ABSTRACTS


Mieke Bal – keynote speaker

Temporal Turbulence: Heterochrony, Anachronism, and the Value of Simultaneity

David Campany recently remarked in an essay on the work of Canadian photography and video artist Stan Douglas: “In a world economy with its uneven flow of goods, labour, art and information, an understanding of simultaneity becomes a matter of great urgency.” While always engaging older visual technologies both technically and stylistically, Douglas pursues an understanding of how imaging and thinking (politically) go hand in hand, and how political forces use technological innovations not for a more transparent visualisation but, on the contrary, for making reality more opaque yet pretending the opposite. He uses the simultaneity between the past and the present as his primary tool. The understanding of simultaneity is, however, complicated by the historical layering included.

This is also demonstrated, albeit in a very different visual mode, in a recent video work by Monika Huber, The Protest (2013). In order to demonstrate the importance of simultaneity in an inquiry into the fundamental historicity of images, including on the sensorial level of the viewer, I will play this video during the arrival of the conference’s participants and the opening of the lecture. This dense temporality is the key to a revision of what has become an impoverished view of globalisation. Huber’s and Douglas’s works are instructive to the extent that they do not allow any escape from the multimedia nature of historical time. In Douglas’s work with media culture across the twentieth century, the issue of synchronisation between sound and image, as well as between historic and contemporary images becomes a political matter. Thus, simultaneity (in video speak, “sync”) turns linear history into a thick, parallel history. Huber presents this issue in visual simultaneity of her own gestures of painting and washing out rival with the journalistic images’ clarity. I will allege some of their recent works to make a case for the value of anachronism to achieve an analysis of the past on behalf of the present and future. But in order to understand this and undermine the manipulative use of images, we must treat images, instead of as illustrations, as “theoretical objects.”


Ryszard Dabek

Phantom Bid

This work is an exercise in cinematic archaeology, in summoning forth the ghosts of Hollywood’s past through the scant evidence of a single document. The imagery that I have worked with for this exhibition is drawn from a catalogue of movie memorabilia that was put up for auction by 20th Century Fox in February 1971.  Consisting of brief textual descriptions and black & white photographs the catalogue brings together a disparate range of objects and effects.  If there is a logic to be detected in this collection it is one that sits somewhere in the space between commerce and representation: a very Hollywood kind of logic. The actual photographs used in the catalogue, like the represented objects, elude a sense of strict taxonomy. Movie stills, studio promotional shots and lifeless purpose-taken catalogue images sit side by side, all appealing to the veracity of the featured object as an integral component in the creation of the illusionary space of cinema. Look, this is the chair that Tyrone Powell lent upon, this the bottle from which Bogart’s shaking lips imbibed.  And when the image shows only the object the discreet accompanying text lists its screen appearances as a mark of provenance. But there is another meaning that shadows these objects. Collectively they represent the dismantling of the studio-system of production that once dominated Hollywood.  Each object acts as a kind of historical footnote to the passing of an era and a particularly resilient form of pictorial hegemony. Freed of the context of the catalogue they take on an enigmatic and negotiable quality, floating signifiers that at once speak of the history of moving images while refusing to yield more that their own blank strangeness.


John Di Stefano

Inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up, these works explore the authority of the photographic image by examining the technological limits of its ‘documentary’ logic. The notion of interference and failure are key considerations in these works that attempt to also engage with the materiality and techne of indexical media.

Register is a series of unique, large-scale indexical photograms in which grid pattern matrices are overlaid. The fusion of these matrices creates misalignments, or moirés. Moirés are a common unwanted residue of digital and print imagery, when pixelation or banding misregisters. According to Anoka Faruqee, the moiré phenomenon embodies the schism between what is described and what is ultimately experienced.[1] This translation, a type of ‘aliasing’, implies deception or even corruption, something that stands in apparent contraction to the veracity of the photographic image, and consequently suggests that there is more to an image when it ‘fails’.

The theme of an image emerging from the ‘failure’ of another is also explored in the video work Merge, which focuses on the video screen as the site (or space) of convergence between the viewer and the image. This work suggests that within the screen itself exists a potential for representation to shift, misalign and reveal something that disrupts the image’s ‘logic’. This disruption is indeed the ground for scepticism.

Register and Merge question the analytical and documentary photographic aspects of the image apparatus by focusing on the structural preconditions and peripheral conditions of the mediated image. These works attempts to peel apart the surfaces of the image to reveal structural preconditions in the apparatus, not dissimilar to what the photographer in Blow Up struggles with in his attempt to verify what he has involuntarily witnessed through the camera, the trace of which only exists at the limits of the photograph. Enlargements unveil microscopic structures that might be considered the ‘handwriting’ of the images one normally does not always see.

As in Blow Up, in Merge we see more and more decontextualised details from a larger image that begins to develop an ambiguous reference to the original. The new images that emerge from the original image become more abstract as we engage in a type of archeological process that renders an extremely narrow boundary between the ‘representational’ and the ‘abstract’. Here, the camera’s ability to show detail also says something about the abstract, the reduced, but without necessarily contradicting itself, as the indexicality is nevertheless preserved. Register and Merge examine this space of collision between what one is meant to see and what emerges from an image when one identifies the image’s fissures. The enigmatic visual spaces that emerge in this process, exemplified in the moirés, speaks to the plasticity of perception, but also models the dynamism of the physical world. These works attempt to identify the border between, what Günther Selichar identifies as abstraction and the concrete, realistic representation, the optical illusion between high-resolution, documentary photography and ‘painterly’ aesthetics. [2]

[1] Anoka Faruqee, “Artist Statement” retrieved from http://anokafaruqee.com/artists-statement/

[2] Günther Selichar, “Document and Abstraction”, Media Art Net, Susanne Holschbach (ed), Academy for Visual Arts Leipzig, 2003


Janelle Evans

Eliza Fraser : The Blackening

My current research interests are associated with the published accounts of Eliza Fraser’s ordeal as the first white woman to be held ‘captive’by Australian First Peoples following the shipwreck of the Stirling Castle in 1836. In these gothic narratives, Eliza relates her ‘tortuous ordeal’of being stripped and ‘blackened’with oil and charcoal by her Aboriginal ‘captors’after they found her shipwrecked, sunburned body on their island’s shores. The published accounts of her ordeal, and the many re-interpretations that resulted from them (including Sidney Nolan’s series of paintings in the 1950s and Patrick White’s novel Fringe of Leaves), have come to define or frame Australian responses to Aboriginal people and culture. The mental image of a ‘tortured’ and ‘blackened’ middle class, white woman held captive by ‘savage’ natives (as portrayed in her narratives) would certainly have burned deep into the minds of her colonial readers as they shared in her horror. Yet her accounts of the events were contested by others who also survived the shipwreck. Her narratives read like a Gothic horror story using familiar devices from the genre.

In this work The Blackening, I have appropriated various body parts from photographic images and assembled them to depict Eliza Fraser as a ‘monstrous female’, in line with Mary Shelley’s monster from the novel Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, and also in line with contemporary charges of Eliza being a monstrous liar, and she-devil. Her blackened body not only references the medicinal practices of the Badtjala women but also Pictish-Scottish practices of blackening the bride with oils and charcoals (a ritual Eliza would have participated in when she married the Scottish James Fraser, Captain of The Stirling Castle).


Cherine Fahd

Body Beautiful

When I initially visualized Blown-up (2014) I believed I was simply extending the work I had begun in the photographic series Plinth Piece (2014). I was aiming to reimagine and recreate another body for myself and to turn my body into an ephemeral sculpture. But like most creative meanderings the work took on another life reminding me of many peculiar and disparate things I had seen, The Biggest Loser for one. This reality TV show is a competition between several overweight people to see who can lose the most weight. In the shows finale the contestants walk onto a stage to confront an image of how they looked before the competition. Such images arouse astonishment as audiences are stunned by the transformation in appearance from the former ‘monstrous’ bodies to the shrunk figures before them.

In Blown-up I mimic such a transformation. Firstly I become ‘a body’ by wearing a red plastic suit and a face glove to conceal my appearance and identity. As a body (a female body) I walk slowly onto a rustling plastic stage; at first glance this scene recalls the flaunting of Guantanamo Bay prisoners on the evening news but gradually this image fades as the body does something unanticipated and begins to grow. At the point of no return when the body is its largest it begins to show itself – front, side and back to the camera. Consciously evoking the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge or perhaps the technique adopted for criminal mug shots, the body displays all sides.

Blown-up is a performance for video. The performance goes like this: the blown-up body attempts to regulate movement in order to fall into a slow rhythm. This rhythm is short lived and interrupted by the impulse to dance. “Dare to dance” she thinks to herself, “dare to dance in this reprehensible form”. After her dance comes to an abrupt halt she is weary, weary from the weight (and the exertion of fifteen takes) and so she sits. Becoming a taut stretched blob triggers a deflation and the air begins to slowly escape. As she stands and returns to her frontal position her imagined skin begins to become loose with crevices, flaps and folds.

In Blown-up the politics of such corporeal representations are examined through a mediated encounter with the body. By examining the inadequacies of looking at and ‘being’ a body that fails to achieve validated normality, Blown-up renders both a critical and humorous performance of paradoxical desire for and fear of the irrepressible body.


Merilyn Fairskye 

MARCH

Single-channel HDV installation with stereo sound.  Duration: 7:00 loop

On 19 March, 2014, Vladimir Putin formally annexed Crimea to the Russian Federation.  Since then the political and social situation has remained tense and competing claims have been issued that have not resolved the real differences between Russia and Ukraine that have been brought into focus through this action.

My 2010 visit to Crimea, a territory of Ukraine, initially to gather material for a video about the Black Sea, led to a series of artworks concerned with the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion, 1000 kilometres north, 25 years before. MARCH is comprised of footage I captured then.

MARCH does not directly address any of the large issues buried in the Crimean conflict but instead traces some parts of the key fault-lines between empire and ordinary people in sequences using destabilized/uncertain location footage, subtitles, and sound grabs from Russian and British TV.  There is a deliberate sense of agitation in this video.  You can never see everything that happens in real time and fragments and excerpts you catch in this footage provide a partial, elliptical, and evocative encounter.

But you do know that on 19 March, 2014, Vladimir Putin formally annexed Crimea to the Russian Federation, and a chained up dog barks.  The rest is up to you.


Anne Ferran

A photograph is made to be seen

photography Anne Ferran
performance Linda Luke

To make the series Box of Birds (2103) I worked with performers, their bodies concealed under lengths of felt, improvising in front of the camera while I took photographs. As the work progressed I became acutely aware that we were experiencing our shared process from radically different perspectives. Shrouded under layers of felt, they were exploring the position of their bodies in three-dimensional space. As photographer I was focused entirely on the one-sided, partial view they presented to the camera and to me. The experience added a new dimension to something I already knew about photography but had not felt so keenly in a long time, its forceful one-sidedness.

I was prompted to think about this again recently when invited to exhibit three Box of Birds images, massively enlarged, in a Melbourne hotel. The hotel’s lobby windows overlook a large, partly enclosed retail atrium. Each fabric length was printed on both sides, one to face into the lobby and the other out to the atrium. When the banner-sized images were installed they had a two-sidedness I had not anticipated. Depending on the time of day and the prevailing light, each image was more or less ‘ghosted’ by its reversed version on the other side.

While technically a mistake, I saw something that felt worth pursuing. Might a material investigation of the photograph’s habitual one-sidedness generate some new insights?

In A photograph is made to be seen a two-sided banner-sized image is hung so it offers two alternate views of (supposedly) the same image. In addition, a single performer inhabits the gallery for a period of time during the course of the exhibition. She is physically removed from the image but visibly connected to it. Her performance actions may attract the audience’s attention but they do not demand it.


Jane Goodall

The Radiant Image: a sceptical account

Renaissance interest in the radiant image was associated with the early modern science of optics. John Dee’s writings on astrology in the time of Elizabeth I posited a radiant universe, in which the rays were envisaged both as geometric lines and generative force fields. Dee defined astrology as ‘an Arte Mathematicall, which reasonably demonstrateth the operations and effectes, of the naturall beames, of light, and secrete influence: of the Sterres and Planets: in every element and elementall body.’ The eye itself was construed as a source of rays, so that the relationship between spectator and image was one of inter-active radiation.

In theories of the image from later modernity, accounts of the behaviour of light may be stripped of this investment in divinity and divination. Or apparently so: perhaps this is where we should be sceptical. I will explore some correspondences between images of Queens from the reigns of the first Elizabeth and the second, focusing on the continuing seductions of radiance, and its capacity to confuse the distinction between what and how we are seeing.


Melissa Hardie

Database Animals: Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton’s Queer Archive.

In 1962 writers, artists, and lovers Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell were convicted and sentenced to six months’ incarceration for ‘malicious damage’ of library books. Orton and Halliwell removed library books from their local library and returned them with altered covers and content, creating out of the public resource a private archive whose existence was formally detected and documented by an assiduous clerk for whom these activities constituted an insult to the organising premise of the circulating library.

This paper argues that the recirculation of images and content through the doctored books constitutes a micro-archive where acts of circulation and promiscuous assemblage take place on page and cover. Almost as interesting are the assiduous tasks taken on by their self-styled opponents, who both carefully laid a trap for the pair, and later documented the extensive catalogue of defaced and altered books. My paper will consider these two species of archivists in terms of the conceptual liberties of ‘trolling’ (cruising as mode of mischief and détournment, after Bersani) and the ‘database animal’ (in Azuma’s work a way to describe obsessive cataloguing in terms of the post-human).


Bruce Isaacs

Reality Effect: The Ideology of the Long Take in the Cinema of Alfonso Cuarón

This paper offers a critical examination of the ‘long take’ as a film image traversing the technological and phenomenological space that has opened between celluloid and digital aesthetics. The long take serves a number of philosophical and aesthetic functions in film studies discourse: the desire for realism, experiential immersion and perceptual ambiguity have all filtered through the discussions of Bazin, Deleuze, and more recently digital cinema theorists such as Nicholas Rombes (2009) and Steven Shaviro.

I propose to reengage the long take as an ideological vehicle in Alfonso Cuarón’sY Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men  (2006) and Gravity (2013). I take as my point of reference the debate over the ideological underpinnings of depth and duration in film images (Comolli, 1972; Bordwell, 1997), which has recently expanded into a broader imperative to discover the ideology (or even meaning) of a digital image bereft of indexical substance. If celluloid implicitly ideologised the image through forms of montage (whether a depth/duration image itinerary, or an Eisensteinian perceptual and affective conflict), what is the ideological and political consequence of an image divorced from its referent (Manovich, 2001; Shaviro, 2007)?


Vrasidas Karalis

Cinematic Images As Hypnagogic And Hypnopompic Experiences

In the beginning of Raul Ruiz’s film adaptation of Time Regained (1999) by Marcel Proust the eye follows the normal flow of a dark river towards the sea. Suddenly, the imperceptible movement of the camera seems to reverse the flow and the spectator watches the river moving backwards, like an ebb which returns the water to its source. Cinematic images work against time: despite their materiality they capture moments of condensed temporality, in which the immediate function of visual symbolism becomes an intersection of multiple temporalities. The cinematic image negates the Heracletian saying that you cannot enter the same river twice. This happens because its main function is to evoke simultaneously disparate moments and experiences by configuring them in specific formal arrangements leading to special states of mind. The evocative function of each cinematic image induces either hygnagogic or hypnopompic states of mind through which the cinematic experience itself creates the threshold consciousness through which all ideological certainties of stability, causality and fixity collapse.

Drawing from the writings of the experimental film-maker Stan Brakhage, the hypnagogic studies by Andreas Mavromatis and the works of Henri Bergson and Marcel Proust on involuntary memory the presentation suggests a theory of the image as a mnemonic spectrum in which competing traces of recollection coexist through their semantic interdependence leading to the emergence of new significantions which didn’t exist in the intentionality of their film-maker.


Urša Komac

Kekec as the self-image of Slovenia

Cherished by nationalists and communist authorities, the fictional hero Kekec was chosen by Slovenians as their cultural icon. Although the first book about Kekec was published just after the First World War, fame ultimately arrived through a film shot in the 1950s. Kekec, a hero from a Communist country, soon enjoyed success both in Mao’s China and at the Venice Film Festival. As an invention, Kekec embodies a male version of the Swiss Heidi. He is presented as a small, savvy shepherd surrounded by mean or weak people. Kekec’s cheerfulness is met with joy as he fights the good cause and helps those in need. He embodies the values cherished by Slovenians who would like to live like Kekec. They despise the city and buy a plot of land close to the motorway. The result is sprawl, car dependency and stir craziness. Slovenians are frustrated, but not skeptical. They know what they want but they don’t recognize that the same ideals that make them happy are also their curse. Kekec embodies these conflicting values. There is nothing original about them. They are the values behind the garden city. They are the values of places full of trees and roads, places like Canberra, for example.


Nikolas Kompridis

Working Enigma: Receiving Antonioni’s Blow Up

The quintessential Antonioni film, Blow-Up is not just an enigmatic film; it is a film about how to work with enigma, how to receive something as enigmatic and to respond to that enigmatic something differently. It is no accident that the film is built up from premises of the whodunit, for this genre is itself a culturally definitive way to respond to enigma, where working with enigma means working to master it. But Blow-Up denies us the possibility of mastery. It asks us to work with enigma in a way that does not aim, futilely, at mastery. Aim at what, then?


David Macarthur

Remarks on Film as a Moving Image of Scepticism

Cavell famously calls film “a moving image of scepticism”. The relevant scepticism at issue here is external world scepticism on the basis of a characterization of cinema as a fictional world being present to us although we are not present to it. Cavell’s commitment to this conception of cinematic realism is grounded on the mechanical basis of film, its “automatism”. In this paper I criticize Cavell’s cinematic realism, in order to defend a different understanding of his idea of there being a connection between film and skepticism; and to offer an alternative to his idea that film normalizes a modern Cartesian fantasy of a world beyond appearances. On the alternative I present, the scepticism at issue in film is other minds scepticism. This understanding makes available a more compelling account of the power of film in terms of an escape from our ordinary condition of acknowledging others.


Talia Morag

Characterising TV Series

The medium of the newish art form of T.V. Series introduces its own distinctive features. In particular, the structural qualities of a T.V. series, including the episodic and seasonal framework, the uncertainty of the show’s lifetime and its watching conditions, induce certain characteristics on the medium’s style of imagistic storytelling. Watching a (good) T.V. show involves on the one hand growing attachments to certain characters, and on the other hand, a lingering doubt about the “character” of those characters. In this paper I claim that the medium of T.V. Series puts the spectator in a skeptical position about personal identity, that is, about the possibility of coherently and completely describing, understanding or narrating a person.


Tanya Peterson

RELAY

When I think about photography I think about light.

G. tells me that scientists generally work from negative images of the stars; they’re interested in reading the data. The positive images are for the public, for our collective imagination of the stars and their distant promises. It’s no surprise Voyager 2 has its own twitter account with around 74.3k followers.

When I make images I think about the limits of vision and how perceptions of the world are often synthesised through different atmospheres and conditions of light.

In ‘The Wrong Direction’, from his book Snapshots, Alain Robbe-Grillet conjures an illuminated scene like a metadata detective, descriptively isolating points of light sparked by a perpetually setting sun. Divergent rays cut through a landscape, arcing back on themselves like syncopated reflections. The light’s movement is detailed as an almost entropic proposition. It’s a little like the account Robert Smithson’s gives of his Passaic tour.

What do we make of the light that shapes and filters our perceptions? And how does the same light, transposed across different places and contexts, shape the local and global relay of events?

17 October, 2013. It’s around 4.30pm when I step outside again. The Domain comes into view across the other side of the street. There aren’t many people around. The available light has diminished considerably, but it’s still hot. The sun’s red against an orange sky. The world seems close. I point my camera-phone upwards and the repeated sound of a fake shutter-click causes a group of tourists to look and stare. They soon follow my lead, but with better tech. I wonder if they read the sky as a sign of disaster too.

On the same day, Geoscience Australia makes its first ever request to activate the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters. It allows aerial data and imagery of the New South Wales bushfires to be received from more than 20 satellites. An image of NSW is taken a few days later from the International Space Station. At first glance it looks like an upside down image of the stars – burning constellations across a dark, mottled ground. Then the rest of the picture comes to light.


Stefan Popescu

(un) identified

On August 23rd, 1953, Tom Drury was filming a football match. The sky was clear, when a small cloud began to form. After a few minutes a silver object came out of the cloud, intrigued by this phenomenon Drury had started his camera rolling. The Drury UFO footage became a controversial and notable reference of Australia’s contribution to the UFO conspiracy. It became all the more controversial when it was claimed that the UFO section of the film was missing and the RAAF were denying any knowledge of its whereabouts.

Tom Drury’s footage was not the only football-related UFO sighting, and a secret report from the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) suggests that there is a strong correlation between football and unidentified flying objects in Australia.

My artwork investigates the Australian-football UFO phenomenon by scouting footage such as Drury’s infamous footage, which I will visually affect and slow down highlighting the nuance of such a phenomenon.

This work explores how documentations of events in history are constantly caught in a cultural flux undergoing transformations and mutations each time the event is referenced. On a more cynical note, the work inherently comments on the impossibility of a history.

It is a playful reworking of historical footage of the culturally icon pastime of football, with an undertone of absurdity. It articulates both my personal unfamiliarity and fascination with the mass cultural pastimes, but also the cultural mythologies that these pastimes perpetuate through history.


Toni Ross

The interlacing of Intention and Automatism in the Photographic Image: a critical response to Walter Benn Michael’s ‘Neoliberal Aesthetics: Fried, Rancière and the Form of the Photograph.

In 2011 Walter Benn Michaels published a provocative intervention in art theory debates about photography’s displacement from and connection to the world. More specifically, his essay ‘Neoliberal Aesthetics: Fried, Rancière and the Form of the Photograph,’ identifies a theoretical conflict between recent writings on photography by Michael Fried and Jacques Rancière. Benn Michaels supports Fried’s defence of modernist art’s autonomy latterly applied to contemporary art photography against a postmodernist or poststructuralist thinking of the medium attributed to Rancière. One of Fried’s central claims about a postmodernist framing of photography is that it supplants an idea of art as intentional production with one where the meaning and value of art works is determined by a range of external factors. In Benn Michaels’ version of this argument, Fried contrasts this ‘neo-liberal’ vision of photographic art subjected to market demands, a reality beyond art or the desires of consumers with the self-enclosed, unified, and intentional compositions of modernist works, which assert definite boundaries between themselves and the world outside them. Alternatively, according to Benn Michaels, Rancière privileges photography’s indexical status to diminish the aesthetic intentions of the photographer and thus the modernist separation of art from life. This paper questions Benn Michaels’ radical reduction of Rancière’s thinking of photography. It will claim that rather than being set apart, artistic intention and its withdrawal operate in dialectical tension in Rancière’s account of the photographic image’s significance for modern and contemporary art.


Gary Sangster

Fugitive Content

Fugitive Content explores a range of concerns about the nature of art, art practice, curatorial practice, and public perception, that can be seen in the construction of meaning and definition of value within contemporary art. The discussion highlights the nuanced and subtle, but no less critical and telling, differences that exists across various professional and public perspectives of art, and invites reflection on the elusive and unfixed nature of art, its shape-shifting form and effect. The trajectory of these ideas tends to destabilize the unthinking sense of certainty and confidence in notions of the preciousness, the timelessness or the universality of art.

The text is divided into three sections. In a preamble, the responsibility for making history through the narrative, discursive effects of the exhibition is proposed as a function of the curatorial process rather than the art-making process. The introductory section provides a reflection on a specific example of the dialogue between the curator and the artist. The text situates the elusive, disputed status of art through a brief account of a curatorial process, in which renowned German/US artist, Hans Haacke, and two curators from The New Museum determine if it is possible to recreate and present a lost work. The differences in perspective between the artist and the curators revolve around key premises that function in the making and reception of art, and how those premises determine how this work of art may be interpreted and archived. In what is hardly a surprise, the curators and the artist have different expectations, but ultimately arrive at a solution to the debate. The concluding section of Fugitive Content is more speculative and explores series of propositions that animate the increasingly tense, pervasive sense of unfixed or indistinct logic in the nature of both the expression and content in art.


Margaret Seymour

Remote Sensing

Digital images are, physically at least, relatively easy to copy and disseminate. Doing so however sometimes uncovers information that authorities would rather the public didn’t see. It’s because of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden that we know some of the secrets governments have tried to hide. Ironically the internet, which promised information sharing and intellectual freedom, is also being use to monitor and control individuals. Revelations by Edward Snowden prompted a national debate in the United States about privacy and the legality of the PRISM surveillance program. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who in 2013 flew to Hong Kong to verify the documents that Snowden had in his possession, has since started an online news magazine called The Intercept. One of the first posts on The Intercept included three high-resolution photographs by Trevor Paglen, an artist who has a longstanding interest in surveillance. Paglen photographed three high security intelligence facilities in the US: the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) which designs, builds and operates spy satellites and the National GeoSpatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) which maps and analyses images and connects geographic information to surveillance data from other sources. In contrast to the secrecy surrounding the NSA’s mass surveillance program, Paglen has posted these images in the public domain, saying they can “be used by anyone for any purpose whatsoever, with or without attribution.” [1]

My work Remote Sensing uses Paglen’s image of the NSA building and its surroundings, which he photographed from a helicopter at night. Paglen says that one of the reasons he took the image was “to expand the visual vocabulary we use to “see” the U.S. intelligence community.”[2] Previously the most commonly used image of the facility was one supplied by the agency that appears to be taken in the 1970s. Remote Sensing questions the secrecy surrounding mass surveillance and explores the way information can be both revealed and hidden. The work comprises a specially designed interactive object that the viewer moves around the gallery. This motion causes contiguous parts of Paglen’s image of the NSA headquarters to be displayed on a horizontal screen, which is incorporated into the top surface of the device. Experiencing the work involves different modes of ‘seeing’: intense scrutiny, remembering and anticipation, and the subsequent compositing of discrete image elements into a virtual whole. All play a part in piecing together the larger image but they also frustrate the idea of an instantaneous ‘comprehensive’ reading.

[1] https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/02/10/new-photos-of-nsa-and-others/

[2] ibid.


Robert Sinnerbrink

Gangster Film:  Ethics, Reality, and Scepticism in The Act of Killing

My presentation is part of a project on ‘cinematic ethics’: the idea of film as a medium of ethical experience. Although film can be used for moral pedagogy (or for political propaganda), it also has the power to challenge our moral assumptions, dogmatic beliefs, or ideological convictions. Recent documentary film theory has highlighted the importance of ethics, subjectivity, reflexivity, fictional narrative, and aesthetic technique in contemporary non-fictional film. These elements are featured, but also questioned, in one of the most confronting non-fiction films in recent years, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012). An extraordinary fusion of reflexive ‘perpetrator documentary,’ historico-political reckoning, stylised fictional re-enactment, and surreal essay film, The Act of Killing confronts the ongoing social and historical legacy of Indonesia’s state-sanctioned death squads, who killed over a million dissident Communists and ethnic Chinese following the military coup of 1965. Criticised by some for its focus on perpetrators, who are filmed making their own bizarre movie version of their crimes, and challenged for its ‘factual-fictional’ re-enactments of torture scenes, The Act of Killing’s provocative exploration of the traumatic intersection of political violence, historical memory, social reality, and cinematic imagery makes it a uniquely challenging case study in cinematic ethics.


Yanai Toister

We Shall Survive in the Memory of Other Media[1]

Taking its cue from Friedrich A. Kittler my visualwork for in this exhibition follows the unique writing methods of the late media philosopher Vilém Flusser. Flusser was a famous multi-lingual who was fluent in five languages and wrote for publication in no less than four of them. His method of writing always started by an action of ‘projecting’ an initial thought, one that he described as ‘an image’, into the language, that best suited it. He would then continue with ‘writing’ the thought, then translating the resulting text into another language and sometimes back again, mining the image-thought-text for further implications, attempting to ‘exhaust’ it. Similar to no one else’s, this writing method can be only, and should be, compared to data manipulation in the information age.

Flusser consistently argued for an understanding of the photograph in connection to ‘an apparatus’[2] from which it must always derive. Moreover, he asserted, the photograph, being as it is always an object potentially identical to an unlimited number of other objects, is ‘a post-industrial object’ and as such it heralds a “future culture of immaterial information.”[3] Immaterial, argued Flusser, because photographs will eventually leave their chemistry behind, will abandon their material supports to become what Flusser calls “electromagnetized photos”[4] – images no longer seen on paper but on screen.

These prophecies by Flusser were written in the early to mid 1980’s, years before the advent of digital photography and the rise of personal computing. Was Flusser right and to what extent? Did photography complete its migration from paper to screen?  And what then are we to make of (sceptical) images still tethered to their material supports? Further, do we even know what an images are? Or what they once were?

And if we ever knew what images are, do we still know? My work for this exhibition suggests that we do not know. We need revised definitions for what images really are and for how to differentiate between images and other media if we are to make images at all. For now we do not know how to tell sights from sounds, letters from numbers. In my work I argue that the difference between these categories, which has always been tentative and superficial, has recently been erased: “Like impoverished aristocrats forced to work as tour guides on their former estates, media now function in subservient fashion as interfaces between the machine and us.”[5]

If photography is now code (as is everything else) than we are free to play. With numbers, everything goes: modulation, transformation, synchronization; delay, storage, transposition; scrambling, scanning, mapping—a total media link on a digital base will erase the very concept of medium, everything is computer, everything is to be dated back to photography.

[1] We Shall Survive in the Memory of Others is the title to a famous interview with Vilém Flusser.

[2]Apparatus (pi. -es): a plaything or game that simulates thought [trans. An overarching term for a non-human agency, e.g. the camera, the computer and the ‘apparatus’ of the State or of the market] ; organization or system that enables something to function. Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography  (London: Reaktion, 2000). 82.

[3]Vilém Flusser, “The Photograph as Post-Industrial Object: An Essay on the Ontological Standing of Photographs,” Leonardo 19, no. 4 (1986): 331.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Eva Horn and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, “Machine Learning,” Art Forum 51, no. 1 (Sep. 2012).


Justin Trendall

These works come from a project that uses as it’s core reference point a genre of photography that attempts  to document industrial modernity; those images of factories, silos, mines and skyscrapers and other such ‘marvellous’ feats of engineering which are routinely used to both document and symbolise  industrial progress. This genre, with its reductively simple compositions, dead pan approach to photography and serious emblematic ambitions, has long fascinated me.

My work sets out to inhabit of this vernacular ‘documentary’ tradition from a subjective perspective. Using it’s unproblematic conceptual approach and simple framing conventions as a starting point my project explores ways in which this kind of imagery can be subtly recalibrated to open up space for other meanings. The project uses a range of strategies to create complexity; provoking other ways of thinking about the symbolic ‘picturing’ of progress at work within this particular genre of imagery.

In this particular series the intervention has taken the form of embroidering. On one level, the stitching works to shift attention away from the representational momentums of the project; to introduce an element of materiality back into the image making process. The thread’s perforating of the page transforms the image back into object, breaking it’s representational spell. But perhaps more importantly (and more obviously) the embroidery aims to set up tensions within the images between functionality and decoration; technological efficiency and cultural coding; industrial production and human dreaming.


Stephen White – keynote speaker

Transcendental Arguments and the Other

In a number of papers I have argued that a transcendental argument provides the appropriate response to Humean scepticism regarding the external world. Hume’s sense-datum theory of what we are given in conscious experience is crucial to his sceptical conclusion. And I argue that this theory, based as it is on camera metaphors for the mind, cannot account for our having a meaningful language. The question then arises whether scepticism about other minds would yield to the same strategy.

In this paper I argue that the Other and the external world are not strictly analogous in this respect. The Other, however, plays a number of transcendental roles, providing conditions prior to the representation of objective entities that make such representation possible. The Other, then, like freedom, value, and the sublime, is in an important sense unrepresentable. Rather, it belongs to the implicit background against which representation takes place. And the attempt to make it itself the object of explicit scrutiny can succeed only against the background of elements that continue to remain implicit.