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Saturday, 28 December 2013

Ghost 2013

Ghost 2013

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Blasts from the past

Out of the Archive: Artists, Images and History

Friday 18 November 2011, 10.30–17.30
Saturday 19 November 2011, 10.30–17.30

In collaboration with the London Consortium.
This conference was originally conceived by the Colonial Film project team, and coincides with the launch of the Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire website.

I believe it was Jane Elliott who once toured America saying that white people know as much about racism as black people: and that ignorance is first a privilege and then a choice. This is certainly what sprang to mind over the two days of this conference, which seemed to have a series of absences and elisions at its heart: absences and elisions to do with audiences and cultural ownership, and to do with the protocols of archives themselves, and their meta data.

May Ann Doane, reliably rigorous in her reading of selected films, and relating her response to the colonial film archive to her research on the historical sublime, made the point through example that the colonial film makers felt no need to identify or differentiate the individuals filmed. She suggested that the narrative voice over was part of the dehumanisation process, whereby one African bushman could be substituted for another without explanation.

Yet it seemed to me that this is exactly what Filipa Cesar had done in Black balance, by taking archival footage and cutting together a range of clips of different African nations and cultures in order to make clear – to emphasise – the racism of the white colonial film makers.

This seems to me to exemplify the problematic at the core of this publishing of the archive, and of any discourse around it. When questioned about the content and the audiences for this material, Frances Gooding suggested that there are many people ignorant of the Empire’s history, and that this archive will serve as a source of historical knowledge. What this fails to address however, is the questionable politics of remobilising these images with only that imperative in mind.

First, because it ignores what I would suggest is a considerable population sufficiently visually literate to read back the racism of the original. Secondly because it makes absent the viewpoint of people from the cultures represented (in the historical moment of those cultures dispossession), either as a primary text or in its remobilisation by the artist.

In this way, it seemed to me that much of the conference ran the risk of re-presentation without sufficient critique, and without imagining what it might be like to be viewing this material not as the coloniser, but as the colonised.

Surely we have an ethical obligation to return these images to the peoples whose history they document?

By way of comparison, there has been an Australian exhibition called In living memory which has attempted to deal with precisely these issues of cultural ownership.

In Living Memory is a powerful exhibition of archival photographs from the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board taken between 1919 and 1966, combined with contemporary images of Elders, families and communities by senior Indigenous photographer Mervyn Bishop. In Living Memory first opened in September 2006 and proved to be so important to NSW Aboriginal people, international visitors and the wider community that is still remains open at State Records Gallery.”[1]

Some of the protocols for the making public of these images included consultation with those photographed, their families and their communities. No image was published without the express permission of the people represented or their families. So this archive, whilst a document to the assimilationist policies that destroyed so many aboriginal lives, became an exhibition that returned in some measure a sense of history and representation to those whose lives they picture. The photographs were remobilised in a way that didn’t only refigure the history, but allowed people to reclaim personal and community histories and represent them in the present, via public discourse authored by those communities, and by a photographer who is a member of those communities.

In this way the project became much bigger than a white masculinist paternalist discourse about the mess we’re in: it became an effective and expansive political project concerned with cultural ownership and a dialogue between communities.

What I can’t help but wonder is: what protocols are in place for the use of material in these archives; and in the effective, if partial, doubling of the archive that this online resource represents? How are they being made available to the communities from which the images were taken? Relying on the idea that the internet makes these images available to everybody is na├»ve in the extreme, and I would hope artists and researchers from the colonised nations represented would have privileged access to this material. Or perhaps even be consulted about its publication; of images which represent not just the point of view of Empire, but, as film and photography cannot help but do, represent something about these cultures and their history.

Because wherever those questions are being answered, that is the conference I would like to have attended.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

TV Series

Friday, 12 April 2013