[-empyre-] Truths and temporality

Ashley Ferro-Murray aferromurray at berkeley.edu
Mon May 11 09:31:49 EST 2009

In "Some Thoughts on Obsolescence" William Kentridge makes a comment
on contemporary technology. “There is a way in which working with
contemporary technologies, either as a medium or as subject matter –
cell phone rather than Bakelite phone – becomes very much about
fashion, style, and temporality.” He explains, “A refusal to move with
the times is also a refusal neatly to accept the precepts of
preoccupations of the metropolitan center – far off, and often
mistakenly assuming that its concerns and its times are the only ones
appropriate to everywhere else.” I would like to reflect upon this
week’s discussion and in particular the last few posts on truth and
choice in the context of Kentridge’s work. The South African artist
engages various technologies induce his work with movement.

Kentridge’s 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès includes a video where he
reverses film of himself throwing papers around a room. He carefully
choreographs his movements so that he performs a catching motion in
reverse as he throws the paper. This way, his film reflects an
absurdist image. Kentridge explores a studio space and its temporality
in terms of media. Can a man really summon papers into his hands? It’s

Kentridge employs technology to realize an invisible. This performance
of the absurd, he explains at an artist talk at UC Berkeley, is the
“Physical and mental act of trying to construct a sense of the world
as it arrives to us. The way in which we assume it is all naturalized
and the world simply arrives at us…Chaotic set of impulses, we do huge
work, mental, rational and psychic to keep the pieces together and
believe in the coherence of how they operate.”

In Cinema 2 Deleuze discusses cinema in a similar way. For him, the
power to constitute something is to “bring back reasons to believe in
the world, or whatever is being constituted. Deleuze discusses the
body to explore this concept. In Cinema 1 he discusses this body in
terms of movement. "Movement is a translation in space… movement
always relates to a change, migration to a seasonal variation. And
this is equally true of bodies: the fall of a body presupposes another
one which attracts it, and expresses a change in the whole which
encompasses them both. (8).

I present the work and thoughts of Kentridge next to a couple of
Deleuze’s explanations of movement and the body to consider two
things. First, here is a direct interaction between art practice as
theory and theory as art practice (In a sense, I will argue, Deleuze
creates a practical movement score with his words and concepts).
Second, here are two considerations of the human-technology
interaction as a movement existence and temporal instantiation of that
existence. The first uses technologies to disrupt a movement “truth,”
but only in hopes of understanding it more. The second uses movement
and the body in a discussion of a technology, cinema, to consider
temporal progression in terms of change.

As I carry these musings forward I would like to rewind in our
conversation to the concept of affect. How can we consider our more
recent topics again in relation to an affective or experiential
reception of movement? Rather than attempt to answer this question I
will conclude with a short description of my experiences in
Kentridge’s exhibition space.

I enter the exhibition space and am struck by four projections. One
faces me, one stands behind me and there are two pairs of projection;
one stands to my right and the other to my left. The sound score is
consistent, but each projection moves differently. The content is
fluid and similar, but I can’t decide where to stand. First, I walk
through several people to stand in a corner. From here I can see
several projections at once, but they are fragmented. The movement on
the screen radiates beyond the filmic realm and into the exhibition
space around me. Viewers move toward and around each projection in
ways that mirror a man in his studio. He walks in and around his
sketches. The viewer walks in and around his films. I see each
fragment of each film through the moving people that perform with me,
a moving viewer in a room with six projections. The films, though,
exist outside of my temporality. Papers fly against gravity and ripped
images turn back into whole ones.  I move toward one projection. As I
get closer I move through the people around me. The screen grows
larger. The screen is now whole. Live movement no longer fragments the
image that I look toward. I piece together a projection that was
previously fragmented with my movement toward the screen. I mirror
Kentridge as he pieces together what was previously torn. Perhaps I do
share his temporal situation. Or, maybe not. What is this effect that
he uses to render his cinematic reality complete? I watch a man in his
studio. I know that the technology of his body is off. He catches
papers. They fly into his hands. The objects around him are playing in
reverse. Each wrinkle in his shirt, twitch of his eye flick of his
finger, though, seems to move forward in time. His movements do not
look like movements in retrograde. I look toward my own hand. I
pretend to throw a book on the floor. I watch my movement. I now place
Kentridge’s motion onto my body. We move together. I perform this
throwing motion again. I watch as each joint, muscle and tendon work
as a mechanic device to perform an action. I try to reverse this
action. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. With close and careful attention it
seems that I can choreograph my body memory to throw in reverse.
Kentridge reversed his corporeal actions and set them straight by
reversing his technological capture.

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