Evolving humanity, emerging worlds

Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013

(V07)

Representing the non-representable: visual representations of extraordinary beings in ethnographic films

Location Chemistry G.54
Date and Start Time 08 Aug, 2013 at 09:00

Convenor

Pedram Khosronejad (St. Andrews University) email
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Short Abstract

The aim of this panel is to investigate and discuss how non-representable supernatural beings such as djinns, angels, demons and spirits could be studied and captured visually and ethnographically via documentary films.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists have long struggled with the problem of how best to conceptualize and account for the observable diversity of religious belief and practice in various societies.

Also recently there has been interest among ethnographic filmmakers who survey healing and spirit possession rituals, exorcism ceremonies or religious gatherings among which supernatural forces (djinns, demons and spirits) are the main topic of the ceremonies.

The aim of this panel is to investigate and discuss how such non-representable supernatural beings could be studied and captured visually and ethnographically via documentary films. We invite anthropologists, visual anthropologists, ethnographic and documentary filmmakers to participate in our panel and to present a paper/presentation about their visual experiences in this regard.

We are especially interested in presentations which are based on film projects or ethnographic film researches, even if they are in their early stages.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"Don't look at a spirit's eyes!". Filming rituals of possession in afro-american religions.

Author: Roger Canals (University of Barcelona)  email
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Short Abstract

In afro-american religions, the act of looking at someone has a complex symbolic meaning and plays a key role in possession and healing rituals as well as in popular arts and crafts. What happens, then, when we introduce a camera into an afroamerican possession ritual? Which is the role of vision in these sorts of rituals?

Long Abstract

In afro-american religions, the act of looking at someone has a complex symbolic meaning and plays a key role in possession and healing rituals as well as in popular arts and crafts. Indeed, in these beliefs, seeing consists not only in receiving external input but also in expelling internal subjective energies through the eyes. Spirits, therefore, are described as incorporeal beings that have a supernatural power; they may be capable of conveying this power through the act of looking.

Despite being invisible, gods may at times be seen in dreams or as apparitions. Statues representing images are also attributed the power of seeing. Many ritual rules are linked with the act of looking, and the most important of these rules is the forbiddance of looking directly into the possessed' eyes during the ritual.

We must consider that the act of filming is precisely about seeing through a camera and capturing what cannot be seen otherwise. What happens, then, when we introduce a camera into an afroamerican possession ritual? How can cinema help us to understand the role of vision in these sorts of rituals?

Based on several fieldwork experiences and ethnographic films, this paper explores, on the one hand, the relationship between material, corporeal and mental images in afro-american context, and on the other hand, the potential of ethnographic cinema to be a methodological, analytical and representational means to get in contact with - and even make visible - that which cannot.

Seeing what is 'unseen': Using video to enrich our social understanding of paranormal experiences

Author: Rachael Hayward (University of York)  email
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Short Abstract

This presentation explores the use of video recording equipment in Modern Paranormal Groups and the challenges and opportunities this presents to researchers studying extraordinary events. Discussion will focus on data collected over five years involvement participating in paranormal investigations.

Long Abstract

The last 10-15 years has seen an astonishing increase in the number of social groups that form with the purpose of capturing evidence of paranormal phenomena on camera. Popularly known as ghost hunting or paranormal research groups these individuals come together to explore, invoke and communicate with the otherworldly. At the heart of their activities is the intention to document proof of their own and others paranormal experiences through the aid of video recording equipment.

This presentation will explore the use of video to record paranormal phenomenon within these groups, and address how these recordings can provide a rich set of data for researchers that is captured truly in situ. To lead this discussion I will present my own data, captured during five years involvement running and participating in Modern Paranormal Group's prior to my current research-led interests. Through discussion of this data I will introduce the challenges that I have faced as a reflective and indeed retrospective researcher, and the ways in which I have attempted to overcome difficulties in analysing and presenting the 'paranormal experience' within my work.

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Filming Trance - Picturing Possession. On "Trance Mediums" and "New Media" in Morocco

Authors: Anja Dreschke (University of Siegen)  email
Martin ZIllinger (University of Siegen)  email
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Short Abstract

In our contribution we want to discuss the various interferences of technical media and personal mediumship by drawing from our film- and research project on trance and spirit possession among sufi-brotherhoods in Morocco.

Long Abstract

In recent years many scholars have noted the proliferation of ecstatic practices that are reproduced and diffused via technical media on a global scale. In our contribution we explore the various facets of visualization by focusing on the different ways the camera is used by both, the filmmaker and the persons filmed in their various mediation-practices. In our current film project on Trance Mediumship and New Media in Morocco (work in progress) we encountered adepts of a possession cult who have stored recording of their rituals for more than 20 years in what we propose to call their "Trance-Media-Archives". Their attitudes towards visual representation is marked by ambiguity - in between the fascination to see what remains beyond conscious experience during possession and an uneasiness towards the circulating images of their sacred practices that unfold a life of their own. Our role as filmmaker is crucial: We presented sounds and images of our own shootage in Morocco in a video-installation (travelling-exhibition Animism, Antwerp and Berlin) and combined them with locally produced videos from local archives that circulate among healers, adepts and clients in Morocco and abroad. Referring to this installation we discuss the various politics of image making (and image breaking) that are at stake when technical media and personal mediumship interfere. From a filmic perspective, we are concerned with the question of how the bodily expressions of spirit possession can be represented through audiovisual media and how emotional, innate aspects of trance can be represented through the creative use of text, voice, sound, performance and space.

The visual representation of spiritual healing practices

Author: Erminia Colucci (The University of Melbourne and Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper deals with (re)presentation of spiritual healing practices believed to have preventive and curative properties on several ailments, including mental health problems.

Long Abstract

This paper deals with (re)presentation of spiritual healing practices believed to have preventive and curative properties on several ailments, including mental health problems. Photos and videos from ethnographic research projects carried out in India and Indonesia will be used to illustrate and reflect on how to visually represent such practices. In particular, discussion will be prompted on the issue of capturing and representing practices that violate basic human right principles (as set, for instance, in the UN convention) and result in suffering imparted to the ill person.

The focus of the presentation will be on how to visually capture and present the "spiritual" and, more specifically, spiritual healing practices in a set moment, where the ethnographer is the non-participating witnesser of these practices.

The Healer and the Psychiatrist: A Visual Dialogue through Spirits

Author: Mike Poltorak (University of Kent)  email
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Short Abstract

The documentary investigates the similarities and differences between psychiatric and traditional treatment for mental illness in the South Pacific archipelago of Tonga through a focus on spirits, in relation to patient experience and the role of stigma in prognosis.

Long Abstract

The documentary investigates the similarities and differences between psychiatric and traditional treatment for mental illness in the South Pacific archipelago of Tonga through a focus on spirits, in relation to patient experience and the role of stigma in prognosis.

It contains observational footage of both traditional and psychiatric modes of treatment a long with excerpts of video interviews on psychiatric perceptions of traditional healing and traditional healers perceptions of psychiatric treatment. The importance of film and media in colouring people's understanding is also covered, through a comparison of healer's and psychiatrist response to scenes in Hollywood films watched by patients and used by them to confirm the value and efficacy of traditional healing. The film will be of interest to a wide audience interested in the experience and treatment of mental illness in the developing world. Studies have confirmed the increasing world mental health burden being faced in the third world. There is also increasing recognition of the need to link local and psychiatric modalities of recognising and dealing with mental illness, given the low numbers of psychiatrists and facilities in many developing countries to treat all mental illness. This film thus will contribute to both research and further action in this important area.

SACRIFICING VISIBILITY - An ethnographic film-project about Islamic exorcisms and psychiatric healthcare in Denmark

Author: Christian Suhr (Aarhus University)  email
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Short Abstract

This ethnographic film-project explores how violent sacrificial acts of visibility are used in Islamic exorcisms and psychiatric healthcare to achieve and foreclose access to the invisible.

Long Abstract

What in a human needs to be removed, pushed aside, or transgressed in order to be healed? In Danish psychiatric healthcare it seems to be delusions and unstable emotions that prohibit the mind-brain "ego" from acting rationally and controlling its body. In neo-orthodox Islamic exorcisms among Danish Muslims it is rather the evil jinn, the limited scope of brain-intelligence, and the desires of the lower self that need to be overpowered so as to enable the "heart" to receive and submit to the divine message. Despite their differences both psychiatric healthcare and Islamic practices of exorcism seem to share the view that in order for healing to occur and for the "the good life" to be resumed, a violent sacrificial act is required. The challenge for both psychiatrists and Muslim exorcists is that the suffering of a soul is essentially invisible. The healer must therefore take on the role of seers, knowers, and masters of the invisible powers inflicting the pain in the patient. All filmmaking must in similar ways move between multiple sacrifices of visibility and invisibility. Cinematic sacrifices as well as sacrifices for healing are powerful, yet also dangerous practices that may easily become object of such serious charges as idolatry, iconoclasm, or quackery. This presentation explores the oscillation between making visible and making invisible in psychiatric and Islamic approaches to healing as well as in ethnographic filmmaking.

The drums, the camera and The man : ciné-transe in Jean Rouch's cinema

Author: Simon Serna (Paris X)  email
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Short Abstract

Through the analysis of Jean Rouch's film Tourou et Bitti, I will question the film director's enigmatic proposition for ethnographic cinema: the ciné-transe.

Is it possible to reuse this term and turn it into a real tool for ethnographic cinema: a

method to capture the invisible on film?

Long Abstract

Spirit possession rituals are a recurring theme in Jean Rouch's work. During his filming of the rituals and dances of possession of the Songhay people in the Niger valley, Jean Rouch theorised a new way of filming scenes of possession, in which both the participants and the film-maker take part. Jean Rouch called this enigmatic process the ciné-transe.

What is the ciné-transe? How can we understand its use in Rouch's work? Is it possible to turn this notion into a cinematographic tool or method to capture the invisible on film?

Jean Rouch created the notion of ciné-transe after shooting his 1972 short film Tourou et Bitti. I will question the notion of ciné-transe through a detailed analysis of this film.

In a first approach, I will trace the origin of the notion of ciné-transe in Rouch's earlier works also featuring scenes of spirit possession rituals. I intend to show that

Rouch's progression towards his ciné-transe theory came through his gradual discovery of the Songhay culture and of their specific definition of personhood, and through his personal approach of the notion of shared anthropology.

Jean Rouch himself never properly defined or theorised the notion of ciné transe. This paper aims to go beyond Rouch's vagueness, and explore the ciné-transe as a potential analysis tool.

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Super human forces in Iranian documentary cinema

Author: Alireza Ghasemkhan (University of Art)  email
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Short Abstract

Research procedure here is analytical and by using visual sources, and interviews with documentary filmmakers and film experts. And it is going to reach to a concise recognition of visualizing super human concepts in Iranian documentary cinema.

Long Abstract

During its more than one hundred year history; Iranian Documentary Cinema has worked over various anthropologic subjects. As many tribes live in Iran each having their own believes, ideas and customs; these believes are considered in many Iranian anthropologic documentary films. One of these customs is belief in ghosts, fairies and elves and any other super human forces, in general, which has either benevolent and spiritual intensions or devil ones. These believes is very strong in the lives of Iranians especially those who live in rural areas. Filmmakers in Iranian documentary cinema have chosen many different narrations to talk about these believes including different symbols and signs enabling them to introduce these forces with an ethnographic view, like mountain, sea and desert or poem, music, work and animal signs.

As these forces are amalgamated with the men lives; those filmmakers who have worked somehow in anthropologic field also would experience this field too. This essay is an effort to assess narration procedure of these super human forces in Iranian documentary cinema.

Methodology:

Research procedure here is analytical and by using visual sources, and interviews with documentary filmmakers and film experts. And it is going to reach to a concise recognition of visualizing super human concepts in Iranian documentary cinema.

This research questions usage of cinematographic and directorial narrations, and also ethnographic view.

"The Creative Use of Reality": Aesthetic and Political Dimensions of Films on Trance and Spirit Possession (1940s-1960s)

Author: Michaela Schäuble (University of Manchester)  email
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Short Abstract

This presentation investigates different approaches to coping with the challenges that states of trance and spirit possession pose to cinematic representation. Drawing on filmic examples of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, it analyses differing concepts of representing visible and invisible worlds beyond the photorealist credo.

Long Abstract

The main challenge of filming states of trance and spirit possession is to unite two different aspects of cultural reality, namely "the invisible knowledge of the gods, and the visible evidence of the possessed body," as the film theorist Catherine Russell has rightly pointed out. States of trance and spirit possession have inspired the modernist imagination perhaps more than anything else, as they typically exceed the limits of visual representation.

In my presentation I investigate different approaches to coping with the challenges that such phenomena pose to cinematic representation, focusing on filmic examples that were developed by pioneering documentarits: a.) Maya Deren's footage on Haitian voudoun ritual, shot between 1947 and 1953 b.) Jean Rouch's films on possession and sorcery in West Africa, mainly dating from the 1950s and c.) the films of a group of Italian filmmakers (i.e. Mingozzi, di Gianni, Mangini, Carpitella, et. al.) who set out to document ecstatic religious forms in southern Italy in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Each of these filmmakers developed new approaches to physical mobility and performance before and behind the camera, thus exploring what Deren referred to as cinema's specific "eye for magic".

In my paper I am primarily interested in analysing the processes through which possession rituals themselves have inspired and initiated innovations in filmmaking by means of combining - or blurring the boundaries between - ethnographic and experimental modes of practice.

Greeting Seyfou Tchengar Audiovisually—Challenges and Prospects of the Documentation of Zar Spirits in Gondar, Ethiopia

Author: Itsushi Kawase (National Museum of Ethnology)  email
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Short Abstract

My paper discusses how I approach Zar spirits in Gondar, Ethiopia audiovisually, through several film projects. Particularly, the cinematic approach that is employed for depicting the sensuous quality of the ceremony as well as portraying several spirits including Seyfou Tchengar, who is said to be one of the most powerful spirits in the region, will be discussed.

Long Abstract

Zar is a possession cult that is widely prevalent in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. The Zar ceremony is held in Gondar, northern Ethiopia, and it involves being possessed by various spirits, qolle, who are believed to live in places that are scarcely inhabited by humans, such as the wilderness, deserts, lakes, and oceans. A spirit is believed to be of a certain sex, and each has a different home and character. The possessed body of the Zar spirit medium is referred to as Yäzar Färäs (literally meaning 'the horse of Zar') In this rhetoric, spirit possession can be understood as the spirit riding the body of the medium. Participants of Zar are described as amamaqi (literally meaning 'the one who warms up the space'), while the body of the medium through which the spirit departs is referred to by a word which best translates as 'coldness'. The ceremonial space has to be 'warmed up' by the dance, music, and various kinds of smells to awaken the spirits' power.

Since 2001, I have been filming the Zar scene in Gondar, following several spirit mediums, and producing ethnographic films. In this paper, I will be discussing how I approach Zar spirits in Gondar, Ethiopia audiovisually. Particularly, the cinematic approach that is employed for depicting the sensuous quality of the ceremony as well as portraying several spirits including Seyfou Tchengar, who is said to be one of the most powerful spirits in the region, will be discussed.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

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