The anticipated image

August 28, 2012 Comments off

An Al Jazeera English news clip from August 27th, 2012 bearing the headline Syria military helicopter crashes in Damascus reports on the claims of Free Syrian Army shooting down the helicopter. The standard narrative which includes both the rebels and the official sides of the story is heard over images of a burning rotorcraft spiraling down the sky. A text bar that appears on the upper left corner of the footage reads “YOUTUBE.COM/ACTIVIST VIDEO,” i.e. Al Jazeera’s correspondents have not produces the videos. The 1:26 minute clip is a collage of ten indigenous videos shot by civilians or activists and uploaded on youtube. The crash is captured from all sides and angles; long shots from a far, from underneath, a shot from the building right behind which it crashed, long shots of smoke rising over the neighborhood. A collection of footage that is close to the dream of any news broadcast corporation a few years ago as such thorough visual coverage of an event would require ten cameramen on stand-by in ten different locations in the city, a financially and logistically impossible task especially in combat conditions.

Syria military helicopter crashes in Damascus, Al Jazeera, still frame from http://www.aljazeera.com

But this all-encompassing coverage of the event by civilian cameras is not particularly new, and especially not in Syria where the documentation of the conflict was from the outset an integral part of the protest-turned-civil-war. But following the stream of Syrian videos online, one of the recent recurring tropes was videos of aircrafts flying in the sky, usually to document the use of overhead shelling of cities by the regime forces. The videos, as discussed before, were for the most part isolated images of helicopters or airplanes flying against the blue sky, and it was only the supporting Arabic voice over that contextualized them within the Syrian conflict and were contingent upon their placement within the larger online archive of the conflict. But the videos signified a shift in attention, an expansion of vision or rather the dimension of the war, which now included the sky. In addition to documentation of the events and evidence on the ground, the videographers now pointed their cameras to flying objects in the sky in anticipation. The direction of the camera lenses preceded the event and captured the imminent falling of the aircraft before being shot down by the FSA artillery.

Syria military helicopter crashes in Damascus, Al Jazeera, still frame from http://www.aljazeera.com

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Performance on the rubble

August 25, 2012 Comments off

The video Over Rubble, The Brave Continue to Stand for Freedom, appeared on the SyrianDaysOfRage youtube feed on August 3, 2012. The video differs from most of the clips from the Syrian available online. It does not have a solely evidential function, as it is not a direct documentation of the Syrian Army’s atrocities, shelling of cities, piles of mutilated and dismembered torsos, etc; it is not a call for attention as in the videos of victims describing what went on during an attack as in a news reportage; it is not of army defectors or formation of battalions declaring their position to the internet; not a documentation of direct confrontation between the Free Syrian Army and the regime; not Assad forces “leaked” videos. This video is of a group of civilians (or they appear to be) staging a performance over rubble from a recent shelling in Talbiseh near the city of Holms. Holding placards with slogans and information, the group chants La Ilaha Illa Allah, and Assad is God’s enemy. The person on the top right in what appears to be the kitchen holds a sign that reads “home of martyr Jalal aldin Latoof,” thus we know that the performance is taking place over what once used to be his house. Others signs are either asking for God’s mercy, or include messages to Assad. In the middle of the image someone is waving the Free Syrian flag. In the group of four on the left one is holding a sign, another a flag and the two children are each holding a smaller placard. Upon closer scrutiny it becomes clear that the two children are wearing masks.

Over Rubble, The Brave Continue to Stand for Freedom, youtube still frame

The video at once shows the destruction of the city, it includes information about its location, but also by turning the site of destruction into a stage it implies a consciousness with regards to the spectacle of the war and directly addresses it. It shows that not only the rebels are using the media to disseminate information and as a documentary tool, but are also aware of the medium and its possibilities and complexities. The video is showing not the dead, but the survivors, it commemorates the dead, but does not turn them into evidentiary material, it acknowledges their presence, or rather absence, but not by victimizing them through the image. The technique is not dissimilar to the songs in epic theater, while the larger narrative that it is inserted in is the visual online database of the conflict. It is made to go on the flow of clips and appear on the side bar, and momentarily disrupt the stream of violence, while not discarding it by way of complete distraction.

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No one looks the same

August 24, 2012 Comments off

A recent testimonial released as part of the Human Rights Watch’s “Torture in Archipelago” dossier includes transcripts of an interviews with defected soldiers. In one of these interviews published in the September 2012 issue of Harper’s magazine, a former soldier after recounting the case of a captured rebel who was beaten to death with batons noted how his face was completely different before he was taken away. “No one looks the same after we have arrested them.”

To look differently implies an implicit change in one’s personality, even in the colloquial use of the term, it is a symptom of a shift, however insignificant or ephemeral. We are used to deduce from the way one looks if s/he is tired, happy, excited, sad, anxious etc. Ultimately, the changes in the dead body and its gradual disintegration into nature is the final transformation of the human figure: it becomes non-human.

Non-Human Simulation, by Trauma FX

Torture, divorced from its religious and spiritual functions, is the attempt to dehumanize the subject by use of force, turning him/her into something else that does not have the same features and thus the same rights as a human being. This is achieved by disfiguring the subjects and in its extreme iteration, annihilating them. Once the subject looks visually different before the torturer, s/he becomes unrecognizable as a member of the same species. The transformation of the physical features of a person takes place in the surface of the image, it is there that violence visualizes itself, as Nancy suggests. Torture is thus used to proclaim the enemy non-human and as such exempt it from humane treatment as it “looks totally different,” according to the defected soldier.

A plea for aestheticization

August 16, 2012 Comments off

Ever since Capa allegedly captured the fall of a loyalist militiaman at the moment of death in 1936, photojournalism has been accused of beautifying violence, of turning it into a subject of aesthetic pleasure, commodifying it for the news media, sacrificing the evidential proof for sentimental effect. Photographers have been charged with apathy, giving up basic humanitarian values to capture the most definitive image of the event. These allegations for the most part remain cogent, as questioning politics of representation, ethics of photojournalism and the position of the photographer vis-à-vis the event remain essential questions of the discipline, one that every professional in the field has to inexorably raise. The advent of affordable digital technologies of representation and their global omnipresence promised a new possibility of visual justice, one that is unchained from the restrains of professional photojournalism and its only premise is truth telling, no rants and slants. There is no doubt that the landscape of photojournalism has drastically changed since the digital turn.

However, (as a recent example) following the civil-protest-turned-civil-war that is Syria, where videos of half burned torsos of children stacked side by side are hoarded on web archives, updated daily, one wonders how the so-called professional photographer would have treated the subject. Moral questions of professional journalism aside, the repletion of the web with images of dismembered human beings, brutally tortured and killed or blown into pieces by mortars calls for a broader question of representational ethics. Here, the decapitated human bodies decomposing on sidewalk, equal to the ruble before the lens, is reduced into evidence. They call for aestheticization.

On Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Gotham City

August 16, 2012 Comments off

Recently a fantastic analysis of the new Batman movie, attributed to Slavoj Žižek has surfaced on the internet. The piece Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Gotham City, explains how the film supports the new liberal agenda and its establishments, justifies its disciplinary apparatus over the revolutionary reign of terror, and how it not-surprisingly provides a ridiculous caricature of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But the piece ends with a recourse to a mode of representational theory that implies making the invisible visible – regardless of how absurd, derogatory and crude the visualization, and however incidental- is an indication of seismic tensions within the dominant representational order. While this mode kind of Lacanian jitterbug is hope inspiring, but one still wonders how calling out the absent center will keep it absent, and if not as such the piece will negates its own logic? While the insurgents in the film might be meant to represent the OWS, nevertheless, the reason behind Bane’s appetite for destruction remains unclear. The movie does read the call for equality as anarchy and bloodbath, but under a situation where the very possibility of equality is thrown out the window in the first place. The city will be destroyed, a time bomb is ticking and so it remains unclear why an apparatus of justice is put in place.

This recalls one of the tropes of contemporary art criticism where the artwork becomes either a ventriloquist of the oppressed, or an open podium reserved for the possibility of a future utterance. But one needs to consider for instance the representation of blackness in American, on the media and the entertainment industry to see the limitations of such line of discourse and its repercussions.

The villainization of the poor in the absence of the possibility of justice does not open up the conditions of representation, rather, it is part and parcel of the totalizing regime of the absence center of the Dark Knight Rises, and one that remains unnamed by the movie and the ideaology it propagates.

August 14, 2012 Comments off

The advent of digital technologies of representation does not call the arrival of a new pictorial age, but rather it presents the fulfillment of the initial promise of photography, hindered by technical inadequacies that digital has over come. It is not that the camera preserves the passing moment to endow the future with a sense of history, but rather it is a reaffirmation of presence. The document is the ironic detritus of the photographic process, it is incidental to it, not integral. The possibility of instant viewership, of instant broadcast affirms the subject’s undergoing of experience, or rather makes experience possible as it represents it within the spatial and temporal coordinates of the event in its duration. As such history is reduced to instant past and makes the fantasy of novelty possible. No one remembers the casualties of last month’s war. It is in the absence of history that politics can maintain a pretence of a reductive outline of difference that only can be comprehended outside of historical context. In the absence of the possibility for exchange of experience that followed the decline of the art of storytelling, the digital livestream of life represents the sharing of experience immediately rendered obsolete post-live-broadcast.

Collecting isolated clips of the sky

August 8, 2012 Comments off

The video is of a helicopter flying through the blue sky. If looked closely, one could assume that it is a military helicopter, that is it is in apparent army green, but to what army it belongs, and in what sky it is flying remains on clear. At first we see merely a dark spot, it becomes larger, it comes in and out of focus, it jumps in and out of the frame before the video stops. We hear noises, maybe of people talking, but it remains incomprehensible, we hear a sound of gunfire, but we do not know where it comes from – was it the helicopter shooting at a target, or was it the target of a shooting, or the sound was of some other random shelling?

Godard’s Passion opens with a jet plane contrail traced in the partially cloudy blue sky. Interspersed between are a woman pulling a stack of metal boxes in a factory, later a woman bicycling by a car driven by a man, later a woman getting dressed (probably before a mirror) while a man walks into a the bathroom door behind her. An image of a jet plane flying in the sky, is nothing but an image of a jet plane flying in the sky, and so is a helicopter only a helicopter.

Regime Military Helicopter in Sky for Continued Destruction, youtube still

Yet as the youtube title explains “Regime Military Helicopter in Sky for Continued Destruction,” the footage is from 08/12/2012 the sky is the sky above Al-Ashrafiya, Aleppo. The youtube channel is SyrianDaysOfRage, so the footage belongs to the Syrian conflict, the helicopter belongs to the ruling army. Now we can edit in correlatively in our mind: helicopter flying/crying woman/helicopter flying/dead bodies on the floor/helicopter flying/rebels defecting the military/helicopter flying. We put the video in our visual repository of the Syrian conflict and attach meaning to it.

This video and many more are all scattered around the internet, either as part of the online iteration of the Syrian conflict, or from other places, from variety of different contexts. However, isolated footage like this is related to the technologies that capture and present these images; the digital camera, the internet. But the viewer’s ability to attach meaning to them, to categorize them and to edit them subjectively in her/his mind, is the legacy of the history of cinema. Godard’s method of nonsynchronicity show the filmic narrative’s contingency on the conditions of viewership, what precedes the cinematic event and what follows it.

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Reluctant hero

August 6, 2012 Comments off

The reluctant hero participates in the spectacle involuntarily, gets caught up in the event incidentally, and propels it unwillingly. S/he does not believe in the system, does not submit to it, assumes a position outside of it, beyond it. This is where the lens appropriates all human gestures, through the formation of a consciousness that acknowledges its presence while disregarding it. This represents the ultimate shift in foundational Aristotelian laws of tragedy (the formation of the character through the progression of the plot), which until the introduction of the camera still held up. As such, gestures are predetermined, premeditated. The hero is aware of the plot, of the system that s/he is retaining, but yet does not submit to it, and thus at the same time is completely recuperated by it.

A recent example of such position is the box office blockbuster Hunger Games, where its reluctant hero, who gets caught in the event just to replace her sister, ultimately wins over all the other competitors and watches all of them perish while she survives. She not only disregards the game itself, but also appropriates romance reluctantly, simply to triumph, while initially she entered the game to lose. Here all true human emotions, from the desire to live, to love are all wholesaled to the spectacle, while the spectacle performs exteriority. This hero while retains the façade of the classic hero, has with it nothing in common. This is the American Apparel model who seems to be caught up not-posingly-posing, conscious of her lens unconscious performative. Or the “amateur” porn actors who perform caught-having-sex. This is the internalized alienation that devises an emotional distance that allows one to participate uncaringly just to be pleasantly surprised. The complete recuperation of the critical distance into a core ingredient of the spectacle.

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Formal possibilities

August 6, 2012 Comments off

The disaster at Aurora, Colorado reminds film scholars of the birth of their obsession, Lumière brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, where, as the story goes, the audience bolted out of the theater at the sight of the train pulling into the station. A character coming out from behind the screen and opening fire seems like a dark prophesy realized, a medium’s natural development.

However, Dark Knight Rises, is not the only movie where we see bodies fall like rain, and while it fits the plot more than a movie like Ted, it yet remains unclear—and probably will remain so— why the killer chose this over hundreds of other feature fests of violence. There is nothing that makes Batman particularly different from other similar movies where the hero saves the day just before the whole planet, or America, is blown to pieces. Nor is the antagonist much more inspiring to identify with as he looks more like a failed proto-Darth Raider. But the move provides one of those instances that simultaneously represent the limits of structuralism, and the power of myth (the former’ watering hole).

While the movie clearly lacks structural cohesion, yet an obsolete form propels the drama where all inconsistencies lose relevant while remain intact. For the cynical viewer, (who watches the movie from the meta-position of being way beyond the spectacle, but just watching it to get entertained by watching the culture watching it), the discrepancies invite chuckles—admittedly this movie has the plot consistency of an alphabet soup, but yet it is shocking how the myth of Batman congeals the soup and keeps the projector running. What is yet more significant is how both the protagonist and the antagonist are masked and both are for the most part incomprehensible. One waits for the hero’s inspiring words, or his nemesis’ provocative ones, but instead hears them mumbling as if through an out of tune transistor radio. There is a gag of language, which is put into their mouths by the myth that mutes the words, while making them interchangeable, replaceable, both soaking in and drying them of meaning. It is only the gestures—the  communication of communicability in words of Agamben —that carries the film, and are these gestures what drives the cinematic form, not the words, and not the human faces behind the masked creatures. The muteness of the characters presents a kind of verbal confusion that is necessary to maintain mythic positions a place beyond words, “the gesture is essentially always a gesture of not being able to figure something out in language.” But at times, this verbal muteness might translate from words to rounds of ammunition. This by no means is to submit to one of those simulacrum theories of reality’s submission to image and such, rather, it is a question of manifestations of formal possibilities.

Transformed to tautology

August 2, 2012 Comments off

In Godard and Gorin’s Letter to Jane, the narrator notes how an image sometimes covers more than it reveals. The images of the disastrous war streaming online covers the disaster with image. The ultimate response is to re-post what is clicked on, to take “action,” to include it in another network of sympathy. There is no image that represents the ultimate disaster, that image was buried long ago under a visual inundation that has reduced the event into evidence. When buildings are diminished into rubble and city blocks into gravel, the image effaces everything that used to be and replaces history with its two-dimensional surface, blocking the access to what once was. The documentation only makes the atrocities more acceptable and accessible to vision and only asks for increased violence. The quantity of images does not increase what is known of a given situation, rather reroutes the situation into a quest for additional evidence, into the obscurity of the panorama. A mass grave documented from all angles remains a mass grave. Thus, “photography transforms reality into tautology.”

Free Syrian Army Attack A Tank Convoy, youtube still

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