I’ve been invited to participate in the Emyre mailing list discussion this week, so will cross post here. Already gone off piste I guess, but hey:
Empyre is here.
Thanks for the invitation to guest here. I wanted to start with two quotes from the rubric for this discussion:
“From the Depth of Projection to the Extension of the City The performances with projection rescue the tri-dimensionality of the place and set the image back to human proportions. This allows us to jump from closed to open spaces, from private to public domain. The city is not only a setting: every wall can be a screen; every window, a projection booth”
“The borders between public and private spaces are essential for the existence of cinema as such”
Thinking about this, I went back and looked up the early comment that: “cinema is a collection of techniques to make the light lay on a surface” – my trouble with this definition, perhaps, is mainly that it leaves out the audio – the surround sound of the cinema space. In so many ways the city, and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure. The audio cannot be ignored in cinema, even when it moves away from the proscenium screen. I think it is productive to think of the city as cinema (this is not new) but also to think the border this way. Audio-visual passports? Even our dialogue on the border is scripted. Sure, the border begins as a line in the sand, and cinema too has a silent pre-history, but even this spatiality was never totally mute.
So, ‘media as architecture’ sure, but this includes sound, and we need a way to talk of this without relegating the metaphors to secondary status behind the screen (where the speakers are?) – I am deeply dissatisfied with the term soundscape and all this talk of distance. The way metaphors of vision and geography dominate the audio-visual. The whole thing about writing on the screen gets stuck here too – though that would take an excursus into Derrida (and perhaps Stiegler) to unpack, and cost us years and lives.
So, to cut to the main theme – all this comes up in our [Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, AHRC Beyond Text] project on Borders, which I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce here. This may seem opportunistic, but my habit is to think in reverse, or against my first expectation. See what I did above – started thinking about the screen only to insist on talking about audio. The idea behind the borders project stems from this kind of wayward/dissonant process.
So, I want to think in the opposite direction from film studies, not with a view to understanding film, or screens or media, though of course film studies helps us understand what we see (and hear), but to suggest that we ask what can our understanding of film (I’d rather say, the telematic) can bring to our understanding of other pressing questions.
For me, the ‘pressing’ questions have to do with issues such as migration, racism (profiling, the war of terror, security hysteria) and capital (economic restructuring, cultural economy etc). Also perhaps climate/environment, and of course resistance to capital (what is required to ‘win’?).
One part of this – backwards thinking process – is to ask how an understanding from one field – eg., cinema/telematics, screens, the audio-visual etc., – might offer ways of rethinking things in another – such as terror, or racism, or migration/borders – and reconfigure the activities and activisms that stem therefrom. A series of our Border workshops have explored this, following a trajectory from the audio, through performativity and now, next, to cinema. How do these areas of interest provoke new modes, sites, registers of activism and action? I hope you can read between the lines here and we can set up a relay between this project and the current one on “Extension of the City” (my next post on cities I promise, though here I am already engaging with the suggestion that ‘This division [of cinema space] reflects not only the organizational logic of the cinematographic industry, but that of society as well’ ).
Anyway, here is the Border Documentary call, recently sent out, for the workshop to be held in Copenhagen in November (mentioning the earlier workshops too):
In “Sonic Border” (London Nov 2008) we explored the way sound crosses the border differently, provoking a rethink of the border’s location – not just in ports, and the authoritarian boot boys of the nation state, but between us all, in conversations, in ideas – an oppressive structure of language, meaning, representation, and in the cry of protest and in the music of solidarity across divides. The border echoes everywhere, it resonates and shouts from every station location, wherever you listen look. Sound problematized the geographic and visual location of the border regime.
In “Theatre Border” (Berlin April 2009) the performative, tactile and ritualistic force of the border as staged power suggests we rethink connection, touch, proximity and co-responsibility. The theatrical exclusion of others manufactures a charade populated by demons, caricatures and monstrosity. We don’t want to be cast in such dramas.
In “Border Documents” (Copenhagen Nov 2009) we will join the CPH.DOX documentary film festival to consider the border as it unfolds in time/screen based media – what does thinking about border activism and the telematic offer us? Possible topics include the border in television news, the in-focus out of focus role of CCTV in detention centres, the scanning screens of the immigration check, the civilian phone-cam exposé of deportation and ‘Torture Taxi’ (special rendition) flights, and more.
We are interested in new perspectives on the status and function of the documentary forms today, as they cross the ontological divide between fiction and truth, art and reality (objective/subjective, social, political, ethical etc) and frame alternative ways of seeing, witnessing, representing, archiving and experiencing ‘the elements of truth’ (Steyerl, 2003). Can we understand documentation not as paper passports or mere representation but as docketing the (re)construction of (new) social and political realities – we are interested in time and screen formats that offer access to critical recontextualization of the reproduction of borders, and of unfolding new agents of social and political (ex)change. On a more formalistic note, how does the documentary form carry a politic, an ethics or epistemology and how can the documentary film help us see and act differently? Does the time of the border transform its place, or its performative character? Does border activism lend itself to the cinematic? Can we film another way across?
Border Documents (here)