ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

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

(P16)

Field and film aesthetics: sensory anthropology and the texture of documentary filmmakers' practice

Location Arts and Aesthetics Lecture Hall No. 101, SAA-I
Date and Start Time 04 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Cathy Greenhalgh email
Nina Sabnani (IIT Bombay) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Filmmaker/participant performative encounters suggest aesthetics of organization, affective relations and creativity combine, pointing to how dimensions of collaborative, reflexive filming and fieldwork could influence a broader research ethics in sensory ethnography.

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to identify aesthetics of practice as well as art form; characterized in affective relations, 'collaborative dynamics' and 'felt knowledge' between filmmaker and participants, particularly when craft or art is the subject (John-Steiner, 2000). Ethnographic filmmaking has distrusted aesthetic positioning, but following Ranciere (2004, 2006), aesthetics is political and some filmmakers integrate it with participants, environment, story, sense of place, weather phenomena, specific texture of objects and the vibrancy of material culture (Pinney and Thomas, 2001, Bennett, 2010, Ingold, 2011). Aesthetics can anchor identity and meaning, mobility and creativity through tacit or explicit 'aesthetics of organization' (Strati, 1999), a texture of 'knowing in practice' (Gherardi, 2006). This develops through the performativity of the filmmaking process, as much as tactical use of film sound, cinematography, editing, animation or storytelling.

'Haptic visuality' and affective regimes observed in experimental, intercultural documentary and diasporic storytelling try to enhance memory, or reclaim loss, via use of textural layering and shifting chronotopes (Marks, 2000, Naficy, 2001, Rutherford, 2011). The corporeal aspect of filmmaking addresses the moment of perception as experienced event and material capture (MacDougall, 2006). The vitality of this encounter, if understood, holds potential to integrate technological skill and ecological concerns (Abram, 1996). We encourage papers which present film or documentation of film work in process; and explore how sensuous and affective dimensions of reflexive or collaborative film work and non-text oriented artist fieldwork practices (Schneider and Wright, 2006), influence aesthetics and could be theorized in a broader research ethics, politics and practice.

Chair: Steve Hughes
Discussant: Steve Hughes and Convenors

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Colonial India: why does it matter to contemporary aesthetics of (documentary) film practice in India?

Author: Giulia Battaglia (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3 )  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates how and why colonial films matter to examine sensorial aspects of filmmaking in contemporary documentary practices in India. Drawing on concepts of ‘cultural performance’ (Singer 1972) and ‘film event’ (Hughes 2010), I investigate the performative way in which ‘factual’ films entered colonial India. In doing this, I will connect the colonial film experience to the way contemporary filmmakers are (re)thinking of the sensorial aspects of filmmaking and the way this ‘rethinking’ is overlapping with emerging debate in anthropology about art and film.

Long Abstract

This paper investigates how and why colonial films matter to examine sensorial aspects of filmmaking in contemporary documentary practices in India. Drawing on concepts of 'cultural performance' (Singer 1972) and 'film event' (Hughes 2010), I investigate the performative way in which 'factual' films entered colonial India. In doing this, I will connect the colonial film experience to the way contemporary filmmakers are (re)thinking of the sensorial aspects of filmmaking and the way this 'rethinking' is overlapping with emerging debate in anthropology about art and film (see Schneider and Wright 2010, Banks and Ruby 2011).

In this paper I will present one aspect of a historical ethnography of documentary film practices in India, written for my PhD. My research is the result of twenty months of multi-sited fieldwork (conducted between October 2007 and June 2009), and a combination of ethnographic methodologies with archival material. Based on ethnographic experience and historical analyses, I will argue that documentary filmmaking in India should be regarded as a performative media practice which connects different practitioners and audiences. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that a critical examination of history is necessary to analyse the texture of documentary filmmakers' practice in contemporary India.

Frenzy of Bandwidths: Documenting Technology

Author: Pallavi Paul (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to map the technological moment of 1970s in India. Located in a politically volatile decade, I will try and infer the range of experiences that the arrival of analog video technology brought to documentary practice and the formative tensions it unleashed within it.

Long Abstract

This paper seeks to present an experiential account of the arrival of video technology in India and trace its dynamic encounters with documentary practice. It will mobilize a discussion around documentary images, placing them in the wide range of sites such as surveillance networks, medical practice and activist narratives. The question of whether the political and technological climate of the 70s and the 80s fundamentally change the expectations from the documentary form, will be pursued through the piece. Finally, to be able to unpack various orders of meaning that were/are created in the interstices of industrial histories, experiences of watching, and modes of circulation; will be the central challenge of this ethnography.

We found love in a hopeless place: aesthetics, technology, body in amateur production

Author: Namita A. Malhotra (Alternative Law Forum)  email

Short Abstract

This paper maps the range of production and aesthetics in amateur video and film production that is brought to the surface by new modes of production and transmission. My interest is in a phenomenological and philosophical exploration (relying on works of Massumi, L.Marks, L.Williams, Deleuze)

Long Abstract

Amateur production in the contemporary opened up as a result of digital and technological changes that place mechanisms of creative expression, production and distribution within the scope of anybody. The paper is about sensations and intensities that mark its reception and making, the relation to technology and conditions of production that make this possible.

The material I would be looking at ranges from pornography, short and long fictional forms and mainstream forms that absorb aspects of amateur aesthetics and practices. This includes short film submissions to Bangalore Queer Film Festival (a festival I co-curate), wherein the form allows for a breaking away from concerns of representation, to a more ironical form that hovers between a joke, a story and an image. "Secret Minds" (Jeo Baby, 2011) begins with an explicit, sexual image of two men and later reveals that one is a priest campaigning against homosexuality. "90 CM" is about a husband's anxiety about his wife's mysteriously missing bra from the washing line. Maher Sabry's "All My Life" is an Egyptian film that follows many characters, including a devout Muslim, an independent woman and a gay man and his search for true love, through a series of sordid, exquisitely captured sexual encounters. My research on amateur production of pornography in the Indian context, explores technology, video and affect. Bollywood films like Love, Sex, Dhoka (Banerjee, 2010) and horror film Ragini MMS (Kripalani, 2011) are obviously inspired by the aesthetics of amateur porn: the grainy texture of digital video and its haptic qualities.

"Going Through the Mill"- Filming a Sensory Historiography of the Cotton Industry.

Author: Cathy Greenhalgh  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the dynamics of a sensory historiography material culture ethnography expressed through making the film Cottonopolis (2012). It addresses questions and ethics of sensory representation, consequences of affect, mobility and performativity in the field, and reflexivity in research.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the dynamics of a sensory historiography material culture ethnography expressed through filmmaking. The filmmaker/ethnographer's link to her own cotton worker ancestors influenced Cottonopolis (2012), a reflexive feature documentary. Transference of memory through cloth and old mill buildings affects inhabitants of former major cotton textile cities Manchester and Ahmedabad, long after industrial decline. Recall of conditions of work; noise and movement inside mills, cotton diseases, weather and pollution, talk and songs, cooperatives and unions, inventive engineering attitudes, and an eye for fashion; all remain in living memory. The film's structure weaves tales of mill memories with cotton production in India's contemporary handloom and powerloom sectors. Expressing these tales required texturing a cinematic and sound chronotope, and an aesthetic mirroring affective relations with processes like ginning, weaving, dyeing or recycling cotton. Cotton touches environment and population, global economics and politics, the nature of time and work, wealth and health, culture and consciousness. Points of encounter with the materiality of cotton, and the immersive filming experience, invoked a particular aesthetic and a redefinition of the filmmaker's working practice evolved. This paper addresses questions and ethics of sensory representation, consequences of affect and performativity in the field, and reflexivity in research. Implications of film fabrication and contemporary technology on ethnographic discovery and construction are aligned with notions from film/art documentary, (Marks, 2000; Pearce and McLaughlin, 2009) organization (Strati, 1999), ecology (Abram, 1996), and anthropology /material culture theory (Edensor, 2005; Ingold, 2011, Ruby, 1980); amplified by using short extracts from the film.

Animated Ethnography

Author: Nina Sabnani (IIT Bombay)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper we examine the potential of animation film as a way of representing and interpreting non verbal (sensorial) texts produced by participants, from within their aesthetic space. Using excerpts from The Stitches Speak (2009) we discuss how the collaboration between the film maker and participants leads to the production of tactile experience.

Long Abstract

The 'Animated ethnography' -The Stitches Speak, offers a space where the aesthetics of the participants are brought together with their narratives to construct an identity (Marks, 2000; Pink, 2009). The women artists from Kutch recall their memories of migration and loss, belonging and celebration not only through words but also through their narrative embroidery and appliqué. The language of stitches and the narrative depiction enfolds a worldview that is spatial and sensorial. The film maker-ethnographer is invited to travel within the fabric to experience the narrative. In this sharing, two moments in time are visited. One, when they recall the moment of the event, and the other of revisiting the event in cloth, transforming the event into material (Deleuze, 1992; Ranciere, 2007). The unfolding of the narrative is verbal, visual and tactile. In the process of 'telling', the multiple pasts and present converge into an experience which is mimicked by the film as a journey in the animated form, the film maker collaborating with the artists-participants (no longer subjects), to create meaning frame by frame, or stitch by stitch, re-transforming the material into event. The film then is not only a participatory method of reporting fieldwork; it also interprets the sensorial experience through cinematic means, lending its temporality to the space of the artefact. In this paper we discuss the potential of animation film as a way of representing and interpreting non verbal (sensorial) texts produced by participants, from within their aesthetic space.

Sensorial resonance as a key reading tool into migrants' experiences

Author: Monica Heintz (University of Paris Ouest Nanterre)  email

Short Abstract

This paper asks whether and why experiences of absence and presence of temporary migrants living between two worlds is best rendered through visual media rather than through written texts.

Long Abstract

Does social sciences cold gaze correspond to what is at the core of the experience of migration? Far from the sociological concerns for migrants' integration in a new society or from the nostalgic turn towards their homeland and the past, I intended to study through the case of temporary migrants from the East (Romania) to the West (France) the double presence/double absence of the two worlds in their lives. European temporary migrants, more recently re-baptised mobile workers, live between two worlds, because cheap new technologies and affordable means of transportation allow them to physically keep in touch with both places and communities. While this modern face of migration also appears to render it more human, it also carries the seeds of a chronic absence, which anthropologists know so well from their own experience of life long commuting between home and the field.

Migrants are no more able than anthropologists to translate this feeling into words. I will therefore try to show in this paper, through the inserts from my recent films on migration, "Behind the masks", co-realized with Alin Rus in 2011, and 'Children left behind' (postproduction), how assembled images recreate the feeling of intense presence or absence better than statistics or words. Under one condition- that us, social scientists, generally refuse to admit- that of playing with the same rules as fictional films in their search for sensuous and affective resonance in the public. And, in this case, the public are also the actors of the film.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.