double Vision programme

Interview by Amelia Seely.