Some events I enjoyed working on. More to come.
Figures of Dissent: Jean Rouch
KASKcinema, Gent, 21 may 2015
Jean-Luc Godard once called him the savior of French cinema, and Jacques Rivette even deemed him “more important” than Godard in that regard, although he deplored that “too few people realize it”. Half a century later, a decade after his passing, the work of Jean Rouch still feels overlooked. Yet one could also say that it is overbranded. For some Rouch is an ethnologist who made films, for others he is a filmmaker who practiced ethnology. In the annals of film history he is credited for launching the “cinéma vérité” movement, elsewhere he is celebrated for introducing the concept and practice of “shared anthropology”. But for all these credits and praises, labels and titles, there’s another designation that does him as much justice, if not more: that of bricoleur. The joy and patience of researching and inventing, with whatever is at hand, with whatever comes one’s way: isn’t that what Godard meant when he said of Rouch that he “hasn’t stolen the title on his visiting card: in charge of research for the Musée de l’Homme”, before adding: “Is there a better definition for a filmmaker?” Always the tinkerer: he started filming with a hand-held camera when he lost his tripod in some rapids on the Niger river, and he developed voice-over narration because synchronized sound was at first unavailable to him. But he was also one to inspire a love of tinkering in others: if he eventually became one of the first filmmakers to use a 16mm camera with sync sound – so crucial for the development of the cinematic new waves – it was because he stimulated engineers André Coutant (Éclair camera) and Stefan Kudelski (Nagra tape recorder) to explore unchartered pathways – as he did with many of his companions and co-workers. When he asked Damouré, a Sorka friend, to help him film a hippopotamus hunt, it set off a collaboration that would last almost four decades: Damouré not only captured the sound for many of Rouch’s films, but he also played one of the central characters in Jaguar (1954 -1967) and its follow-up Petit à Petit (1970). Always the improviser, the passionate lover of jazz and surrealism: Rouch was the one who, again according to Godard, provided the affirmative answer to the great question: can art be consonant with chance? He was the one who showed that documentary and fiction, reportage and mise-en-scène, are not at all mutually exclusive, that choosing one always tends to lead to the other. He was the one who dared to challenge us to embrace our uncertainties and serendipities: “The moment you have doubts”, he said, “everything is possible.” Always the go-getter, the paragon of Catalan perseverance that kept him going against all odds, in resistance to all taboos and restrictions, all the way guided by a beautiful old surrealist motto that he ultimately made his own: “Gloire à ceux par qui le scandale arrive”.
Courtisane Festival 2015, Gent, 1 – 5 April 2015
What’s in a name, really? L.A. Rebellion is first of all a handy and appealing designation for something that might actually be both too momentous and too heterogeneous to contain in a name. Nevertheless, one is faced with some bare facts: at a particular time and place in American cinema history, a critical mass of filmmakers of African origin or descent together produced a rich and venturous body of work, independent of any entertainment industry influence. At this time, in this place, buzzing with the spirit of the civil rights movement and memories of past and future uprisings, these filmmakers – most of whom studied at UCLA in Los Angeles in the late 1960s to the late 1980s – committed themselves to depicting the lives of black communities in the U.S. and worldwide. But can one really speak of a single “movement”? Is the word “rebellion” appropriate here? And what about the notion of a “black cinema”? Are these even the right questions to ask? Perhaps we could better ask: what is it that we can do with these films today, in this peculiar time, in this particular place? If these films still resonate so strongly with us, it is perhaps because they refuse to be contained in an imposed framework, and instead choose to explore the off-track and the off-kilter, the unsettled and unsettling in the everyday. Perhaps it is because they do not profess to disclose secrets beyond the surface of what is present, and instead make sense of what is too close to see: the internal ghetto of emotional devastation, suffocation, exhaustion, trepidation, disorientation. Perhaps it is because they are about making common cause with a sense of brokenness, without offering a prescription for repair, about finding resilience and dignity in a sentiment that is no stranger to any of us: vulnerability. And perhaps this is how these films, in all their diversity and richness, find resonance in another sentiment long considered useless, but which has in recent years sparked a new sense of collective engagement and imagination. It is called indignation.
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Thom Andersen
Courtisane Festival 2015, Gent, 1 – 5 April 2015
“Hollywood films,” says Thom Andersen, “have become formalist exercises. I guess I was once a formalist myself, so in a certain way I can appreciate that, but obviously we want more from movies than that.” In a sense, this statement nicely sums up Andersen’s walk through life. From his first “formalist” films in the 1960s to his essayist explorations of the documentary value of Hollywood fictions, the main question remains the same: how can one describe a world in cinema? How do cinematic forms not only tell stories, but also create descriptions of our actual lives? While his first feature film, Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975), paid tribute to a man who was the first not only to capture motion in pictures but also to put these pictures in motion, Red Hollywood (1996, with Noël Burch, narrated by Billy Woodberry) gave the victims of the Hollywood Blacklist their due by investigating how they were able to give form to their world views. This penchant to rekindle the history of cinematic representations by bringing out what conventionally remains in the background is even more pronounced in Andersen’s best-known film, Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), a “city symphony in reverse” that critically explores the ways his beloved city has been depicted in movies. It suggests that, at a time when most of the fictions of mainstream cinema seem to have lost their moorings in the real world, after increasingly going astray into mindless spectacle, the descriptions they carry within them often tend to be complicit in a consensual rendering of our history – a “history written by the victors, a history written in crocodile tears”. One of the many sources of inspiration for this marvellous study of the multiple cinematic faces of Los Angeles was the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, notably his reflection on the moments when cinema, in letting us see the unbearable of our world, might wake us up to the possibility of something else. In his brand new film, The Thoughts That Once We Had, Andersen digs even deeper into Deleuze’s thinking on cinema, in order to liberate the force of the past from its celluloid entrapment, and to let it bear on our present. After all, wasn’t it Deleuze who managed to voice the question we are all struggling with today, which is: how can we regain faith in our world? And moreover, how can cinema contribute to finding this confidence that we so badly need?
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Pedro Costa
Courtisane Festival 2015, Gent, 1 – 5 April 2015
“We make films on high seas,” says Pedro Costa, “and as we do not have a book of laws, we work in a very dark area, which is memory.” Without predetermined structures to draw from, with few certainties to rely upon, Pedro Costa’s work is a continuous labour of arduous experimentation and utmost concentration. Ever since he first made his way into Fontaínhas, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon, he has made it his life’s work to document the lives of its inhabitants, many of whom are immigrants from Cape Verde. But contrary to the rules of the filmmaking playbook, he does not rely on the traditional modes of documentary, aimed at providing testimony of the misery of the world and laying bare the dominant order of exploitation. Instead, his work is the result of a painstaking process of construction, building on shards of imagination emanating from memory of the actors and giving them form through the prism of his own retention of the history of cinema. These memories are the building blocks of a unique cinematic world, which is of profound intimacy and at the same time astonishing beauty, of a meticulous rigor and haunting resonance. Part of the tremendous force of these films is undoubtedly due to the desire, patience and dedication invested in them. It is this work of attention that opens up the poetic possibilities of the spaces that are lived in and the words that are lived out, giving the depicted lives being depicted the splendor and dignity they are usually denied. The epic dimension of venture, tragedy and sacrifice at the heart of exile – from elsewhere or from oneself – is particularly embodied in the figure of Ventura, the majestic wanderer somewhere in between Oedipus and King Lear, Tom Joad and Ethan Edwards, who is the main character in Colossal Youth, as well as in Costa’s new film Horse Money. This time, even more than in the past, Ventura’s ruminations of lost struggles and violent experiences give out in zones of the unmoored and the delirious, revealing a restlessness and a disquiet that might open up to our own. Battling the demons of one’s history does not simply amount to a lamentation of brokenness and failure: it can also be a way of reclaiming and rethinking one’s own life, which already acts as a means of transforming it. As a poet once wrote: “Losing too is still ours.”
DISSENT! Pedro Costa & Thom Andersen
Sphinx Gent, 3 April 2015
Pedro Costa and Thom Andersen: two filmmakers who, to all appearances, seem to have very little in common. One is mainly celebrated for his portrayals of the inhabitants of Fontainhas, a quarter on the margins of Lisbon, the other is most well known for his investigations into the history of cinematic representations, in particular those of Los Angeles. But for those who prefer to embrace cinema as a “supplementary country”, as Serge Daney was so keen to say, the geographical or categorical borders that tend to divide it are doomed to be nothing but nuisances and hindrances. If there really is an imaginary country called cinema, it might be because it has true inhabitants who all speak the same “language”, no matter how far apart they may find themselves from one another. This shared language, in all its impurity and hybridity, is precisely grounded in the one sentiment that seems to be lacking these days: trust. A trust in cinema’s capacity to describe the world, in all its terrifying splendor and intolerable horror, in all its vulnerability and resilience. But how does one hold on to this trust, in defiance of the waves of cynicism and defeatism that persistently threaten to erode it? Perhaps that is what Thom Andersen means with “Cinema Against the Grain” – which is the name he has given to one of his classes. What does it mean to think of cinema as an oppositional force? What or whom does cinema need to resist or stand against? And what exactly does this resistance imply? Does it entail stubbornness by remaining in place or the confidence to push ahead? In the latter case, one cannot fail to ask: Where to? Is it not when the answer to this question remains unclear that one is confronted with what is perhaps the most critical question of all: For whom? And perhaps more importantly: With whom? These and other questions will be at stake during this talk, which will be preceded by a screening of Pedro Costa’s magnificent portrait of two filmmakers whose work is undoubtedly one the most powerful manifestations of “Cinema Against the Grain”: Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.
DISSENT! Billy Woodberry & Barbara McCullough
Paddenhoek, Gent, 2 April 2015
Billy Woodberry is one of the leading directors of the so-called “L.A. Rebellion” movement, a critical mass of filmmakers of African origin or descent – most of whom studied at the UCLA in Los Angeles in the late-1960s to the late-1980s – who committed themselves to depict the everyday lives of Black communities in the U.S. and worldwide. In his feature debut, Bless Their Little Hearts, Billy Woodberry boldly embraced the spirit and challenge of this movement to forge an independent mode of filmmaking in the shadow of the Hollywood studios. Filmed on location in South Central Los Angeles, Woodberry’s film gently reveals an America overlooked and all too rarely seen on screen, a wholly authentic vision of the black experience that makes clear the stubborn rigidity of racial and class hierarchies in the United States. What does it mean to represent and consider “black experience” in cinema? How can one wage war on the prevailing raciological orthodoxy in cinema, while at the same time escaping the burden of representation that tends to befall films that grapple with the lives of the discriminated and marginalized? How does one challenge, disrupt and redirect dominant renderings of blackness without falling into the trap of essentialism? How does one tell a story and find a form that is consistent with the fate and destiny of black people as a group, engaged in a protracted struggle for social equality? And how does one prolong that struggle, in cinema as elsewhere? In this session, we will talk with Bill Woodberry about how these challenges have been addressed in his own work, and in the L.A. Rebellion movement.
Figures of Dissent: Sergei Loznitsa
KASKcinema, Gent, 12 march 2015
“Maidan is an enigma to me, which I am yet to solve,” declares Sergei Loznitsa. What does it mean to film an event that surpasses all the ideas and presumptions that the one who films might have? How does one film and keep on filming the making and unmaking of a singular collectivity, itself composed of countless singularities who are caught up in a political process that resists simple identification and illustration? Loznitsa found himself confronted with these questions when he went to Kiev in the middle of December 2013, a few weeks after the wave of demonstrations had begun on Maidan square. He ended up staying for ninety days, as the events unfolded: from the peaceful rallies demanding closer European integration, to the bloody street battles between the protestors and riot police. But in contrast to the tendency of many “militant” filmmakers to position themselves in the heart of the struggle and capture its flow and flux by way of hand-held camera work, vivid testimonies and dynamic editing, Loznitsa presents the mounting unrest in a series of statically framed long takes, without interviews or commentaries. Rather than focusing on individual stories – as in, for example, Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer’s depiction of the uprisings on Tahrir Square – he seems to be more interested in the collective aspect of the so-called “Euromaidan” protests, chronicling the sheer mechanics of human mass movement. What does this choice entail exactly? How are we to relate to these images of nameless bodies and sounds of bodiless voices? Which kind of relation between the small and the large, the singular and the collective does it propose to us? And how does it relate to the dominant notions of populism that we have inherited from some of those who deplored the rise of the revolutionary movements that put an end to the reign of kings and nobles?
Figures of Dissent: Allan Sekula & Noël Burch
KASKcinema, Gent, 19 February 2015
The last paragraph of ‘Dismal Science’*, the essay that is at the heart of Allan Sekula’s legendary Fish Story project – comprising photographs, slide projections and a book – does not provide closure of any kind. Rather, in all its haunting and taunting, it provokes further interactions and interventions. It activates, which is perhaps what all forms of activism aspire to. If the cargo container, this metal box that is at the same time ever-present and never-disclosed, really is the coffin of remote labor-power, then there is still much digging left to do. Sekula himself never abandoned his quest over the world’s oceans and his investigation of the labour aboard its ships and in its harbours: twenty years after commencing the monumental work of Fish Story (1989 – 1995) he made The Forgotten Space, together with fellow companion Noël Burch. While the first project was still haunted by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the latter resonated with the economic crisis of 2008. In the aftermath of this crisis it was made clear for all of us that, in twenty years time, capitalism had lost nothing of its “vampiric vitality”. On the contrary: it has learned to make the exploited pay for its crises, all the while rendering the fact of exploitation itself invisible. In the dominant image of the world economy as fully integrated, globalized, dematerialised and “friction-free” there is no place for old industrial relics such as sea trade, this ancient world of rusty metal and creaking ropes, of slow motion and ponderous weight. To all appearances, the “on the waterfront” culture of sailor bars and ship chandlers, as depictured in Elia Kazan’s eponymous film, is now of the past, and so is the class struggle that coincided with it. Who remembers the struggles of dockers, seafarers, and shipyard workers, which were so fundamental to the formation of trade-unionism and labour movements? Watch today’s news and see how easily this world is denounced as an anachronism that merely stands in the way of progress and prosperity. How easily we forget. In these “liquid”, post-industrial times of ours, we have no trouble floating in mid air, riding the global waves of capital, surfing the fluid flows of information, but we forget how globalization wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the forgotten space of maritime realms. And we forget that what the shipped coffins contain is manufactured by workers on the other side of the globe. Because, in contrast to what we are being told, Marx’ gravediggers have never disappeared – they have just vanished from sight, forced into ever more precarious circumstances, oftentimes on the far side of the sea. Should we be surprised to learn that the same shipping containers are increasingly used for human transportation and habitation? No, but we should be all the more outraged. As Noël Burch and Allan Sekula were when they made this film, which can only begin to suggest the extent of the horror caused by globalized capitalism.
DISSENT ! Noël Burch
Bozar, Brussels, 18 February 2015
At a time when corporatists and politicians alike all seem to have a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on their nightstand, at a time when her self-styled brand of “radical capitalism” is promoted as a revolutionary and emancipatory force to be reckoned with (after all, aren’t the unreasonably persecuted one-percenters ultimately the symbol of a free society?), it’s pretty daunting to watch her demented testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947. Fulminating against the Hollywood movie Song of Russia – a bland melodrama about a symphony conductor who visits the Soviet Union, falls in love and joins the anti-Nazi resistance – Rand refuses to see the film in relation to the wartime alliance and furiously dismisses it as communist propaganda, because it shows too many Russians “smiling”. This is just one of the many scenes in Thom Andersen & Noël Burch’s Red Hollywood that illustrate the anti-communist hysteria in the throes of Mccarthyism. But who remembers the victims of the Hollywood blacklist, even the notorious “Hollywood Ten” who paid time for their refusal to give in to the coercion? In their film, Andersen and Burch reconstruct this faded period in the history of American cinema and give these screenwriters and filmmakers their due, not by simply confirming their historical status as non-talented martyrs or rejecting the allegations of the witch hunters, but by suggesting how they were actually able to express their ideas in the films they wrote and directed. The film recasts some of the arguments that Thom Andersen already made in his groundbreaking essay ‘Red Hollywood’ from 1985 and that he expanded upon in the book Les communistes de Hollywood. For the making of both the book and the film Andersen found a natural ally in Noël Burch. After all, who else could match the historical knowledge and aesthetical insight of this fellow dissenter? Ever since his Praxis du Cinéma (1969), Burch has explored – both in his writings and films – the cinematic tension between presentation and representation, statement and articulation, showing and telling, a tension that at one time used to be designated as “ideological”. The heyday of ideology critique may be long past by now, but some of its underlying questions keep on lingering today, not in the least in regards to the relation between appearance and reality, form and politics. To paraphrase the beautiful title of one of Burch’s books: how do we give life to those shadows? This Dissent! Session will take the ventures of the “left front” in Red Hollywood as a starting point to address this stubborn conundrum.
DISSENT ! Jean-Pierre Rehm
Bozar, Brussels, 5 February 2015
Cinema as adventure of time and movement? Cinema as potential encounter with the inhuman within the human, as an experience of the intolerable that can release us from ourselves, allowing us to imagine our world differently? These ideas seem to have some kind of hold on our thinking about the emancipatory potential of cinema, ever since a brilliant thinker proposed to think of art as an exceptional sensorium that allows us to pass over to the other side, there where the truth of being resides, from which one returns with “bloodshot eyes”. But if political emancipation is indeed about exceeding the limits of our vital and social determinations, isn’t there a way of thinking about the potential of cinema without collapsing into metaphysics, without drowning politics and art into one grand ethology in common? If cinema is indeed an art deprived of linguistic palpability or certainty of expression, how can we find words to talk about the operations, figures, resonances, metaphors, attractions and inversions that constitute a cinematic world? And yes, since we seem to have no more patience for the “isms” that prospered so well in the past “short century”, how can we grasp and further the adventures that are happening in front of our eyes? Perhaps these are some of the issues that we can touch upon with Jean-Pierre Rehm, the spirited film enthusiast and, well, enthusiast tout court who has been running, since 2002, one of the most exciting film festivals in Europe, FIDMarseille. For the occasion of this Dissent ! session he has chosen five films, which are on the surface as disparate as the background of its makers. But isn’t the blurring of borders between what is traditionally called “documentary” and “fiction” or what is neurotically categorized as either “art”, “film” or “artists’-film” (sign of the times: the coupling or hyphen) precisely what makes it possible to rekindle cinema’s sensible force of heterogeneity, counter to the consensual tendencies that try to pin everything and everyone down to specific plots and places? As long as we keep up the struggle with easy determinations, then, perhaps we can allow our eyes and ears to drift in unforeseen directions. Who knows, in a time when the real is claimed to be completely disbarred from any form of illusion or utopia, when every divergent standpoint is easily dismissed as “unrealistic”, perhaps cinema, this art of appearance, still might have something to say.
DISSENT ! Ariella Azoulay
Galeries, Brussels, 15 & 18 December 2014
Is it possible to break the deadlock of the present and imagine a different future through a revisiting of the past? The theoretical and curatorial work of Ariella Azoulay is grounded in an exploration of this possibility: using the events that occurred between 1947 and 1950 as a prism, she proposes a civil perspective on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one that turns away from the framework imposed by the paradigm of an unavoidable and irreversible national conflict. It is a perspective that encompasses all the inhabitants of the territory, both Jews and Arabs, which allows to reconstruct the collision between them as a product of the war. The violence inflicted on the Palestinians positioned them as the enemy of the very people with whom they had previously shared their lives, which gave way to two distinct narratives – one culminating in the creation of the state of Israel, the other situating the nakba as the constitutive event of Palestinian identity – both of which are oblivious to the origins of this division. In order to reconstruct this past, Azoulay has created an archive of photographs that have been preserved by the same regime that has previously made great efforts to erase its traces, setting limits on what can be seen and what makes sense. But an image is always more and less than itself: it can not be reduced to the intention that has produced it, nor to the meanings that it supposedly reveals or conceals. The work of Azoulay consists of undoing the dominant connection between these images that speak and the discourse that keeps them silent, by making them speak in another way, linking them with eyewitness accounts, diaries, memoirs, minutes and memoranda. In proposing to think in civil terms about a place steeped in hopelessness, she tries to open up a new horizon of civil living for both citizens and those denied citizenship, as inevitable partners in a reality they are invited to imagine anew.
DISSENT ! Jacques Rancière
Aleppo, Brussels, 17 December 2014 — POSTPONED
How to think about the ways cinema can put into action the relation between the certainties of injustice, the uncertainties of justice and the calculation of justness? This question has been stirring Jacques Rancière ever since he was taken in by the wave of cinephilia that churned through Paris in the 1960’s. From his first interview in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1976, via his own series of writings for the same magazine between 1998 and 2001, to the publication of La Fable cinématographique (2001) and Les écarts du cinéma (2011), cinema has been an important strain throughout his work, linking his dwellings on the shores of politics with his ventures into the realms of aesthetics. How can cinema be thought of as an overpass between these two ever shifting landscapes, as a terrain of struggle that bears the original responsibility of politics: the organization of dissent? If it’s true that we can no longer believe in the dreams of cinema as the privileged form of the identification of art and life, or as an enigmatic force that can give us new vision and awaken us to a new consciousness, how can cinema still make a difference? According to Rancière, we need to let go of those persistent expectations that consider cinema as a instrument to inform political strategies and mobilize militant energies. Instead, it has to be regarded as nothing but a surface where experiences can be organized in new figures and relegated into new trajectories, as a “distribution of the sensible” that can evoke a process of transformation, disrupting the dominant logic of representation and changing the coordinates of the given. Any political “efficiency” of cinema cannot be based on a link between cause and effect, or a bond between revelation and mobilization – on the contrary, it has to content itself with a loss of destination, inviting us to reframe the cartography of the perceptible, the thinkable and the feasible. The question that remains is then not what cinema can do for us, but what we can do with cinema… In this DISSENT! session we will take a selection of recent films as starting point for a discussion on how cinema can contribute to a reinvention of politics.
Mattered Images: The films of Elke Marhöfer
Cinematek, Brussels, 11 December 2014
One film shot in South Korea, another in Cuba. They are not anthropological films, nor narrative documentaries or film essays, but they are certainly concerned with foreignness and difference. prendas – ngangas – enquisos – machines was mostly filmed in the hilly communes of Yateras, searching for long disappeared clandestine settlements, so-called palenque, where African slaves, Taínos and Chinese forced laborers freed themselves from colonial violence. No, I am not a toad, I am a turtle! is the result of a research on the Korean song form of ‘pansori’ music and documents a journey through hinterland villages and wooded mountains, along shipping lanes and trade routes between China and South Korea. Both films ask whether it is possible to communicate something of the soul of a place, steeped in histories of violence and dissidence, without relying on didacticism or storytelling, without taking recourse on hierarchical distinctions between the ordinary and the extraordinary, the macro and the micro, the animate and the inanimate. Is it possible to escape from the systems of signification that constitute foreignness, as well as the heritage left behind by colonial anthropology, without getting detached from the palpable realities of the world? What if there was a way to approach the foreign by relying on the affects of the world that pass through us, giving way to sentimental cartographies, mapping out nameless intensities and collective sensitivities, leaving space for the non-human, including vegetables and animals that had to colonize the new land together with their humans? In these film, these places do not appear as an “outside” to our inside, but as a sensible texture without anchor or vanishing point, where humans are a part of the composition rather than the principal element.
DISSENT ! Eyal Weizman
Aleppo, Brussels, 8 December 2014
“Give a voice to the voiceless” is one of the responsibilities that is traditionally associated with political and humanitarian activism: to provide testimony of the concerns and struggles of those who all too often remain silent and invisible, those who are regarded within the global socio-political order as “outside” or “surplus”. Yet the status of testimony has undergone some remarkable shifts in the past decades. First of all, the field of humanitarianism and human rights that served as an independent form of engagement with the pains and sufferings of this world in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, has been gradually pervaded by other kinds of forces and strategies: political-military in the 1990’s, legalistic in the 2000’s. In this context, the role of testimony, whether oral, literal, visual or audiovisual, has been superseded by the use of medical and forensical data, which provide another kind of testimony, one without witness. These entanglements and shifts are all part and parcel of what Eyal Weizman has called our “humanitarian present”, a present characterized by a growing ethical indistinction between fact and law, where all judgement is subsumed to an economy of violence and a systemic logic of “lesser evil”, and all division is replaced by a rationale of negotiation and calculation. In this Dissent ! session we will talk to Eyal Weizman about this contemporary condition in which technologies of humanitarianism and human rights collude with military and political power, with a focus on the role of audiovisual technologies in relation to the paradigm of victimization and the politics of lesser evil, and the status of forensic aesthetics as site of interpretation and contestation.
DISSENT ! Eric Baudelaire
Bozar, Brussels, 5 December 2014
When Eric Baudelaire sent his first letter to Maxim Gvinjia, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia, he was sure it would come straight back with a notice saying “destination unknown”. Because Abkhazia does not exist, at least not according to the United Nations and the majority of the world’s governments: it seceded from Georgia during a civil war in 1992-93, but its status remains in limbo, caught in a web of geopolitical interests, ethnic tensions and political unrest. However, the letter did actually arrive, marking the beginning of a long exchange which eventually shaped the fabric of Letters to Max: 74 letters sent over as many days, to which Max responded by recording his comments onto tape. The film became the chronicle of a close friendship, intertwined with the particular history of a stateless state, a place that is both real and imagined. Just like in his previous film works, notably The Anabasis… (2011) and The Ugly One (2013), both made in collaboration with Masao Adachi, filmmaker and former member of the Japanese Red Army movement, Baudelaire’s new film is grounded in a process of interchange and discovery, a process that ineluctably leads to unknown destinations, picking up traces of contested histories and unresolved questions on the way. But in any given space of contestation and invention there is no discovery without a sense of confusion and no interchange without a degree of disagreement. So what forms of cinematic perception and interpretation can be constructed as result of this uncertain hovering between different perspectives and sensibilities? How to find a position between refusal and fraternity? How to define the “point of view” of who or what is inbetween? And what does this enigmatic notion of “point of view” still mean after all, after having done its duty both in the service of Bazinian humanism and of Brechtian verfremdung, after having referred to both the gaze of the filmmaker and the blind spot of ideology, both to the position of the author and what it conceals; what can it possibly mean in today’s cinematic landscape, now that it is permeated with a tendency to either hide behind an adherence to “facts… nothing but the facts” or dwell in a borderless sphere of indefinite ambiguity?
Figures of Dissent: Želimir Žilnik
KASKcinema, Gent, 27 November 2014
Among the many anecdotes for which Želimir Žilnik is well known, there is one involving a discussion he had, sometime in the beginning of the 1970’s, with Ivo Vejvoda, then one of the leading Yugoslav diplomats and communist intellectuals. Vejvoda told Žilnik that it was unfortunate that his films focused so much on the “lumpenproleteriat”, which he called “a regressive force without class consciousness”. This remark was typical for the criticism accusing Žilnik of painting a “black” picture of the Yugoslav society which was ostensibly flourishing in the wake of the political and economic reforms of the 1960’s, an accusation to which he bluntly responded by making a film which he literally titled Black Film (1971). Žilnik picked up six homeless people from the street and brought them into his home, not only to share the warmth of his middleclass apartment, but also to actively participate in making a ﬁlm about their situation. Black Film stands as the quintessential example of Žilnik’s work, which tends to focus on the lives of vagabonds, swindlers, tinkers, beggars and bohemians, those who were in the Marxist tradition dismissively referred to as the ‘lumpenproletariat’, generally depicted as an inert mass of marginal and reactionary vulgars, an unredeemed and unregenerate underclass which didn’t play any structural role in the construction of socialism. This blackness then, which was so characteristic of the “black wave” cinema of the time, can be associated with the indication of this uneasy contradiction between those who were considered as true proletarians and their degenerate close cousins, all of which were allegedly unable to grasp the political reality of their own situation. It can also be related to the unveiling of the notorious gap between the utopian promise of knowledge and salvation on one hand and the reality of poverty and inequality on the other. But the blackness can just as well be implicated on cinema itself, this art form which used to claim to have the power to change social reality, but in the end has to agree that it can offer nothing but a surface of percepts and affects for us to engage with. “They left us our freedom”, Žilnik wrote in a text accompanying a screening of the film, “we were liberated, but ineffective”. In spite of this self-reﬂexive critique, Žilnik stubbornly persevered in making films, even up to this day. The political landscape might have changed, but not the filmmaker’s attitude, which remains loyal to the uncovering of the difficult legacy of socialism and the predicaments of those who were once called lumpen, who are today said to be included but hardly belonging.
DISSENT ! Loredana Bianconi
Cinematek, Brussels, 16 October 2014
So many horizons have been closed down, so many dreams are being denied. In this era of consensus, with its effacing of public space and political inventiveness, the end of class struggle might be loudly trumpeted, but the gravediggers are still here, in the grip of austerity and redundancy, in the anonymity and invisibility of suburban sweatshops and overcrowded slums. They are, it is said, those left behind by progression and expansion, those who have been unable to pick the fruits of growth that have been offered by the dominant order, those who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in its crisis and find themselves having to pay for its cure. And the only remedy available, it is said, is an extension of what is on offer, that which has come to feel so natural that we are unable to imagine something different. The realpoliitk of the everyday no longer holds a place for erratic digressions or foolish utopias, which are anyway always, so history has ostensibly taught us, bound to collapse into cruel nightmares. By all appearances, “change” now means “adapt”, just like “revolt” means “consume”. Closed horizons, tilted dreams: this is the emotional landscape that is evoked in Devenir, a landscape alive with memories of hope and belonging that are put to the test of time, and capacities of resolve and commitment that are put to the test of experience. Just like in Do You Remember Revolution (1997, at show 18/10), a portrait of four former members of the Italian Red Brigades, Loredana Bianconi tries to re-engage with questions of rebellion and solidarity, in search of intensities and sensibilities that might still resonate today. How to go beyond the melancholic musings of lost futures and the nihilistic tendencies of our present? In Devenir, the account of a 45 year old woman looking for work tunes in to the state of predicament that is our own, the story of one opens out over the story of many, the intimate gives on to the political. What is proposed is not a sociological treatise nor a political pamphlet, but a sensible world that is reminiscent of all the struggles of everyday living, those countless “small epics” that bloom in the shade of great historical events, but at the same time can never be fully separated from them. And what is incited is not a sentiment of defeat, but rather a call for courage for all those who, like Bertold Brecht’s ‘Pirate Jenny’ whose words close the film, might not know where they are heading, but at least know they can’t stay in place.
Figures of Dissent: Yoshishige Yoshida
KASKcinema, Gent, 9 October 2014
In 1970 an article in Cahiers du Cinéma stated: “If we take Eros + Massacre to be an unequivocally political film, it is because it is not satisfied with the pure and simple delivery of a ‘political message’.” According to these critics, who tried in their own way to come to terms with the upheavals of that time, it was hardly enough for a film to take a position and transmit a political discourse to make it in itself “political”. What was at stake was the politics of form: how to make a film, in its materiality, part of the struggle, so that the viewer is compelled to engage with it? The semiotico-marxist theories that prompted this view on Eros + Massacre may since long have lost their juice, but the film surely hasn’t. On the contrary, in light of the painstaking sterility that seems to have tainted the contemporary landscape of mainstream cinema, its energy and audacity is bound to break some heads. Over the course of its three hours (the long version is even 200′), Yoshida’s film shatters all the barriers between past and present, fact and fiction, theory and practice, coalescing these different dimensions into a radical inquiry of the political and sexual neuroses of late 1960’s Japan. The title of the film gives away an important critical source of inspiration for the film: it alludes to Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, an attempted synthesis of Marx and Freud which has exerted a great impact on anti-authoritarian movements. Yoshida reflects on the fractured mindset of his generation by looking into the past, more specifically the era of the Russian revolution, a time when the political situation in Japan was still largely un-settled, long before the collapse of the post-war leftist movements. The film intertwines the historical account of Sakae Osugi, an anarchist and Free Love-espouser, with the fictional tale of a handful of young students who themselves also try to reconcile love, erotism and emancipation as insurrectionary forces. The juxtaposition of tragic past and urgent present suggests how political revolt might be driven by a deeper, enigmatic pattern forged by the radical imagination and desire shared by different generations of young revolutionaries.
Figures of Dissent: Jean Eustache
KASKcinema, Gent, 8 May 2014
Luc Moullet once described him as a “blue collar dandy”. Legend has it that he aimlessly roamed the streets of Paris, regularly spending his nights in the Montparnasse bars, continually venturing into new romantic liaisons, but the self-conscious Rimbaudian romantic artist was also an autodidact filmmaker whose work was steeped in an artisanal ethos and a penchant for sharp observation and ruthless provocation. This apparent paradox, which was at the heart of many of his films, never sat easily with the French film culture that came after the heyday of the Nouvelle Vague, which all too often succumbed to ideological blindness and bitter antagonism. That is how La Maman et la Putain, arguably his most autobiographical project, was dismissed as “deeply reactionary” on the pages of Cahiers de Cinéma, who put it on the same level as other “petit-bourgeois” movies such as Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe and Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. But Eustache’s character study of the lost children of post-’68 did not rest on ideological premises, but on his intimate understanding of the tremors of disquiet and anguish that ran through the streets of his city. Always the “ethnologist of his own reality”, as Serge Daney wrote in his obituary. Always the artisan who took on everything as it came, memorized everything as it presented itself. Always the non-conformist whose films followed their material right to where it led them, and never to where conventional guidelines were pointing them to. Always the renegade who resembled his times too much to be comfortable or contended. A constant struggle he ended up losing. The film at show here, which has remained unseen for so long, is what he considered to be his “numéro zero”, his tabula rasa with everything that had come before. A film that is unsure of itself, a manifesto without a program, made without any intent or pretense, only answering to a single desire: the desire for cinema.
Marx, le retour: Straub / Huillet
One fine day you find yourself being invited to propose some films for a program of screenings and discussions dealing with the “return of Marxism”. How can one who has never read Marx respond to this kind invitation? Indeed, the notion of Marxism seems to have regained a new force of attraction and legitimacy, even – or especially – for those who have come after the insurgence and the subsequent dissolution of the emancipatory movements in the period of the “long 1968”. Even for those who decided early enough in life to dedicate some humble time and energy to the cultivation of cinema, this bastard art that one particular adept of Marxism once proclaimed to be “the most important of all arts”, the time has come when, for them too, politics becomes the order of the day. How does one who has always preferred the darkness and safety of the cinema space to the obscureness and uncertainty of that strange place called society, deal with the realization that this constant struggle that is politics concerns him, and has perhaps always concerned him? You do what you can: you relate everything you don’t understand to what you know and love. And even when so much of what you thought you knew starts crumbling down on you, and your whole world view with it, the love does not wither. It only grows stronger…
Julius Eastman: Crazy Nigger – Gay Guerilla
Minard, Gent, 4 April 2014
When Julius Eastman took the stage of the concert hall of the Northwestern University to explain the titles of the pieces that he and three other pianists were about to perform, he could not have known that this appearance would be the most lasting statement about his music. Having studied with the likes of George E. Lewis, Morton Feldman and Lukas Foss, all signs pointed towards a bright future for this composer. By 1980 Eastman was performing his music all over Europe and the States and he was an integral part of the thriving Downtown scene in New York, where he recorded with Arthur Russell and Meredith Monk. But for all this promise, his self-destructive behavior inevitably caught up with him. When he passed away on May 28 1980 in a hospital in Buffalo, the news took more than seven months to reach New York. With the scarce recordings and scores of his music scattered all over the place, attempts to reconstruct Eastman’s output are doomed to remain incomplete. Only fairly recently a selection of his work has been made available, including the trilogy Evil Nigger, Crazy Nigger & Gay Guerilla, which represents in so many ways the intense brilliance of this ‘forgotten minimalist’. These compositions for multiple pianos took the minimalist device of additive process to a whole new structural level, building up immense emotive power through the incessant repetition of rhythmic figures, a composing technique he called ‘organic music’. The titles of the pieces exemplify the rebellious attitude of Eastman, as someone who has always struggled with identity, yet never without casting a new life; someone who has steadfastly eschewed compromise, yet giving rise to a body of work that continues to startle and engage.
Across the Margins, Beyond the Pale
Courtisane Festival 2014, Gent, 2 – 6 April 2014
An anthropological mockumentary, a baroque anti-symphony, a surrealist counter-ethnography, a revolutionary musical comedy, a porno-miseria parody and a cubist road movie. What do all these films have in common? At first sight hardly anything, except for the fact that they are all rooted in a world that is still classified “third”, a world marked by broken promises and shattered dreams, haunted by the specters of colonialism and the realities of imperialism. These films are distant echoes from a time when a roaring call for a “third” cinema was resounding, one that could expose cruel realities and chase away unwanted ghosts: a cinema of liberation, not owing anything to the workings of the dominant order; a cinema of opposition, found on the outer edges of the overdeveloped world, always South to someone else’s North. These films are all that, and they are not. They do speak of the incoherences of underdevelopment and the discards of colonialism, and yet they refuse to conform to the imperatives of urgency and pedagogy that are bound up with these motives. They do take position against established powers and manifest a desire to overcome the past, but also resist any prescribed directions and prefer to reimagine unforeseen futures. They struggle hard to search for identity, but they do so through the very dismissal of the identities that are imposed by others. Outrageous, hilarious, vertiginous, delirious: this is a cinema that has nothing to lose, and everything to gain; a cinema that chooses to forsake the trodden pathways, only to find itself in a state of complete sovereignty. In all its dislocated intensity, unfathomable glory and impossible hope, this is the stuff that foolish dreams are made of.
With works by Djibril Diop Mambéty, Kidlat Tahimik, Arthur Omar, Carlos Mayolo & Luis Ospina, Med Hondo, Glauber Rocha
The Fire Next Time
Afterlives of the Militant Image
KASK/School of Arts, Gent, 3-4 April 2014
There was a time when cinema was believed to make a difference, to be able to act as a weapon in struggle, to operate as a realm of discord. The so-called “militant cinema” was not only considered as a tool to bear witness but also to intervene in the various political upheavals and liberation movements that shook the world in the 1960s and ‘70s. What remains of this unassailable alliance between cinema and politics? After the flames had died down, all that seemed to be left was a wreckage of broken promises and shattered horizons. Today it feels like we have been living through a long period of disappointment and disorientation, while the sense of something lacking or failing is spreading steadily. An overwhelming melancholy seems to have taken hold of our lives, as if we can only experience our time as the “end times”, when the confidence in politics is as brittle as our trust in images. Perhaps that is why, for those who came after, there is a growing tendency to look back at an era when there was still something to fight for, and images were still something to fight with. Can a re-imagining of old utopian futures shed a new light on our perceived dead-end present, in view of unexpected horizons? Can an understanding of past dreams and illusions lead to reinvigorated notions of responsibility, commitment and resistance? Can a dialogue with the period in question help us to find the very principles and narratives capable of remedying its impasses? And how can this questioning help us to think about how cinema, unsure of its own politics, can be “political” today? In light of a potential rebirth of politics, would it still be possible for the art of cinema to appeal to the art of the impossible?
With contributions by Irmgard Emmelhainz, Sabu Kohso & Go Hirasawa, Evan Calder Williams & Victoria Brooks, Angela Melitopoulos & Bettina Knaup, Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri, Olivier Hadouchi, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Subversive Film (Mohanad Yaqubi & Reem Shilleh), Raquel Schefer, Ramiro Ledo Cordeiro, Daphné Hérétakis.
DISSENT ! Alberto Toscano
Argos, Brussels, 18 February 2014
“Representations of crisis need not be crises of representation“, wrote Alberto Toscano in ‘Filming the Crisis’, a piece he jointly wrote with Jeff Kinkle on various cinematic responses to the ongoing economic turmoil, from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel to Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story and Hito Steyerl’s In Free Fall. The article rehearses some of the approaches that both authors have been exploring in view of their forthcoming book Cartographies of the Absolute, which aims to provide a critical survey and a series of reflections on the proliferation of works in the visual arts, cinema and literature which seek to tackle the representation of contemporary capitalism. The focus is on those works which in one way or another try to provide models or narratives that might allow us to orient ourselves around the global economic system, taking in account the associated dimensions that pose obdurate problems for plot and image: invisibility and connectivity, the immaterial and the systemic. The book promises to extend the already broad scope of Toscano’s work, which includes acclaimed books such as Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea and The Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuality between Kant and Deleuze, as well as numerous translations of Alain Badiou and contributions to several journals of art and cultural criticism. He has also occasionally written on the entanglement of politics, aesthetics and political economy in cinema, notably in regards to the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Masao Adachi and Koji Wakamatsu, amongst others. Recently his translation of Franco Fortini’s The Dogs of the Sinai was published alongside a new release of Straub-Huillet’s Fortini/Cani. In this DISSENT ! session we will mainly discuss his Cartographies project, in trying to get to grips with some of the common drives and shared impasses that seem to characterize the current wave of film and art works dealing with the logics of capitalism and its failures.
Alexandra Cuesta: Films & Influences
Art Cinema OFFoff , Gent, 17 February 2014
At the invitation of art cinema OFFOff, Courtisane is very happy to present a program composed of films made and chosen by artist and filmmaker Alexandra Cuesta (EC/US). Inspired as much by Walker Evans‘s reticent street photography as by Bruce Baillie’s sensuous film poems, her work manages to strike a delicate balance between the mundane and the poetic, the material and the intelligible. Public places and urban landscapes are observed in their splendor and singularity through the abstract and vernacular figures of everyday life, exploring the constructions of space and structures of time that can be found in the order and disorder of people’s daily movements and environments. These filmic portraits in motion, elegantly composed of textures of light and fragments of bodies, are reminiscent of an approach that Flaubert once referred to as an “absolute way of seeing things”, manifesting the sensible intensities of the most ordinary things, on the point of disentangling the connections that make them into functional objects. It is precisely in this point of tension that the sensibility of Alexandra Cuesta’s work is situated, perpetually oscillating between a fleeting play of correspondences and a surface of percepts and affects that is there for us to engage with.
DISSENT ! Akram Zaatari
Wiels, Brussels, 16 February 2014
How to represent the ongoing struggles in the Middle East, a region in the throes of successive wars, excessive division, and abundant stereotyping? How to displace the dominant vision of never-ending violence, destruction, occupation, resistance, suffering, deeply entangled in what Jean-Luc Godard has referred to as the endless circulation of “brand images”? In his work Akram Zaatari tries to provide some possible responses to this challenge, particularly in regards to the legacy of conflict in his home country, Lebanon. Like many other Beiruti artists who have grown up during the Civil War (1975-1991), Zaatari is concerned with the construction and narrativization of its history and its present day reverberations. A substantial part of his work in film, photography and performance investigates the multiple tensions between memory and history, fiction and document, the public and the private, as a way to intervene in the dominant representation of history. With the use of archival images – partly drawn from the collection of the Arab Image Foundation, which he co-founded – attention is drawn to its constructedness, as well as to its gaps and fissures. In this Dissent! session we will mainly discuss Akram Zaatari’s cinematic work and his use of counter-narrative and docu-fictional strategies, which tend to prompt a fresh perspective on the forms and politics of fiction itself. Perhaps, as Jacques Rancière has suggested, it is above all in situations of radical uncertainty that “the real must be fictionalized in order to be thought.”
Figures of Dissent: Bill Douglas
KASKcinema, Gent, 6 February 2014
He wouldn’t have liked his work being associated with the notion of the political. Certainly, although this trilogy portrays the life of a boy growing up in a poverty-stricken mining village in post-war Scotland, it does not shed any light on the circumstances of the economic and industrial devastation that would lead up to the widespread misery of the Thatcher years. And although the largely autobiographical films are clearly rooted in a deepfelt empathy for the hardship and loss endured by many, cries of suffering and injustice remain shrouded in silence, while signs of struggle and revolt seem stifled in bleak monochrome shades. But perhaps this mutism is exactly what defines the poetics of Bill Douglas’ work, which is also a politics. In contrast to many works of militant fiction – including those categorised as “social realism” – his films do not consist of denouncing false promises and hidden agendas for the sake of constructing another future, one that is always already laid out. There is no predetermined scheme of cause and effect here, no fixed scenario that can show us a way out. There are only situations, composed of inter-weavings of glances and gestures, times and spaces. The “realism” Douglas was looking for means precisely this: to take distance from the narrative schemes that supposedly make up reality, and delve deep into the interior of the situations themselves, there where the events of the world become affects, enclosed in mute faces, mobilized in silent actions, finding expression in spare words. In this world of affects and intensities lingers the sense of another life and the dignity needed to pursue the dream of this other life, always unpredictable, far away from this “reality” where everyone, as the boy is told time and time again, is bound to a sole place and destiny.
Possessions: Mother Dao
How are we to look at these images of a faded past, a far away land, a forgotten people? How are we to approach these fleeting impressions without a commentary to guide our gaze, deprived of a message to arouse our consciousness? At the outset, we are informed that the film consists of footage shot in the former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) between 1912 and 1933, footage destined to legitimize the workings of the colonial system and exhibit the civility of the colonizers. Images of petrified forests and bucolic landscapes give way to scenes of manual labor and illustrations of the ruler’s mission of enlightenment. Not once are we explicitly reminded of the violent exploitation and repression exercised under Dutch colonial rule, not once are we confronted with testimonies of cruelty and revolt. Instead, what we get to hear are voices murmuring ancient and modern poems and songs of the Niassers, the Toradjas and the Sundanesians. But what these laments of sorrow attest to is not only the struggle and hardship lived through but above all the capacity of those deemed without capacity to recount their own story, to account for their own situation and the will to change it. And what these voices help to bring to the surface of the images is not so much the revelation of the face of oppression, but rather a change in appearance, displacing the imagined figures of subordinate blessedness with manifestations of dignity, contemplation and the equal aptitude to think and live in accordance with the injustice suffered. Because something in the image always resists: something that escapes the look of the beholder handling the camera and the powers guiding it, something that goes beyond the inherent inequality between those filming and those being filmed, between the active and the passive. The lens captures all without conscience or calculation: the dominated and the dominator, the intended and unintended all share the same image. It is this undecidability that allows for a change of view that is also a refiguration of the possible: each representation of a world holds another world.
Figures of Dissent: John Akomfrah
KASKcinema, Gent, 21 November 2013
“If we loose the ruins, nothing will be left.” A quote from Zbigniew Herbert sets the tone for this post-colonial trauerspiel, composed as a journey through a “war zone of memories”, a wandering along the rivers of memory in search of the intangible realities of post-colonial trauma. It all begins with a crisis of unknowing, as the exiled Abena returns to Ghana to confront her past, only to find there is no more “home” to go to: the utopian dreams once longed for have been violently shattered, given over to loss and ruination. How to come to terms with a past that has been repressed, a place that has been dispossessed, a memory whose traces have been erased? Just like in his previous film, Handsworth Songs (at show on 20 November), John Akomfrah (then member of the Black Audio Film Collective) addresses the uncertainties of the colonial archive and their effects on the diasporic condition by creating a space of poetic reflection in which the irreconcilable gaps and fissures between history and myth, the imagined and the experienced – there where diasporic histories lie in wait – can be excavated. Responding to the challenge to propose a cinematic form in accordance with this sense of incertitude and absence, Akomfrah constructed a multilayered flow of fictional scenes and archival footage, tinted along the lines of the “colour temperature” that informs Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, with filters corresponding to the colour symbolism in Ga society. For Akomfrah, whose parents were both political activists supporting Kwame Nkrumah’s pursuit of Pan-African Socialism, returning to Ghana was also a search for ”the emotional core that binds a person to a place;” and just like Abena’s perhaps, a quest to face the unknowing standing in the way of letting go. Only when the forgetting ends, mourning can begin.
DISSENT ! John Akomfrah
Cinematek, Brussels, 20 November 2013
“There are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of other stories”. The phrase lingers over the film like a haunting refrain, reverberating across and between the ghostly traces of lived moments floating over the surface of the screen, somewhere between faded history and tainted memory, between the historical and the allegorical. Handsworth Songs was the first film John Akomfrah made with the Black Audio Film Collective, a group of artists, critics and filmmakers who set out to intervene in the cultural debate about black identity and representation that was raging all over Britain in the 1980’s. The spark that lit the fire was arguably the “civil disorder“ of 1981, when a wave of violent unrest swept through some of England’s inner cities. It was this event that painfully exposed the gap between the dominant discourses on ethnicity and “Britishness” and what was intimately felt and experienced by the “bastard children of 1968”, those who were profoundly shaped by what Derek Walcott called “the absence of ruins”. The challenge then, became one of generating counter-narratives, to look for aesthetical forms which would allow for a space to deconstruct the hegemonic voices and articulate states of belonging and displacement in dissensual ways. The question of form turned out to be one of dealing with absence: the lack of “ruins” made it necessary to look into the dark mirror of the past in search of images, words and sounds to attest to the intangible presence of diasporic histories. In Handsworth Songs, a response to the second Handsworth riots in 1985, Akomfrah discards the didactic panoptic impulse of the documentary film tradition in favor of a polytonic structure in which eye-witness accounts, mediated voice-overs and a mosaic of sounds intersperse with a poetic montage of archival footage. It is here, in unearthing the phantom narratives of the past to give them a new place in the present as a promise to the future, that can be found the essence of john Akomfrah’s work, up until this day.
DISSENT ! Avi Mograbi
Flagey, Brussels, 13 November 2013
“Once I entered a garden to smell the scent of the flowers, and distract my sad soul.” So begins the song that gave Avi Mograbi’s latest film its title. Crooned by the Syrian singer Asmahan, it tells the story of a love that has withered, of hearts that have been violently broken with little hope of mending. The garden in the title turns out to be not a promised land of dreams, but a forbidden garden with no room left for the other. It is this irresolvable tension between dream and reality, hope and impossibility, that lies at the very heart of the film; a tension that goes to the core of the enduring conflict between Israel and Palestine, the issue Mograbi’s work has been fervently dealing with for over two decades. But in contrast to his previous films, here he does not start out from a situation of opposition and antagonism, but one of participation and complicity; and the search that drives him and his companion is not one for agitation or revelation but rather for consolation. A whisper, rather than a cry. As is true of all memorable journeys, its path was not the one initially chosen. In wanting to make a film about his cousin, who used to openly cross the border between Israel and Lebanon, Mograbi calls upon his friend Ali Al-Azhari, a Palestinian who has been living most of his adult life in Tel-Aviv. As their partnership develops, the family tale of crossing borders makes way for a story about crossing identities: between “me” and “we”, “us” en “them”, Arab and Israeli. The bittersweet account of “sad souls” seeking refuge – at one point quite literary – in a forbidden garden prompts a surge of hope, as a bilingual dialogue on a history in common leaves us pondering the possibility of a common future. Perhaps that is what makes this, as Mograbi himself has argued, his most radical film yet: one proposing, like all tender tales of love and friendship, an experience of a world lived through the perspective of difference, rather than identity.
DISSENT ! Anand Patwardhan
Flagey, Brussels, 8 November 2013
Behind the images of an aspiring pluralistic democracy and a rising economic superpower, there exists an other India. One that is swept by continuous waves of religious and ethnic violence, more often than not abetted by the highest levels of government and law enforcement. One that is haunted by an acute rise in mass poverty and social inequality, to some extent still hinging on the enduring legacy of the caste system. One that is driven by a quest for militarism, steeped in a long history of Partition and nationalist militancy. This reality of India, a complex and painful entanglement of religion, ethnicity, warfare, gender and class, has been systematically neglected by most if not all traditional mass media, locally as well as internationally. One could say that countering this indifference is exactly what defines the value and politics of Anand Patwardhan’s documentary work: the commitment to report on the harrowing injustices that are left on the wayside of contemporary history, to oppose the hegemonic discourses and intervene in the debates raging through the political landscape. Moreover, in relentlessly focussing on the struggles that his own country is facing, his films do not only address local questions, but also stir up some of the key issues playing out in the world at large, notably problems of identity, community, racism and populism. And yet, the practice in which his films are inscribed is not the informative or investigative model of journalism, it is altogether something different: cinema. It is precisely through the aesthetics of cinema that Patwardhan accomplishes what is perhaps the essential politics of his work: the construction of a multifaceted world in which actions, gestures and words are displaced from their frame of common assumptions of condition and fate, and are given as possible tools of empowerment.
Figures of Dissent: Ritwik Ghatak
KASKcinema, Gent, 3 October 2013
In 1947 Ritwik Kumar Ghatak (1925–1976) was one of the over 10 million refugees who left behind their homes in East Bengal, fleeing from the surge of communal violence and human devastation that erupted in the aftermath of the Bengal famine and the partition of India. The terrible specter of this tragedy would continue to haunt Ghatak’s life and work, until his body and mind finally gave up thirty years later, ravished by illness and alcohol. Thirty years of struggle, against the postcolonial establishment, against the political and intellectual corruption of the middle class, against the crumbling appearance of a divided Bengal, against a world denying its own people their dignity and humanity. A struggle he began in the realms of literature and militant theatre, before taking up the camera and making his foray into cinema, the only medium he saw capable of reaching a mass audience – a wish that, in regards to his own work, sadly never came true during his lifetime. In his quest to express his pangs and agonies about his suffering people and reawaken the suppressed powers of Bengali culture and history, he chose to experiment with one particular form: the epic melodrama. But rather than looking towards the obvious example of Hollywood for inspiration, Ghatak found his touchstones in the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein and Ray Satyajit, the theatrical traditions of Bertold Brecht and Constantin Stanislavski, and especially the poems and songs of Rabindranath Tagore, considered by many as the pinnacle of Bengali culture. One of the most accomplished and heart-rending uses of Tagore’s music can surely be found in Jukti Takko Aar Gappo, Ghatak’s final, most autobiographical and allegorical film, in which he himself played his own role: that of a tormented leftist intellectual, burdened and ultimately broken by the weight of history.
Figures of Dissent: Nagisa Oshima
KASKcinema, Gent, 2 May 2013
“I must cultivate this painful bitterness and make it explode”, wrote Nagisa Oshima (1932 – 2013) in 1965. And so he did. The filmmaker who would later gain worldwide fame with films such as Ai no Korīda (In the Realm of the Senses) and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, witnessed with great disquiet how postwar Japan, under the guise of nationalism and conformism, rendered itself increasingly guilty of imperialism and racism. His boundless outrage resulted in a series of fiery cinematographic accusations, in which he mercilessly dispensed with the hypocrisy of the Japanese “police state”. The eternal recalcitrant hardly found support or congeniality within the bastion of his native cinema – which he despised – but it didn’t take long before he was taken in by the movements that were emerging in the European film landscape. No wonder Oshima was called the “Japanese Godard” (a platitude he wittily countered by calling Godard “the French Oshima”) and his films were catagorized as part of the Japanese “New Wave” (a label he obviously rejected). However, he himself rather found inspiration in the Japanese underground theatre (“Ungura”), which tried to reconcile the politically engaged ideas of Vsevolod Meyerhold and Bertold Brecht with premodern Japanese traditions. The majority of Oshima’s films from the 1960s are the result of his efforts to translate the characteristic game with constrained space and dynamics between language and form, to cinema. Of these films Kôshikei (Death By Hanging) is undoubtedly his most “Brechtian” work, not only by implicitly refering to the Threepenny Opera, but also in making extensive use of “Verfremdung” techniques. Not for nothing this radical and complex indictment of the Japanese legal system, based on the so-called “Komatsukawa incident”, was called “the most fantastic scenario in the history of cinema” by Luc Moullet. Oshima described the stakes of the film as follows: “As long as the state makes the absolutely evil crime of murder legal through the waging of wars and the exercise of capital punishment, we are all innocent.”
Sweet First, Seizure Second: A tribute to Stom Sogo
Courtisane Festival 2013, Gent, 17 – 21 April 2013
It has stayed vivid in our minds. How could it be otherwise? Ten years ago, Courtisane presented a handful of films that truly left no one unmoved. An unseen intensity betrayed a filmmaker who spared nothing and no one, least of all himself. Obstinate and fiery, just like the man himself. Always at the edge of self-destruction, digging around in the deepest regions of the subconscious, in cinema as in life. Later he wrote us, “I still try to make films about countless difficulties, and about issues that have not been fully dealt with.” Ecstasy, incantation, transgression: the search for liberating visions, an escape from the chaos of the conscience, never let him go. Last year, Stom Sogo left this life, but his legacy has been safeguarded thanks to Anthology Film Archives, who give his work the attention and visibility that it deserves. From this extensive archive of diverse media and endless revisions and reworkings, his bosom friend Andrew Lampert selected ten film and video works that give a penetrating image of the unforgettable oeuvre of Stom Sogo.
Once Was Fire
Courtisane Festival 2013, Gent, 17 – 21 April 2013
With film works by Antonio Reis & Margarida Cordeiro, Stavros Tornes & Charlotte van Gelder, Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet
What is it the work of these three filmmaker-couples has in common? Perhaps it is passion, the burning desire to craft a cinema of their own, against the grain, against the void, a desire inscribed in every form, always staring right back at us. Perhaps it is attention, a constant consideration for all things equal : the beauty of the moving wind in the trees, the sounds of words spoken, the splendour of the world we don’t care to see in life. Perhaps it is grace, the generosity of artisans meticulously plying their trade, echoing an epoch when cinema and art were not the big words they have become. Perhaps it is risk, the painstaking chance they take in every image, at each moment risking their lives for a look, a sigh, a gesture. Perhaps it is soul, the broken soul of Southern Europe, this ancient theatre of memory where everything is haunted by ghosts of past and future, this land of lost dreams where all and nothing is horizon. Perhaps it is dream, the clarity of an age-old dream reawakening something that has been stifled, forgotten, annulled, in defiance of the storm of progress blowing from paradise. Perhaps it is love, the tender care for people and places, where everyone and everything has a name, where time is suspended and multiplied, inventing new capacities for framing our daunting present. Perhaps, when all is said and done, it is persistence, and the burdensome solitude of those who know all is lost, putting everything at stake to catch a glimpse of a fire that once was.
DISSENT ! Marcel Ophuls & Eyal Sivan
KASK, Gent, 18 April 2013, in the context of the Courtisane Festival 2013, Gent, 17 – 21 April 2013
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Marcel Ophuls
Courtisane Festival 2013, Gent, 17 – 21 April 2013
Resistance. If there is a single word that characterizes the work of Marcel Ophuls, this is it: resistance to every form of injustice and banalisation, resistance to the prevailing dogmas of documentary cinema. It is an attitude that is marked both by a whole-hearted abhorrence (for indifference) and by passionate love (for narrative film). The one is a response to his experiences during WW II, the other a legacy from his father, the famous director Max Ophuls. The result is an uncompromising cinema that for four decades has had no equal in blazing a trail through the 20th century’s shadowy realm: occupation and collaboration during the Vichy regime in Le Chagrin et la Pitié (1969), the Troubles in Northern Ireland in A Sense of Loss (1972), war crimes in Nazi-Germany and Vietnam in The Memory of Justice (1976), the siege of Sarajevo in Veillées d’armes (1994). Time and again, like a roguish Inspector Colombo, Ophuls makes his way through the heart of the conflict zone, in search of witnesses, in search of the story. Because Ophuls’s work primarily brings to mind the fact that the word “documentary” is always followed by the word “film”. This is a cinema that places structure above content, subjectivity above objectivity, discussion above pedagogy, a cinema that recognizes that documentary always equals “fiction” – a construction, a presence, a form. It is a cinema, finally, that refuses to make a distinction between “history” with or without a capital “H”, between a politics of the commonplace and the politics of the power apparatus, because that distinction, according to Ophuls, “forms the worst escape in life itself, the avoidance of every responsibility.”
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Leslie Thornton
Courtisane Festival 2013, Gent, 17 – 21 April 2013
Our culture is a culture of fear, or so it is said : the fear of uncertainty, of otherness, of everything that stands in the way of consensus. It is a fear that is not least cultivated by the mass media, driven by a logic of anticipation and premediation. It is a culture that was already anticipated a few decades ago in the form of a remarkable science-fiction parable: Leslie Thornton’s Peggy and Fred in Hell. This consecutive series of films, whose first episode dates from 1985, portrays the lives of two children, the only survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape, who create their own imaginary world in the midst of the debris of the 20th century. The relationships between technology, identity and subjectivity that characterize today’s media culture are no longer applicable here, but they shimmer and reverberate in the form of shadow images and echoes. In the meantime, the children have grown up, the future has become part of the past, analogue became digital: reality seems to be catching up with Thornton’s fiction at an ever increasing rate, but it continues to steadily mutate, ceaselessly assessing the remains of a human culture in an expanding body of raw data. It is this critical perspective of the relationship between society and technology that forms the consistent thread throughout the entire oeuvre of Leslie Thornton, whose father and grandfather both worked on the development of the atom bomb during World War II. The awareness of the ambivalences between the personal and cultural, the local and the global, forms the basis of her far-reaching and profound investigation into the aporias of language and media, one that moves on from where the tradition of the American avant-garde left off.
DISSENT ! Hartmut Bitomsky
Galeries, Brussels, 28 March 2013
“As once stated in a Brecht play: if two things come together, you need a third thing. The third thing, back then, was political film making”. For about ten years, the film work of Hartmut Bitomsky could hardly be dissociated from that of Harun Farocki. In the second half of the 1960’s they both formed the backbone of the Projektgruppe Schülerfilm, an initiative of Berlin students building on the leftist intellectual legacy by combining militant cinema and Brechtian didacticism. After their studies, they continued to make a number of films together, and consequently co-founded the Filmkritik magazine as an outlet for their cinephile enthusiasm. But it was only a matter of time before their ways parted: “Farocki comes from Eisenstein, and I come from Rossellini. He is very fond of montage, I am more interested in life”. Although they are both exploring a critical-essayistic perspective, Bitomsky considers documentary film as an instrument for articulation rather than for deconstruction. So, each film he has been making since the 1970’s provides some sort of map, its routes leading us through unruly territories, covering themes such as memory, history, technology and image culture. In this fourth installment of the DISSENT ! series a selection of Bitomsky’s films will serve as the starting point for a conversation on cinema, documentary practice, image and reality.
Mary Helena Clark: Films & Influences
Art Cinema OFFoff , Gent, 25 March 2013
What are we seeing when watching images flickering on the screen? One could say that the cinematic experience always involves an unique play of imaginary presence (perceptual experiences, fantasies, illusions) and real absence (what is represented but not really there). The act of perception may be real, but the perceived is merely a shade, a phantom, “a hallucination that is also a fact”. It is this fundamental tension between presence and absence, actual and perceptual, the visible and the spectre of the hidden, that is at the heart of Mary Helena Clark’s work. Taking cues from the fantasy and illusion of early cinema as well as the material and formal exercises of the avant-garde, her hypnotic pieces explore cinema’s primitive magic, hurtling us down the secretive rabbit holes of the moving image. After having screened several of Mary Helena’s films in previous years, Courtisane will once again showcase her work during the coming Courtisane festival (17-21 April 2013), with the screening of her latest short film, Orpheus (outtakes). As a prologue to this year’s festival, Courtisane will present at OFFoff six films by Mary Helena Clark together with a selection of works by other filmmakers that have inspired her practice.
Figures of Dissent: Robert Kramer
KASKcinema, Gent, 21 February 2013
“I’m from NYC. The 50s were bad. I got reborn in the 60s. I left the states at the end of the 70s. I’ve been living around, mostly based in Paris, and I make movies.” This is how Robert Kramer (1939 –1999) introduced himself in a letter he wrote, shortly before his death, to Bob Dylan, who he considered as one of the “voices in his head”, accompanying him throughout his life. To Kramer, the experience of the sixties has always been the touchstone for his live and work, the moment when he chose sides: first as a journalist in Latin-America and a community worker in Newark, later as a filmmaker and a member of the Newsreel collective. Again and again Kramer searched out the battlegrounds: in Venezuela, Vietnam, Portugal, Angola, but also closer to home, in the heart of the radical movements working revolution and challenging the political structures of the United Stated at the time. Each time Kramer found himself committed to the search for dissenting forms of community, of which he himself depicted the breakdown in Milestones (1975), an unsettling self-portrait of his “lost” generation. After moving to Europe Cinema would more than ever become his true home territory: working from his base in Paris, he produced more than twenty films, varying in length, genre, medium and degree of achievement. Armed with his camera, Kramer not only kept on exploring the contours and boundaries of the world, but also of himself, as critical cartographer of a fast changing society, rebounding between private and public, interior and exterior, choise and necessity. In some ways, the films in this programme can be considered as the milestones of his work: three films at the same time reflecting the trajectory of his own history and that of a place he cherished deeply: Vietnam.
DISSENT ! Pedro Costa
Argos, Brussels, 2 February 2013
“We have to do away with this notion of urgency associated with politics, because it’s the contrary of love. That’s where it starts. Politics is love.” The politics of Pedro Costa’s cinema has nothing to do with the instructive demonstration of injustice or the uncovering of mechanisms of exploitation or repression, but with a committed search for an approach that lives up to the capacity of anyone. This politics is most present in the films he has been making, since the mid 1990’s, in Fontainhas, a poor and insular Lisbon neighborhood, where he uses minimal means to depict its habitants in all their grandeur. This is a cinema of desire and conviction: the desire to take the time and the risk to capture the essence of people and things, the conviction that cinema not only has to witness the wealth of the world – the wealth belonging to anyone – but also has to return it, as condensations of light and color, bodies and objects, speech and silence. In this sense Costa’s work has a lot in common with the films of Jean-Marie Straub en Danièle Huillet, which he once described as “the fastest, the most furious, the most beautiful, sensual, ancient, modern.” While critical attention is all too often directed at the communist world view of Straub-Huillet, Costa particularly draws from the way in which they give cinematographic form to their ideas, as an unique and rigorous play of materialism, mysticism and humanism. In this DISSENT ! session Pedro Costa will use fragments from Où gît votre sourire enfoui? (2001), his portrait of Straub-Huillet, to discuss the ethics and politics underpinning their work. In the words of Jean-Marie Straub: “no political film without morals, no political film without theology, no political film without mystique.”
Figures of Dissent: Eyal Sivan
KASKcinema, Gent, 13 December 2012
How to portray perpetrators? Why are so few documentaries dealing with the representation of those who seem to place so little value on humanity: warlords, hangmen, executioners, personifications of “absolute evil”? Is the documentary form, as Jean-Luc Godard once suggested, then the de facto domain of their counter-image: the victims? These are some of the questions that filmmaker Eyal Sivan (Israel, 1964) wrestles with, most explicitly in The Specialist (1999), his examination of the infamous trial of Adolf Eichmann. The film, inspired by Hannah Arendt’s controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem, report on the banality of evil and written in cooperation with Rony Brauman, is drawn from 350 hours of recordings bearing witness to the trial of one of the architects of the Holocaust, a man who has been depicted as a blood thirsty maniac but who came across as a bland bureaucrat, disconcerting in his banality. In the words of Arendt: “this normality was more frightening than all the atrocities together”. However, Sivan and Brauman are not as interested in the psychology of the accused as they are in the mechanism of justification of his crimes. “We have done nothing more than expose, in the form of a indictment, Eichmann’s defensive position”, is what they wrote in Éloge de la désobéissance, the booklet that accompanies the film. Thus the film offers a cutting insight into a system that is effectively predicated on denial and disculpation – “when everyone is guilty, nobody is” (Arendt). But Sivan also insinuates that the regime of justification does not only apply to the history of the genocide of the Jews in Europe but also to the history of the state of Israel. Are the Palestinians, as Edward Said asserted, not “the victims of the victims”?
DISSENT ! Eyal Sivan
Argos, Brussels, 12 December 2012
“Shot and counter shot do not imply any form of similarity or equality but they pose a question.” According to Jean-Luc Godard, montage, as the essence of cinema, does not solely consist of putting one image in juxtaposition or in opposition to another or to draw together heterogeneous elements; its purpose is rather to create a space of thought in which the possibility exists that one reality inhabits another. This stance also characterises Godard’s approach to two recurrent themes that form a constant thread throughout his oeuvre: the Jewish question and the Palestinian question. The Jewish issue AND the Palestinian issue, Jew AND Muslim: bringing up these connections promptly instigate criticism and discord. This “forbidden montage” is the central theme of the eponymous online project (montageinterdit.net) developed by documentary filmmaker Eyal Sivan. The project aims to generate critical reflections on montage and its possible meanings within a political debate. According to Sivan, by using a databank of fragments from Godard’s work, the project seeks to “show that the islamophobia and racism now spreading through Europe have their roots in the Jewish question and antisemitism”. In this DISSENT! session Sivan discusses what this “forbidden montage” amounts to. What does it mean to bring two elements together and weigh one up against the other with the aid of a montage as, dixit Godard, “the scales of justice”?
DISSENT ! Olivier Assayas & Eric de Bruyn
Argos, Brussels, 22 November 2012
What does one of the most celebrated film makers of the post-Nouvelle Vague generation have in common with Situationist International’s erstwhile figurehead? One was just thirteen during the uprising of May 1968, while the other is considered one of its driving forces. It was not until later, enthused by the echo of this revolutionary experience and the wave of the 70s counter-culture, that Olivier Assayas turned to the work of Guy Debord, which he continues to treasure to this day as “the only place where I have always felt life, resistance and history intact”. About this prominent period, Assayas published in 2005 the booklet Une adolescence dans l’apres mai, which also served as a blueprint for his latest film, Après Mai. Assayas mentions in his text, written as a letter to Debord’s widow, the desperation of his generation, the collapse of the left, the advance of globalisation and mediatisation, the tyranny of a consensus society, and in stark contrast to all of this, Debord’s unremitting poetry of resistance: “he tells us that soon it will be too late. That lost opportunities do not present themselves again. But also that thought can shake up the city. Not only has he said so, he has done so and set an example; so that everyone, deep down, knows that it can be done.” In this first DISSENT ! session, Assayas enters into dialogue with art historian Eric de Bruyn, about Debord’s lasting influence, not least in the shape of his films, which Assayas managed to rescue from obscurity a few years ago. What contemporary resonance does Debord’s work have? And how can his films inspire a cinema about, and of, today?
Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema
series of talks, in collaboration with Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, with support of VGC.
In the context of the research project “Figures of Dissent (Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema)” (School of Arts / HoGent)
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.
Beursschouwburg, Brussels, 31 October 2012
“A seriousness that fails”: this is how Susan Sontag described the essence of “camp”, this transient mixture of excess, fantasy, passion and naivety that has taken up a distinctive place in the cultural firmament since the 1960’s. Andy Warhol, who emphatically responded to this trend with his film Camp (1965), saw it differently: he was rather interested in the idea of failure itself, a failure that has to be taken seriously. After all the majority of Warhol’s films consists of observations of people in and as image, who in all their fallibility reveal a genuine authenticity and startling vulnerability. Two characters who play lead roles in Camp also take up a central place in this film programme: Paul Swan and Jack Smith. Warhol’s self-titled portrait of Swan, a dancer and actor who was once lauded as the “most beautiful man in the world” is an as ruthless as affectionate observation of a man who alternately falls in and out of the role of his lifetime. The area of tension between playing and being, playful fantasy and harsh reality, is also the arena of Jack Smith, the “enfant terrible” of the post war American underground scene. The early films Smith made in collaboration with his then confidant Ken Jacobs manifest a brutal beauty and audacious hedonism, unleashing a bewildering vitality not despite but because of their deliberate “trash” esthetics. Between innocence and nonsense, order and disorder, catastrophe and utopia: what the films in this programme have in common, are forms of expression that thrive in relation to their own failing.
With film works by Andy Warhol, Ken Jacobs, Jack Smith
Figures of Dissent: Glauber Rocha
KASKcinema, Gent, 25 October 2012
“Like nothing known to man. A torrential, hallucinatory film. A filmic UFO, no more, no less…” Serge Daney’s description of Glauber Rocha’s very last film is right on the nose: A Idada Da Terra is, just as the whole of Rocha’s oeuvre, made in the image of his much loved Brazil, that extravagant nation with its “verbose, loquacious, energetic, sterile and hysterical people”. The result is a boundless cinema-opera as radical alternative to the domineering American operetta, a dissonant anti-symphony as final convulsion of the tricontinental dream. At the same time the film can be considered as Rocha’s response to the Mexican adventures of Eisenstein, his shining example, whose well-intended attempts to translate the “Third World” in esthetic terms was for him essentially the same “as taking the word of God (and the interests of the conquistadors) to the Indians”. Or still: as a rectification of the evangelic interpretations of Pasolini, his discordant brother in arms, whose Oedipal Christ is here displaced with a more militant one, “a new, primitive phenomenum, in a very new civilization”. Catholic rituals and Afro-Indian gods, rural mysticism and revolutionary politics, Brahms and Villa-Lobos: the work of Glauber Rocha, angel-demon of the Brazilian “Cinema Novo”, defies every attempt at unequivocal classification or definition. In the light of overbearing repression, hypocrisy and consensus there is no place for evasive proposals: “the worst enemy of revolutionary art is its mediocrity”.
Occupation: Handsworth Songs
Khiasma, Paris (FR), 11 May 2012
Black Audio Film Collective was a British collective of filmmakers active in the 1980’s and 1990’s who expressed their radical views on the post-colonial decline of the imperialistic world order, the disastrous socio-economic effects of Thatcher’s doctrine and the meaning of the diasporic condition in an evenly radical way. Handsworth Songs explores the origins of the riots in the Birmingham district of Handsworth, where the local black community rose against a political policy that they considered as a return to colonialism. In contrast with the didactic panoptic impulse of the documentary film tradition, filmmaker John Akomfrah chose an open, polytonic structure where eye-witness accounts, mediated voice-overs and a mosaic of sound, intersperse with a poetic montage of archive footage. The inherent historical discourses are dismantled, and in result the impressions of the past gain a new place in the constellation of the present, as a promise to the future. “There are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of other stories”.
Stardust and Shadows
Recent Re-animations by Janie Geiser and Lewis Klahr
Le Vecteur, Charlerloi (BE), 21 May 2012.
Memory is always a work of fiction, a construction of a relationship between different spaces and times, between seeing and meaning, perception and recollection. What better way to explore and mime the processes of memory than re-animating the discards of contemporary life – images, illustrations, objects, words and sounds – into narratives that feel like vivid dreams of forgotten realms, reflecting pools of evaporating time? Janie Geiser and Lewis Klahr are, each in their own way, masters in assembling collages of forsaken remnants of the past, weaving together enigmatic constellations of modern hieroglyphics that require to be deciphered with a mode of seeing that relies on touch and feel, rather than a purely optical reading. Their films can be considered as what Tom Gunning once called “submerged narratives”, in which “plots stir just beneath the threshold of perceptibility.” Hovering between dream vision and memory feedback, past and present, these subliminal stories shape experiences that are both deeply personal and broadly collective, all of our desires, obsessions, aspirations and failures inextricably tied to the images and objects drifting in the wastelands of our consumer culture. This program offers several recent works from Lewis Klahr’s series of “Couplets”, organized “around the pairing of various pop songs and the theme of romantic love”, as well as Janie Geiser’s series of “Nervous” films, as allusive as elusive explorations of “the nervous energy and the world we live in now”.
Figures of Dissent: Johan Van der Keuken
KASKcinema, Gent, 3 May 2012
According to the late Serge Daney the idea of “Unequal exhange” is what defines the work of Johan Van der Keuken (1938-2001), form as well as content: the ever unequal exhange between filming and being filmed, between one image and another, but also between here and there, between those who belong and those who are left out. The “gliding Dutchman”, as Daney used to call Van der Keuken, always had an eye for the economical and ecological aberrations of the capitalist world order, not in the least regarding the relation between “North” and “South”. In the so-called North-South triptych (Diary, The White Castle and The New Ice-age, 1973-1974) he showed how the current global system of inequality and exploitation holds different worlds, which are still inseparably linked. This idea is also central to The Way South, which is in more than one way his most direct film. It is the account of a journey from North to South, from Amsterdam, his hometown, to Caïro, where he literally and figuratively looses the North; but is also a chronicle of migration, of people who see their own lives reflected in that of others, always elsewhere. Van der Keuken records his impressions and encounters with an eye as a scalpel: sharp and precise, but also fragile and pure, always conscious of the tension between a look and the world, between those filming and those being filmed. It is this consciousness, and rendering it visible, that forms the true political stake of Van der Keuken’s work: every exchange is unequal.
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2012 (Gent, 21 – 25 March 2012)
A series of revisitations and reverberations: dialogues between then and now, between different generations and traditions, exploring ways of seeing and thinking cinema, politics, documentary and ethnography.
With works by Robert Gardner, Robert Fenz, Thomas Harlan, José Filipe Costa, Eric Baudelaire, Philippe Grandrieux.
ARTISTS IN FOCUS: Sandra Gibson & Luis Recoder
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2012 (Gent, 21 – 25 March 2012)
Even though the often announced death of cinema may well be an overstatement, film seems irrevocably doomed. Nevertheless, or because of that reason precisely, a number of artists and filmmakers continue to stubbornly hang on to the film medium, as an inexhaustible source for magic and wonder. With their groundbreaking excursions into the realm of so-called “expanded cinema” Sandra Gibson (US, 1968) and Luis Recoder (US, 1971) have emerged as two of the most inspired and inventive film acolytes of their generation. Since their first meeting in 2000 they have been producing numerous installations and performances that make full use of the optical and mechanical qualities of film projection. Using 16mm and 35mm projectors, celluloid strips, deviating lenses and manual interventions they create elusive and hypnotic light sculptures, which transform the projection room into a sensual three dimensional experience. During the Courtisane Festival they will present their new performance as well as some installation works and a film programme that pays homage to the work of one of their principal “teachers”, Paul Sharits.
ARTISTS IN FOCUS: Ben Russell & Ben Rivers
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2012 (Gent, 21 – 25 March 2012)
Ben Rivers (UK, 1972) and Ben Russell (US, 1976) are not unkown to the Courtisane public: their individual work has been shown on many occasions at the festival. Longtime friends, they are currently working together on the film A Spell To Ward Off the Darkness, which has provided them with the perfect alibi for a series of side projects, including the installation and someday, somehow, before the end which will premiere at Courtisane. In a spirit heir to the postwar avant-garde cinema, they both use 16mm film as their medium of choice, sharing many other common interests and concerns, from counter-culture and anthropology to a fascination with the mystical and the utopian. This fertile combination is at the centre of their film work, a selfproclaimed “participatory etnography” which examines the possibility of a spiritual existence in response to a world that increasingly seems to draw closer to the secular. During the festival these themes and questions will serve as guidelines for a diverse range of public events, including an exhibition, an evening of performances and two screening programmes which Ben and Ben have set up in dialogue with each other’s work.
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Philippe Grandrieux
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2012 (Gent, 21 – 25 March 2012). Additional screenings at INSAS (Brussels) on March 26.
Cinema as a sensual experience: this understanding is the basis of the extraordinary work of Philippe Grandrieux (FR, 1954). The French filmmaker, who studied at INSAS in Brussels, has made quite an impression during the past decade with feature films such as Sombre (1998) and La Vie Nouvelle (2002), but his idiosyncratic oeuvre also includes documentaries and video art works, many of which have never been shown in Belgium before. His cinematic vision is clearly inspired by the modernist ideas of artists such as Antonin Artaud and Jean Epstein, who saw in cinema the potential to grasp the essential power and brutal beauty of reality. As very few have, Grandrieux succeeds in inscribing the most archaic and primitive sensations in the materiality of the medium. This is a cinema that vibrates and shimmers: cinematic space is transformed into a plastic mass of light, sound, colour and movement, in which form and content, figure and ground, body and matter, the abstract and the figurative fuse. At the occasion of the festival, an extensive selection of his work will be shown in Ghent and Brussels, including the first part of the film series “Il se peut que la beaute ait renforce notre resolution”, which celebrates filmmakers who in the course of the last century dedicated their work and life to resistance and emancipation.
Figures of Dissent: Thomas Harlan
KASKcinema, Gent, 16 February 2012 & during Courtisane Festival 2012
“I am the son of my parents. That is a disaster. It has determined me”, declares writer, playwright and filmmaker Thomas Harlan (1929-2010) in the interview book ‘Hitler war meine Mitgift’. Harlan, who grew up in Nazi-Germany, once shared a table with Adolf Hitler, accompanied by both of his parents, actress Hilde Körber and filmmaker Veit Harlan, the director of the infamous anti-Semitic propaganda film Jud Süß. It is a heritage that he could never get rid of: the appalled son would take upon himself the sins of his repentless father. His whole life Harlan would strive for truth as the only possible justice: he spent years in the Polish archives, looking for proofs of German war crimes; in Rome he joined the radical leftist group “La Lotta Continue” and travelled to wherever the spirit of revolt and revolution emerged. In 1975 Harlan was in Portugal where, in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution, various movements of resistance and initiatives of land occupation were developing. That is where he shot his first film, a documentary about the occupation of the Torre Bela estate, which according to critic Serge Daney represents a condensation of “all the key ideas – materialised, embodied – of political and theoretical leftism from the past decade”. His following film project started as a reaction to the “German Autumn” of 1977. Wundkanal explores the relation between the events in the Stammheim prison, where several members of the RAF died in suspicious circumstances, and the logic of Nazi terror. The shooting of the film, in which war criminal Alfred Filbert played a hardly fictionalized version of himself, appears in Robert Kramer’s documentary Notre Nazi, revealing a staggering portrait of a filmmaker who, in an attempt to come to terms with his past, takes on the methods of the enemy and in doing so becomes his own worst enemy; and thus an old sin is replaced by a new one.
with works by Thomas Harlan, Robert Kramer, José Filipe Costa.
Laida Lertxundi: Films & Influences
Art Cinema OFFoff , Gent, 13 February 2012
Courtisane is proud to present for the first time in Belgium a survey of the work of Laida Lertxundi (ES, 1981), one of the most talented young filmmakers working in the tradition of the avant-garde today. Lertxundi makes 16mm films with non-actors often shot within and around Los Angeles, where she’s been living for a number of years. Her films evoke external and internal spaces of intimacy, questioning how viewers’ desires and expectations are shaped by cinematic forms of storytelling, and searching for alternative ways of linking sound and music with found parameters, constructed situations and everyday environments. In recent years her work has been widely shown at festivals and venues such as MoMa, LACMA, the Viennale, the Rotterdam International Film Festival or the BFI London Film Festival. After having screened Cry When It Happens last year in the competition programme, Courtisane will once again showcase Lertxundi’s work during the coming Courtisane festival (21-25 March 2012), with the screening of her latest short film, A Lax Riddle Unit, which premiered last October at Views of the Avant-Garde during the New York Film Festival. As a prologue to this year’s festival, Courtisane will present at OFFoff four films by Lertxundi together with a selection of works by other filmmakers that have inspired her practice.
Drawn From Life
Online Exhibition for Animate Projects.
With works by Till Roekens, Sarah Wood and Dominique Dubosc.
Figures of Dissent: Jean Genet
KASKcinema, Gent, 24 November 2011.
Orphan, prisoner, deserter, vagabond, writer, dramaturge, one-time filmmaker and overall poet : the life and work of Jean Genet (1910-1986) resists easy classifications. But if there is a constant characteristic in his unorthodox trajectory, it is an ever-moving feeling of resistance and rebellion. “Obviously I am drawn to peoples in revolt”, he says in an interview in the early 1980’s, “because I myself have the need to call the whole of society into question.” From his first novel, that would earn him the respect and recognition of the likes of Cocteau, Sartre, de Beauvoir and Breton, he manifests a profound aversion towards all forms of social consensus, as well as a deeply felt affection for those who do not “belong”. And yet, it wasn’t until Les Paravents, the closing chapter of a series of theatre plays that he wrote between 1950 and 1960, that Genet would – be it implicitly – take sides with a political resistance movement: the Algerian independence fighters. A few years later he would write a tribute to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the protagonists of May 1968, and protest against the inhumane living conditions of immigrants in France. In 1970 he travelled clandestinely to the United States where he supported the cause of the Black Panther Party. That same year he visited for the first time Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, where he would remain intermittently until 1972. When he returned ten years later, he was confronted with the terrible consequences of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Genet would be one of first Westerners to witness the aftermath of the blood bath perpetrated at the Shatila camp by the Lebanese Phalangist Militia, with the tacit approval of the Israeli government. His Palestinian experiences are recounted in the essay Quatre heures à Chatila (”Four Hours in Shatila”) and in his posthumous novel Un Captif Amoureux (“Prisoner of Love”). He writes: “All these words to say, this is my Palestinian revolution, told in my chosen order. As well as mine, there is the other, probably many others. Trying to think the revolution is like waking up and trying to see the logic in a dream.” During the past two decades since he passed away, his writings have only gained more force. Two documentaries gauge the resonance of his work in the light of the continuous ghettoisation of Palestine.
with works by Richard Dindo and The Otolith Group
Figures of Dissent: Masao Adachi
KASKcinema, Gent, 23 November 2011.
“The revolution has been continuously my theme. Main subject” says Masao Adachi (born 1939). “People Said: Revolutionary Cinema. I said: No. It’s Cinema for Revolution.” Of all the filmmakers that would be inspired by the spirit of resistance and utopia of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Adachi is without a doubt the most radically and perseveringly militant. Armed with a camera or with a gun: it made no difference to him. To him, both weapons served as possible intervention tools in the fight against political and social oppression. It is not accidental that his first films were made under the auspices of the Japanese student movements that were born after WWII against what were regarded as antidemocratic and neo-colonial policies (particularly in relation to the USA). With his surrealistically tinted and politically provoking experiments he inscribed himself rapidly as part of the so called “new wave” currents that shook Japanese culture of the time. In that context he collaborated with the likes of Nagisa Oshima and especially Kôji Wakamatsu, with whom he would inject the erotically charged “pink cinema” genre with a lively dose of anarchism. Resulting in controversial works such as Seiyûgi (Sex Game, 1968) and Jogakusei gerira (Female Student Guerillas, 1969), these experiences taught Adachi the basic rules of guerrilla-style filmmaking: fast and cheap. In 1971, after visiting the Cannes Film Festival, Wakamatsu and Adachi travelled to Lebanon, where they would film Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army / PFLP: Declaration of World War), a propaganda film in support of the Arab fight against Isreali occupation. In 1974 Adachi returned to Pastine, with the idea of making a second film. He would end up staying 26 years, at the service of the Palestinian cause. In 1997, under the pressure of the Japanese authorities, he was incarcerated in Beirut. He was extradited to his country three years later, where he remained in prison for two more years. Once free, Adachi gave the account of his experiences in a series of autobiographical publications as well as a new film – his first in more than thirty years : Yûheisha – Terorisuto (Prisoner/Terrorist, 2006). Today Adachi’s activist thought resonates with more force than ever, as show the number of screenings and retrospectives that have been organised around the world in recent years. Perhaps the most beautiful homage is the one that French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux pays to his work in a recent cinematographic portrait.
with works by Masao Adachi & Koji Wakamatsu and Philippe Grandrieux
Figures of Speech
What happens when the conventional angle of vision is displaced, the prevailing forms of identification challenged, the certainties of time and place undone? What is awoken is the capability in each of us to become a foreigner in the arrangement of places and paths we generally call “reality”. What opens up is a space where all speech is understood as voice, where every expression counts as an utterance.
with works by Neil Beloufa, Pedro Costa, Mati Diop, Tomas Ochoa & Andriana Meyer
Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia
October – November 2011
How to write about cinema today? “For whom? Against whom?” wondered French critic Serge Daney in a fervent 1974 plea for the rethinking of the critical function of Cahiers du Cinéma at the time. For the late Daney, beyond all possible aesthetic criteria and related ways of assessment, film criticism always implied an intervention in the political or ideological arena. From this point of view, it is not enough to simply explain what is being told in a film – a tendency in most contemporary film criticism – it is at least as important to lay bare where, how and by whom it is told. With his emphasis on the ethical dimension of cinema, Daney was explicitly following the footprints of the cinephilic tradition, based on the idea that each cinematographic work represents a voice and a standpoint, a vision of the world that at the same time legitimises and organises the work. This is the critical guideline that Daney, self-proclaimed “ciné-fils”, would follow his whole life, from the glorious days of the “Cahiers Jaunes” in the 1960’s, through the political and social deadlocks of the 1970’s, to the confrontation with the expansion of television and information in the 1980-90’s. Today, almost two decades after his death, a question resonates unrelentingly: where to find the “critical function” Serge Daney devoted his life and work to ? What is left of the cinephilic thought, now that the way we understand and experience cinema has undergone such fundamental transformations? In other words, what does the contemporary cinephile stand and fight for in the post-cinematographic era?
With Dana Linssen, Adrian Martin, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Jacques Rancière, Pieter van Bogaert
KASKcinema, Gent, every first Wednesday of the month, starting from October 2011.
In a time when YouTube videos compete for the longest duration, digital technologies have erased all restrictions in regards to the length of filming and the term “slow cinema” has gradually gained acceptance in film jargon, traditional film exhibitors remain obstinately attached to conventional formats. There is no mercy for film works that exceed the three-hour limit: they are doomed to a straight-to-video career (or rather, straight-to-internet). That is, if they don’t find a place as a series on a generous television channel. And yet film history is full of examples of epic cinematographic works that have dared to take all the time they need. Take Jacques Rivette’s 12-hour-long Out 1 (1971), for a long time considered the most “invisible” (because “unscreenable”) masterpiece of contemporary cinema. Or Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s acclaimed Hitler – ein Film aus Deutschland (1977, 430’), which the late Susan Sontag once described as one of the biggest art works of the 20th century; or yet another example: Patricio Guzmán’s chronicle of the socialist revolution in Chile, La Batalla de Chile (1979, 270’), without a doubt a monument of political cinema. The list is endless; just recently the eXtra Long works of Lav Diaz, Wang Bing and Olivier Assayas have left an indelible impression. Courtisane and KASKcinema have decided to join forces in order to offer a unique opportunity to see these and many other works as they should be seen, on the big screen, in their full length. Every first Wednesday of the month. Bring a snack, we will provide the coffee!
Looking outward, Looking inward
New audiovisual essays from Belgium
KASKcinema, 28-29 September 2011.
For the opening of the new film season at KASK Cinema, Courtisane is proud to present two evenings of recent films and videos by five young Belgium-based artists whose previous work has been screened at the Courtisane Festival in recent years, including the avant-premiere of Viva Paradise by the twice Courtisane winner (in 2008 and 2010) Isabelle Tollenaere and the Flemish premiere of Sung-A Yoon’s first feature-length documentary film Full of Missing Links. Looking ‘outwards’, the four films transport us to Tunisia, Cyprus, Israel and Korea, proposing personal variations on the form of the audiovisual essay.
with works by Sirah Foighel Brutmann & Eitan Efrat, Pieter Geenen, Isabelle Tollenaere, Sung-A Yoon
25 June – 11 September 2011, Oostende
with works by Pieter Geenen, Jasper Rigole, Ief Spincemaille, Sung-A Yoon and others.
Figures of Dissent: Pier Paolo Pasolini
KASKcinema, Gent, 8-9 June 2011.
The death of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975), as Serge Daney once suggested, marked the end of an era: a certain history of cinema seemed to tiredly come to a halt. Cinema understood as a communal place where to come together and disagree, as an open space for exploration and confrontation (mise-en-scène as well as mise-en-crise) is no more – or at least no longer with the scope of former days. However, the critical and polemical tone that once indicated the vitality of the seventh art has always continued to resonate in Pasolini’s work. Today, in the grooves of the 21st century, his voice appears to resound with the same vigor of old, when he sent cold shivers to the world of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The recent wave of retrospectives, restorations, updates and reprises proves how strongly the countertone of Pasolini – filmmaker, poet, author and true dissenter at heart – is to be missed more than ever before in today’s consensual times. Pasolini’s self proclaimed role, in the words of art critic Guy Scarpetta “was to subvert conceptions of the dominant world, to explore all that is not said by conventional representations, to uncover all that is repressed in the social and cultural consensus.” This programme celebrates his outspokenly rebellious character with the screening of two rarely shown and recently restored documentaries by Pasolini, as well as works by two contemporary artists who each in their own way reinvigorate his legacy: Alfredo Jaar and Ayreen Anastas.
with works by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alfredo Jaar, Ayreen Anastas
21-29 May 2011, Zürich (CH)
In the context of a special focus on “guest city” Brussels, Courtisane presents four programmes of Belgian works. Curated by Stoffel Debuysere & Maria Palacios Cruz.
With works by Florence Aigner & Laurent Van Lancker, Chantal Akerman, Herman Asselberghs, Sven Augustijnen, Edmond Bernhard, Manon de Boer, Charles Dekeukeleire, Pieter Geenen, Johan Grimonprez, Annik Leroy, Vincent Meessen, Pieter-Paul Mortier, Els Opsomer, Eric Pauwels, Olivier Smolders & Thierry Knauff, Henri Storck, Sarah Vanagt,
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Robert Beavers
Courtisane & Cinematek. Gent & Brussels, 3 – 9 April 2011
Robert Beavers (1949, Brookline, Massachusetts) is one of the most influential avant-garde filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century. Although born and raised in the United States, he has been living and making films in Europe since 1967. His 16mm films, at the same time lyrical and rigorous, sensuous and complex, are inhabited by the landscapes, the architecture and the cultural traditions of the Mediterranean and Alpine cities and countryside where they are filmed, and yet reveal deeper personal and aesthetic themes. As he acknowledges himself, he strives “for the projected film image to have the same force of awakening sight as any other great image.” He regards filming as part of a complex procedure, which begins in the eyes of the filmmaker and is shaped by his gestures in relation to the camera. Beavers’s attention to the physicality of the film medium is evident also in the editing, a fully manual process that leads to a unique form of phrasing. Harry Tomicek calls it a form of “cinematic breathing”: “an exchange of speech and silence, emergence and concealment. Robert Beavers might be the only filmmaker in the world whose works announce the mystery of this process.”
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Robert Fenz
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2011 (Gent, 30 March – 3 April 2011).
With performance By Wadada Leo Smith
Robert Fenz (1969, Ann Arbor, Michigan) is one of the most singular and committed filmmakers breathing new life to avant-garde film traditions today. Fenz’s films, mostly shot in black and white 16mm, have a rare energy and restless beauty that recalls both the jazz-inspired imagery of New York School photographers such as Roy DeCarava, but also the landscape films of one of Fenz’s former teachers, Peter Hutton, and the documentary work of Johan van der Keuken and Chantal Akerman, some of whose recent film works have actually been shot by Fenz himself. His films are personal and poetic portraits of people and places he encountered during his many travels in countries such as in Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and India. “Though they can be viewed as non-fiction works, objectivity is not one of their pretences. Images not words are central and the primary means by which their ideas are articulated. In each case, meaning is determined by three factors, ‘intention, circumstance and chance’ ingredients filmmaker Robert Gardner describes as central to the making of a non-fiction film.” Fenz’s attitude towards filmmaking has also been greatly influenced by jazz improvisation, especially by the work of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, under whom he studied. “Studying music with Leo reinforced my belief that I needed to go into the world with an idea – do research on a subject and arrive at a place where I would be prepared to adapt and change the film completely, in the moment”. The most celebrated result of this approach is Meditations on Revolution, a series of five films made over seven years (1997-2003), exploring the basic theme of revolution in its purest qualities: the revolution inscribed in rural and urban spaces, steeped in hollowed and smiling faces, dancing on the rhythms of a world in constant transition. Robert Fenz has just completed one new film which will have its European premiere at the festival: The Sole of the Foot.
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Sylvain George
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2011 (Gent, 30 March – 3 April 2011).
With performance By William Parker
Sylvain George (1968, Vaulx-en-Velin, France) studied philosophy and worked as a social worker until he turned to filmmaking in 2004. His work, influenced greatly by the thinking of Walter Benjamin, combines militant commitment with formal experiment. “The idea”, he says, “is to make films that take a stand and assert a political position, and at the same time not to separate content from form; to be formally demanding and to manage to define an own view and grammar as a filmmaker.” Far away from any form of didacticism or dogmatism, his films – from short “contre feux” filmed with a mobile phone to elaborate feature-length documentaries – depict and allegorise the struggles of the “nouveaux damnés”, trapped between the rule and the exception: the stateless, the clandestine, the precarious. His most recent work, the impressive Qu’ils reposent en révolte (des figures de guerre), gives an account of the living conditions of migrants in Calais over a period of three years (2007-2010). “Politically speaking, it is about standing up, contesting these grey zones, these spaces or cracks like Calais standing somewhere between the exception and the rule, beyond the scope of law, where law is suspended, where individuals are deprived, stripped off their most fundamental rights. And that while creating, through some dialectic reversal, the ‘true’ exceptional states. Space-time continuums where beings and things are fully restored to what they were, are, will be, could be or could have been”. Rebellion and emancipation are at the heart of George’s films, which find true politics in the gestures, cries and bodies of those who are within the dominant socio-economical order considered as “surplus”: Included, but not belonging.
Here We Are Now
To what extent can we still make a difference between “public” and “private”? According to philosopher Jean Baudrillard, “the one is no longer a spectacle, the other no longer a secret”. Now that the most intimate details of our lives are thoughtlessly shared on the internet and the media, in order to feed an endless, compulsive loop of information, participation and circulation, it seems like ever more constraints and obstacles are being annulled. Surrounded and obsessed by a world of images, overcome by a gnawing insecurity, we submit ourselves to a regime of ultimate visibility. We are well aware of being seen, followed and remembered, but that is precisely what pushes us to all kinds of forms of disclosure, confession and “selfploitation”. The mediatised gaze of the other, at the same time disturbing and stimulating in its elusiveness and omnipresence, has become the paramount point of reference for our obsessive search for identity and belonging. We show ourselves in order to become ourselves, while we irrevocably disappear behind our images. The uncanny transit zone where intimacy merges into transparency is the central theme of this programme. Four recent video works, each in their own way, explore the contemporary conjunction of media and subjectivity, in which it seems no longer possible to maintain an unequivocal relationship between watching and showing, subject and object, seeing and being seen.
With works by Mohamed Bourouissa, Olivia Rochette & Gerard-Jan Claes, Ruti Sela & Maayan Amir, Shelly Silver
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Paul Clipson
Live soundtrack by Ignatz & Paul Labrecque
25 September 2010, Palais des Beaux-Arts / Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Brussels. Organized by Courtisane & Bozar Cinema.
The elegantly ravishing super 8 films of Paul Clipson (US) are lyrical explorations of light and movement. His images, mostly edited in-camera, reveal the rhythms, energy and sensuality of the everyday that we often fail to see. The influence of experimental filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Marie Menken, Bruce Conner and Bruce Baillie is palpable in his multi-layered studies, as well as that of the many sound artists and musicians with whom he has collaborated over the years, such as Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Gregg Kowalsky and William Fowler Collins. For this occasion, a selection of his recent film work will be accompanied live for the first time by Bram Devens (alias Ignatz, BE) and Paul Labrecque (alias Head of Wantastiquet, Sunburned Hand of the Man, US). Both musicians draw their exorcising sound explorations from the tradition of “American Primitivism”, where the dreaded, uncompromising ghost of John Fahey dwells.
Courtisane Festival 2010. Gent, 17 – 21 March 2010.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and María Palacios Cruz.
What is meaning? And how do we know when meaning takes place? We know that we can read something, or that we are being spoken to, but what if the words find no resonance? What if text becomes an unpronounceable image? How to decode language without symbols, music without sounds, gestures without verbalisation? We live in world of signs, and yet we don’t often interrogate the processes of conveying and creating meaning through which we define our own existence. Each in their own way, the films and videos in this programme analyse and deconstruct those processes, exploring the limits of human communication. Combining historical and recent works, Vital Signs examines the connections and tensions between significance and representation, communication and understanding, meaningless and meaningful – the “spaces between” where meaning breaks though the outer form in which it’s bound up. Gestures to be heard, images to be read, sounds to be deciphered.
With works by Paul Abbott, Sven Augustijnen, Robert Beavers, Manon de Boer, Keewatin Dewdney, David Gatten, Jacqueline Goss, Gary Hill, Pavel Medvedev, Yvonne Rainer, Kathrin Resetarits, Peter Rose, Anri Sala, Paul Sharits, Guy Sherwin, John Smith, Imogen Stidworthy, Peter Sulyi, Katarina Zdjelar
ARTIST IN FOCUS: David O’Reilly
Wednesday 17 March 2010, Cinema Sphinx, Gent.
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2010 (Gent, 17 – 21 March 2010). KASK lecture on 16 March (in cooperation with KASK)
David O’Reilly (EI, 1985) is without a doubt one of the rising stars in the animation firmament. Based in Berlin, he evenly divides his valuable energy between commercial work (for, among others, music acts such as U2 and M.I.A.) and utterly personal experimentations which recklessly exploit the potential of 3D computer animation. He regards this medium as a Pandora box which was just recently opened and still needs to be examined. His work primarily explores the creative free zones where the pixels on the screen swing between abstraction and representation, between artifact and image, resulting in a highly original universe that brings together an outspoken artificial form with an emotional impact. “We should forget everything about the idea of right or wrong, of beauty and ugliness, and focus on the idea of coherence.” His “turbodrama” Please Say Something was awarded a Golden Bear at the Berlinale 2009.
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Morgan Fisher
Saturday 20 March 2010, Film Plateau, Gent.
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2010 (Gent, 17 – 21 March 2010). HISK Masterclass on 22 March (in cooperation with HISK and KASK)
Morgan Fisher (US, 1942) examines and deconstructs with wry humour the machinery of cinema in his 16mm films, operating within the unlikely triangle of avant-garde cinema, film industry and contemporary art, only possible in a city like Los Angeles. Fisher’s films are an exploration of the film apparatus and its physical material, as well as of moviemaking production methods : from film’s standard gauge (35mm) to the use of production stills, the narrative role of inserts and the invisible importance of the projectionist. ”One thing my films tend to do is examine a property or quality of a film in a radical way,” he says. “Being radical is a modest form of being extreme. They each examine an axiom of cinema and say, ‘What if ?’”. Fisher, who counts among his influences the work of artists such as Sol LeWitt, Marcel Duchamp and Ad Reinhardt, uses avant-garde procedures in order to comment on mainstream cinema; as a result his work was marginalised for a long time for not fitting too neatly into any of the usual avant-garde categories. Too concerned with the specifics of industry procedures for the underground; too minimal and conceptual for Hollywood’s taste. In recent years, his film work is finally getting the recognition it deserves, following retrospective programmes at the Whitney Museum and Tate Modern.
ARTIST IN FOCUS: David Gatten
Sunday 21 March 2010, Film Plateau, Gent.
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2010 (Gent, 17 – 21 March 2010)
For the past fifteen years American filmmaker David Gatten (US, 1971) has conducted a conscientious filmic investigation of the intersections between text and image, representation and abstraction, the emotional and intellectual. Using traditional research methods as well as experimental film processes he delves into the annals of private lives and public histories, in search for a cinematographic synthesis of biography, philosophy and poetry. His silent, handmade and rigorously structured films betray a certain influence of avant-garde filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton, but at the same time reveal a strong personal identity, driven both by theoretical and spiritual considerations. Based on the writings of the same title by William Byrd’s family in 18th-century Virginia, the series Secret History of the Dividing Line forms the core of his oeuvre. The handsome results of his search are, in his own words, “bookish films about letters and libraries and lovers and ghosts that are filled with words, some of which you can read.”
An evening on… Frictions
Friday 19 March 2010, Vooruit, Gent.
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2010 (Gent, 17 – 21 March 2010)
What happens when, before our eyes and ears, an event unfolds in time without simple representation, causality or possibility of identification? We are thrown back upon ourselves, upon the power of our imagination to create mental images. The real is brought back to the possible. In this series of works, most points of reference and information have been reduced to the minimum, as if the outside was folded inside. It’s up to us to break through the surface, to put our imagination to work, to search for connections, to discover what it all can mean…
with Paul Abbott, Seymour Wright & Ross Lambert, Karen Mirza, Brad Butler & David Cunningham, Dominique Petitgand, Lis Rhodes
An evening on… Illuminating Darkness
Thursday 20 March 2010, Vooruit, Gent.
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2010 (Gent, 17 – 21 March 2010)
The night is not a black mass that blinds our sight. It’s not a substance, but an event, pure depth that surrounds and swallows us, infiltrating us through our senses. In the dark hours when we must sharpen our eyes and ears, when night comes to life, nothing seems what it is. This programme presents a series of performances, films and an installation which attempt to capture this event in all its obscurity, somewhere between light and darkness, visible and invisible, seeing the night and seeing in the night.
with Paul Clipson & William Fowler Collins, Pieter Geenen, Phantom Limb & Earth’s Hypnagogia, Disinformation, Deborah Stratman, Jeanne Liotta.
Video Vortex, Edition V
20 – 21 November 2009. Atomium, Brussels.
In the Context of Cimatics Festival 2009.
Two years after its first edition, Video Vortex returns to Brussels, this time hosted in one of the great icons of mid 20th century modern architecture: the Atomium. During these past two years, the conference series – which focuses on the status and potential of the moving image on the Internet – has visited Amsterdam, Ankara and Split, growing out into an organised network of organisations and individuals. Time for an interim report, perhaps. We asked some participants of the first Video Vortex editions and publication, as well as new ones, to reflect on recent developments in online video culture. Over the past years the place of the moving image on the Internet has become increasingly prominent. With a wide range of technologies and web applications within anyone’s reach, the potential of video as a personal means of expression has reached a totally new dimension. How is this potential being used? How do artists and other political and social actors react to the popularity of YouTube and other ‘user-generated-content’ websites? What does YouTube tell us about the state of contemporary visual culture? And how can the participation culture of video-sharing and vlogging reach some degree of autonomy and diversity, escaping the laws of the mass media and the strong grip of media conglomerates?
Participants: Andrew Clay, Stephen Crocker, Stefaan Decostere, Aleksandra Domanovic, Constant Dullaart, Johan Grimonprez, Liesbeth Huybrechts, Rudi Knoops, Rosa Menkman, Oliver Laric, Geert Lovink, Elizabeth Losh, Keith Sanborn, Brian Willems, Simon Yuill
Moderators: Sabine Niederer, Vera Tolman, Andreas Treske, Robrecht Vanderbeeken
20 November 2009, Les Brigittines, Brussels
In the context of Video Vortex V, hosted by Cimatics Festival. Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and María Palacios Cruz, in cooperation with Courtisane.
With the digital invading every creative enterprise and form of expression, pencils have become pixels, dreams have turned into data. While cinema’s obsession with the “holy grail” of photorealism has generated a blizzard of visual extravaganzas aimed at a suspension of the distinction between representation and simulation, a generation of DIY bricoleurs use ubiquitious “tools of vizuality” (Kevin Kelly) to explore alternative viewings and readings of the familiar. Through processes of transference, translation and combination, they encode, reveal or impose layers of information and deceive expectations about visibility and availability. Poking the surfaces of various images, sounds and symbols, their renderings create poetic, playful and often melancholic environments that are both alien and familiar, questioning our relation to images and our imagination.
With works by Rebecca Baron & Doug Goodwin, Joseph Ernst, Bernard Gigounon, Stephen Gray, Dave Griffiths, Max Hattler, Jonathon Kirk, Oliver Laric, Dietmar Offenhuber, Nicolas Provost, David O’Reilly, Chirstinn Whyte & Jake Messenger, Michael Robinson, Stewart Smith.
Independent Film Show 2009. 3 – 7 November 2009, Napoli (IT)
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz.
“It’s about the unities of similarities. It’s about sameness in confusion. It’s about logic in chance. It’s about structure and logic”.
(Jonas Mekas on Zorns Lemma)
(DE)CODING plays with cinema’s ability and potential to generate associations, may they be intentional or not. This programme brings together a series of films that explore the capacity of images and words to create meaning, even when attempts are made to release them from the constraint of narrative, or in other words from the constraint of “making sense”. Images and words can’t help making meaning “before our eyes”, for we will always try to look for their sense and purpose.
With works by Thom Andersen and Malcolm Brodwick, Morgan Fisher, Hollis Frampton, Robert Nelson, John Smith
Morgan Fisher Films
Independent Film Show 2009. 3 – 7 November 2009, Napoli (IT)
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz.
The 16mm films of Morgan Fisher (US, 1942) – straightforward, elegant, playful – are particularly idiosyncratic; they are situated both outside the film industry and the central developments of avant-garde cinema. Too minimal and conceptual for Hollywood’s taste; too concerned with the specifics of industry procedures for the underground. (…) Fisher’s films are an exploration of the film apparatus and its physical material, as well as of moviemaking production methods : from film’s standard gauge (35mm) to the use of production stills, the narrative role of inserts and the invisible importance of the projectionist. Fisher plays with the concepts of film, cinema and filmmaking, creating a unique and intimate view of cinema and its physical representation. ” One thing my films tend to do is examine a property or quality of a film in a radical way,” he says. “Being radical is a modest form of being extreme. They each examine an axiom of cinema and say, ‘What if ?’”
We Are Time
Exhibition in the context of the programme “Accelerated Living”, part of IMPAKT FESTIVAL 2009, 14-18 October 2009, Utrecht, NL.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz
“All will be now. Dreams are too fast. You are the first. We are the last.
No sequence to follow. No fear of tomorrow. Kiss of neverness. Life of timelessness
We’ll break the speed of change. we’ll tame eternity.”
– The Pop group, ‘We Are Time’
The passing of time is something we feel intimately familiar with, and yet it continuously slips away from us. Centuries ago, St. Augustine already caught this tension in words: “What is Time? If nobody asks me, I know; but if I were desirous to explain it to one that should ask me, plainly I know not.” The invention of clock time provided a partial solution: time was rationalised, adjusted to the rhythms of growing industrialisation. This transformation – symbolically completed with the introduction of standard time and the division of the world into time zones – resonated deeply in our social and cultural lives. The experience-based understanding of time was replaced by a rigid, linear and numerical logic which has gradually become embedded in our subconscious. The arrival of ICT and globalisation has pierced this unilateral and troublesome relationship. Ironically enough, the dawning of the computer age –the main source of today’s acceleration – has allowed for new perspectives on the role and potential of time. This exhibition takes that openness as a starting point and presents a series of works which each in their own way strive for a particular time awareness. Different dimensions of time, both social and natural, objective and subjective, are unfolded, deformed and combined, in search for new forms of perception and imagination of time.
With works by Julieta Aranda, Jonas Dahlberg, Vadim Fishkin, Glenn Kaino, Guy Sherwin, Thomson & Craighead, Guido van der Werve. Urban Screens: Mark Formanek & Datenstrudel, Thorsten Fleisch.
ACCELERATED LIVING // CONFERENCE
In the context of the programme “Accelerated Living”, part of IMPAKT FESTIVAL 2009, 14-18 October 2009, Utrecht, NL.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz
Contemporary science and technology have made possible a temporality which though still based upon clock time, has exploded into countless different time fractions and speeds beyond human comprehension. Today we seem to live in several time zones at the same time, propelled by a variety of internal and external time mechanisms and innumerable rhythms which continuously vibrate, resonate, connect, oscillate and disconnect. How to grasp the temporal complexity that surrounds and occupies us? What sort of ecologies of time and speed have we developed under the influence of new technologies and what is their impact on our body and senses? This conference brings together a number of international thinkers who offer new perspectives on our contemporary experience of time and speed.
With Mike Crang, Dirk de Bruyn, Charlie Gere, Steve Goodman, Glenn Kaino, Sybille Lammes, Carmen Leccardi, Stamatia Portanova, Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead, John Tomlinson.
ACCELERATED LIVING // PERFORMANCES
In the context of the programme “Accelerated Living”, part of IMPAKT FESTIVAL 2009, 14-18 October 2009, Utrecht, NL.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz
“Below the level of sounds and rhythms, music acts upon a primitive terrain, which is the physiological time of the listener. (…) Because of the internal organization of the musical work, the act of listening to it immobilizes passing time; it catches and enfolds it as one catches and enfolds a cloth flapping in the wind.”
– Claude Lévi-Strauss
With Thomas Köner, Guy Sherwin, Dirk de Bruyn + Joel Stern, Core of the Coalman, Bruce McClure, Mount Kimbie + James Blake, Cooly G, The Bug + Flowdan, Kode9, Thomas Brinkmann, Arnold Dreyblatt Ensemble, Oren Ambarchi + Robbie Avenaim, Charles Curtis, Carol Robinson & Bruno Martinez (performing Eliane Radigue’s Naldjorlak I, II, III), Leif Inge
ACCELERATED LIVING // SCREENINGS
In the context of the programme “Accelerated Living”, part of IMPAKT FESTIVAL 2009, 14-18 October 2009, Utrecht, NL.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz
It seems as if time is increasingly out of joint. We no longer experience time as a succession or an acceleration of events, but rather as something adrift in a fragmented world of information stimuli, out of the realm of chronology and linearity. What is the impact of this evolution on our perception patterns? How do the different internal, natural, social and technological rhythms relate to each other and influence our daily sensory perception? What is the role and potential of cinema, together with music, the art form most particularly devoted to the shaping force of time? These and other questions will be explored through a series of contemporary and historic film and video works addressing the relation between space, movement, technology and (our experience of) time.
With works by Gary Beydler, Bruce Conner, Ivan Ladislav Galeta, Chris Garrat, Dryden Goodwin, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Jean–François Guiton, Gerard Holthuis, Philip Hoffman, Peter Hutton, Ken Jacobs, Jim Jennings, Kurt Kren, Malcolm Le Grice, Mark Lewis, Jeanne Liotta, Rose Lowder, Gordon Matta-Clark, Pavel Medvedev, Marie Menken, Dietmar Offenhuber, Rafael Montañez Ortiz, Yo Ota, D.A. Pennebaker, Ilppo Pohjola, Michel Pavlou, Artavazd Pelechian, Norbert Pfaffenbichler, William Raban, Joost Rekveld, Nicolas Rey, Emily Richardson, Guy Sherwin, Morten Skallerud, Michael Snow, Stom Sogo, Scott Stark, Makino Takashi, Leslie Thornton, Andrei Ujica, Chris Welsby, Joyce Wieland, Fred Worden, Iván Zulueta
CASZUIDAS Urban Screen Festival
4&5 September 2009, Zuidas, Amsterdam. Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz, in cooperation with Courtisane
Compiled by Courtisane for the first edition of CASZUIDAS Urban Screen Festival, Imagine is a selection of works and artists previously shown by Courtisane. Digital reveries and riddles, the video works in this programme seek to actively engage the « mental » participation of urban spectators, to throw them back upon themselves, opening up the limits of their sight to the freedom of their imagination. They imagine a new sensory language in which meaning is played with, but never denied. Between abstraction and playful transformation, distilling, reinterpreting popular media culture, these works leave way for the countless images generated by each spectator. Parallel worlds for the imagination of the spectator to wander around.
With works by Rebecca Baron & Doug Goodwin, Mary Helena Clark, Joseph Ernst, Simon Faithfull, Stephen Gray, Dave Griffiths, Max Hattler, Martijn Hendriks, David O’Reilly, Nicolas Provost, Michael Robinson, Stewart Smith
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Guy Sherwin
A key figure in British avant-garde cinema for already more than four decades, Guy Sherwin pushes the limits of cinema with his films, installation works and performances, in which he explores film’s fundamental properties : light and time. After studying painting at the Chelsea School of Art in the late 1960’s, Sherwin taught printing and processing at the London Film-Makers’ Co-op during the mid-70s, at the heyday of the British Structural Film Movement. He now teaches at Middlesex University and University of Wolverhampton, and collaborates on expanded cinema performances with his partner, Singaporean film and sound artist Lynn Loo. Concerned with seriality and live intervention, his work investigates questions such as the physical relationships between sound and image, the digital re-working of film, the mechanisms of projection, the methods of printing and the live interaction between performer and film. In the course of his screening / talk at Courtisane, Sherwin will discuss ideas about time-looping and feedback that have influenced his film practice and show a series of films that were abandoned in the making, then resumed after a time lapse.
SCULPTING THE LAND
An evening on… Landscapes
“Alas! how little does the memory of these human inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape!”
— Henry David Thoreau
With James Benning, Luke Fowler & Lee Patterson, Guy Sherwin, Richard T. Walker, Emily Richardson, Chris Watson & Benedict Drew, Chris Welsby & William Raban
An evening on… Memory
“One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
— Emily Dickinson
With Aki Onda, Gill Arnò, Associazione Home Movies – La camera ottica, Andrea Belfi, Stefano Pilia, Benjamin Francart & Xavier Garcia Bardon, Jasper Rigole, Alvin Lucier, Thomas Smetryns, Heleen Van Haegenborgh, Kristof Roseeuw & Michael Weilacher
Somewhere in Time
Explorations in Memory and History
Courtisane Festival 2009. Gent, 23 – 26 April 2009.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and María Palacios Cruz, in cooperation with Courtisane.
“As we know, there are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002.
These were Rumsfeld’s flamboyant words to refer to the unstable situation in Afghanistan following the American intervention in 2001, but they could also be used to situate the relationship between memory and history. One category is lacking : “the things we don’t know we know”, a past that is forgotten, oppressed, silenced, disavowed; a knowledge which has found shelter in the deepest regions of our personal or cultural conscience, hard to be accessed by language and memory. It is there that the polarity between history and memory is most sharply expressed; where fact and fiction, imagination and document, flow into each other; where different possibilities and temporalities coexist and the distinction between the true, the actual and the potential is blurred. It’s an idea of “History” in contradiction with traditional linear narratives, obsessively-driven by an idea of constant progress. Instead it evokes the crisis of the modern historical referent, more fragile and unstable than ever before. In this era of media saturation, in which spatial and temporal distances have been erased and a growing memory industry has made the most distant places and times available for instant replay, the call to rethink the relationships between past, present and future resonates louder and louder. The film and video artists in this programme search for the actual and virtual tensions and interactions between knowing and not knowing, between the public and the private, between history and memory, there where they meet : in the terrain of media.
With works by Rebecca Baron, James Benning, Black Audio Film Collective, Matthew Buckingham, Kevin Jerome Everson, Hollis Frampton, Philip Hoffman, Nora Martirosyan, Julia Meltzer & David Thorne, The Otolith Group, Walid Ra’ad & The Atlas Group, Rea Tajiri, Leslie Thornton, Vision Machine, Soon-Mi Yoo
Drawn to Life
21 March 2009. Presentation in the context of Animation Breakdown Study Day, Tate Modern, London.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and María Palacios Cruz. Based on the program ‘Drawn to Life’, shown in Brussels on 25 & 27 November 2008
“animate … v.t…. [< L. animatus, pp. of animare, to make alive, fill with breath < anima, air, soul]. l. to give life to; bring to life. 2. to make gay, energetic, or spirited. 3. to inspire. 4. to give motion to; put into action: as, the breeze animated the leaves." We all know: animation is a form of cinema. And yet, one could argue that all cinema is in fact animation, and furthermore that life itself – anima – can be understood as cinema. Our existence, inscribed in perception, imagination and memory, is constantly animated, deformed, edited. The question is whether and how we can ourselves give form to our own experiences. Certainly, the incessant flow of images in which our daily lives are submerged seems to leave little room for analysis and intervention. Its intention is that of synthesis, of a continuous illusion of life. The world is thus objectivized, but inevitably doubled, devoid of its soul, “deanimated”. The artists and filmmakers in this program attempt to revitalize perception, offering an alternative or counterweight to the ways in which technological interfaces determine our relation to the world. At the crossroads between cinematographic codes and genres, these films and videos seek to dismantle the common a priori assumptions on animation film and its limitations. Fragments of collective and individual memories are redrawn, with pencils and pixels, light, movement and (algo)rhythms, in search of new possible relations between world and representation, image and subject, dream and data, the aesthetical and the political. Animation as re-animation. With works by Stephen Andrews, Kota Ezawa, Ken Jacobs, Jonathon Kirk, Dietmar Offenhuber, Bob Sabiston and Karl Tebbe. more…
Audiovisual Archives in the Age of Access
5 February 2009, De Zebrastraat, Gent.
Workshop in the context of the BOM-Vl project.
The increasing use of digital moving image technologies, combined with their convergence with other media forms through different platforms and network technologies, poses great challenges to film and video archives worldwide. Archivists are not only dealing with the integration of rapidly developing technologies into their professional practice but also with a constituency of users whose expectations have been raised by the massive accessibility of audiovisual documents on DVD, Blu-Ray, P2P networks and video sharing sites such as YouTube. In this “age of access”, to use a expression coined by Jeremy Rifkin, a generation of users is trained in the belief that any and all primary materials should be a mere Google search away. But however versatile, cost-effective and easy-to-use these access tools are, there is still no known solution for long-term preservation of digital data that matches the performance – and experience – of film, and questions of longevity and (historical and technical) integrity are the subjects of tense debate. Digital culture has become the arena in which conflicting priorities in response to the demands of preservation and access have risen again, sharper than ever.
Wherever the answers to these complex philosophical, ethical and strategic issues may lie, there can be little doubt that “digital access” has become the keyword in the politics of the audiovisual archive. This has led to a reassesement of the archives’ role, practice and policy, as well as to an exploration of new business and financial models. For some, Public Private Partnerships may be a way forward. To quote Paolo Cherchi Usai: “We have come to the point where the identity and independence of moving image and recorded sound archives is confronted by the imperatives of the commercial world. In principle, everyone agrees that national collecting institutions should be independent from commercial imperatives. In practice, the commercial world is already within our gates, and it has been within our gates for quite some time. This is no longer a matter of whether or not we want to deal with it; it is a matter of how we can we deal with it without betraying our cultural mission”. How do cultural heritage institutions – and in extenso cultural policy – deal with these new paradigms? What are the opportunities and threats? Which sutainable partnerships and models of cooperation exist and how can they be set up? What is the role of national policy in this? What are the ramifications of this digitization for the public? What is the impact on archival institutions, and its continuing pursuit of its core mission and values?
Guests: Jeff Ubois (Intelligent Television, ubois.com, US), Emjay Rechsteiner (Dutch Filmmuseum, ‘Images for the Future’, NL), Thomas C. Christensen (Danish Film Institute, DK), George Ioannidis (GAMA, IN2, GR)
Without a Trace
Erasing Inscription, Inscripting Erasure
Thursday 29 January 2009, Kunstencentrum Vooruit, Gent (BE).
Program produced by Courtisane, in collaboration with Atelier Graphoui.
To erase, remove, rub out or conceal signs and images has never been as easy as it is in today’s era of digital hybridization. The immense possibilities in image processing, compositing and trimming have led to the development of a “Photoshop Reality”, a corrected reality which has penetrated unnoticed the heart of our visual culture. However, the act of erasing is never without trace: there always remains a residue, a print upon the surface, a ghost where once was an image. Whether we are speaking of bare scratching or of calculated digital layering, each erasure leaves a trace behind, each absence suggests a (missed) presence. This ambiguity is even stronger in the context of the moving image, which only exists itself thanks to a sort of progressive “erasure”, each image canceling the previous one. Elimination and inscription come together. The act of erasing, “of” and “in” the image, unavoidably leaves the trace of an event underway. It makes the new visible to itself as it redefines what is visible in the old. The film, video and media works in this programme use the idea and the gesture of removing as the basis for an exploration of the tension between presence and absence, appearing and disappearing.
With works by Martin Arnold, Tammuz Binshtock, Marcel Broodthaers, Natalie Frigo, Stephen Gray, Pierre Hébert, Martijn Hendriks, Jodi, Spike Jonze, Matt McCormick, Denis Savary, Naomi Uman
Drawn to Life
reanimating the animate
25 & 27 November 2008, Maison des Cultures Saint-Gilles, Brussels.
Film program in the context of ‘SE JETER À L’EAU’, an event organised by Atelier Graphoui.
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and María Palacios Cruz, in cooperation with Courtisane.
“animate … v.t…. [< L. animatus, pp. of animare, to make alive, fill with breath < anima, air, soul]. l. to give life to; bring to life. 2. to make gay, energetic, or spirited. 3. to inspire. 4. to give motion to; put into action: as, the breeze animated the leaves." We all know: animation is a form of cinema. And yet, one could argue that all cinema is in fact animation, and furthermore that life itself – anima – can be understood as cinema. Our existence, inscribed in perception, imagination and memory, is constantly animated, deformed, edited. The question is whether and how we can ourselves give form to our own experiences. Certainly, the incessant flow of images in which our daily lives are submerged seems to leave little room for analysis and intervention. Its intention is that of synthesis, of a continuous illusion of life. The world is thus objectivized, but inevitably doubled, devoid of its soul, “deanimated”. The artists and filmmakers in this program attempt to revitalize perception, offering an alternative or counterweight to the ways in which technological interfaces determine our relation to the world. At the crossroads between cinematographic codes and genres, these films and videos seek to dismantle the common a priori assumptions on animation film and its limitations. Fragments of collective and individual memories are redrawn, with pencils and pixels, light, movement and (algo)rhythms, in search of new possible relations between world and representation, image and subject, dream and data, the aesthetical and the political. Animation as re-animation. With works by Stephen Andrews, Robert Breer, Persijn Broersen & Margit Lukács, Sky David, Dirk de Bruyn, Kota Ezawa, Paul Glabicki, Stuart Hilton, Jonathan Hodgson, Ken Jacobs, Cathy Joritz, Jonathon Kirk, LEV, Frank & Caroline Mouris, Dietmar Offenhuber, Jenny Perlin, Josh Raskin, Bob Sabiston, Carolee Schneemann and Karl Tebbe. more…
The Order of Things
12, 19, 26 september 2008, Muhka_Media, Antwerp.
Film program in the context of the exhibition with the same title at MuHKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (11th September 2008 > 4th January 2009). Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and María Palacios Cruz.
From September 11th until January 4th MuHKA presents The Order of Things, an exhibition about the uses of image archives and other manifestations of a classificatory or “encyclopaedic” impulse in contemporary art. Within this context, MuHKA_media will host six screening programs dealing with the recuperation and reconfiguration of “found” images in film and video. The makers of these works use bits and scraps from the media reality surrounding us as a basis for the construction of new meanings, in search of a poetry of movement, a syntax of fragmentation, bringing divergent elements together in a system of construction in which they belong: cinema. Based on a series of codes and axioms, cinema can be subject to multiple forms of ideological appropriation, both cinematographic and meta-cinematographic, as well as on a micro-level – each shot is itself a succession of frames. In these film and video works the meaning and the hierarchy of images become subordinated to a new logic, a subversive, narrative or totalizing order taken out of the ‘infinite cinema’, the world in/as images.
With works by Thom Andersen & Malcolm Brodwick, Alan Berliner, Abigail Child, Lenka Clayton, Bruce Conner, William Farley, Morgan Fisher, Hollis Frampton, Christoph Girardet, Arthur Lipsett, Frank & Caroline Mouris, Norbert Pfaffenbichler, Simon Pummell, Chick Strand.
Towards Open and Dynamic Archives
10 June 2008, VUB Brussels
Workshop in the context of the BOM-Vl project.
The traditional functioning of audiovisual archives is being completely reshaped by today’s technological advancements. The expansion of fast broadband networks and the availability of software, hardware and recording equipment have broken down the barriers to the production and distribution of audiovisual content. Large quantities of multimedia materials are flowing on the Internet and into the archives every day, and all over the world ambitious projects are set up to digitalise heritage collections. Moreover, media start to look more collective and inclusive: the ubiquitous “Web 2.0″ discourse promises new levels of participatory culture in which all users are producers, sharing, appropriating and remixing content, overcoming the old regime of top-down broadcast media. Blogs, wikis, social networks and “user-generated-content” tools are presented as the new wave of voluntary alliances that users seek online. Even the traditional media are swept away into the hype: the BBC designated 2005 as the “Year of the Digital Citizen”, in 2006 Time magazine chose “You” as the as its esteemed Person of the Year.
These new socio-technological dynamics are generating many challenges, as well as opportunities for the use and exploitation of audiovisual archives, to the potential advantage of various user groups, in the cultural, educational and the broadcasting sectors, and for the general public. How do audiovisual heritage institutions and broadcasters deal with these new social and economical paradigms? How can sustainable online archives be generated, taking into account the relentless instability of digital technology and the Internet, and the stranglehold of the corporate regimes of monopoly that call themselves copyright and intellectual property? How to create meaning and value within the abundance of “free” content and build vital contexts for exploration, participation and education? What are the potentials and limitations of user-generated tagging and folksonomy systems to improve description and searchability? How to respond to changing forms of labour, knowledge and value, triggered in part by sociable web media? Which strategies can be used to address the challenge of legitimating content produced within an interactive and participatory media ecology? How can we embrace the potential of network culture and create truly open and dynamic archives where reception, interpretation and creation encounter one another?
Guests: Paul Gerhardt (Archives for Creativity, GB), Tobias Golodnoff (DR / Dansk Kulturarv, Denmark), Marius Arnesen (NRK Media, Norway), Geert Wissink (Kennisland / Images of the Future, Netherlands), Johan Oomen (Dutch Institute for Image and Sound / Images of the Future, Netherlands)
ARTIST IN FOCUS: Ben Rivers
21 Apr 2008, Sphinx, Gent.
Program produced by Courtisane as part of the Courtisane Festival 2008 (21-27 April 2008)
Ben Rivers’ films are drenched in a spooky spiritualism, like bits of dreams that find their way into your consciousness. Rivers documents his subjects carefully. Abandoned buildings illustrate their own decay, landscapes draw themselves, stories from the past come in a shade of mystery, a cocoon breaks gently and becomes a subtle poetic portrait of an Einzelgänger. He hand-processes film and prefers black and white film stock with a thick, tactile grain, that’s why his films bare resemblance to documentaries from decades ago.
Ghosting The Image
Courtisane Festival, Ghent, Belgium (21-27 April 2008) and WORM, Rotterdam, the Netherlands (8-9 May 2008)
Curated by Stoffel Debuysere and Maria Palacios Cruz
The recuperation and citation of images is a film practice as old as cinema itself, and one of the principal strategies within the traditions of avant-garde film and video. In so-called «found-footage films», bits and scraps from the media reality surrounding us are not only taken out of their context and accorded new meanings, but also serve as a basis for critical reflection and analysis. For recycled images call attention to themselves as ‘images’, as products of the cinema and broadcasting industry, as part of the endless stream of information, entertainment and persuasion that constitutes the media-saturated environment of modern life.
The film and video works featured in the programme Ghosting the Image disrupt the usual rhetoric of the media spectacle, characterized by stability and linearity, and turn it against itself. By destabilizing dominant narrative structures and exploring the limits of representation, these works reveal how time, perception and memory are organised. By dismantling the illusion, these films and videos unmask the ambiguity and vulnerability of images, revealing what is being systematically ignored, repressed or left out. As if for a moment the veil of our eyes was lifted, only to find a world of images staring back at us.
with works by Martin Arnold, Stan Brakhage, Abigail Child, Morgan Fisher, Nina Fonoroff, Brian Frye, Ken Jacobs, Cathy Joritz, Lewis Klahr, Peter Kubelka, Owen Land, Maurice Lemaître, Saul Levine, Arthur Lipsett, Matthias Müller, Pere Portabella, Luther Price, Vanessa Renwick, David Rimmer, Robert Ryang, Keith Sanborn, Kirk Tougas, Peter Tscherkassky, Naomi Uman
LOOKING BACK AT ANGER : A Retrospective Programme on Kenneth Anger’s Work
(In the presence of Kenneth Anger)
10 – 14 November 2007
FILMMUSEUM -MUSÉE DU CINÉMA (bis) Brussels
What a strange paradox, then, is the film medium, that magnificent and terrible instrument born of our time to tempt and torture our creative imagination. Without in any way lessening our enthusiasm for it as an art form, I don’t think we – the children of this era – are wrong to call it an imperfect medium . . . imperfect and terrifying. – Kenneth Anger
The influence of Kenneth Anger, legendary pioneer of independent filmmaking, reaches well beyond the avant-garde movement and into the work of filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, R.W. Fassbinder, Derek Jarman and Sergei Paradjanov. In his films, Anger subverts conventional filmmaking, by sampling, mixing, recycling, re-editing or restaging the tenants of mainstream cinema and culture. This rare programme, preceded by an international seminar on Anger’s oeuvre, includes Kenneth Anger’s recent video work, Elio Gelmini’s documentary portrait of the filmmaker, as well as works by Stan Brakhage and Marie Menken where Anger is present, either physically or as a source of inspiration, and the Hollywood classic featuring child-actor Anger A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Looking Back at Anger will also present for the first time in Belgium the newly restored prints of Fireworks, Rabbit’s Moon, Scorpio Rising and Kustom Kar Kommandos, preserved by the UCLA Film Archive.
+ Sat. 10.11.2007 International seminar on Kenneth Anger
With Edwin Carels (MuHKA_media), Robert Haller (Anthology Film Archives), Pip Chodorov (Re:Voir), Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, Anna Powell (Manchester Metropolitan University). Moderated by Muriel Andrin (ULB, Université Libre de Bruxelles)
(Curated by Laurent De Maertelaer and Maria Palacios Cruz)
A co-production between Argos, Koninklijk Filmarchief / Cinémathèque Royale and MuHKA_media, in collaboration with SCC (Service de Culture Cinématographique asbl) and the VDFC (Vlaamse Dienst voor Filmcultuur vzw)
CINEMA IN TRANSIT
Argos, Brussels (in the context of the OPEN ARCHIVE #1 event, October – November 2007)
What does ‘Cinema’ mean today? In the aftermath of its one hundredth birthday the cinema regime seems to be expanding further and further, split up over countless media and modalities, based on wide-ranging technologies and motives. Now that the analogue image is being quickly replaced by the digital one, beyond the materiality of video and film, more is being produced and distributed than ever before, but at the same time the way we watch, listen and experience cinema is being severely fragmented and individualized. Cinema no longer holds a specific place of its own; it is everywhere, intertwined with and integrated into other cultural forms. Within that context we today witness a significant renewal in the ways of approaching cinema and the audiovisual arts, not only in the work of a great number of artists, but also on an institutional level. The familiar opposition between the ‘black box’ and the ‘white cube’, between cinema culture and museum culture, can no longer be sustained, and the call for new models resounds more and more. What kind of shifts in meaning do these evolutions and contaminations entail in the way we look at and reflect on art and film? Do visual arts provide filmmakers with a free zone, where they can finally fulfil their most radical promises, or is it more like a transit zone, an intermediate stage in the re-thinking of the cinema project?
Fri 12.10.2007: Philippe-Alain Michaud
Fri 19.10.2007: Mark Nash
Fri 26.10.2007: Laura Mulvey
Fri 02.11.2007: Peter Weibel
Fri 09.11.2007: Jean-Christophe Royoux
WAYS OF HEARING
Concerts & Lecture
Argos, Brussels (in the context of the OPEN ARCHIVE #1 event, October – November 2007)
Over the past decades a new sound culture has developed. A rich culture of musicians, composers and listeners has emerged who apply themselves to the research of sound matter, recording and transmission, and particularly to the act and experience of listening itself. This culture gradually is superseding the predominance of the visual within art history and theory, is becoming more aware of its traditions, relevance and potential as a cultural signifier. The proliferation of ‘sound art’ as a legitimate field within contemporary art and the cultivation of such innovators as John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer to an almost mythical status are but the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately technological evolutions have set off a democratization of sound, liberated from both the rigidity of Western harmonic system and the popular music’s market -oriented thinking, throwing us back upon our own ears. These previously unknown forms of aural literacy, performance and memory have induced new affinities and alliances, beyond traditions and genres, beyond the distinction between original and copy, music and noise, amateur and professional, high and low culture. These practices are not bound by aesthetic or conceptual questions, but rather by a tendency to destabilize the norm and to challenge ruling ideas about sound and music, hearing and seeing, absence and presence. Ways of Hearing navigates, through numerous performances and lectures, through this whimsical landscape of sound.
Thu 04.10.2007: CONCERT Charles Curtis + Eliane Radigue / Lucio Capece + Mika Vainio
(Co-production with Q-O2)
The career of Charles Curtis (US, 1960) cannot be defined under a single header. During the 1980s he became known all over the world as a performer of traditional cello repertoire, but at the same time he opened up new horizons, amidst the downtown New York music scene, in the worlds of experimental rock and sound experiments. He collaborated closely with such rock combos as King Missile and Barbetomagus and composers like Michael Schumacher, Alvin Lucier and La Monte Young, who made him the leader of his Theatre of Eternal Music String Ensemble. In his recent work he explores a combination of dense tuning and pure tonality, resulting in transcendent sound patterns. In 2005 he collaborated with the influential French minimalist composer Eliane Radigue (FR, 1932) on her first non-electronic composition, Naldjorlak. In a threefold structure the hidden, complex sonority of the cello is fathomed, as a discrete sound stream balancing on the verge of perception.
in the presence of Eliane Radigue
The Argentinian Lucio Capece (AR, 1968), who currently resides in Berlin, plays soprano saxophone, bass clarinet and a no-input mixer, which he uses to manipulate feedback with. His work draws inspiration from the visual arts and cinema and always arises in an improvisational context, focusing mainly on the experience of time and perception. In his quest he often meets related sound searchers like Keith Rowe, Burkhard Beins, Yannis Kyriakides and Mattin. Recently he started a new project with Mika Vainio (FI, 1963), best known as one half of Pan Sonic. Both in this project and in his solo work, published under his own name or pseudonyms like Ø or Teknovil, influences from techno, industrial and minimalism converge in an analogous twilight zone, an organic sound universe submerged in anxious spheres and thrifty pulses.
Wed 17.10.2007: LECTURE David Toop: Ways of Hearing, Resisting the Visual
“Seeing comes before words. The child sees and recognizes before it can speak.” These are the first two sentences of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. Berger defines sight as the primary human sense and introduces the idea that we find our place in the world through seeing. What this premise ignores is the fact that sound comes before seeing, and the child listens before it looks. In this lecture David Toop will investigate the position of sound in the realm of the senses, the relationship between hearing and seeing, between silence and not seeing. What did Marcel Duchamp mean when he proclaimed “one can look at seeing; one can’t hear hearing”? Are we living in a visual age, as the cliché goes, or rather in an aural world? What can words and images tell us about sonic absences and hauntings? What are the challenges sound artists, who work in the domain of visual arts, are confronted with?
As a musician, author and curator David Toop (UK, 1949) is particularly interested in the potential of sound as a musical element, free of harmonic and tonal systems; as a reflection of extra-musical systems from biology, geography, technology, cognitive processes, social relations, political models or body language. He traces and records how today – in the world of media and technology – sounds travel through time and space, meet and converge, develop and ‘live’. He documented his personal quest in several books (Rap Attack, Ocean of Sound, Exotica, and Haunted Weather), articles (The Wire, The Times and the Face, among others), exhibitions (e.g. Sonic Boom in the Hayward Gallery, London) and musical projects, often in collaboration with a wide range of artists, such as Brian Eno, John Zorn, Derek Bailey, Akio Suzuki, Steven Berkoff and Mitsutaka Ishii.
Thu 18.10.2007: CONCERT Asmus Tietchens + Thomas Köner, John Duncan, CM von Hausswolff (Co-production with Metaphon)
Since he experimented for the first time with tape recorders and synthesizers during the mid 1960s, Asmus Tietchens (DE, 1947) has left his mark on contemporary music, both in Germany and beyond. His influence is best felt on the industrial music movement, but he steers clear of any well-defined genre or philosophy. His countless releases, showing affinities with musique concrète, serialism, minimalism and krautrock, are above all intuitive and personal explorations of the studio as an instrument, of a specific musical notion, or collaboration. For a number of years now he has worked with fellow-countryman Thomas Köner (DE, 1965) on the project ‘Kontakt der Jünglinge’. Before Köner worked with filmmaker Jürgen Reble and with the duo Porter Ricks, causing a stir in the European techno landscape. Köner is particularly interested in the exploration of ‘sound color’, an idea which he recently carried further into the visual as well. His audiovisual work has received awards at Transmediale, Ars Electronica and the International Film festival in Rotterdam, among others. ‘Kontakt der Jünglinge’ is the confrontation of two wayward idioms resulting in unexpected sound patterns.
For three decades John Duncan (US, 1953) has been exploring the psycho-physical limits of the individual, in sound, performances and installations. He sees his work as a kind of existential research, for himself and the audience. During the 1970s he caused a stir in Los Angeles with a series of radical physical performances, before he started to apply himself to the exploration of short wave radio and field recordings, in collaboration with such people as Paul McCarthy and Tom Recchion. After stays in Tokyo and Amsterdam, where he experimented with pirate stations, among other things, he moved to Italy, where he still resides. He has worked with Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Francisco López, Giuliana Stefani and members of Throbbing Gristle and Pan Sonic, and has participated in countless exhibitions and festivals worldwide.
The Swedish artist and curator Carl Michael von Hausswolff (SE, 1956) is particularly fascinated by twilight areas, both in the everyday environment and in the cultural domain. Since the end of the 1970s he has made sound studies, particularly with a tape recorder, but in recent sound and installation work he has focused mainly on the exploration of physical realities on the verge of human perception. He makes use of wide-ranging electronic media to explore and manipulate streams of information, energy fields, visual and acoustic phenomena. In the visual art world he has become known through his participation in exhibitions such as the 5th Istanbul Biennial, Documenta X, Kassel, and the 2nd Johannesburg Biennial (all 1997). In 2001 he was co-curator of the Nordic Pavilion on the Venice Biennale. Von Hausswolff is also the co- founder of the virtual nation ‘the Kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland’.
Thu 25.10.2007: CONCERT Tetuzi Akiyama + Jozef van Wissem / Mattin + Junko + Michel Henritzi (Co-production with (K-RAA-K)3)
Guitarist, violinist and instrument builder Tetuzi Akiyama (JP, 1964) is one of the key figures in the Japanese improvisation scene. During the 1990s he worked closely with Taku Sugimoto, Keiji Haino, K.K. Null and Toshimaru Nakamura. Together they started the influential concert series ‘The Improvisation Meeting’ in Bar Aoyama. Akiyama’s music is rooted in American psychedelic rock, country and blues, styles which he systematically strips of their rock mythology, intuitively deconstructing and pushing them to the verge of abstraction. He plays the guitar with a primitive mind, looking for inherent sounds and possible playing areas, a method he also applies to other instruments and objects, such as record players and vacuum cleaners. Without a doubt Jozef van Wissem (NL, 1962) plays the least obvious instrument in the world of contemporary improvisation: the lute. And yet he skilfully manages to span a bridge between the 17th and 21st century, by radically reinterpreting the specific timbres, resonances and techniques of the instrument. In the process he stears clear of the traditional lineary progression and experiments with palindromes, mirror structures and cut up techniques.
The sound explorations of the Basque filmmaker, cultural theoretician and computer musician Mattin (SP, 1977) are based on resistance and dialectics, on the dynamics between extremely high and low volumes, but also between the digital and physical sounds of a computer. He sees the computer not merely as an abstraction, as a magical collector’s box of algorithms, but rather as an object which he examines on the basis of its sound potential. In that sense his style has a lot in common with electro-acoustic improvizers, such as Radu Malfatti and Eddie Prévost, with whom he has collaborated closely already. His love of extremes, particularly shaped as uncompromising noise, can be heard in his projects with Junko (JP, 1961), the voice of the infamous Japanese collective Hijokaidan, which has been causing a stir since the end of the 1970s with their anarchist, sound barrier challenging performances. Junko neither sings, nor recites but, just like Yoko Ono or Diamanda Galas, she explores the limits of the voice, the dark regions where nothing but mere despair, fear and salvation resounds. The third member of this trio, multi-instrumentalist and music commentator Michel Henritzi (FR, 1959), is looking for his own take on musical primitivism. He is one of the most active members of the French underground scene and over the past thirty years he was involved in countless bands, collaborations, fanzines and labels, including his own A Bruit Secret label. With Mattin he shares an anti-establishment attitude, which becomes apparent from polemical stances to the political dimensions of improvisational music.
Ken Jacobs & Tony Conrad
Co-production with BOZAR Cinema
Argos & Bozar, Brussels (in the context of the OPEN ARCHIVE #1 event, October – November 2007)
Cinema: illusion or reality? As spectators we are constantly torn between distance and proximity, between criticism and fascination; we are always aware of the spectacle, but at the same time we are eager to believe, to be caught unaware by the simulacrum. We thoroughly enjoy getting carried away in a linear flow of images and sounds, pushed forward by narrative conventions. At the same time, countless filmmakers investigate lines of fracture in the cinematic experience, the negative surroundings where cinematographic codes and conditions can be deconstructed, manipulated and rebuilt at wish. Cinema is being reinvented, liberated from the surface of the screen, the borders of the frame, cinematic time and space, the illusion of movement, beyond the borders of enchantment and meaning. The spectator is pushed out of his role as a passive image consumer, and is urged to define his/her own aesthetic experience. In their performances, films and videos Ken Jacobs and Tony Conrad, each in their own way, undermine the cinematic experience , in a quest for the interaction between stasis and movement, light and texture, time and duration. The result stands up to psychological interpretation, but also generates a purely sensory response, a hard confrontation with the essence of cinema.
The influence of violinist, composer, film and videomaker Tony Conrad (US, 1940) cannot be overestimated: he was one of the originators of the Minimalist music movement and a key figure in the experimental film scene in New York during the 1960s. He was co-founder of the ‘Theatre of Eternal Music’ collective (with John Cale, LaMonte Young and Angus MacLise), which developed a new musical language counter to any existing conventions of the time, and labeled as “dream music”. Music was thus set free from the stronghold of musical ‘high’ culture, by putting improvisation and participation above compositional authoritarianism, and by focusing on the aspect of listening itself through a new use of harmonic intervals. With his audiovisual Conrad also questions and undermines the laws of looking and listening. In his best-known film, The Flicker (1966), he searched for a visual equivalent of musical consonance, which resulted in a bombardment of stroboscopic flashes, producing optical color effects in their turn. After his collaboration with the Krautrock formation Faust during the 1970s Conrad chose to lecture full time at the media faculty of Buffalo University. Since his work was brought back to attention in the 1990s he is more active than ever in a wide range of areas.
Sa 13.10.2007 PERFORMANCE Forty-five Years on the Infinite Plain (Tony Conrad + guestmusicians) (venue: Bozar)
Created in New York in 1972, the performance Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain seems to be the ideal synthesis of Tony Conrad’s research: his structural approach to cinema unites with his minimal and open approach to music. Four projectors showing a hypnotic and flashing film loop are joined by musicians, producing continuous sound chords. The result is a suspended audiovisual environment, which is reflective and unravels very slowly; “very meditational and very terrific”, as Conrad put it himself. This event creates a great opportunity to live this historic performance, never presented in Belgium, in a revised form : Forty-five Years on the Infinite Plain.
As Conrad explains himself : “In revising “Ten” to “Forty-five”, I am addressing a broader chronological perspective, relocating to a different social allegory, and accessing the plural tools that encompass a more contemporary “minimalism.” The “subject” that is, the viewer—is still at the center of the work; but now the polyvalence of subjectivity is recognized in a figural usage of heterophony and antiphony. A solo cello challenges the lead instrument, and the audience area is divided in half. Musical figures invoke divisiveness, over the unitary ground of the drone. There are two distinct rhythms to follow, further dividing the subject’s attention. These elements of what would have been seen in 1972 as “confusion” instead, i n today’s heterotopia, reflect and invite access to a subjectivity that is more “true to life,” more centered on the plain where we stand.”
“A work that relates to time but exists independent of points in time refers to the obverse side of time, beyond the possibility of measuring it with markings: duration. Yet unmeasured duration, in principle, is a kingdom entirely at the command of the recipient and his or her subjectivity.” Diedrich Diedrichsen, Time and Dream: Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies
Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain (1972), like some other works of the psychedelic era, commingles starkly formal abstraction with introspective romanticism. Its insistent conflation of quasi-religious spectacle with materialist minimalism follows a path marked out by Rothko, Cage, Andre, and many others. Today these elements have lost their radicalism; even the political conviction of that time, that such work could make contact, through its spiritual insistence, “with the political real behind the culture of commodity and spectacle” (as Diedrichsen puts it), seems problematic and thin.
Su 14.10.2007 A Sunday Afternoon with Tony Conrad
During the last film festival in Rotterdam, Tony Conrad electrocuted a film reel, which produced light flashes and sparks. He then developed the images in a bucket and screened them before a baffled and highly amused audience. Apart from lecturing at Buffalo University, New York, this filmmaker, video maker and musician is also a brilliant pedagogue with an inspiring sense of humour. This lecture is the perfect introduction to Tony Conrad’s work, a trajectory through over forty years of radical creation. During the course of the afternoon, Tony Conrad will present and discuss some of his films and videos, including :Straight and Narrow (10 min, 16mm, 1970), Articulation of Boolean Algebra for Film Opticals (10 min excerpt, 16mm, 1975), Cycles of 3s and 7s (12 min excerpt, video, 1977), In Line (7 min, video, 1986), Tony’s Oscular Pets (7 min, video, 2001), Grading Tips for Teachers (13 min, video, 2003), Conversation II (6 min, video, 2005), Beholden to Victory (variable duration, computer-based self-editing feature film installation, 1980-2007).
Ken Jacobs (US, 1933) is a key figure in the post-war experimental film world. After his university studies he found himself in the vivid artistic climate of New York of the 50s and 60s, where he made a name for himself as a committed filmmaker and activist. Together with his wife Flo he founded the Millennium Film Workshop, and was responsible for one of the first university cinema training courses. Jacobs’ films and performances explore the subconscious of the cinematic experience, the regions where the construction of light, movement, speed and frame incite a purely sensorial shadowplay, beyond the borders of cinematographic time and space. In films such as Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969-1971) he dissects and manipulates existing film material, deconstructs each sequence and gesture, applies himself to texture and space, and choreographs, like a self-appointed “cine-puppeteer”, a secondary discourse of forgotten and explored time. In his performances and recent video work he explores the phenomenon of “eternalisms”, paradoxical appearances in which objects and figures seem to be captured in a spasm of infinite, slowly moving rotations. This is cinema which reverses the curve of human perception, and which takes its force from the mysteries of our own looking and thinking.
Sa 20.10.2007 SCREENING Star Spangled To Death + Ken Jacobs in conversation with Mark Webber
Star Spangled To Death
1957-2003, col./b&w, English spoken, 393’
This Magnum Opus by Ken Jacobs was in the making for almost half a century. Initiated in 1957 as one of his “urban-guerilla-cinema” projects with avant-garde legend Jack Smith, this film developed into a 6-hour-plus social criticism of the U.S. which, in his words, was “stolen and dangerously sold-out”. Footage of his own is combined with fragments from documentaries, cartoons, musicals and educational films, as a reflection on such issues as race and religion, war addiction and the monopolisation of wealth. A splendid immersion in clownish euphoria and political despair.
Su 21.10.2007 PERFORMANCE Nervous Magic Lantern with a live soundtrack by Aki Onda (venue:Bozar)
The Nervous Magic Lantern unravels an unexpected film before our eyes, without actors, without a plot, without celluloid or video. Making use of pre-cinematographic techniques an illusory dreamworld is created, where the spectator is immersed in alienating, rotating landscapes suggesting the shape of volcanic glass, desolate craters or glacial gorges. The result is a hallucinatory three-dimensional watching experience, in which impossible phenomena and non-existing locations come to life in the projected dimension between the screen and the gaze of the spectator, like an innuendo of abstract shapes.
Musician, composer and visual artist Aki Onda (JP, 1967) is always on the lookout, camera and sound recorder at hand, ready to document his travels and encounters. He looks for meaning in the accumulation of those memories, when the specific experiences fade out and the architecture and essence of the memory reveals itself. His ongoing project Cassette Memories consists of a series of performances, or rituals, where he lets memories, recorded on soundtape, wander and collide with the sounds of the site-specific memory. Onda has previously worked with such artists as Alan Licht, Loren Connors, Michael Snow and Otomo Yoshihide. This is his first collaboration with Ken Jacobs.
(Curated with Maria Palacios Cruz and Xavier Garcia-Bardon)
MEDIA, MEMORY AND THE ARCHIVE
Argos, Brussels (in the context of the OPEN ARCHIVE #1 event)
How will generations after us look back on artistic production of the 20th and 21st centuries? Media formats, operating systems, software and hardware, browsers and the internet as we know it today will have evolved beyond recognition, both in shape and in use. What strategies might be used to transpose technology-based works, variable, hybrid and ephemeral by nature, to an unknown and unpredictable future? How can intent, context and experience be recorded and permanently interpreted? The archiving process does not merely represent an attempt to preserve some notions, it also implicates that others will be forgotten. What is relevant for preservation? The technical structure of the archive determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event. What is the impact of used models, technical structures and tools on the construction of cultural memory? How does information travel through time, now that the world is being (re)presented and organised more and more as a database, dynamic and networked? How will museums and other memory institutions cope with these new paradigms and what is the role media artists and we ourselves might have in the structuring of public memory?
JOSEPHINE BOSMA, JEAN-FRANCOIS BLANCHETTE, STEVE DIETZ, WOLFGANG ERNST, CHARLIE GERE, OLIVER GRAU, RICHARD RINEHART
Moderated by Marleen Wynants (CROSSTALKS, Vrije Universiteit Brussel – VUB)
Co-production with Packed
VIDEO VORTEX : RESPONSES TO YOUTUBE
Argos, Brussels (in the context of the OPEN ARCHIVE #1 event)
Over the past years the moving image has claimed an increasingly prominent place on the internet. Thanks to a wide range of technologies and web applications it has become possible, not only to record and distribute video, but to edit and remix it on-line as well. With this world of possibilities within reach of a multitude of social actors, the potential of video as a personal means of expression has arrived at a totally new dimension. How is this potential being used? How do artists and activists react to the popularity of YouTube and other ‘user-generated-content’ websites? What is the impact of the availability of massive on-line images and sound databases on aesthetics and narrativity? How is Cinema, as an art form and experience, influenced by the development of widely spreading internet practices? What does YouTube tell us about the state of art in visual culture? And how does the participation culture of video-sharing and vlogging reach some degree of autonomy and diversity, escaping the laws of the mass media and the strong grip of media conglomerates?
This Video Vortex conference is the first in a series of international events, aimed at critical research and reflection surrounding the production and distribution of on-line video content, at the instigation of the Institute of Network Cultures (INC).
JOHAN GRIMONPREZ, PETER HORVATH, LEV MANOVICH, ANA KRONSCHNABL & TOMAS RAWLINGS, ADRIAN MILES, SIMON RUSCHMEYER, KEITH SANBORN, PETER WESTENBERG.
Introduced by Geert Lovink. Moderated by Sabine Niederer.
Co-production with Institute of Network Cultures
Sleeping Machine (Machinefabriek + Sleeping Dog) / Discodesafinado
The long-playing debut of Machinefabriek, brought out last year by the one-man project of Rutger Zuydervelt, was very well received, among other things it ended up on The Wire’s year-end listings. Rightly so: with a great sense of tension Machinefabriek layers and weaves together melodious textures, grainy noise and found sounds into atmospherical compositions, keeping a balance between the pop deconstructions by Fennesz and the melancholical soundscapes of William Basinski. Just like them he explores the twilight zone between figuration and abstraction, where time seems to have come to a halt and the echoes of the memory resound. At Argos Machinefabriek will team up with Sleeping Dog, the homeproject of Chantal Acda, who also plays with the Belgian Band Chacda. Expect fairytales, noise, drones and David Lynch ambience.
The duo Joris Vermeiren and Senjan Jansen is responsible for the concert series Discodesafinado, which set the tone during the 1990s for the electronics trend currently sweeping the international club and art circuit. The same header also houses a label and a music project, rivalling their examples from the very start. With their work, scarcely distributed and performed, they snuggle up warmly to such ‘minimal-techno’ masters as Thomas Brinkmann or Vladislav Delay. With digital tools and analogous drum machines they explore a musical territory in which classic minimalism and microscopic sound patterns converge with elements from techno and house. The result is a pointillist pallet of micro sounds, both rhythmical and contemplative. Music for the head and legs.
Jon Ippolito: Art After Institutions
Participatory media like Flickr and YouTube have given ordinary netizens a chance to shine as media creators, but this fact hasn’t gone over well with “serious” artists and their curatorial counterparts. Seemingly bereft of the social status, economic privilege, and institutional recognition of mainstream art stars, some new media artists wonder what role, if any, remains for them to play in the the Web 2.0 age of peer-filtered creativity. As Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito argue in the 2006 book At the Edge of Art, new media art’s dependence on institutions is indeed in crisis, but this is more of a loss for galleries and museums than for the artists themselves. For participatory media are on the verge of enabling creators to regain the power they once held before the era of commodity speculation and the art market: the ability to reconnect people in new forms of creative kinship, whereby artworks facilitate social transactions rather than financial ones. To accept this new role, however, artists, curators, and critics may have to renounce the pyramid scheme offered by the brick-and-mortar art world, replacing the monolithic canon of Great Artists with a dense network of creative participants.
The recipient of Tiffany, Lannan, and American Foundation awards, Jon Ippolito exhibited artwork with collaborative teammates Janet Cohen and Keith Frank at the Walker Art Center, ZKM/Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, and WNET’s ReelNewYork Web site. As Associate Curator of Media Arts at the Guggenheim Museum, he curated Virtual Reality: An Emerging Medium and, with John G. Hanhardt, The Worlds of Nam June Paik. Ippolito’s critical writing has appeared in periodicals ranging from Flash Art and the Art Journal to the Washington Post. At the Still Water lab co-founded with Joline Blais, Ippolito is at work on three projects–the Variable Media Network, the Open Art Network, and their 2006 book At the Edge of Art–that aim to expand the art world beyond its traditional confines.
In cooperation with the International Visitors Program for Media Arts organised by Digitaal Platform IAK/IBK and Flanders Image.
Toshimaru Nakamura + Nicholas Bussman
Marcus Schmickler + Hayden Chisholm
Toshimaru Nakamura is part of the so-called Onkyo scene, a group of Japanese musicians who, as a reaction against the excess of image, sound and movement in ultramodern cities like Tokyo, have built up a minimalist sound world, typified by almost immobile purity and intense restraint. His work revolves around the “no-input mixing board” technique, creating electronic feedback by tying together the input and output of a mixing console. Berlin-based curator and musician Nicholas Bussman enjoyed training as a cellist, before he decided to explore the musical potential of electronics. Among other things he called into being Kapital Band 1, along with Martin Brandlmayr (Radian). Currently he prefers performing to recording and he explores unorthodox composition methods. Nakamura and Bussmann have been working together since 2004 as Alles3. The combination of their wide-ranging musical approaches brings about unexpected sound frictions.
The curriculum of Marcus Schmickler might be read as a survey of the influential Cologne music scene. His projects are as countless as they are varied: from krautrock-based psychedelica of Pol and the shoegazer pop of Pluramon, to the digital sound textures of Wabi Sabi and the orchestra (de)compositions of Param. The extensive list of collaborations includes such names as Kaffe Matthews, Peter Rehberg, Thomas Lehn, Thomas Brinkmann and John Tilbury. Schmickler always deals with the exploration of the outer limits of sound research and the integration of inert sound matter in new surroundings. One of the musicians he regularly works with is the saxophone player and composer from New Zealand Hayden Chisholm. Their common project Amazing Daze explores and broadens the sound spectrum of the bagpipes and the Sho (Japanese mouth organ), which results in multilayered, massive drones.
Geert Lovink: New Media Arts at the Crossroads
The emerging new media arts genre is in a crisis. Not that ‘new media’ are on its way out. What we’re talking here is a luxury problem: in what direction to grow futher? After an initial period in which time and again the question ‘what is new media?’ was raised, we have now moved to a second phase, in which large parts of the population have gotten familiar with multimedia, cell phones and the Internet. However, new media arts still operates in a self-referential ghetto, dominated by techno-fetishism. In the meanwhile, the world at large has moved from utopian promisses about virtual reality and cyberspace to a culture of massive use. Taking this ‘democratization’ of new technologies in mind, what are the implications of this shift for the ‘electronic arts’ branch? Should new media artists and their (few) institutions seek collaboration and interegration with the museum and gallery art? Should new media as a seperate category, with its own festivals and exhitions, be integrated into the broader ‘contemporary arts’? Or should we rather further institutionalize the new media discipline?
Geert Lovink (NL/AUS), media theorist and activist, Internet critic and author of Dark Fiber, Uncanny Networks and My First Recession. He worked on various media projects in Eastern Europe and India. He is a member of the Adilkno collective (Cracking the Movement, The Media Archive) and co-founder of Internet projects such as The Digital City, Nettime, Fibreculture and Incommunicado. He is founder and director of the Institute of Network Cultures, professor at Interactive Media (Hogeschool van Amsterdam) and associate professor at the Media & Culture department, University of Amsterdam. In 2005-2006 he was a fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study. His blog: www.networkcultures.org/geert
Giuseppe Ielasi / Keith Rowe (solo + duo)
Giuseppe Ielasi is among the vanguard of a new generation of Italian sound pioneers, exploring the outer limits of the electro-acoustic domain in a wide variety of configurations, moving freely between improvisation and composition. As a guitar player Ielasi has been in the ascendant for a number of years in the international live improvisation scene, among others in collaboration with Taku Sugimoto, Dean Roberts, Brandon LaBelle and Thomas Ankersmit. In his solo compositions he typically seems to make use of the chiaroscuro-effect, looking for a balance between abstract tone experiment and melodious structures. As of late his attention goes out to location-specific performances, making use of microphones and a multispeaker system to explore the relation between sound and space.
Keith Rowe ranks as one of the main figures within the European electro acoustic improvisation movement. Already since the 1960s, when he set up the influential AMM ensemble with percussionist Eddie Prévost and saxophone player Lou Gare, he has explored the idea of “controlled accident”. Mainly inspired by the visual arts, Rowe has developed an idiom of his own over the last decades, based on diverse ‘prepared guitar’ techniques and the manipulation of short wave signals. He is a pioneer of the so-called ‘tableguitar’ concept, placing the guitar in a horizontal position, dissecting its sound potential as if it were a patient in surgery. In the twenty-first century Keith Rowe is more active than ever. He counts as the thriving force behind the electronic bigband MIMEO and he has worked with countless artists of various generations, including Christian Fennesz, Toshimaru Nakamura, Günter Müller and John Tilbury.
Philip Jeck / Pierre Bastien
British turn-tablist Philip Jeck (1952) studied visual arts but has been experimenting with vinyl records as musical instruments since the eighties,inspired by both the hip-hop movement and Christian Marclay’s collages. Using old turntables and mainly obscure vinyls, he creates repetitive and evocative soundtracks, which haunt the individual and collective memories just as a halo of distortions and mutations. After a long stray as a composer for dance and theatre, he now focuses essentially on his experiments and installations with vinyl records, often collaborating with other artists such as Jah Wobble, Jacob Kirkegaard and Janek Schaefer.
Born in Paris, where he studied French literature, Pierre Bastien (1953) lives in Rotterdam. Since the late seventies, he has been a composer for several dance companies just as he patiently developed his dream project : “Mecanium”, a mechanical orchestra. Built out of mechanic elements and recycled engines, it reproduces the sounds of traditional instruments from all around the world; from African drums to the Indonesian gamelan, from the kora to the thump-piano.The resulting miniature symphonies, both futuristic as well as somewhat dada, are emphasized by melodies for wind and string instruments performed by Bastien himself.
Brian Holmes: The Absent Rival: Radical Art in a Political Vacuum
The story begins with the archetypal scene of interventionist art: the moment when the Yes Men step out of the Internet and into a corporate conference, expecting to provoke violent outrage. Instead everybody smiles, shakes hands and asks for a business card. Can political satire make meaning ina vacuum, when elites don’t even recognize its critique? Extending the discussion to Italy – home of Luther Blisset and 0100101110101101.org, but also of Silvio Berlusconi – Brian Holmes looks at the destiny of the artist-provocateur without a rival. Capitalist democracy, as Bernard Stiegler claims, seems unable to rise above the fantastic technical mutation it has set into motion. To what extent has the activist generation really used new technology to invent new subjectivities? What would we do in the face of the enlightened industrial bourgeoisie that Stiegler dreams of?
Brian Holmes is an activist critic. Over the past ten years he has collaborated with a wide variety of social movements in Europe and the Americas. His writings can be found in a wide range of books, magazines and journals, and can also be accessed for free at www.u-tangente.org.
Manipulators: I’m not a Horse
VIDEOPROGRAM curated by Johan Grimonprez & Charlotte Léouzon
‘Manipulators’ is a TV genre in which the programme is improvised by the curators. With Podcasts,online TV, mobile phones, video Ipods, blogs and YouTube, the digital age allows an infinite number of images and sounds to travel the world in no time. It is the era of home made productions, which expresses the chaotic nature of the human condition today as well as the cynicism of power.This video compilation, which can be understood both as the joyful affirmation of a superb global disengagement and the catalyst of effervescent criticism, is best described as a platform for temporary disobedience.
Johan Grimonprez (1962) lives and works both in Ghent and New York, where he is a visiting professor at the School of Visual Arts. He is best-known for his video work DIAL H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997). In this and other work he mainly investigates the use of massmedia as a political instrument and a considerable tool in the construction of realities, in our era of infotainment and mediasaturation. Charlotte Léouzon (1971) has written for Liberation, Jalouse, DS, Dépeche Mode and Beaux Arts. She is a talent scout, who collects experimental cinema, video art, commercials and music videos.
Oren Ambarchi / Ignatz
Oren Ambarchi (AU)
In the sound quest of the Australian guitar player and percussionist Oren Ambarchi (1969) a broad range of influences can be traced, from freejazz, noise and ethnic music to conventional song structures and minimalist composition. His solo work mainly focuses on the electro-acoustic transformation of the guitar, as a laboratory for tone research. The result is an abstract, fragile world of sound, in which the borders of time and space are constantly challenged. In the past Ambarchi has worked with a wide variety of musicians, such as Martin Ng (Australia), Christian Fennesz (Austria), Otomo Yoshihide (Japan), Pimmon (Australia), John Zorn (USA), Voice Crack (Switzerland), Sachiko M (Japan), Keith Rowe (UK), Phill Niblock (USA), Günter Müller (Switzerland), Evan Parker (UK) and Toshimaru Nakamura (Japan). He has been recently spotted in the company of the much-discussed drone assembly sunn0))).
Grown up on a diet of lo-fi pop, ancient blues and the ‘Smithsonian Anthology Of Folk’, Bram Devens labels himself, not without irony, as a lo-fi fascist. Armed with nothing but a couple of seedy guitars, an archaic tape recorder and some effects, he creates disjointed sound scraps, mounted from a haze of improvised melodic figures and dark noise shadows. Both wayward and enchanting, intimate and alienating, romantic and poignant, his rich art-brut compositions explore the dark corners of the musical spectrum, where beauty arises out of intuition and confrontation.
Cinema Arenberg, 2006 – 2008
A monthly screning of artists’ film and/or video jointly organised by Argos and Cinema Arenberg, in collaboration with La Cambre Academy.
with works by James Benning, Pedro Costa, Douglas Gordon, Sharon Lockhart, Anthony McCall & Andrew Tyndall, …
And here are some flyers from the good ol’ days, when things seemed some much simpler and “curating” was just another annoying buzzword used by self-conscious neo-managers. Ah, nostalgia…
more stuff to come…