[-empyre-] Border Documents

John Hutnyk john.hutnyk at gmail.com
Wed Sep 16 19:27:46 EST 2009

Thanks for the invitation to guest here. I wanted to start with two quotes
from the rubric for this discussion:

“From the Depth of Projection to the Extension of the City The performances
with projection rescue the tri-dimensionality of the place and set the image
back to human proportions. This allows us to jump from closed to open
spaces, from private to public domain. The city is not only a setting: every
wall can be a screen; every window, a projection booth”

“The borders between public and private spaces are essential for the existence
of cinema as such”

Thinking about this, I went back and looked up the early comment that: “cinema
is a collection of techniques to make the light lay on a surface” – my
trouble with this definition, perhaps, is mainly that it leaves out the
audio – the surround sound of the cinema space. In so many ways the city,
and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure. The audio cannot be ignored in
cinema, even when it moves away from the proscenium screen. I think it is
productive to think of the city as cinema (this is not new) but also to
think the border this way. Audio-visual passports? Even our dialogue on the
border is scripted. Sure, the border begins as a line in the sand, and
cinema too has a silent pre-history, but even this spatiality was never
totally mute.

So, ‘media as architecture’ sure, but this includes sound, and we need a way
to talk of this without relegating the metaphors to secondary status behind
the screen (where the speakers are?) – I am deeply dissatisfied with the
term soundscape and all this talk of distance. The way metaphors of vision
and geography dominate the audio-visual. The whole thing about writing on
the screen gets stuck here too – though that would take an excursus into
Derrida (and perhaps Stiegler) to unpack, and cost us years and lives.

So, to cut to the main theme - all this comes up in our [Centre for Cultural
Studies, Goldsmiths, AHRC Beyond Text] project on Borders, which I’d like to
take the opportunity to introduce here. This may seem opportunistic, but my
habit is to think in reverse, or against my first expectation. See what I
did above – started thinking about the screen only to insist on talking
about audio. The idea behind the borders project stems from this kind of
wayward/dissonant process.

So, I want to think in the opposite direction *from* film studies, not with
a view to understanding film, or screens or media, though of course film
studies helps us understand what we see (and hear), but to suggest that we
ask what can our understanding of film (I’d rather say, the telematic) can
bring to our understanding of other pressing questions.

For me, the ‘pressing’ questions have to do with issues such as migration,
racism (profiling, the war of terror, security hysteria) and capital
(economic restructuring, cultural economy etc). Also perhaps
climate/environment, and of course resistance to capital (what is required
to ‘win’?).

One part of this – backwards thinking process – is to ask how an
understanding from one field – eg., cinema/telematics, screens, the
audio-visual etc., - might offer ways of rethinking things in another - such
as terror, or racism, or migration/borders – and reconfigure the activities
and activisms that stem therefrom. A series of our Border workshops have
explored this, following a trajectory from the audio, through performativity
and now, next, to cinema. How do these areas of interest provoke new modes,
sites, registers of activism and action? I hope you can read between the
lines here and we can set up a relay between this project and the current
one on “Extension of the City” (my next post on cities I promise, though
here I am already engaging with the suggestion that ‘This division [of
cinema space] reflects not only the organizational logic of the
cinematographic industry, but that of society as well’ ).

Anyway, here is the Border Documentary call, recently sent out, for the
workshop to be held in Copenhagen in November (mentioning the earlier
workshops too):

In “Sonic Border” (London Nov 2008) we explored the way sound crosses the
border differently, provoking a rethink of the border’s location – not just
in ports, and the authoritarian boot boys of the nation state, but between
us all, in conversations, in ideas – an oppressive structure of language,
meaning, representation, and in the cry of protest and in the music of
solidarity across divides. The border echoes everywhere, it resonates and
shouts from every station location, wherever you listen look. Sound
problematized the geographic and visual location of the border regime.

In “Theatre Border” (Berlin April 2009) the performative, tactile and
ritualistic force of the border as staged power suggests we rethink
connection, touch, proximity and co-responsibility. The theatrical exclusion
of others manufactures a charade populated by demons, caricatures and
monstrosity. We don’t want to be cast in such dramas.

In “Border Documents” (Copenhagen Nov 2009) we will join the CPH.DOX
documentary film festival to consider the border as it unfolds in
time/screen based media – what does thinking about border activism and the
telematic offer us? Possible topics include the border in television news,
the in-focus out of focus role of CCTV in detention centres, the scanning
screens of the immigration check, the civilian phone-cam exposé of
deportation and ‘Torture Taxi’ (special rendition) flights, and more.

We are interested in new perspectives on the status and function of the
documentary forms today, as they cross the ontological divide between
fiction and truth, art and reality (objective/subjective, social, political,
ethical etc) and frame alternative ways of seeing, witnessing, representing,
archiving and experiencing ‘the elements of truth’ (Steyerl, 2003). Can we
understand documentation not as paper passports or mere representation but
as docketing the (re)construction of (new) social and political realities –
we are interested in time and screen formats that offer access to critical
recontextualization of the reproduction of borders, and of unfolding new
agents of social and political (ex)change. On a more formalistic note, how
does the documentary form carry a politic, an ethics or epistemology and how
can the documentary film help us see and act differently? Does the time of
the border transform its place, or its performative character? Does border
activism lend itself to the cinematic? Can we film another way across?

Border Documents:

CPH.DOX: http://www.cphdox.dk/d1/front.lasso

Beyond Borders: http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/beyond-borders/



Professor John Hutnyk
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