Friday, June 22, 2012

Moving Image Research Network

A great final seminar for the Moving Image Research Network established by Cate Elwes: Patrick Wright quizzed Englishness via Patrick Keillor's Robinson in Ruins (currently subject of a show, the Robinson Institute, at Tate Britain); Cate Elwes spoke on what, at the end of the day, Rachel Moore would describe as the embarrassment of landscape. I wonder if the problem might be expressed like this: that the embarrassment right-thinking liberals feel in the company of skinheads is that, by the logic of possession and rights which defines our polity, they do possess more rights. For other citizens, the citizenship claimed by indigenous people is excessive and therefore embarrassing. In the case of indigenous Australians, especially, the obvious truth that they have been mugged, violently robbed and abandoned by the wayside without land or standing, the embarrassment is tangible: we know we cannot "give it back", as the old Midnight Oil song has it, but we know we have it - immorally, and only legally because we wrote the laws.

Eu Jin Chua gave a great paper drawing on classical film theory and emphasising the centrifugal in Bazin and the endless in Kracauer to argue for a rethinking of WJT Mitchell's claim that landscape is unavoidably imperial. We discussed whether the antagonist of landscape film (La Region Centrale, for example, or Chris Welsby's work) isn't 'classical' landscape but, today, geographic information systems, satellite imaging and Google's Maps and Street View; so that the value of pictorial acounts is precisey that they are not (no longer) the dominant visual technology for dominating worlds (probably that function was the map anyway, in its various forms, especially since Cook's voyages). Susan Collins gave us a brilliant view of what happens when an artist takes on the technologies of pictiral landscape and turns them towards that endless centrifugal role Eu Jin described.

But the day belonged to John Akomfrah, who showed one short film and part of another - Call of the Mist and The Genome Chronicles, both distributed by LUX. As skilfully interviewed by Pratap Rughani, the extraordinary quicksilver mind there, the shift from personal grief to the politics of production to aesthetics to postcoloniality, with constant shards of oblique insight. In his films, like Collins' motion-stills, grain and grading and the fine separation of modernity into romance and hardware provoke wonderful imaginations of a world hung between the pre-Christian and the post-human. Beauty is not only a refusal of the present: it is a wound in the fabric of the world where the future's light can flash, however dimly, in. The whole series has been illuminating and enchanting, and makes you hopeful for the future of its firstborn, the MIRAJ journal

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