Labour, Capture, Experience: Technological Mediations of the Body

In March 2016 SARU presented a collaborative panel at the Filmforum conference in Gorizia, Italy.

The three presentations comprising this panel deal with moving image-related techno-mediations that simultaneously enable and delimit bodily agencies. Each in their own way, the papers interrogate the political questions at stake in these hybrid and entangled embodiments. The gestures and bodies of female artist filmmakers engaged in the affective labour of editing are taken up in Paper 1; the two antagonistic bodies of the ‘spectator’ and the ‘user’, as conceived by classical apparatus and new media theory are discussed in Paper 2; and finally, the porous bodies of creators and spectators navigating the space of the gallery, immersed in other bodies both technological and social are the focus of Paper 3. Technological mediations of the body, far from being unilaterally determined, are dialectically bound up with bodily mediations (i.e. embodiments) of technology. Together, the collaborations will reflect on the inherent generativity/productivity of these encounters between bodies and technologies, but also their capacity to limit and discipline the body.

1.The Labour of Editing and the Gesture of Mounting

(Mihaela Brebenel and Sasha Litvintseva)

“The exchange begins with word games, as a picture of a bed appears on screen. Godard identifies it as a bed, while Paulo calls it a table. He explains that ‘montage’ means ‘mounting’, that editing a film is like a man mounting a woman (…)” (R. Brody, Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, 2008, p.388) We ask: if for some doyens of cinema, editing is like mounting a woman, what happens when editing is performed by women? Moreover, if say, Vertov’s famous film focuses on a Man With a Movie Camera, then what can we say about the woman at the editing table, the one who appears only briefly, yet is shown to be labouring intensely? We take this latter provocation from filmmaker and artist Hito Steyerl, to explore the triangulation of body, agency, and labour, that is activated when a woman edits a piece of moving image. We are particularly interested in the opportunities this triangulation offers in relation to non-theatrical film, where away from the constraints of a script the maker moulds the work as much as the material shapes the maker – in an assemblage of gestures, rhythms and affective responses of/from the body. Taking inspiration from a number of writers, such as Georges Didi-Huberman, Erica Balsom, Villem Flusser, as well as Karl Marx, Esther Leslie and Jonathan Beller, we pursue a practical investigation of how gender can be critically connected to the process of editing, and what does the labour of editing have to say about performing one’s body/ through one’s body?

2. From Disavowal to Celebration: The Two Bodies of Screen Theory

(Roberto Mozzachiodi and Nikolaus Perneczky)

This joint presentation will constellate two seemingly remote theoretical modellings, one historical and one contemporary, of the articulation of bodies and screens: first, the disembodied/immobile spectator of classical apparatus theory, and second, the tactile/mobile user of new media theory. It is tempting to conceive of the shift from one model to the other in terms of a progressive accrual of bodily activity and participation. By focussing on critical interventions that rewrite the protocols and rewire the circuits of technologies of (analogue) projection and (digital) display, we instead want to draw attention to the conceptual instabilities and contradictions haunting the figures of both disembodied spectator and “bodified” user. We will stage a dialogue between two such interventions which are roughly contemporaneous with apparatus and new media theory respectively: first, the novel “scenes of projection” (Jill H. Casid) Third Cinema practitioners wrested from the imperial technology of film in the 1960s and 70s, and second, the tactile connectivity of contemporary mobile dispositifs that the film Anathema (The Otolith Group, 2011) attempts to salvage from the contagion of “communicative capitalism” (Jodi Dean). In so doing, we will foreground continuities of power and resistance across shifting assemblages of bodies and screens.

3. Exploring the Techno-mediated Being-with in Gallery Film Art

(Sandra Kazlauskaitė and Alex Anikina)

Considering the pervasive appropriation of technology in projection and video film art since the 1960s-1970s, the joint paper questions how the ever-accelerating mediation of audiovisual technology has framed conceptual developments and perceptual experiences of non-theatrical film art from its initiation until today. For this purpose, the paper initiates a study of embodiment in relation to the artist, the spectator and the audiovisual object, as constructed and experienced within the gallery space. It forms a socio-philosophical analysis of a number of historical and contemporary gallery-based film artworks with an aim to distinguish the possible perceptual and ethical interconnections between the artist/author and the participant’s bodies, both of which, as the paper suggests, are always and already mediated and “contaminated” by the technological object. Whilst the first part of the essay analyses the perceptual context of the artist – her body and its relationship to the aesthetic object, the second part presents the embodied conditions of the experiencing subject.

In the paper, the speakers raise the following questions: can each singular metamorphic bodily construct (one of the creator, or one of the participant) exist in perceptual isolation, or do they inescapably conjoin because of the intrinsic presence of the technological apparatus? Due to the relentless rhythmic, reappearing echoes of the background noise, light, and on-screen movement, can all human and non-human bodies be singularized, or do they originate and end in social coexistence? Following Jean Luc Nancy’s theorisations, could we further contemplate on these transmuting bodies as immediately embodied through the notion of being-with, rather than being-within-itself, thus primordially social? If an embodied-with is a viable proposition, then, as the paper suggests, it is through the technological artwork that a more embodied ethico-embodied connection with the creator and with the spectator can be established.