Posts Tagged ‘Godard’

The image of the dead, the voice of the living

November 17, 2012 Comments off

We did what many others were doing. We made images and we turned the volume up too high. With any image: Vietnam. Always the same sound, always too loud, Prague, Montevideo, May ’68 in France, Italy, Chinese Cultural Revolution, strikes in Poland, torture in Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Chile, Palestine, the sound so loud that it ended up drowning out the voice that it wanted to get out of the image. Here and Elsewhere, 1976, Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville

Eyal Weizman differentiates between pedagogical violence and total or absolute violence. While the former functions linguistically where in addition to eliminating the intended targets it communicates with the  survivors, the latter is exercised to wipe out the subject completely, and/or to produce a new subject—and as such introduce a new language. Yet, the pedagogical violence functions as long as a gap between the actual and possible violence is maintained and thus it is a discursive form that manages this space that it first defines and then opens it for negotiations. The form of violence exercised by the Israeli military in Gaza belongs to the first order of violence but it is to achieve the results of the second order (one can of course imagine any form of pedagogical violence an absolute form if it is exercised systematically in a large-scale to produce new subjects. As for instance penal violence is expected to transform the subject).

The total elimination of the subject, in this case the Palestinians, is not solely a military job, but rather it is a media operation that manages and supports the military to achieve its goals. It functions on two separate layers: the image and the voice. The media simultaneously presents and distributes the mute images of Palestinian dead and wounded and the voice of Israeli officials and pundits who frame the invasion as retaliation, a response to a rocket strike by Hamas militants. The Palestinians, the victims of the mortars are revictimized in the image—the mute dead, traumatized or severely injured subject. We see dead Palestinians and hear living Israelis. The words belong to the living and the images to the dead, and as we know the dead cannot talk unless summoned from the underworld.

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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The interior image?

July 19, 2012 Comments off

In Trauma TV, her complex analysis of the Rodney King video, Avital Ronell notes how the image’s flatness and lack of interiority was compensated by witness testimony in the courtroom. It is this position of interiority that is sought for in the works of Dziga Vertov Group, and other films by Jean Luc-Godard. If the exteriority of the image, purported by the position of the lens and consequently the figure looking through it, could be transformed into its opposite, then the positions of the activist and filmmaker could potentially align. This interior position is supported theoretically by a mode of Marxist self-reflexivity, constantly conscious of the producers position within the conditions of production.

British Sounds, Dziga Vertov Group, 1969, vimeo still frame

In the final section of British Sounds – a film that intersperses chronicles of the worker’s struggles, together with separate Marxist and Feminist voice-overs, mixed with footage from Marxist workers discussions, activist students, etc – we see a bloody hand gripping a red flag, this is followed by a set of shots that show a fist penetrating the British flag, and each time the flag is torn by the fist, the voice over names another solidarity front e.g. the squatters, the artists’ offensive, the Workers New Daily, etc. This scene is then followed by a shot of a red flag waving in the cloudy grey sky by the branches of a leafless tree. Watched closely, it becomes clear that rather that the camera shooting the flag from a fixed position, the camera itself is waving together with the flag, the flag is not moving within the fixed frame of the film, the film is framed by the movement of the flag. The camera suddenly reveals its own position vis-a-vis the action that it is set to capture, and represent, and exposes how it is in fact captured by it. This scene is an instant of the mentioned interiority sought by the filmmaker, an interior image that is not propelled by an exterior positioning, ideologically, aesthetically or otherwise. This is also the position that possibly the Rodney King video lacks and thus is reduced to evidence. It aspires to be a witness, but it is caught by its own flatness, it becomes its own gag.

Could it be that the contemporary modes of digital image production, with its unprecedented immediacy, economy of access and mobility, allows for a visual interiority, previously unavailable? While, the video incursion into television that Ronlell talks about still holds, and this form of image making has been recuperated by the news media, nevertheless an outstanding number of indigenous footage is disseminated over the web daily. However, it could be argued that this footage is nonetheless defined by the technological restrains and possibilities that give rise to it and potentially follows pre-defined modes of visual articulation. Yet, one wonders if the Flusserian shift from linear/textual articulation to the visual dimension is gradually taking shape.

contextual contingency to medium specificity

March 30, 2012 Comments off

The move to the intersection of contextual contingency and medium specificity of photography in the arts could be from either end of the meeting point. On the one hand artists take on the task of archiving, analyzing and presenting material that either support or disregard the photographic indexical claim to truth. While on the other hand, it is a formal movement that gives shape to the questioned photographic context. The former is a scientific method concerning truth while the latter is a phenomenological one. There are no doubt variety of departure points within this spectrum and variation of methodological approaches.

Cruise Ship in Godard's Film Socialisme, (2010)

Historically the first trope ties the history of photography to that of industrialization, as a medium that lends itself to capitalist modes of production and that gives form to an ideology of value circulation specific to it. It was used to identify, to categorize and analyze to capture, dominate and possess. It turns consumers into producers that circulate and re-circulate the archetypical images that are fed into the visual repertoire of capitalism. This is the Mediterranean cruise ship in Godard’s Film Socialisme, the act of photographing and the images produced propel the movement of the ship’s mode of value production, one is inseparable from the other. One can see this same mode of critique of the medium and the visual ideology that it supports in the works of Allan Sekula. This mode of image making always carries an internal negation as it is cognizant of the exchange value of visualization of critique and it is this very consciousness at work that propels the work’s movement toward formalism and construction of aesthetic impediments that require a laborious process of meaning production in order to access the work. The eureka moment is constantly postponed or at times disregarded as the process of understanding is one of theoretical alignment that is not instantaneous but rather pre-established.

Untitled, Sharon Lockhart, C-print, (2005)

The second trope—considering an assumed consistency in this text—ties the history of photography to that of art history and looks at the medium within the aesthetic canonical movement that propels the institution of art. It questions the external referentiality of photography in favor of an internal one. Context becomes here an external redundancy, and the image rather needs to be examined within the aesthetic conditions of meaning production. Here the form of criticality becomes a linguistic one as the reading of the image implies an understanding of an institutional lexicon. Nevertheless any question of ontology is consequently a question concerning truth a la deconstruction. Looking from this position, in photography (technical image) the context becomes form. Not surprisingly, this is the concern of the second half of Film Socialisme. A noting example could be the photographic and film work of Sharon Lockhart. Here, while taking the liberty of a possible inverted reading of the work (as it could easily be argued that the work departs from a concerned position), the formal movement of the work gives form to the context that otherwise could be deemed redundant in aesthetic readings of the work. This might be the result of the work’s concern with regards the becoming form of labor within the properties of the medium. It is the form of the concern that propels the medium specificity of the work, the movement of context to form is visualized in the work. Here the labor of meaning production is derived from an aesthetic position. What becomes astonishing is the theoretical alignment of the abovementioned movement towards the intersection of the contextual contingency and medium specificity.