DISSENT ! Patrick Keiller

London

1 March 2017 20:00, STUK, Leuven.

A conversation with Patrick Keiller, preceded by a screening of London (1994, 85′). In collaboration with STUK, Bozar Cinema + Architecture and LUCA Brussels. On 2 March 20:00 Patrick Keiller will also be present at Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels to present and discuss The End (1986, 18’) and Robinson in Space (1997, 82’).

“I had embarked on landscape film-making in 1981, early in the Thatcher era, after encountering a surrealist tradition in the UK and elsewhere, so that cinematography involved the pursuit of a transformation, radical or otherwise, of everyday reality. I recently came across a description, in Kitty Hauser’s Bloody Old Britain, of O G S Crawford’s photography: ‘Like photographers of the New Objectivity, clarity was his goal. Like them, he favoured stark contrasts, with no blurring or mistiness. His focus, like theirs, was on the object or the scene in front of him, which it was his aim to illuminate as clearly as he could… It was commitment that lit up his photographs… Such photographs suggest a love of the world that was almost mystical in its intensity.’ I had forgotten that landscape photography is often motivated by utopian or ideological imperatives, both as a critique of the world, and to demonstrate the possibility of creating a better one.”

What is the “problem of England”? In the aftermath of the Brexit and the ensuing rise of English nationalism this question might be lingering in the minds of many, but already two decades ago it was raised by a fictional character named Robinson in what became a trilogy of films examining the economic and cultural doldrums of neoliberal England. This rather unreliable character who is never seen but only heard of by way of an unnamed and equally unseen narrator acts as a modern-day flâneur in the tradition of Baudelaire, Breton and Benjamin, dwelling on the hidden stories and forgotten histories of his everyday surroundings, in pursuit of a “problem” whose signs he hopes to find reflected in the landscapes and cityscapes of “dirty old Blighty”. The first film in the trilogy, London (1994), tracks the wanderings of the eponymous character and his narrating companion through Britain’s capital at a time when the city was marked by a series of IRA bombings and the Tory party was surprisingly re-elected for the fourth consecutive time. Drifting from Soho, where the likes of Montaigne and Mallarmé lived in exile, to Vauxhall, where the ghosts of Holmes and Watson still roam, from the Stockwell flat where Apollinaire stayed to the Savoy suite which gave Monet his view of the Thames, the film follows the pair as they engage in exercises of psychic landscaping and free association, in an attempt to wrestle themselves free from the constraining patterns of a city which is, as Robinson claims, “under siege from a suburban government which uses homeless, pollution, crime, and the most expensive and run down public transport system of any city in Europe as weapons against Londoners’ lingering desire for the freedoms of city life”. If London has failed, Robinson suggests, it might not only be because of the city’s civic void and invisible social life: perhaps its failure is deeply rooted in a typical English fear, a fear of “Popery and socialism” and of “Europe, that had disenfranchised Londoners and undermined their society.”

Three years later, just before the general election that brought New Labour to power, Robinson in Space (1997) shifted the field of inquiry from England’s capital, one of the metropolitan centers of global financial capitalism, to its ex-urban landscapes of globalized production and consumption. Inspired by Daniel Defoe’s A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, Robinson and his companion embark on seven voyages, beginning with a trip downriver from Reading to the Thames estuary at Sheerness, before striking out on journeys to other major ports, including Bristol, Liverpool, Portsmouth and Hull. In contrast to the familiar critique which considers the UK’s economic decline as the result of its old fashioned “gentlemanly capitalism,” what the duo’s expeditions reveal is the advent of a newly constructed landscape of manufacturing plants, business parks, retail sheds and shopping malls, bristling in the hinterlands of cities that are said to have failed to flourish as post-Fordist enclaves for finance, leisure and service economy. In the third travelogue, Robinson in Ruins (2010) the mythology of Anglo-Saxon capitalism is explored further by focusing on issues of mobility, belonging and displacement, and their relationship with landscape in a context of economic and environmental crisis. The “ruins” Robinson finds himself dwelling through turn out to be the wreckage of a neoliberal culture that fails to accept its own demise. But despite this looming deterioration the flâneur leaves us with sparkles of hope, finding “imperceptible tremors of an inconceivable future” amidst depopulated landscapes where “non-human intelligences” silently and stubbornly refuse to bend to the brutality of capitalism.

What can be seen, then, in the work of Patrick Keiller is an exploration of the potential of “architectural cinematography” to not only develop a critique of the configuration of space, but furthermore to imaginatively transform it. In this way he places himself in a long lineage of artists and thinkers who have expanded on the surrealists’ notion that spaces can be changed by displacing the way we look at them. Perhaps Robinson, the peripatetic scholar, merely acts as a stand-in for the more delirious side of the architect-turned-filmmaker’s own expeditions through the spatial arrangement of neoliberal England, in a diligent quest to trace the ever-changing contours of a “problem” that is seemingly not going to go away any time soon.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

DISSENT ! Lizzie Borden

borninflames

3 February 2017 19:30 Cinematek Brussels

Screening of
Born in Flames (1983, 85′, NEW 35MM PRESERVATION PRINT), followed by a conversation with Lizzie Borden. As part of a retrospective dedicated to the work of Lizzie Borden, which also includes a carte blanche program (03 > 28 February).

“I made the film because it seemed that people now were either completely cynical about the effectiveness of any kind of political process, or burned out and caught without any kind of language. It seemed important to re-ask certain questions, and to re-ask them as mediated through Europe, where the left is still a very vital force. If it relates to the sixties, it’s only because that energy of the sixties was so good – not just here but in Europe too. Where has that all gone?”

Bearing in mind the recent attempts of filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann to revitalize the spirit of 1970-80’s New York, the heydays of no wave, post-punk and “the get down” seem to making a swift comeback. Sure, the imagery of The Big Apple as modern slough of despond and vibrant beacon of creativity might have some appeal as backdrop for glistening nostalgia trips and epic rock operas, but its highly doubtful that the large-scale and hyped-up entertainment drama’s invading our screens these days can measure up to the untethered vitality and relentless waywardness of Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (1983). The recent restoration of this in Downtown NY and guerilla-style produced science-fiction fable manifests a radical vision that detonates like a molotov cocktail amidst an actuality that is marked by political unrest and reactionary tendencies. Perhaps as never before, the speculative vision of a post-revolutionary world order which, despite rhetorical promises of change and equality, indulges in systematic discrimination and oppression evokes multiple echo’s of recognition. No wonder that the film serves as a blueprint for many activist movements in the US: its zealous and kaleidoscopic portrayal of dissident struggle against heteropatriarchy and racism appears to have only gained in urgency and pertinence. Swinging between various perspectives and characters, with the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Adele Bertei and Florynce Kennedy playing a version of themselves, and driven by the grooves and hooks of The Red Krayola en The Bloods, this challenging reflection on gender, sex, race and class confronts us like no other with the limitations and possibilities of resistance today.

Born in Flames is the focal point of an extensive film program that was composed in consultation with Lizzie Borden. Among the works in the program are two other rarely screened films of Borden: her debut film Regrouping (1976), a portrait of a woman’s group whose homogeneity of race and class Borden would later counter, and Working Girls (1986), a demystification of sex work that was initiated during the production of Born in Flames. Furthermore this program offers work by friends and compagnons-de-route like Vivienne Dick and Sheila McLaughlin, as well as a series of films that have served as source of inspiration or that evoke contemporary resonances. The full program can be found here.

An initiative of Cinematek & Courtisane, in collaboration with the Embassy of USA, ERG, Macba & Tabakalera.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

Europe, past future

NICARAGUA. Managua. 1979. Street fighter.

11 December 19u, TABAKALERA International Centre for Contemporary Culture, Donostia / San Sebastián.

Program proposed by Stoffel Debuysere (Courtisane) in the context of “Europe, past future,” a project by Pablo La Parra Pérez produced within the 2016 Artistic Research Residency.

nicaragua_marc_karlin

Nicaragua: Voyages
Marc Karlin, UK, 1985, 16mm, video, 42′

The first film in Marc Karlin’s four-part series on the Nicaraguan revolution that brought down President Somoza’s regime in 1979, Voyages is composed of five tracking shots, gliding over blown-up photographs that Susan Meiselas took during the insurrection. The film takes the form of an imagined correspondence, which interrogates the responsibilities of the war photographer, the line between observer and participant, and the political significance of the photographic image.
“Photographs are in a way far ahead of our ability to deal with them – we have not yet found a way of dealing, living with them. We have appropriated them in a channel – ‘language’, ‘papers’, ‘magazines’, ‘books’ – all of which seem the only tools by which we can give them an earthbound gravity. We brush past them, flick them, demand of them things they cannot give… Liberate photographs from its priests and jujumen – including myself. We do not need interpreters. We need looks – and thus the task is up to the photographer to renew his or her contract i.e. what can photographs and their arrangement do to defy the prison house interpretation à la John Berger – and make us think of ourselves in relationship to Nicaragua.” (MK)

twilightcity

Twilight City
Black Audio Film Collective / Reece Auguiste, UK, 1989, 16mm, 52′

“A love story about the city and its undesirables,” this third film by the Black Audio Film Collective evokes the New London – in the filmmakers’ words “a fading world of being and unbelonging, invisible communities, the displaced and the rise of redevelopment.”
“The film presents an imaginary epistolary narration of a young woman’s thoughts as she writes to her mother in Domenica about the changing face of London, then in the throes of the new Docklands development. She fears it is a city that her mother would not now recognise should she return. The film cuts between this narrative voice and interviewees bearing witness to their youthful experience of the city as a territory mapped by racial, cultural, sexual, gender and class boundaries, a place ‘of people existing in close proximity yet living in different worlds.’ This polyvocal narrative moves restlessly back between past and present, reflecting on the loss of roots and erasure of history caused by the demolition of old established neighbourhoods. The further displacement of already marginalised communities falls under the shadow of the films’s recurrent motif of the public monument to a heroic British imperial history notable for its effacement of its disruptive descendants.” (Jean Fisher)

Talk with Nicolás Pereda

verano-de-goliat_foto

21 October 2016 19:30 Cinematek Brussels.
A collaboration between Cinematek, Courtisane, Embassy of Mexico in Belgium, VDFC, Universiteit Antwerpen and Nederlandse Filmacademie Amsterdam School of the arts, supported by Instituto Cervantes Brussels.

“Cinema is about believing. On some level you have to believe what is happening in front of you… I find it strange that there is still this division between fiction and documentary. Both are interpretations of truth. When you grab a few tools from documentary and introduce them into fiction, then fiction can become more ‘real’ in viewers minds. I like when fiction and documentary become hybrid, when all the conventions of documentary filmmaking fall apart. Right now documentary has a strong hold on truth, which is ridiculous.”

Perpetuum mobile, Latin for “perpetual motion,” refers to both the unattainable ideal of a self-motive motion of bodies that continues as an unspooling of inconsequential events without external motivation or compulsion, and to a form of composition in which sections and themes are repeated, often with varied modulations and progressions. Perpetuum mobile is also the title of Nicolás Pereda’s third feature film, and the phrase, in both senses, could as well be applied to describe his body of work as a whole. First, because Pereda wholeheartedly rejects the conventional narrative logic that represents the actions of men according to the laws of probability or necessity, and instead seems to focus his attention on what has traditionally been asserted as its opposite: the observation of the mundane world of everyday lives. A world of lackluster prosaicness in which nothing much happens, taking place in an empty, stationary time in which gestures have no continuation or effect and exchanges are either unproductive or rendered trivial by a consciousness of their futility. Secondly, because each of Pereda’s films tends to resonate with the others through the use of repeated themes and the same actors, playing characters who often have the same names, placed in an ever-shifting configuration of relationships to one another and their social environment, which is predominantly set in Pereda’s country of birth, Mexico. This escalating set of variations and permutations reveals itself as one grand, unfolding exploration of cinema and its possibilities and limitations of representation and narration. Pereda’s interest in class divisions, social structures and family relations in Mexican society seems to have fueled his determination to cross boundaries and blur categories, which has resulted in a constant drift between the documentary and the fictional, shifting between interviews and enactments, between actors portraying fictional characters and performers playing themselves. Each film, relying on bare dialogues and long takes, probes anew the borders of fiction as an arrangement of actions linked by verisimilitude and necessity and characters defined by consistency and credibility. As if the filmmaker, in creating a multiplicity of indirections, indeterminations and irresolutions, seeks to stretch fiction beyond the limits of its logic: at which point will the fictional pact between cinema and its spectators shatter beyond rebound? How far can one go in blurring the lines between artifice and reality, in defying the dramatic codes of transformation and resolution, without annulling the cinematic game of identification and distantiation altogether? The greatest merit of Nicolás Pereda might be that he tackles this challenge to the heart of cinema to its fullest extent, while managing to deepen its very mystery.

Figures of Dissent : Artur Aristakisyan

ladoni

17 November 2016 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. Presented by courtisane.

Ladoni (Palms), RU, 1994, 35mm, b&w, 139′

“Even as a child I had a relationship with film as if it were a church. It was a God-given territory upon itself. You can’t watch a film without wanting to be saved. It’s a meeting with the living light. The light works with you as you work with it. I would like the film to answer the need for community – to show how people are tied together, sometimes paradoxically.”

In a striking sequence of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vrai faux passeport, which the filmmaker has chosen to describe as “a documentary fiction on the occasions for passing judgment about the manner in which films are made,” two different ways of filming poverty are being compared. First, we recognize a fragment from Chantal Akerman’s D’Est showing a long tracking shot gliding past a line of people standing in the snow at a Moscow bus stop, waiting to sell things. Then a fragment from another film appears, showing an elderly woman with a crooked back pulling a large trunk behind her, before cutting to a shot of a blind boy begging in the streets. A voice-over recounts how, in order to survive, the woman would allow her back to be kissed for money, and that the boy has been told by his parents, who are also blind, that everyone in the world is in fact blind, that no-one can see oneself. Godard, always the examiner, gives the first approach an all-too-severe “malus,” while appraising the second with a “bonus”. While the former approach tends to over-stress the will to art, he says in a commentary, the latter shows no compunction whatsoever, which makes it much more grandiose and frightening. Where does this mysterious piece of cinema, with its handheld shot, overly-contrasted black-and-white images and this haunting, solitary voice-over narration, come from? It is taken, so we learn, from a film entitled Ladoni. It was the graduation film of a student of the famous Moscow All-Union State Institute, whose name is Artur Aristakisyan. We learn that the footage of Ladoni was collected over the course of several years after the fall of the Soviet Union and Moldova’s independence, during which the filmmaker lived amongst the outcasts and marginalized of Kishinev, the capital of Moldova. The film’s “heroes” are a woman who has been lying on the ground for over forty years, fighting her own struggle against the system; a young man who has escaped from the mad house, shrouded in silence till the day when people will have exhausted all combinations of words; a legless man roaming the city on his knees, fortune-telling about the girl he once loved; the hunchbacked old woman who keeps the head of her beloved hangman in her trunk; the blind beggar boy who has figured out that all people are women, throwing coins at him for being a man; a mute old man who believes that the state of Israel lies within the borders of his house, collecting a pile of rubbish so that it can reach the sky… In recounting these parables, Aristakisyan addresses his yet unborn son, offering him a path to salvation, the path of sacred “madness.” An anarchic messianism pleading irrationality as an escape from the rational structures that define our waking lives? A gnostic mysticism that finds hope in a transmigration of souls and a resurrection of bodies at the price of deprivation? Whatever sense we find in its delirious message, rare are those truly “grandiose and frightening” films that leave you with the conviction that, against all odds, you haven’t seen anything yet. That the shudder of awe and wonder has never left cinema.

In the context of the research project “Figures of Dissent (Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema)”
KASK / School of Arts