Visible Evidence 2021

Toxic Landscape and Environmental Crisis

Mandy Rose
Helen Hughes
Hideaki Fujiki
Chair: Nicholas Baer
Sat, Dec 18
90 Min
Mousonturm (Studio 2), Online
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"Between Simulation and Disappearance”: the "thing-power" of 3D visuals in climate and ecological emergency documedia

In A Geology of Media Jussi Parikka points out that; “our relations with the earth are mediated through technologies and techniques of visualisation, sonification, …simulation, and so forth: it is through and in media that we grasp earth as an object for cognitive, practical, and affective relations.” Following Parikka, this paper will consider how an engagement with forms of 3D visualisation – LIDAR, Photogrammetry, volumetric capture – in recent documedia is being deployed for the pressing work of depicting and suggesting the urgency of climate and ecological emergency. It will explore three media projects that harness forms of 3D visual capture in divergent ways which suggest how the affordances of these technologies, their machine-aesthetics and poetic attributes have engaged producers for addressing themes relating to the Anthropocene.

In Treehugger – Wawona (2016), Marshmallow Laser Feast employ LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) for a Mixed Reality documentary that employs a multi-sensory experience to open the immersant to the more-than-human-world of a giant sequoia tree. Ark (2020) – a split-screen video work – explores the history of volumetric capture itself in order to frame a rhetorical case not for a correlation but for a causal link between the emergence of 3D capture and species extinction. In the speculative feature documentary Truth or Consequences (2020), the haunted quality of raw volumetric capture is employed to evoke a future beyond the human.

The paper will draw on a New Materialist framework to consider the “thing-power”(Bennett) of these technologies of visualisation, and the intra-action (Barad) between the material and the expressive in these documedia case studies. What configurations of care might they engender?

Mandy Rose

Mandy Rose is Professor of Documentary & Digital Cultures at UWE Bristol, Director of the Digital Cultures Research Centre and Co-Convenor of the i-Docs Symposium. Mandy has worked in film, TV and interactive media. During 20 years at the BBC she oversaw award-winning participatory media initiatives including BBC 2’s ground-breaking Video Nation project. She is co-editor of i-docs: the evolving practices of interactive documentary – Wallflower Press 2017. As Co-Investigator on Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters (2017-20) she led research into VR nonfiction ethics and audience experience. Her recent writing appears in Studies in Documentary Film, World Records and Convergence.

Radioactive documentary and the wounded landscape

The two worst disasters in the history of nuclear energy at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan in 2011 were followed by reports calling for greater transparency in the interests of the safety of the planet. Part of the response to this call was access to documentary filmmakers to the nuclear landscapes created by these accidents. A wider effect has also involved greater access to operating sites with the recognition that the public consent required to operate, close, remediate, and renew nuclear sites requires openness.

This paper explores how documentary cameras have operated within the ‘zone of alienation’ (Geyrhalter, Pripyat: 1999, Austria, Ukraine) and the ‘no man’s zone’ (Fujiwara, Mujin Chitai/No Man’s Zone, 2011, Japan) and nuclear sites undergoing change (Sattel, Unter Kontrolle/Under Control, 2011, Germany, and Meeropol, Indian Point, 2015, US), arguing that the focus on radioactive spaces has brought forth a new kind of ‘caring camera’ intensified by new works marking the seventieth anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Cousins, Atomic, 2015, UK). While access has made it possible to capture new images of existing spaces, access to archival footage for digitisation has provided the backstories.

A survey of non-fiction film – information films, documentary, television reportage, historical compilation, community film, and entertainment documentary – traces the history of filmmaking on nuclear energy as one in which the industrial landscape has moved from the sublime to the wounded. This presentation explores how documentarists involved in both artist’s film and strategic documentary have framed and edited the radioactive landscape in a Heideggerian sense as a body in need of care along with the self. In so doing documentary is participating in a wider social tendency towards understanding measurement and the information it produces within the digital society as a way out of crisis.

Helen Hughes

Helen Hughes is a senior lecturer in German and film studies at the University of Surrey. Her research has engaged with documentary studies, German-language cinema, and environmental humanities. She is the author of Radioactive Documentary (Intellect, 2021), Green Documentary (Intellect, 2014), co-editor of Documentary and Disability (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), co-translator History and Obstinacy, (Kluge, Negt, 2014) and has also published several chapters and articles in journals such as Screen and Continuum. She is currently working on a project about the GDR filmmakers Andrew and Annelie Thorndike with the working title Red Documentary.

Disclosing the Uneven Globe: Documentary Imagination on Radioactive Waste and Ecology

Documentary is not simply a neutral medium to record reality. Rather, it participates in the social imaginations of reality as a contested terrain. This paper discusses how documentaries activate the imaginations of radioactive waste. While many documentaries and scholarly discourses have tended to localize and nationalize the issues of radiation since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, radiation is fundamentally a global matter in that it is produced and distributed through the transnational network from the front end (uranium mining) to the back end (nuclear waste disposal), is supported by the economic and political worldwide network, and may damage the entire earth. Moreover, supposed that the only way to dispose radioactive waste is to bury it in the deeply excavated repository (1,710 feet underground in the case of Onkalo, Finland), radioactive waste literally and symbolically epitomizes the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which humans have intervened in the planet to a significant degree. But, at the same time, this very abstract and gigantic nature makes it difficult for us to imagine radioactive waste.

It is against this background that documentaries have played vital roles in bringing concrete imaginations about the social and ecological reality. Taking Waste: The Nuclear Nightmare (Éric Guéret, 2009) and Charka (Shimada Kei, 2017) for case studies, I will explore how these documentaries alike problematize radioactive waste but evoke different imaginations of it. It is particularly interesting to see how the latter shows radioactive waste as the otherwise invisible global material and institutional reality in which radioactive waste are unevenly distributed so that privileged people can enjoy their electric lives by at once exploiting and marginalizing other people near these sites.

Hideaki Fujiki

Hideaki Fujiki is Professor of cinema studies, Nagoya University, Japan. His publications include Making Audiences: A Social History of Japanese Cinema and Media (Oxford University Press, 2022), Making Personas: Transnational Film Stardom in Modern Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2013), and The Japanese Cinema Book, co-edited with Alastair Phillips (British Film Institute, 2020). He is currently completing a monograph provisionally titled The Radioactive Screen: Ecology from Fukushima to the Globe.

Chair: Nicholas Baer

Nicholas Baer is Assistant Professor of Film at the University of Groningen and Research Fellow at the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Study in Greifswald. He co-edited the award-winning The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907–1933 (University of California Press, 2016) and Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019). Baer has published on film and media, critical theory, and intellectual history in journals such as Film Quarterly, Los Angeles Review of Books, Public Seminar, and October, and his writings have been translated into six languages. At present, he is completing a monograph, Historical Turns: Weimar Cinema and the Crisis of Historicism.