ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P20)

Screening India through digital image-making

Location Arts and Aesthetics Lecture Hall No. 101, SAA-I
Date and Start Time 05 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Giulia Battaglia (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3 ) email
Paolo S. H. Favero (University of Antwerp) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores the role of digital image-making in contemporary India. Bringing recent debates in visual anthropology, in touch with the Indian boom in digital experimentations, it will enquire the extent to which such practices are offering new forms of representing India.

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to initiate a dialogue between anthropologists interested in digital visual culture and artists entrenched in digital practices in India.

Contemporary (visual but not only) anthropology is exploring the ways in which digital platforms and practices are critically intervening in the customary (linear) format of ethnographic filmmaking and also the ways in which art and film do intersect with anthropological interests. Such new perspectives aim at going beyond the ethnographic film tradition and are challenging conventional understandings regarding the meaning of visual anthropology as well as that of images at large.

In parallel to this, India has recently witnessed to a boom of innovative digital experimentations. Ranging from the renowned activities of the Raqs Media Collective (New Delhi), to the experimental digital annotation of Pad.ma (Berlin-Mumbai-Bangalore), the open space for media(tion) of Khetro (Kolkata) digital practices are mushrooming across the country offering a critical revision to the representations and forms that have characterised conventional documentary filmmaking.

Positioning ourselves in the interstices between art, film and anthropology in the context of digital image-making, in this panel we encourage both practitioners and scholars to contribute with presentations which address issues concerning digital practices in contemporary India. Are such practices today offering novel ways of representing India? Are these practices subversive and marginal or are they becoming in a way a new form of hegemony? In particular, we are interested in exploring the triangular relationship between technology, aesthetics and politics. Multimedia or visual contributions are particularly welcome.

Chair: Giulia Battaglia and Paolo Favero
Discussant: Giulia Battaglia and Paolo Favero

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Reflecting upon the predicament of digital image-making in South Asia

Authors: Paolo S. H. Favero (University of Antwerp)  email
Giulia Battaglia (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3 )  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to set the field for a number of theoretical reflections regarding the intersection between digital image-making and film in the South Asian context. To what extent can the essence of digital images influence the practices of filming and image-making at large? What are the politics of this process? How do such aspects reflect themselves upon the specificities of the South Asian context?

Long Abstract

This paper aims to set the field for a number of theoretical reflections regarding the intersection between digital image-making and film in the South Asian context. To what extent can the essence of digital images influence the practices of filming and image-making at large? What are the politics of this process? How do such aspects reflect themselves upon the specificities of the South Asian context?

Interruptions in Culture and History: Media Based Art of(f) India

Author: Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

By thinking through the concept of media interruption into the field of culture and its history this paper shall broadly focus on institutions such as Sarai and KHOJ (International Artist’s Association) in New Delhi looking at them as active laboratories of artistic intervention. It further looks at its associated networks such as Raqs Media Collective (Sarai) based in Delhi and CAMP (KHOJ) based in Mumbai. The central focus of the paper would be specifically highlighting the conceptual methodologies of these institutions and collectives. Further, the paper speaks of the directions in which these technologically driven interruptions pushed the horizons of cultural practice in India.

Long Abstract

The emergence of digital technologies is a crucial shift that has taken place post the economic liberalization of the 1990s in the cultural landscape of India. The curatorial turn in the following decade facilitated a diverse range of cultural forms like documentary films and experimental videos to be shown within the domain of contemporary art, translating its life into a new context. The category of new media practitioner emerged and facilitated an arena of fields such as creative writing, filmmaking, music, graphic design and visual art (painting, sculpture) to re-invent their own role within culture, through the very material possibilities technology has offered.

By conceptualizing this as media's interruption into the field of culture and its history this paper shall broadly focus on institutions such as Sarai and KHOJ (International Artist's Association) in New Delhi looking at them as active laboratories of artistic intervention. It further looks at its associated networks such as Raqs Media Collective (Sarai) based in Delhi and CAMP (KHOJ) based in Mumbai. The central focus of the paper would be specifically highlighting the conceptual methodologies of these institutions and collectives. Further, the paper speaks of the directions in which these technologically driven interruptions pushed the horizons of cultural practice in India.

Regeneration and Multiplicity

Author: Soudhamini Venkatnarayanan  email

Short Abstract

If Benjamin bemoaned the loss of ‘aura’ and the original with mechanical reproduction, with the digital the copy too is dead, giving way to a slew of originals and even a new Originary.

Long Abstract

A direct offshoot of digital technology has been the discovery of 'multiplicity'. So even the idea of singularity has changed.

What is the connection between multiplicity and the digital ? At its simplest, there is no technical loss with successive generations. But the challenge is to not merely make 'copies' or even structural clones, but to actually explore variations. Or improvisations so one remains within the realm of art practice, rather than a truth-falsification debate.

Documentary, Documentation, Installation, Fiction - these are the genre-level 'differentiations' that have emerged with startling clarity. Polyphonic rhythms (not the ubiquitous loop) has replaced or 'branched out' from the simple linear. And we have to ask again what is meant by Analog and if it is truly obsolete. My own feeling is that it has merely turned Broadband. So we can talk today of temporal cubism, a continuous lateral and linear progression, vector not scalar, with volume as much as direction. Also analogy and the Sanskrit Alankar - figurative speech.

If Benjamin bemoaned the loss of 'aura' and the original with mechanical reproduction, today the copy too is dead, giving way to a slew of originals and perhaps even a new Originary. In place of the picture negative as Master, we have the entire Shooting Masters as Matrix from which different wholes emerge.

I will be happy to substantiate with extracts from 3 recent projects of mine.

And end with a small note on where its going for me - the Epic.

Querying the popular: digital photographic practices and trick photography of seventies

Author: Sameena Siddiqui (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

My paper will be an in-depth study of contemporary photographic practices in local studios and around temples in Delhi. It will delve into how 'Adobe Photoshop' has changed consumers' and photographers' perception about the medium, representation and aesthetics of the images produced. It will look into the process of production, consumption and circulation of digital images as well as the shifting skills of the local photographers.

Along with this study,I would like to argue that images produced through 'Adobe Photoshop' in local studios has its genesis in the 'Trick photography' of the seventies. Trick photography was an indigenous technique which played a crucial role in evolving a popular language of photography in melas, street corners and later in the local studios of seventies. It left a deep impression on its consumers and generated an irresistible temptation to return to local studios and mela photography corners.

Such innovative photographic techniques were evolved not by professionals but by amateur photographers. These were uneducated quasi urban photographers- who (re)learnt, experimented and arrived at their own unique procedures of creating a photograph which is comparable to today's digital photographs.

In my paper, I would propose that even though technologically 'Adobe Photoshop' came after the economic boom of nineties in India, the images produced using 'Adobe Photoshop' in local photography studios are not radically different from the photographs produced in 1970s through 'Trick Photography'. In fact, contemporary popular photographic images are an extension or replication of the aesthetic norms and representations established in the sixties and seventies.

Theory w/Out Words

Authors: Matti Pohjonen (Dublin City University (DCU))  email
Soumyadeep Paul (Breach Candy Group)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on recent experiences in digital guerilla film making and documentary film, the paper looks at the challenges and promises 'creative experimentation' and practice-based research holds for visual anthropological work interested in challenging classical modes of representation in India.

Long Abstract

THEORY W/OUT WORDS?

Matti Pohjonen & Soumyadeep Paul

Recent years have seen the emergence of practice-based research as a viable alternative for classical anthropological research. This new kind of work, especially popular in research interested in film, media production and the visual arts, sees the everyday practice of working on a project not as a supplement for theoretical work but rather as an intrinsic part of the research process itself. Thus, for instance, working as a director on a documentary provides new insights into the politics of representation in ways that classical academic research cannot achieve. Theory seamlessly feeds into practice and vice versa.


Drawing on a method of 'creative experimentation' and practice-based research the two authors have been developing (Paul & Pohjonen 2011), this paper looks at a recent guerilla film-making project and experimental documentary the two worked on in India in 2010-2011. The paper traces the different ways theoretical ideas varied as the 'rhizome' (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988) or object-oriented philosophy / speculative realism (Bryant and Harman, 2011) were translated into filmic form in an effort to challenge classical ways the holy city of Varanasi has been represented in popular imaginary since the colonial times.

The end result - the film (What is) The White Matter)? shown as a part of the presentation - combines different narrative methods, aesthetic techniques and new digital technology to produce a product that aims to be both theoretically-informed yet professionally-produced. What are the difficulties in this kind of work? And what are its limitations?

101 circles and 2 straight lines

Author: Andy Lawrence (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

How have ethnographic film-makers contributed to anthropological knowledge and what methods do they use? I will look specifically at digital image-making and ask how much the use of this new technology represents a change in ethnographic film-making practice and the knowledge it produces.

Long Abstract

My work has been specifically concerned with childbirth and death and the wisdom traditions that surround this. More generally I have been interested in the life course that flows between these momentous events. I have worked predominantly in the UK and India on these subjects but I have had made films in many other parts of the world using digital technology, and I have taught post graduate researchers how to use digital technology at the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology in the UK for the past ten years. I came to see my film work as 101 circles and 2 straight lines, the lines either side of the circle representing the boundaries to our knowledge and the circle representing the strategies with which we fill our lives. This led me to look at how these strategies change and how knowledge of the 'line' can effect 'the circle' of our lives. Specifically it led me to transformation and transformative practice associated with childbirth and death and how knowledge of this is mediated? I looked at the role of an English midwife in guiding a woman through a time of momentous change, and the way Indian Aghori seekers use death as a means for personal transformation. In this paper I want to look at some of the things that have changed when we talk about 'screening India' and some that may have not. I will use clips from my latest film, The Lover and The Beloved: A Journey Into Tantra to illustrate this. The film will also be screened in its full 70 minutes during the conference.

Undoubtedly, much has changed recently in the tools we use to make our films and the platforms we use to transport them to a global audience. But there is also much that hasn't. We can't digitally enhance our point of engagement in the field, the relationships we have with our subjects. We can't digitally increase the speed of the process by which we understand our material, where the 'stuff of anthropology' is slowly revealed to us. And we can't use an 'App' to digitally assist us in the construction of a story. In light of this it would seem that nothing truly significant has changed with the advent of digital technology in the field of ethnographic film-making, yet it is true that everything appears different. Are we then labouring under an illusion?

Seeing Double: Is Old Delhi Modern?

Author: Karl Mendonca (University of California, Santa Cruz)  email

Short Abstract

Scenes from Old Delhi is a short experimental film that re-presents Old Delhi through a series of encounters. This paper uses the film as a topic and resource to discuss the ethics of producing work for a transnational audience and the concept of alternative modernities.

Long Abstract

What does it mean to be "modern"? Within a post-colonial context, is "modernity" a lost cause—a predominantly "Western" concept that serves as a hegemonic metric scale on which the global South remains "less developed"? Or is it possible to compose a multi-centered form of modernity outside of dualistic East/West, nature/culture and traditional/modern binaries? What would such a formulation mean in a theoretical and political sense? And finally, how can film help us think through both the contextual specificities and broader implications of these questions differently?

Dekho, Purani Dilli (Scenes from Old Delhi) is an essayistic, experimental film that uses the aesthetics of ethnography to explore the entangled issues of re-presentation and subjectivity of place. The film is composed of a series of encounters, where objects and people form part of a material network and a filmic context for the question "Is Old Delhi Modern?" In this paper, I will use the film as both a subject and a resource towards a discussion of the questions posed at the start of this abstract. Drawing on the themes of the conference, I will first briefly describe the production, re-construction and strategies of re-presentation of the film itself using Barthes' proposal of the "Text". Building on this discussion, the final section of the paper will use still images from the film as a form of "image thinking," generating audio-visual questions that will be placed in dialog with ideas about media, modernity and Old Delhi by Ravi Sundaram and Jyoti Hosagrahar. While the question of alternative modernities is very much the focus of discussion, the over-arching goal of this paper is in part to produce a form of hybrid scholarship, where theory and practice work together to diffract the subjectivity of the text into (to rephrase Deleuze) a belief in a multi-centered world.

As part of the presentation, I would like to screen a short clip of the film, which is available online at:

http://vimeo.com/35069603

password: seeingdouble

Download PDF of paper

Weaving Films, Shooting Cotton:The Cinema Making Fabric of Malegaon

Author: Subhashim Goswami (Delhi School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper in talking about the cinema making impetus of a working class town would like to argue how local working class cinema is as much a question of work as a film making aesthetic and one cannot separate the two.

Long Abstract

This paper hinting at a certain representation of India through its working class cinema, much celebrated through a glorification of cinema like that produced in the power loom town of Malegaon would like to interrogate who does this aesthetic appeal to? In celebrating this aesthetic as universal what do we stand to efface? What does it entail to look at India through the lens of a digitally produced "marginalised" cinema making ethos?

Taking this lens of "Malegaon," the quintessential working class town as a point of departure, I would like to argue that Malegaon cinema has flourished and has managed to thwart the onslaught of large commercial enterprises much like its textile trade because of its inimitable working-class cinema-making fabric. While my subjective appreciation excludes me from the larger public endorsement of such cinema in terms of its content, I cannot deny the peculiar position I occupy in being unable to detach myself from the process of this cinema production. Taking off from this engagement, this paper, through a very brief ethnography of a cinema space in an industrial setting and accounts of two individuals who belong to this space, attempts to understand Malegaon cinema in terms of its construction, in its coming to being and the conditions of being which allows for such cinema to become what it does. This process of making what I call Malegaon cinema - the "unaesthetic object" from my vantage point and the conditions of its production is the central thematic of this paper.

Citizen Video Producers Changing Indian Media

Author: Paromita Pain (University of Southern California)  email

Short Abstract

Hundreds of citizens from disadvantaged communities are now using video cameras to report on issues that affect them and their neighbors. With training from the Video Volunteers, local video producers are changing the dominant model of media in the country to make it more democratic and diverse.“IndiaUnheard” is one of several citizen journalism projects in the country established by Video Volunteers, a U.S.-based international organization that trains people from disadvantaged communities to create their own locally relevant and locally produced media. In India, Video Volunteers operates an intensive training in all aspects of video production for aspiring correspondents for the “IndiaUnheard” program and others interested in video journalism. Through its training efforts in India, Video Volunteers has created “the largest, most diverse network” of community video producers anywhere in the world.

Long Abstract

Citizens from disadvantaged communities are now using video cameras to report on issues that affect them and their neighbors. With training from the Video Volunteers, local video producers are changing the dominant model of media in the country to make it more democratic and diverse. "IndiaUnheard" is one of several citizen journalism projects in the country established by Video Volunteers, a U.S.-based international organization that trains people from disadvantaged communities to create their own locally relevant media. Through its training efforts , Video Volunteers has created "the largest, most diverse network" of community video producers anywhere in the world.

After training, some of the producers work for Video Volunteers' Community Video Units. These locally owned and managed units are set up in areas that rarely receive coverage from the mainstream media. Despite the implication that producers work as "volunteers," Video Volunteers is actually quite focused on creating business models to lift people out of poverty. For example, the Community Video Units contribute to the economic well-being of the community by employing residents on a full-time basis. Many of the units earn revenue, some as high as 25 percent of yearly operating costs. As a result of the work produced by trained correspondents, people in slums and villages have been motivated to take action on issues like health, sanitation and women's rights. Suddenly news isn't the domain of the educated city journalist any more. This is a movement towards a media system that incorporates the voice of the poor and marginalized.

The fluid identity of the Other: Italian documentaries on India

Author: Maysa Gabrielli  email

Short Abstract

The paper will discuss and analyse a given corpus of films, from the point of view of the encounter between the Italian artist and the people of India.

Long Abstract

My interest has focused on the analysis of Italian documentaries on India and how Italian filmmakers turn their look to the Other. And if considering a period of time, from 1958 to 1998, the documentary taken into account has changed the way the West looks at the East.

First of all, I had to answer a basic question: what India is it talking about? In the research, which is not limited to the history and criticism of film, but relies on interdisciplinary work between film, visual anthropology, ethnography, discourse analysis and semiotics, I discovered that India is a nation fluid. I also had to consider a concept of progress that is not the same than once, according to which the present of India was the Europe of the past. I kept in mind when analyzing the films, the mosaic of peoples, languages and religions that was India before the arrival of the British Empire.

As I consider the film a meeting, I wanted to test the hypothesis that the meeting between people so distinct, the meeting proposed for the documentary film, is not merely a mirror for self-knowledge, but above all is an exercise to reinvent itself, to discover new answers to all the meetings now so distinct. That is, the question is whether when we speak of otherness in film, we're talking about actually being the Other and the possibility of meetings, or if we are talking about oneself and only of the reduction to oneself, without any chance of meeting.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.