Archive for Truth/reality/illusion

Sarah Turner – Perestroika

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Cinema, Psychogeography with tags , , , , on January 24, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In Perestroika, filmmaker Sarah Turner uses documentary footage shot during a trip made on a Transiberian as an Art School student in December 1987-january 1988, and footage shot on the same trip repeated 20 years later. The film explores psychogeography, the unreliable nature of memory and the ambiguity between truth and fiction. The film contains a voice over spoken by a fictional character called Sarah Turner who both is and isn’t the film maker and addressed to ‘you’, who is Sarah’s friend who accompanied her on the first trip but is now dead. However, the use of ‘you’ gives the audience the ambiguous feeling that they are being addressed directly.

As the voice over monologue becomes increasingly hallucinated, psychic reality increasingly replaces documentary reality, culminating in an apocalyptic hallucination where Sarah believes the lake Baikal is on fire. In an interview with Sight and Sound, Sarah Turner explains: “I wanted the indexical and the uncanny to change places by the end of the film. I needed to believe in my stomach that that fictional character ‘Sarah Turner’ believed that the water was on fire. There are real facts of life within a fictional structure, but what is evidence, fact, and what is affect?”

I went to see the film at Cambridge Film Festival and she answered audience questions and commented further on her film. She considers that ‘memory is as much fiction as it is fact’ and the film was a ‘conscious decision to play with the space of fact and fiction’. ‘Everyone that makes some kind of artwork uses their emotional experiences and connects them to the real world.’

About the use of autobiographical material, she considers that the 1987-1988 footage has a quality of ‘unknowing naïvete’: in 1987-88, Sarah Turner realised only after a day that the camera captured sound. So when the students talk among themselves on the recording, they don’t know they are being recorded. Today we are used to the constant presence of cameras, we constantly perform for them. Turner calls our attitudes resulting from our constant expectation to be watched a ‘register of performativity’.

Sarah Turner also seems interested in cinema as a social phenomenon. She considers that, nowadays, ‘our experience of the world is mediated by lenses’. Cinema is ‘a social experience that we have anonymously’, ‘a collective emotional experience, that actually also occurs in public transport’, which she links to her interest in trains. ‘The only two places where people sleep in public are trains and cinemas’.

This idea of constant surveillance is echoed in the sound design where the recurring sound of a shutter clicking symbolises ‘the violence of photography’. Sarah Turner worked on the sound design herself and ‘all the sound in the film is recorded by the tape in situ, including the music’ (people were actually singing in the Church).

Commenting on audience engagement with artworks, Turner considers that ‘the most active experience is reading a novel where people project their own canvas on the frame provided by the author’.

She also gave a technical about how to shoot landscape from a train: one needs to ‘focus beyond the dirt on the window’.

I was interested in this film because of the themes of psychogeography and truth/fiction ambiguity which echo my own concerns, but also because it is an ‘artist film’ almost entirely made by one person with just a bit of technical help from others. It made me wonder how I could introduce some form of narrative in my video art while still continuing to shoot documentary/unstaged footage.

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-5_420.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-2_420.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-4_420.jpg

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Documentary, fiction and the problem of truth

Posted in Cinema, Critical theory, Reading notes with tags , , , on September 28, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

The documentary chronotope, Michael Chanan

from Jump Cut, no. 43, July 2000, pp. 56-61
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 2000, 2006

“When Bakhtin speaks of how “space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history,” he is advancing a notion which becomes more concrete in Henri Lefebvre’s work on representational space. In Lefebvre, a representational space is a system of symbolic representations, constituted by artistic and other media and forms, each with its own material characteristics, comprising a culturally and historically specific system which in some way maps the elements and relations of the physical, the social and the mental worlds. In doing so, the medium incorporates or signifies the physical space of the actually existing world, and makes symbolic use of it. Representational spaces thus tend towards a more or less coherent system of nonverbal symbols and signs. The products of representational spaces (to follow Lefebvre) are symbolic works, in this case, films, either fiction or documentary, or some admixture of the two. Does this also mean we can distinguish different types of representational space which correspond to different modes of filmic utterance? Is documentary perhaps a different screen world from fiction?”

“the almost universal prohibition in fiction (with certain notable exceptions) against actors looking directly at the camera, so as not to be seen by the spectator as staring directly at them. […] The rule functioned to maintain the illusion of the camera as an unseen observer, always in the right position to show the unfolding action, the appropriate scene; thus transporting the disembodied viewer into the space of the screen world. This ban does not have the same force in documentary, even in the most conventional examples. In documentary, the illusion the camera seeks to maintain is unnecessary. Indeed, it may well go against a stronger imperative — to present a sense of actuality, of testimony, and of the presence of the camera as a witness in the same space as the events unfolding. […] the acknowledgment of the camera serves to reinforce the reality effect, whereas later, in fiction, it will break it.”

“Fiction is the work of pro-filmic construction, even, one might add, when it is constructed in order to imitate documentary. Documentary, however, even when it imitates fiction, is a form of selection from the actually existing world. Although it runs the gamut from the filmographic interpretation of what is already there, to a constructed or reconstructed rendering of selected elements, the incursion of noise and accident provides evidence that the image is taken from the space of lived experience. Therefore it has a quality or degree of veracity which is not greater than that of fiction, but different. In short, the representational space produced by documentary has different co-ordinates from those of fiction.”

“If documentary depends on a disposition to believe, then fiction evokes what is traditionally spoken of as “the suspension of disbelief””

“Fictional screen space creates the unities of the scene and the plot. Through the ubiquitous camera and altering frame, the spectator becomes a vicarious unseen observer, transported into an imaginary space which is very similar to real space but behaves according to its own generic rules. These rules are different in the case of documentary from those of fiction. Where the space of the fictional narrative produces continuity, documentary space is composed of discontinuities, both spatial and temporal, produced by dialectical (and dialogical) associations across time and space. Neither of these modes of articulation is absolute or totalizing, but fictional screen space, ever since the ban was first raised against the actor gazing at the camera, has an ineluctable tendency towards closure and abstraction from lived experience. In contrast, in the space of documentary the represented world is not separated from the viewer by reason of narrative principle. On the contrary, the social reality portrayed here is one in which a viewer could in principle find themselves present, putatively, or as a potential historical subject, and sometimes palpably. It is a world, in other words, which is continuous with the space in which the viewer lives their own life, not separate from it.”

Wreckage upon Wreckage: History, Documentary and the Ruins of Memory, Paula Rabinowitz, 1993

“The sense of immediacy-as-truth/truth-as-immediacy was central to the earliest scientific and modernist uses of the cinema”

“History is where pain and death occur but it is in representation that the facts and events gain meaning.” As “star” of the documentary, the presence of the body, especially the body in pain, signifies a truth and realness which seems to defy contextualization.”
Bill Nichols, Representing Reality (Bloomington, Ind., 1991), 265.
“the purely psychosexual manifestations of lack and plenitude, differentiation and identification, which characterize the fetishistic forms of narrative desire”
“The spectator of documentary, this subject of agency, also desires, but desires to remember and to remake history. But how is this spectator hailed by the documentary if the psychosexual processes of identification and disavowal central to narrative address are routed away from interiority and located in evidence? Primarily through an appeal to feeling over thinking.”

“the fragmentary quality of truth”

Jill Godmilow, director of Far from Poland (1984) calls for “deconstructing the documentary . . . to reformulate language -not just verbal language but visual language as well. To poke holes in the existing language, to make spaces, so that there is a possibility for imagination and action to work through it.”
Jill Godmilow, “Far from Finished: Deconstructing the Documentary, An Interview by Brooke Jacobson,” in Reimagining America: The Arts of Social Change, ed. Mark O’Brien and Craig Little (Philadelphia, 1990), 181.

“This desire to dream, to provoke imagination, seems to lead the documentary away from the realm of history and truth into the realm of art and artifice. How are we to judge historical documentaries if they call themselves dreams? In documentary the viewer is asked to participate in a series of contracts -between film and its object, between filmmaker and audience, between reality and representation. In the traditional documentary- including its use for historians -the response to the film is usually confined to whether the viewer agrees or disagrees with the content. On rare occasions the “protagonist” of the film succeeds in convincing the viewer to follow its position- save the dolphins by boycotting tuna, for example- but the construction of the cinematic argument is left unexamined. In the deconstructionist documentary like Shoah and Far From Poland, the object of the film is to produce a new and disturbing knowledge of history and of its rhetoric-of both its content and its form. Like the Angel of History, we are asked to become complicit in the process of making meaning, of making history. We are made uncomfortable, not by images of cute dolphins bleeding on the deck of the tuna boat or by the emaciated limbs and swollen bellies of hungry children in Somalia, but by the codes which allow the images to make us say “Oh, how awful” and go on about our lives.”

Canterbury University Symposium: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”

Posted in Critical theory, Methodology, Moving image techniques, Reading notes, Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

In June 2010, I attended a Symposium at Canterbury University: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”. Below are reading notes from this symposium. I was interested in it because it focused on lens-based images creating an awkward feeling of ambiguity regarding their documentary or staged nature, something I came to identify as a key concern in my practice.

Jon Dovey ‘The Limits of Vernacular Video’

Gaza Sderot: interactive video
The Himan Pet: Fake hostage video asking viewers to save the filmed subject
Derrida – Kate Modern on youtube ? the camera crew is no longer invisible

“Creative manipulation of reality” (author?)

Sarah Turner ’On documentary and Perestroika’

In Perestroïka, Sarah Turner repeats a journey to Siberia done 20 years ago (1987-88). Two friends present in the original trip are now dead at the moment of refilm in dec 2007- jan 2008

external events internalised
“Why and when does a documentary work display the truth of fiction ?”
memory, loss, photography, truth/fact, evidence
ourselves vs others and how it makes us
uncanny/real
refuses the duality between facts and the fiction of memory
psychogeography/dream

questions from audience:
Does the web esthetic of autobiographical filmmaking infect normal filmmaking?
I thought of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park. Someone names Eli Harrison
“Who holds our story if the other is not here to do it?”
There is a more democratic access to cinema than to Art (just buy a ticket and be anonymous in the dark, compared to gallery environment)
Stiegler – Montage

Elizabeth Cowie  ‘The Contingency of the encounter in  documentary video art’

Rien que les heures – Cavalcanti – 1926 shows the city of paris and images of poverty
Badiou
Deleuze – intervals ????
Walter Benjamin “dialectical image” = image charged with history

Lauren Wright ‘The time between reality and fiction’

Curator at Turner Contemporary, Margate

picture by Turner of an imaginary landscape: he had read the description of it but never seen it
temporality shaped by artwork shaped by artwork and exhibition space
Bergson “creative evolution”

Matthew Buckingham: situation leading to a story
The visitors hears the sound but they have to walk around some walls to see the images (the sound continues in 2nd space with image)
the images are found footage: 4 rolls of 1920s home movies. The soundtrack is the artist’s comments/reflexions about what these films are about, who are the people in it, why the films have been thrown away, suppositions about unknown family drama and the possible cause of it.
Time as a collection of different temporal frames ? it does not let us collapse the different temporal frames

Robert Smithson, spiral jetty

Irit Rogoff ‘Bared Life – On the Documentary Turn in Visual Culture’

I missed most of this because I was watching the screenings.

Foucault: territorial ->population

Adam Chodzko ‘Latitudes’

ghost, echo, journey

Salam Cinema, 1995, Teheran

1998: Meunien ? he tried to find the 16 young victims from Pasolini’s Salo. Only one responded, he found doubles to replace the other original actors
The actor that responded was the one whose character did not do the final execution scene !!!
originally, Pasolini wanted footage from the cast party at the end of the film. But he finally decided against it, decided it was more disturbing not to explicitly tell the audience it was “only fiction”
-> makes me think of the ending of Greenaway’s The Baby of Mâcon

fabricated images from Milosevic trial ?check?

1967: David ?Holsman? Diary. Story of a director who obssessively records everything. Against the claims of “direct cinema”

Strawberry pickers
archive show “migrant workers” from East London come to pick hop in Kent in the 20’s and 30’s
the archives were edited by contemporary Romanian strawberry pickers. They said that the workers in the archive looked happier than themselves. By the end of the archive watching session, their attention start to drift and they start talking about themselves and their dreams

Chris Marker, Sans soleil: People sleeping in the tube, intercut with scary images of their dreams

An actor comes to an audition for a movie and pretends to be blind. When asked why by the director, he says he did it for the love of cinema.

A man burns himself with a cigarette, saying it is the only way to show the effect of Napalm (which causes a 3000°C burn compared to 400°C for a cigarette.
-> Does trauma/hurt guarantee authenticity ?
-> My own work on Magdalene/asylums ? Is it a cheap trick ?

Agnostic anxiety: not to know whether what you see or think is real or not, correct or not.

As a spectator, do you expect transformation from an artwork ?

Questions:

My question: in “A letter to Uncle Boonmee”, “soldiers occupied the place, killed villagers, forced them to flee to the jungle”. Yet the deserted houses are very clean (and houses in ireland show how very quickly they deteriorate). So this image hints at recent trauma/violence. This is reinforced by the presence of fictionnal soldiers played by local teens. Are they real houses or stage design ?
-> previous speaker: trauma/hurt guarantee of authenticity
-> I point out to a urbex forum discussion of the moral implications for the artist/urbexer of picturing recent trauma. Are the moral implications different between taking pictures of Tchernobyl and post Katrina NOLA?

Michael Newall

Pyramid – Adam Chodzko: Folkestone residents reaction to the appearance and disappearance of an otherworldly object, the pyramid.

International God Look-alike competition – Adam Chodzko

Philosophy of Art
Cognitivism: the value of Art is to offer knowledge/deepen understanding
Bourriaud – relational aesthetics: art that facilitates communities
-> critic of it: it designs only social situations where there are no conflicted interests. Different from real life.
-> he argues that activist art can change social situations, as opposed to relational
-> my objection: Activist art gives an answer to the audience (thesis, propaganda) whereas relational art make audience make their own meaning
-> later I actually get the opportunity to ask this and here is the answer: he refered not to propaganda/thesis art but to activist art in situ that have uncontrollable consequences where the happening takes place. And also other things like Antisocial Networking which used Google advertising revenues in order to buy google shares.

Brian Dillon

André Breton and Dogma 95 have in common a confusion between fact and fiction, and put serious and comedy together.

Artists are increasingly encouraged to be academics (“practice led research”). The relationship between Art and Academia is ambiguous. He says that the artist does not like the label of intuition and wants the image of rigour (my unvoiced objection: Certainly not all artists !!!)

The museum values what is not Art in Art: what looks like Art is called kitsch! That’s how the Avant guarde gets into the museum, because it looks different. The Avant guarde blurs the line with everyday life. In order to be successful, the artist produces something that does not look like Art. My unvoiced objection: this is a recent “postmodern” phenomenon. Dada and surrealists certainly did not make it to museum when they first started making strange objects, rather they were insulted n the press by respectable art critics.

What is now valued in Art is the research/knowledge underneath the work. References to other disciplines, “the world as such”. My unvoiced objection: “the world as such” is not the same as “the world as observed by academics”. What did art refer to before ? Didn’t it refer directly to “life” as opposed to an academic representation of life?

Jeremy Millar

Human Forms in Art (2008)
-> taken from the name of a display case in the Pit Rivers Museum (Oxford) that was emptied for building works
-> When interviewing someone for a documentary, people first say what they want to say. You have to keep looking at them without saying anything or stopping the camera and after a while they end up saying what they did not want to say, which often turns out more interesting.
Withdrawal of responsibility by pretending to be just passing on some found material: this is an old tradition in literature.
-> he found something about Duchamp by making a film, a fact that no academic knew of, but someone commented to him that a Phd would be more valued than the movie: the Big Duchamp stained glass “The Bride stripped bare by her bachelors” was apparently inspired by sash windows he saw for the first time in a little town in Kent.
-> My idea: there may be a pun behind this. Sash window = fenêtre à guillotine. A nickname for the guillotine was “La Veuve” (= “The Widow”) which sounds a lot like window. This coincidence may have amused Duchamp -> sacrificing a bride to make a widow?

Jeremy Millar filmed “Ajapeegel” (“Time-Mirror” in Estonian), a video set in the abandoned plant where Andrei Tarkovsky filmed “Stalker”.

Ajapeegel (2008)
Digital Video / PAL 16:9 Anamorphic / Stereo
Narrated by Simon Paisley-Day

The work has been developed from an earlier, abandoned video of the same name, that was to explore the relationship (or lack thereof) between groups of English men on stag-weekends in Tallinn, Estonia, and the three men in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’ (1979), which was also shot in and around the city. In ‘Stalker’, the eponymous guide, a scientist and a writer all travel to a room in the ‘Zone’ where, it is said, their inner-most wishes will come true; similarly those men on stag-weekends also make a transitional journey, where, they hope, their desires will be made real also. However, after having filmed a great deal of footage on the original locations in 2005, I found it impossible to realise this planned film, and this new work is, in many ways, a documentary of this failure; an ‘unmaking of’ rather than a ‘making of’ film.

Time-Mirror (2007)
Duration 00:19:20:10
Digital Audio File

This project has been developed from another work, ‘Ajapeegel’, (2008) inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, ‘Stalker’, much of which was shot just outside Tallinn, in Estonia. ‘Time-Mirror’ — the English translation of the Estonian ‘Ajapeegel’ — was made by mixing recordings made at the site of a disused hydroelectric power station outside Tallinn, where parts of ‘Stalker’ where shot, with recordings made at Grain Power Station during an artist’s placement there. The similarities between the ‘Zone’ and Grain — the power stations, the desolate landscape, even the military installations — mean that they act as ‘Time-Mirrors’ to one another, or perhaps, more appropriately in this context, as echoes; these are places that reverberate.

Ajapeegel (2005)
Colour Photographs

These are photographs taken in and around Tallinn, Estonia, on locations used for the filming of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, ‘Stalker’; these locations were also used for my own film, Ajapeegel (2008).
The title of these works was taken from that of a book by Tatjana Elmanovits, the first monograph on the Russian director, which was found in a second-hand bookshop in the centre of Tallinn; it means, in Estonian, ‘Time-Mirror’.

Untitled Drawings (2002-onwards)
50 x 70cm
Colour Photograph

Part of a series of photographs that take as their motif the throwing of a metal nut and bandage which is found in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (1979). In the film, the Stalker ties bandages to the nuts and uses them to navigate around the mysterious Zone; if the nut travels true through the air and lands safely, then the Stalker and his two companions may travel that way also. While the actions were carried out in similarly uncertain spaces, between nature and industry, and suggest an uncertain presence also, they might also be considered as a rather elaborate means of merely making a line on a piece of paper. The first photograph was made in 2002 in Blean woods, between Whitstable and Canterbury; the remaining photographs were made in Hungary in 2003, during a brief artist’s residency.

One of the speakers?: the inventor of anthropology invented fieldwork techniques because he was forced to stay extensively in Australia in order to avoid being drafted in 1st world war.