Hammer Projects: Deborah Stratman

Hammer Projects: Deborah Stratman

Deborah Stratman describes her work as “an uncompromising look at the ways privacy, safety, convenience, and surveillance determine our environment." In Order Not To Be Here, 2002, is also a lyrical meditation on the suburban American landscape. Shot completely at night, it unfolds in a series of grainy shots of empty parking lots, unattended ATMs, brightly lit subdivision nameplates, and nighttime freeway traffic. These relatively quiet images are bracketed by infrared footage of what appear to be an arrest and an escape. Interspersed throughout are snippets of police radio conversations, TV newscasts, sirens, and car alarms.

Recently screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, Stratman’s piece offers us evidence of a crime (or crimes) while simultaneously withholding a narrative.

Hammer Projects are curated by James Elaine.


Deborah Stratman is an award-winning filmmaker and artist based in Chicago. She received her M.F.A. from the California Institute of Arts and her B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since 1990 she has completed more than a dozen film projects, both on sixteen-millimeter film and on video. These works have been shown at international film festivals—including the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, the Rotterdam International Film Festival in the Netherlands, and the Vienna International Film Festival in Austria—and at art institutions such as the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, and the San Francisco Art Institute.


By Bérénice Reynaud

The full title of Deborah Stratman's film In Order Not to Be Here was inspired by French experimental writer Paul Fournel, a member of the Oulipo group. In Suburbia (Banlieue, 1990), a "hollow" story written almost entirely in footnotes, he quotes Saint Thomas Aquinas: "It is not sufficient to be elsewhere in order not to be here"—a phrase Stratman slightly altered into "It is not necessary to be someplace else in order not to be here." From sufficient to necessary, from the Aristotle-influenced Aquinas to the creeping para-reality of suburbia, the world has indeed changed, and maybe not for the better. Yet from Fournel to Stratman, the strategy of the footnote continues to pay off; reality is revealed through side-glances, presence through absence, and artistic originality is coined from borrowed tropes.

What motivated Stratman, who majored in science in college, to gracefully evolve toward art making was the desire to "satisfy [her] curiosity though something more tactile than numbers and experiments." Film became "a technical mediator between [her] ideas and a finished product," ultimately allowing her to insert time into her work. Like the filmmakers whose influence she acknowledges—Chantal Akerman, James Benning, Ernie Gehr, Nina Menkes, Ulrike Ottinger, and Jean-Marie Straub and Daniéle Huiller—Stratman is obsessed by the "sculptural" quality of time: in an obdurate landscape shot held beyond the conventional limits of spectatorial endurance, time does not flow toward a resolution, but is congealed as a "pressure block," a stasis waiting to explode, a presence failing to materialize, an ever-vanishing present.

From Hetty to NancyMeet AdiljanThe BLVD In Order Not to Be Here 

 Toute une nuit  The BLVD In Order Not to Be Here 

 Alphaville  not really here In Order Not to Be Here 

 The BLVD In Order Not to Be Here 


Quotations from Deborah Stratman are from an interview with the author recorded on March 21, 2003.

Bérénice Reynaud is a film critic and historian who teaches at the California Institute of the Arts.


Hammer Projects are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and members of the Hammer Circle.