As a way of questioning presumed hierarchies of human and nonhuman today, this paper goes back to a moment in the history of Early Modern European science. Here, among the very first taxonomies of animals and plants, we also find taxonomies of monsters. The word ‘monster’, comes from the Latin ‘monstrare’, meaning ‘to show’, ‘to demonstrate’, ‘to reveal’. Picking up on this etymology, the paper explores monsters as prisms for modes of seeing and deciphering the natural world that are radically different from our own. When treated as a perceptual apparatus, the monster also becomes a means of probing the medium of film and its relationship to indexicality, chance, corporeality, and metamorphosis.
The paper combines our experience of making a film about this theme with our historical and theoretical research. Making a film about Early Modern monsters becomes a process of documenting a presence of something that doesn’t reveal itself directly. Rather than attempting to describe the past through expository techniques, the film becomes about inhabiting a specific way of seeing the world through formal and affective means. Rhythm, movement, intonation, pitch become tools for expressing presence beyond the indexical properties of moving image media.
Along with the paper our contribution will include a limited screening of the film A Demonstration (2020, 25 min)
Sasha Litvintseva is a lecturer in Film Theory and Practice at Queen Mary University of London and holds a PhD in Media, Communications and Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths. She is currently working on a book monograph.
Beny Wagner is a PhD candidate at the Archaeologies of Media and Technology Research Group at Winchester School of Art and was a researcher at Jan van Eyck Academy in 2015-6. He has lectured at several art academies in the Netherlands, Belgium and UK.
Charging scenes of the present with dystopian speculation, Field Resistance teases the boundaries between documentary and science fiction to investigate overlooked environmental devastation in the flyover state of Iowa. Observational documentary-style footage collected from disparate locations – a university herbarium, karst sinkholes inhabited by primordial flora and fauna, a telecommunication tower job-site, among others – is used to evoke a fictional, dystopian narrative of plant ascension and humanity’s retreat. Rejecting the human individual as the focus of narrative cinema, the film adopts the perspective of a symbiotic “implosive whole” in which humans and nonhumans are related in an overlapping, non-total way.
Emily Drummer (b. 1990, San Francisco, CA) is a filmmaker who uses immersive research as a starting point to investigate the dynamic between technology and the natural world. She received her MFA in Film and Video Production from the University of Iowa and her BA from Hampshire College. She is a Princess Grace Film Honoraria recipient and a Flaherty Film Seminar fellow. Drummer’s work has been showcased by venues including Art of the Real at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Black Box at Edinburgh International Film Festival, Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival, Camden International Film Festival, Tacoma Film Festival, and Toronto’s Pleasure Dome. Articles about her work have appeared in the Brooklyn Rail and Millennium Film Journal. She lives in Brooklyn, NY where she teaches at Pratt Institute.
In this presentation I will discuss how “speculative fictioning” as a methodology for documentary film enables it to inhabit a future time and not be confined to the contemporary or the past. The site of my practice based research and also the location for my film, A Terrible Beauty is Yiwu, a city in east China that serves as a crucial node on the New Silk Road and home to the largest wholesale market for small commodities in the world. My research focusses on low cost plastic and silicone objects that mimic humans and the natural world such as artificial flowers, foliage, dolls and mannequins. While the film has been shot in contemporary Yiwu, it is set in a fictive city, in an indeterminate future and the narrative unfolds through two time travellers – a mannequin and a person – as they journey amidst a landscape of artefacts that simultaneously entice and repel.
In the continuum drawn between the human and nonhuman, a predominant focus has been on organic life forms including animals and plants. In A Terrible Beauty, I explore how the mimetic objects challenge the boundaries of what constitutes the human, and my film invites the viewer to speculate on the ontological perplexities and possibilities in the anthropocene. The creative entanglement of observational and performative documentary modes with science fiction tropes weaves an audio-visual narrative that flourishes in the porosity of the documentary form. In A Terrible Beauty, the critical act of fabulation becomes a vehicle to present Yiwu as a multi-species archive of the future.
Iram Ghufran is a filmmaker, researcher and educator based in New Delhi. Her work has been shown in several international art and cinematic contexts including the Forum Expanded at Berlinale, Experimenta India, SAARC Film Festival and Open Frame among others. Her work has won several awards including two National Film Awards and Mary Kay First Prize at the International Women’s Film Festival, Seoul. She is currently pursuing a PhD by practice in documentary film at the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, University of Westminster, London.
Daniel Mann is a filmmaker and Leverhulme research fellow at the Film Studies Department at King’s College London. His films have been exhibited internationally at film festivals and venues such as The Berlin Film Festival, The Rotterdam Film Festival, Cinema du Reel, The Hong Kong Film Festival, New Horizons, Sonic Acts, and the ICA in London. His writing appeared in journals such as Media, Culture & Society, Screen, and World Records. His first book, titled Occupying Habits: Visual Media as Warfare in Israel\Palestine, is coming out in 2021 with Bloomsbury.