Visible Evidence 2021

Scale variation and computation in documentary

Christa Blümlinger
Alice Leroy
Ophir Levy
Respondent: Gabriel Bortzmeyer
Wed, Dec 15
90 Min
Mousonturm (Studio 2)
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Visibility of gestures: from filmic to computational logics

In observing disproportionality between humans and their environment, as the French film critic Serge Daney did many years ago, we may consider the means by which the people of today stay paradoxically invisible all while being overexposed to machines of vision. Drawing on Jonathan Beller’s concept of ‘computational capital’ (turning qualities into quantities), this paper attempts to describe artistic strategies of a retournement of image technologies of political economy.

When contemporary documentary questions the biopolitical implications of the recording of gestures and crowd movements, the digital transition is often understood as a challenge. In this sense, artists such as Clemens von Wedemeyer and Julien Prévieux both take on an aspect of the relationship between the transformations of the economics of cinema and the current machine-driven vision of humans. For these artists, questioning techniques of the body offers a perspective which is at once epistemological, political and aesthetic. Both artists conceive of the film-machine as a matrix that brings out certain uses of the moving image as an instrument of psychosocial control of the human body. But at the same time, they integrate film and documentary forms into their practice in order to create a specific site for their visual inquiry. This paper will analyze the aesthetic means by which these artists’ films contribute to an archeology of techniques of visibility and how they point to what Roland Barthes has called the “hideout” of the photographic image, an aspect to be understood within a larger history of “technical images” (Vilém Flusser).

Christa Blümlinger

Christa Blümlinger is Professor in Film Studies at the University Paris VIII. Her publications include books about the essay film, avant-garde and archival film aesthetics. She co-directs the research group Théâtres de la mémoire and has investigated face, gesture, landscape and memory in documentary. Recent publications include: Morgan Fisher, Off-Screen Cinema, edited with Jean-Philippe Antoine (Les Presses du Réel, 2017), Geste filmé, gestes filmiques, edited with Mathias Lavin (Mimesis international, 2018) and (with Emmanuelle André, Sylvie Lindeperg and others), Michèle Lagny, Hors cadre : imaginaires cinématographiques de l’histoire (Hermann, 2020). Forthcoming: Harun Farocki. Du cinema au musée (2021, P.O.L.).

Politics of Crowds and algorithms. A parallel history of crowd control and artificial intelligence in the age of Covid-19

This paper draws on the technological tools of crowd control that have recently taken an unprecedented scope in the recent context of transnational social movements and the global pandemic threat. By looking at the different statistical patterns which help to predict crowd behavior, it analyzes both the surveillance systems and the simulation tools which are simultaneously used in public spaces and in films that fantasize the political insecurity of current times. It makes the hypothesis that these simulation tools were not inspired by direct observation of human crowds but by animal patterns, which from Alan Turing’s studies of morphogenesis to contemporary CGI’s techniques, influenced a number of AI programmes, such as the modelization of cinematic crowds. Analyzing the translation of these animal patterns from the field of biology to that of computer science, it questions the nature and politics of these digital crowds depicted in fiction films, and compares them to the “real” crowds of human beings who appear to be more and more subjected to the surveillance of machine vision systems such as facial recognition programs. Finally, it deals with the strategies of a number of activists and artists who have experimented with means of escaping this surveillance gaze, which interestingly enough appear to be inspired by animal intelligence: metamorphosis and camouflage.

Alice Leroy

Alice Leroy is Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the Université Gustave Eiffel in Paris. Her research deals with the relationship between sciences and aesthetics through the visual imaginaries of the body. She is part of the editorial board of the Cahiers du cinéma and collaborates with the international documentary film festival “Cinéma du Réel” at the Centre Pompidou. With Antonio Somaini and Ada Ackerman, she has organized at the exhibition center Le BAL in Paris the programs of screenings and debates Humain / Non-humain (2017-2018), Machine Vision: images, pouvoirs, algorithmes (2018-2019), and Machine Vision, Machine Hearing: Surveillance, Simulation, Spéculation (2019-20).

Gestures of memory: the recreation of surveillance images and intimate memories in Stefano Savona’s "Samouni Road"

In his documentary Samouni Road (2019), Stefano Savona revisits the death of twenty-nine members of the same family of Gazan farmers, the Samounis, during the Israeli army’s “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009. In addition to the images shot shortly after the tragedy, the film intertwines two types of fabricated images in order to consider a multiplicity of perspectives on the event: on the one hand, 3D digital images from the point of view of drones during the military intervention, and on the other hand, animated sequences recounting daily life before the operation and the stages of its unfolding. To the detached point of view of aerial images, reducing people to tiny figurines scattering in all directions, respond the manufactured images illustrating the intimate memories of a young girl who survived the bombings. Based on a 3D model of the protagonists’ faces and the places where the events took place, the resulting shots were completely redrawn by Simone Massi and his team. Instead of a blank page, the starting point was a scratch card whose surface, covered with black pastel paste, was worked with successive cuts to bring out the luminous lines that form the figures. This paper will focus, from a poietic perspective (in the sense of P. Valéry) and through an interest in scale variations (J. Revel, C. Ginzburg), on how S. Savona and S. Massi used a technique in which the traumatic memory is intimately linked to the artistic gesture that reveals it.

Ophir Levy

Ophir Levy is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University Paris 8 – Vincennes – Saint-Denis. He is the author of Images clandestines. Métamorphoses d’une mémoire visuelle des “camps” (Paris: Hermann, 2016). His PhD thesis on the haunting memory of the Shoah in modern cinema was awarded the Inathèque – National Audiovisual Institute’s “Research Prize” in 2014.

Respondent: Gabriel Bortzmeyer

Gabriel Bortzmeyer holds a PhD in Cinema Studies from University Paris 8 (2017), and has since held a teaching position (cinema and literature) at a college-preparatory program (in Rouen). He is a member of the editorial committee of ‘Débordements’ and frequently collaborates with other film magazines, such as Trafic, Vacarme, Fata Morgana or La Furia Umana. His research focuses on the links between cinematic figurations and political and ecological imaginaries (mainly in contemporary cinema). He is the author of Le peuple précaire du cinema contemporain (Hermann, 2020) and, in collaboration with Alice Leroy, of a book of interviews with Raymond Bellour, Dans la compagnie des œuvres (Rouge profond, 2017).