John Akomfrah’s on-going “installation of the real” mixes archaeology with stylized tableau, repurposing western culture, both high (from to John Milton to Virginia Wolfe) and popular (from techno to Blue Planet documentaries), while habitually remediating archival documents. Recently, he conjures both terror and beauty through algorithms that constantly interlace geopolitical textured layers that enrich comprehension of the planetary. Relinquishing a single spatio-temporal construct for multi-screen projection, his installation works foster a renewed experience of habitus beyond the sublime, what Okwui Enwezor designates the racial sublime. Further, I would argue that since The Nine Muses (2012) (earlier in the documentary Oil Spill: The Exxon Valdez Disaster 2009), the elemental has undergirded Akomfrah’s projects, evinced in the trope of aquatic detritus, realized most notably in Purple (2017), a six-screen rumination on the planetary implications of the fragile ecology of the Anthropocene, offering six screen meditations on what Jane Bennett calls “the adventures of vibrant matter.”
In addition, I will argue that the unique geological and geopolitical space-time of Akomfrah’s ecological treatises, fostered by the conjoining of his multi-screen signature and the installation apparatus, elevate the senses as a primary mechanism for an embodied engagement with tidalectics. More specifically, I suggest that this renewed ecological aesthetic offers a constellation where the ontological, the aesthetic, and the political coalesce. As I will argue, Akomfrah’s recent installations, Precarity (2017) and Four Nocturnes (2019) illustrate Akomfrah’s on-going re-evaluation of the interconnectedness of “things,” –the aquatic element in particular–in our global ecological sensorium, eschewing the ubiquitous alarmist eulogies that often subtend eco-documentary.
Professor Kass Banning teaches in the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, where she researches and teaches Black Diaspora and “minor” Canadian moving image practices, focusing on documentary and artists’ moving image installation. Banning co-edited the anthology Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women’s Cinema (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1999), and co-founded and co-edited two Canadian quarterlies, CineAction and Borderlines, for over a decade, and has written numerous articles on “minor” Canadian documentary and the work of John Akomfrah. Her most recent publication – co-written with Warren Crichlow – A Grand Panorama: Isaac Julien, Frederick Douglass and Lessons of the Hour appears in Film Quarterly, Summer 2020. She co-organized and co-hosted Toronto’s Visible Evidence 22 (2015).
Moving Image Topography is a practice-based research-project, which explores the critical potential of experimental moving image practice as place-thinking. The project explores in particular essayist film practice as a way to think topographically: that is to think, in an embodied, spatial and material way, through moving image techniques about place-experience, both in and beyond the human. Engaging with the question of how the essay-film can be a future philosophy, the project explores through the camera the affordance of form for the way places and environments are experienced and understood. Importantly, with form I mean form in its broadest sense. Carolyne Levine notes that form, in spite of its variety, has a common definition as the “arrangement of elements – an ordering, patterning, or shaping.”
The project treats the moving image as an environment for thinking, drawing on James J. Gibson´s theory of affordances. The notion of Topography refers to Philosophical Topography, a conception of place/topos and a methodology of thinking about place, originally developed by philosopher Jeff Malpas. In his work, conceptual thinking is regarded as inseparable from the way we orient ourselves in spatial environments. Furthermore, place is understood as general and encompassing structure for human experience, for memory, conceptuality and agency. From this outset the project investigates the camera-apparatus as means to investigate and reconfigure these conceptual forms, and the altered meanings that follow (the moving image as an epistemological machine). The presentation includes the 7-minute film-experiment 3xShapes of Home (2020).
Elisabeth Brun is a filmmaker, artist and scholar working in the intersection between documentary, philosophy and visual art. She holds a PhD in Media and Communication studies from University of Oslo, with the
thesis Essay Film as Topography, and she has a background as a
documentary director in Norwegian Public Broadcasting (NRK 2001-2014). In 2020, her doctoral film-experiment 3xShapes of Home (2020) won the
Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Experiment in the category of Visual Arts. The film-experiment has also screened at festivals such as International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Vienna Shorts, Uppsala Short Film Festival and Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema (FNC).
Engaging with philosophical Daoism, especially the concepts of Dao, spontaneity/self-so (translated as ‘nature’), transformation, and the ‘Qiwulun’ (‘The Equality of Things and Opinions’ or ‘Discussions on Making All Things Equal’), this paper explores the representations of the human-nature relationship in two non-narrative nonfiction films Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Homo Sapiens (2016) and Xu Xin’s A Yangtze Landscape (2017). Zhuangzi’s ‘Qiwulun’ is not just a discourse on “corresponding things” (Lacertosa 2019:183), in which everything follows the complementary force that moves things into two oppositional directions transforming towards each other, but also indicates an “ethical stance” (ibid:187) that encourages human “parting from the self-centred structure” (Chen 2004: 210), to respect everything in the world. Through a Daoist view that the human is part of nature, which has its own subjectivity, the Dao, ‘the creative process of self-emergence’ (Miller 2017:31), it examines how the human is perceived as within nature through the classic Chinese aesthetic notion of the ideorealm (yijing). Both films create strong ideorealm, a realm emerged from an artwork/literature in which the depiction of scenes and things, the actual realm, gives rise to an infinite realm which is beyond the totality of images and evokes a tempo-spatial consciousness that subject and object are fused. The highest state of ideorealm is a realm deemphasising human subjectivity, to achieve Daoist ‘observing objects through objects’(Wang 1908).
Both films utilise Daoist transforming complementary correlations of being and nonbeing, self and other, fullness and blankness to present human world as part of the transforming comos. While Homo Sapiens consists of static long shots of wasted manmade spaces after human occupation and once again being merged with nature, A Yangtze Landscape is a black and white cinematic landscape scroll across thousands of kilometers, presenting a poetic but distressing multi-focal impression of ‘mountains and waters’ disrupted by the anthropocentric project.
Kiki Tianqi Yu is a filmmaker and Senior Lecturer in Film at Queen Mary University of London. Her research focuses on documentary and non-fiction cinema, Chinese and East Asian cinema, Daoism and cinema, and women’s cinema. Her publications include China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for 21st Century (2014), ‘My’ Self on Camera: First Person Documentary Practice in an Individualising China (2019), ‘Women’s First Person Documentary in East Asia’ a special issue of Studies in Documentary Film (2020). Her films include Photographing Shenzhen (2006), Memory of Home (2009), China’s van Goghs (2016), and The Two Lives of Li Ermao (2019).
Augmented Reality is the name given to a layering technique enabled by recent technological developments. Nicholas Mariette cites Mallem in his definition of AR as enabling “spatial and temporal virtual and real worlds [to] co-exist, which aims to enhance user perception in his real environment.” (Mariette, 2013 – citing Mallem, 2010)
By November 2021, the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will have passed through British Parliament. In the current drafting of this proposed bill, those that deface a commemorative monument face up to ten years in prison. In this context, and alongside the impact of the pandemic on how public space is experienced and perceived, this presentation questions the role and meaning of layering non-fiction content on monuments in public space.
The presentation will draw upon a current work – Ghosts of Solid Air, a narrative AR project in development funded by the AHRC and co-produced with Dr Colin Sterling (previously UCL, now University of Amsterdam).
The project provides a new way for people to engage with, understand and reinterpret contested memorials – focusing on the elusive and intangible ‘ghosts’ that animate and trouble such monuments. Participants encounter the ghosts and then leave a message to the statue – becoming one more ghost on the digital wind.
This situated form of interactive documentary offers a tool for platforming transgressive narratives. The praxis also offers a chance to frame non-fiction AR as closely linked to the practice of speculative fiction – following from Mariette and picking up on Steven Shaviro’s analysis of science fiction. Just as for Shaviro, “[science fiction] is a kind of thought experiment, a way of entertaining odd ideas, and of asking off-the-wall what if? questions” (Shaviro, 2016), AR can be used as a lens for subverting dominant narratives in public space.
Amy Rose is a practice-based PHD researcher at the Digital Cultures Research Centre in the University of the West of England. Her PHD is titled The Choroegraphy of Participation: the practice and politics of immersive non-fiction. She is also a co-founder of the award-winning creative studio Anagram. Winners of the 2015 Tribeca Storyscapes Award, the 2019 Sandbox Immersive Art Award, in Best VR in 2019 at the Venice Film Festival, Anagram were named in the Createch 100 by the Creative Industries Council and have been selected twice for Columbia University’s Digital Dozen Breakthroughs in Digital Storytelling (in 2015 and 2019).
Silke Panse is Reader in Film, Art and Philosophy at the University for the Creative Arts. She was the co-investigator of the Screening Nature Network (2013-14) and has published on documentary in James Benning’s Environments (2018), A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film (2015), Marx at the Movies (2014), Screening Nature: Cinema beyond the Human (2013), Rethinking Documentary (2008), Third Text (2006) and Docalogue (2020). She has co-edited A Critique of Judgment in Film and Television (2014) and edited the forthcoming Ethical Materialities in Art and Moving Images (2022). Her current research explores relations between the ethical and the material.