An activity in the framework of OVNI programme for 2017 at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona that proposes -with the help of videos and texts- to go in depth into the notion of the invisible. Given by Toni Serra (Abu Ali), the workshop goes from the political to the poetic, or from poetry to mysticism.
From forced invisibility to permanent exhibition in the panopticon. The image as a veil. Tunnels of reality. The reality of the dream. Crossing the other side. On contemplation. The one and the multiple.
The image as veil
You are asleep and your vision is a dream; all you are seeing is a mirage. (1)
Capitalism’s gigantic audio-visual machine, like all its machines, is driven by an extractivist impulse: life as an infinite reservoir to be exploited. It makes sense to counter this instrumentalist drive with a method based on collaboration, immersion, and commitment that weaves together the creators of images and their environment, and does not turn them into mere agents at the service of that machine. However, there is a danger that this measure alone will be insufficient and reversible, unless it is accompanied by a radical critique of the notion of vision that has prevailed in the dominant global culture: if we do not consider vision’s capacity to extract but also to involve and project, if we do not deconstruct the visual language that implements the colonisation of time and of perception....
We normally associate images with vision, but in the society of global capitalism the use of images as spectacle (2) has turned vision into a kind of blindness, creating an imaginary woven from a huge number of images that are renewed and also replicated unceasingly. A tissue that solidifies until it forms a dense veil of images that not only hinders vision and obstructs direct experience, but also tends to colonise our realities and dreams, while plundering deposits of fantasy (3) and personal or shared imaginaries. A dominant reality that threatens the fabric of other realities, that threatens to wipe out forms of knowledge, landscapes, people, ways of life, affects... As if a thousand libraries of Alexandria, still embedded in people’s daily lives, in their chores, their places, were already burning once again.
The master film
Much has been said about the manipulative nature of media images, their capacity to deflect, distort, and distract the senses, creating a vision of reality that is completely biased on favour of the big economic powers. A huge, seemingly diverse, audio-visual production machine, in the hands of a few private, government, or hybrid corporations. But the real power of these images does not lie in denying, coercing, or manipulating (which always generate resistance and thus opposition), but in claiming to build, to constitute, to give space and make meaning. In other words, to create an imaginary and offer a place, an individual or creative role in that master film that will then be projected under the heading of “reality”. Of course it is no more real than a theme park or a shopping mall that simulates town squares, street musicians, and even action scenes...
This spectacle-reality is forged in the constant, high centrifugation of labels: news, fiction, advertising, education, entertainment, training, and so on. Themes and concepts are mixed together, and so is the syntax of consumption, permutating them in time and space until they become indistinguishable or their differences become irrelevant, once they are consumed and absorbed as part of the same segment of experience.
Audio-visual media have undergone radical change and hybridisation under the impetus of the new consumer, entertainment, and socialisation technologies. They have partly yielded the oligopoly of the means of audio-visual production, and are now complemented (and challenged) by the massive spread of devices for recording, editing, and disseminating images. They have hybridised with other media based on micro-segments of information and opinion..., creating a dense media ambience in which TV news, advertising, video games, film, advertorials, and social media are constantly in self-referential mode. Inspired by marketing strategies and informed by the personal information that is “voluntarily” provided on so-called social networks, critical voices also take on a spectacle-role. An implementation of a new version of the panopticon, given that any “social” element of these networks dissolves with the ownership, management, and use of the data they amass.
Models are no longer simply projected onto passive viewers, like in the old Hollywood dream factory. Instead, what were formerly audiences are offered an “opportunity to participate”, a chance for interaction that gives them an active leading role in a pre-written script. Stories, feelings, private and shared dramas, aspirations, desires, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes, emotions and ideas, are the raw material that fuels the great accumulation machine, always geared towards obtaining and maintaining maximum profit in the form of financial or cognitive capital. In this context, as Pasolini saw, free participation and interaction paradoxically coexists with looting and plunder, with the exploitation of the enormous experiential and cultural reservoirs, the personal and collective realities of those who participate, whose reality either becomes productive or is cancelled. The “raw material” is used according to the financial logic of marketing and the politics of control. It is extracted, inserted into the timeline (4), filtered, and put back on screen in the form of the global imaginary.
The dominant power presents itself in an outward-oriented imaginary, but this does not mean that it is only used on forms and surfaces. Rather, it provokes and forces the interior – anonymous, hidden, insignificant – to flow towards the surface, to be reduced to it, to show and advertise itself and ultimately become only that outwardness. Only thus can it be mapped in its entirety, its identities grouped and produced, experts assigned, and goods targeted to it.
The sleep of our era is not a good sleep that provides rest. It’s an anxious sleep that leaves you feeling even more worn out (...) There is a narcosis that begs for an even deeper narcosis. (5)
This is the sleep that gives rise to “capitalist realism” (6), which mainly affects people living in the central parts of the global system, where capitalism tends to seem unfair but unavoidable, with no conceivable alternative. Mark Fisher, who coined the term, describes it as the impossibility of there being space for an alternate possibility within a capitalist framework.
Capitalist realism cannot be confined to art or the quasi-propagandistic way in which advertising functions. It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action. (7)
Capitalist realism, implemented as a hegemonic ideology, consists of the conviction that there is no alternative to the paradigm of capitalist social organisation, and also of its own means of reproduction and dissemination to most of the population.
As we have seen, the image industry and the media are essential for projecting this capitalist realism onto the social screen. Two of its media strategies are notable for their capacity to go viral.
The first, presented as “information” and “objectivity”, consists of what we could call the creation and export of the visual concept of poverty. Through images (preferably taken from countries on the global periphery), news and mainstream documentaries present decontextualised, re-situated visual segments that illustrate the dominant idea of poverty for “central” audiences and export it as a global imaginary. At the same time, the dominant imaginary of wealth is also exported onto the global sphere. The concept of poverty justifies the hardships and exploitation of the most disadvantaged groups in central countries, presenting a peripheral hell that everyone wants to escape from and should try to avoid being returned to as a result of making demands or reckless quests. The concept of wealth works as propaganda for the central model in peripheral countries. Other ways of understanding the wealth-poverty binomial, ones that are not based on accumulation and consumption, are excluded altogether or relegated to an archaic or utopian vision.
The second strategy, presented as “fiction”, consists of the paradox according to which we could say that in this society, it is easier to imagine the end f the world than the end of capitalism.
According to Frederic Jameson, we are, in a sense,
Constrained by an enormous incapacity to imagine the future, so that utopia must start by simply showing us that all images of the future are projections of this system, that we cannot imagine the future; that is the first lesson. (8)
This paradox is projected on the global imaginary by a large part of the visual entertainment industry: apocalyptic video games and mainstream films like Blade Runner, Independence Day, Matrix, Oblivion, The Road, Interstellar, and so many more, each from its own perspective: capitalist colonies on the moons of Saturn, evil alien capitalism defeated by good neoliberal capitalism, nostalgia for the good old consumer times (enjoying a can of Coke in a ravaged world).... Story-images that do not just show but deeply embed capitalist realism in the collective imaginary.
A war of imaginaries
We might then say that we are in a war of imaginaries. And what is at stake is both reality and its limits, the visible and its relationship with the invisible.
On the one hand, there is the ubiquitous, formidable apparatus for the production and dissemination of images, messages, and above all scripts and stories created in advance by global capitalisms’ dream machine, which projects its own dream onto all of us and turns everything it touches into images. A dream that originates in the idea of the image as a veil, as an instrument of social blindness. A veil of mass-produced images spreading out to cover all vision, like a master film, a world-screen whose elastic, changing reality clings to the skin of objects, people, and landscapes. Like a visible whole fuelled by the realities it hides and plunders.
And on the other hand, a kind of patchwork stitched together with artisanal images, personal or collective experiences and visions, dreams, fantasies or ruins of ancient imaginaries... dotted with gaps, imprecisions, and eyes_lacunae that encourage vision and imagination. A patchwork full of snippets and life.
This is where things get tricky. Unless we deconstruct the notion of vision that prevails in the global era, together with the mechanisms by which it takes over imaginaries, and its use of use of perceptive syntax... many critical efforts may end up unintentionally acting as bridgeheads for the colonisation of non-global imaginaries.
In The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord wrote that wherever reality is transformed into simple images, simple images become reality. (9) A mechanism that solidified the unreal core of our reality. As a counterpoint, however, he also points out that what is at stake in the creation and dissemination of images is reality itself. Hence the need for a far-reaching, independent audio-visual discourse: independent of commissioning dynamics, independent in the choice of subject matter and approach, and above all independent of the prefabricated norms and grammars of the audio-visual industry and its consumption and production criteria. This entails a differential defense of reality. To resist cloning and the Monoform, we need a constellation, a rhizome of unique gazes (each unrepeatable) superimposing coincidences and disparities that do not exclude contradictions but instead value them as the irreducible presence of the real in the image.
Decolonising the image
In this context, appropriating new image technologies in order to use them as tools that “really” convey what a community wants them to may turn out to be far from sufficient. Because the message conveyed will also convey the meaning of those technologies, which are not neutral tools but fragments and machines that make meaning. In their presence and their use, they are machines of power.
Cameras, for instance, are often described, very significantly, as image-capture devices. For decades, cameras have been associated with film and television, and thus with economic and political power... So when one of these cameras appear, reality changes. Reality is transformed by the mere presence of the camera, and the resulting footage is not an objective representation but a power play between the camera lens, the footage, and the scene taking place.
I remember an experience I had years ago in the ancient city of Fez, in Morocco. I was sitting in a small square, and life was going by as it usually does: a place and a rhizome of small scenes made up of objects, lights, shadows, people, conversations, and animals... At a certain point, a German television crew appeared, someone carrying a camera, sound equipment. Four people in total ready to capture the reality of an Islamic community. In a few seconds, the square was transformed. A whole series of scenes, people, and situations disappeared to avoid being “captured”, the remaining minority adopted the positions of an Italian-style stage: facing the camera, smiling faces, hands displaying products... hopeful of the possibility of some small financial compensation. Another group took up positions behind the film crew like a kind of frozen audience. The director and crew eagerly began filming. Everything had been arranged perfectly to be captured and turned into images that would later appear recontextualised in a German documentary. Reality had disappeared, wisely choosing invisibility. (10)
This is what happens (and what is hidden by the supposed objectivity of many news stories, documentaries, and exhibitions) when a body that is totally alien to the context appears. This is the standard modus operandi of the audio-visual industry, which is subject to rules of productivity that impose very short timeframes, little or superficial interaction with the place, based on economic self-interest. The arrival of a film crew is similar in significant ways to that of a military commando or patrol.
Fortunately, the audio-visual oligopoly has been broken, thereby somewhat diminishing the importance of mainstream channels. The same market logic that flooded the landscape with banal images and with devices for recording, editing, and disseminating images has also brought about the democratisation of access to the means of video production. However, we have to take advantage of that window of opportunity that has opened up for a time, which may be shorter than we think. We have to go beyond the fog of compulsive images that engulf social networks in order to pierce the veil of media images, to hack the master film that seeks to reduce reality to its representational order. And thereby give rise to new imaginaries.
Nevertheless, the “power of the lens” and its capacity to “capture” is still very much a part of people’s experiences in front of and with the camera. Responses oscillate between a desire to be embedded in the image, to appropriate that which is being represented: to be photographed with landmarks, people, landscapes, fleeting moments, on the one hand. And on the other, a growing irritation with and rejection of a world full of cameras connected in some way to devices of control and commercialisation. This response is fuelling an increasingly widespread iconoclastic urge that is impossible to ignore, because it suggests, above all, an insurrection against the iconocracy.
Any desire to decolonise images must deal with this situation: not just break the Eurocentric mirror, but challenge its notion of vision.
Essentially, this notion of vision gives rise to a disembodied conception of the image. Images that set out to capture stereotyped, already-seen images, frozen by power. Dead images that, like a curse, turn anything they touch into image.
In this sense, decolonising the image would mean opening up vision to what we do not know, and to what we do not know about ourselves. It would mean becoming involved in life as life, bodies among bodies, not as rhetoric but through lived experience that connects us to things, to affects, and to knowledge... to lived experience that involves time, feelings, desires, fears, and above all reciprocal need, collaboration, questioning. It would mean opening up the “black box” of recorded footage to the corresponding place and its people, to confirm, check, or discard, seeking an understanding of the correlations between the visible and invisible in each place. The idea of surrendering rather than capturing, simply “being”, alongside the unfolding events... Robert Flaherty talked in terms of tactility and vision (11), or more specifically the “tactile eye”.
In short, decolonising vision would mean returning vision to the body, integrating it into the other senses, into place, with its forces and empty spaces... rescuing it from the tyranny of the merely optical and opening it up to the other eyes of the body and the mind, making it whole. And also opening up a dialogue with the power of vision that dominant Western culture excluded or dissected and wiped out. The one linked to dreams and visions, with the creative imagination (12), origin of realities.
It is a universe both fragile and powerful. Powerful because of its capacity for poiesis, for creation. Fragile because unless we attend to it, listen to it, it may close and leave us blind.
For surely it is not the eyes that become blind, but blind become their hearts within the breasts. (13)
Another thing to reconsider is that connection, that tendril that somehow seems to slip between the image and magic. The world “image”, from the Latin imāgo, -ĭnis, is connected to a whole series of terms based on a similar notion: imitate, re-present, copy “something but not the thing itself”. A simple, forceful evocation of Magritte’s axiom-painting Ceci n'est pas une pipe. The illusion of being a thing, without being that thing, links images and magic.
But more crucial, in this connection with magic, is the mimetic drive that images convey and above all suggest, promote, spread. This mimesis opens up a channel between the thing and the image, but also between the image and the thing. A path that is very much a part of ritual and shamanic practices within the indigenous rhizome.
Let us then be aware of magic, of the mental power that the copy gives rise to. Because this is where we should begin: with the magic power of the copy. Images affecting the source they derive from, at the point where the representation shares in or takes the power from that which is represented. Proof of the power of mimesis through its effects. Rather than seeing it as the dark side of science or magic, we could recognise it as the enchantment of nature, where the reproduction of life emerges and recaptures the soul. (14)
Visual media in global capitalism appear to reduce images to the banal. These images are arbitrarily interchangeable, self-referential as in the case of advertising, or dogmatically objective as presented in news and documentaries... And yet, beneath that layer of banality, we can sense a magical impulse... to project an illusory reality, the colonisation of dreams, fears, and desires, which are then redirected to the interests of consumption, control, and domination. The interests of death.
As such, it sometimes seems as if indigenous communities’ mimetic fighting strategies – described by Frazer (15) – are strangely alive in the kind of Hollywood films that depict the death of Native Americans and Africans, and in the many current mainstream films that show the death of people from Islamic countries.
The use of the enemy’s image in the belief that when a man’s image suffers, so does the man, and if the image perishes, the man must die. (16)
It is the dark side of the image’s capacity to heal. In a short text, Hakim Bey linked the media industry to the archaic “evil eye”...
Everywhere in our world this deadly gaze is directed at us, as in Bentham's Panopticon. We are described to ourselves as victims, as patients, as passive focal points of misery – we are shown ourselves deprived of this or that commodity or "right" or quality which we most desire. The ones who tell us this – are they not the rich, the powerful, the politicians, the corporations?
What could we still possess to awaken in them such invidia, & the endless assaults of their mal occhio?? Could it be that (unknown to us or to them) we are alive & they are dead? The TV screen can be an ultimate Evil Eye – because it is already dead, & the dead (as Homer showed us) are the most envious of all beings. (17)
The Optical Unconscious
History shows the strange tendency of screens to increasingly “screen” the world. Their size gradually grew from a simple hanging piece of cloth to huge cinemascope, drive-in, and Imax screens. But no matter how big they got, they were never big enough to cover the whole, and in any case they remained confined to a particular place. Then screens got smaller, and found their ways into homes, bars, means of transport... and then they imploded into millions of small screens incorporated into all kinds of devices, became integrated into clothes, affixed to the body. Everything seems to suggest that their ultimate aim is to attach themselves to our eyes (occulos, etc...) or insert themselves into our bodies.
To look at any screen is first and foremost to look at an oscillating light source that attracts and holds our attention through its physicality, regardless of what is shown on it.
Despite the seeming diversity and endless options, capitalism-as-image upholds a series of formal dogmas linked to the spectator’s perception and attention. Or should we say formal dogmas linked to capturing the spectator’s attention? Because it is also cumulative in this sense: spectacular language that clones itself from one production to another, eventually becoming a kind of “Monoform”. (18)
It colonises desires and fears, giving them the form and direction of quests or escapes, as per the kind of “black magic” Hakim Bey spoke of. These are incorporated by spectators through conscious mechanisms to some extent, but also through a syntax of perception based on neuro-optic physicality, which also colonises our perception of time. It puts us in a state of extremely addictive over-stimulation, with the capacity to induce different physiological states that even affect breathing and heartbeat. Not just images are captured, spectators are too.
Peter Watkins, director of La Commune and The War Game, called it “the Monoform”: a standardised language that the film and television industry imposes on all its products, with the pretext of supposedly objective and technical criteria: audience, exposure, programming,... The Monoform does not just predetermine what content audiences are capable of seeing and what interests them, but also their way of seeing it: through a gaze held captive under the effects of the visual overstimulation resulting from the ultra-fast bombardment of images, sound effects, voices, music, frantically alternating shots, movements...
And it is crucial to understand that these variations on the Monoform are all predicated on the traditional media belief that the audience is immature, that it needs predictable forms of presentation in order to become 'engaged' (i.e., manipulated). This is why so many media professionals rely on the Monoform: its speed, shock editing, and lack of time/space guarantee that audiences will be unable to reflect on what is really happening to them. (19)
The fears and desires that are activated along with this particular state of perception accompany the viewers in their dreams.
The enormous volume and immediacy of media images, advertising, video games, news... together with the constant “updating” and perceptual overload, is not conducive to conscious interpretation, or to the kind of memory that allows verification and critique. On the contrary, they build up a dense atmosphere to be breathed passively, almost like a kind of media nature.
Against this backdrop, media archaeology has a great lucid capacity to bring to light and reveal the subliminal meanings that are being transmitted, to dismantle that “naturalness” and generate a harsh vision of the iconic violence of power in its different forms.
Media archaeology, unlike the historical approach, is not interested in visual monumentality, landmark moments, supposed masterpieces, grand facades... because it recognises that they are overly determined by power: an encapsulation of how it wants to be seen and remembered in the future. Media archaeology prefers the service door. It takes an interest in things that are intended for a very specific purpose and are destined to disappear once their function has been fulfilled. That lack of future, that forgotten banality, is precisely what makes them significant, because they clearly betray the intentions of power at a particular time and place.
As such, when educational or advertising images are briefly stripped of the pretext of their time and place, deprived of the supposed functional or objective meaning that served as their alibi, or of their supposed banality, they grimly reveal the violence of the power that produced them. Unlike a parodic device that must distort in order to reveal, archaeological documents allow the original distortion to speak, without altering it. There is no debateable added “interpretation”, just the document, alone, betraying its madness.
A few thousand visitors – weapons industry executives, military officers, and specialised journalists – attend an annual arms trade fair in Paris, London, and many other major central cities. Manufacturers present the latest novelties and developments in fighter-bombers, daisy bombs, and other killing devices... Naturally, advertising language is used in this context: the idea is to seduce, to capture the attention of visitors, and the best way to do this is through powerful videos that use upbeat language, dynamic images, intense music for one market, cool blue tones for another. The videos are received casually, almost euphorically. The same video screened outside of this context would appear shocking, macabre, the work of a murderous sect... (20)
In the 1950s, educational films, infomercials, and all kinds of ephemeral materials were shown in American factories, schools, associations, and prisons. Thousands of hours of footage that were crucial to constructing the imagery of the “American way of life”, shaping gender and class roles, work, and consumer behaviour. Richard Prelinger (21) retrieved many of these works abandoned in remote warehouses, destined to disappear. The same goes for educational films targeted at indigenous communities in Latin American and Africa, the whole visual epic that recounted the colonies’ efforts to educate the people they had colonised...
This media archaeology approach can also be applied to works that do not just present the material itself, but juxtapose it or compare it with other seemingly different materials, in order to illuminate sinister resemblance. This was the path that Harun Farucki opened with his work, such as the impressive I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (22), in which surveillance camera images reveal the similarities between jail, factory, and supermarket. Prisoners, workers, shoppers, all under surveillance, their movements deciphered...
We can thus see there is a pressing need to analyse and deconstruct this mediascape, which was and still is laid out before our eyes like an enormous diorama, a painting of immeasurable size... an imaginary destined to engender realities.
Hence the importance of open access audio-visual archives. However, the big archives are usually connected to institutions of corporate and political power, a fact that affects the choice of what is archived and what is discarded, and how material is acquired and managed. And even though many film and video archives are publicly owned (those of television networks, for example) they operate on a private management model, particularly when it comes to granting screening or editing rights. And they are largely based on profit-making criteria. Without taking into account whether requests are for educational or non-profit purposes, they charge exorbitant fees, per minute or even per second... Thus, the rights for a 30-minute screening can cost up to 20,000 euros. In other circumstances, rights holders may be more or less openly reluctant to allow the use of images that could be detrimental to the national imaginary. This happened to us when we were preparing The Colonial Dream programme. (23)
This state of affairs shuts out most small and medium sized independent productions, which access archives through secondary means, without funding, and under suspicion of critical intent. Hence the importance of reclaiming and defending public access to these archives that should be considered and managed as human cultural heritage. Not in the romantic sense, as repositories of the collective memory of the past, but of who saw it, how they saw it, and above all how it made us see it (what was excluded or not seen).
The monumentality of major archives (the US Library of Congress has over 113 million documents and grows by about 20,000 per day) does not eclipse the impossibility of archiving everything. There are selection criteria to determine what is considered representative, and a series of more or less automated systems collect audio-visual materials that are published or broadcast more or less officially. Even so, taken as a whole, they appear to emanate representativeness. However, when we turn our attention to particular subjects, particularly those that have to do with marginalised or exploited groups, or other voices or images from the past, this seeming representativeness changes drastically, and a sense of arbitrariness often prevails... Those other imaginaries and experiences are not included, or they are included in a place and a manner that is alien to them, that distorts them... it is then that the archive is most clearly revealed as a space or an apparatus of power.
This situation gives rise to the need for self-managed archives of the memories of individuals, groups, and communities. Small archives that circumvent or confront the major nodes of power, counter-archives, archives with specific purposes, which claim subjective intentionality rather than supposed objectivity. Archives that are linked to a place, a land, a city, a neighbourhood... and a time, its emergence and disappearance, its journey, its needs, concerns, and dreams, its particular evaluation of what is visible and what isn’t. Unlike the big archives, these do not require purchase of materials, they are not based on extractivist urges of any kind. They are collaboratively created and self-managed. Not in response to an external gaze that decides on an object of study and then analyses and classifies it, but as a rhizome of interwoven memories that arises from the community and the ties it has established.
The creation of autonomous anarchives is vitally important for transmitting this knowledge and this memory, but above for allowing communities to refer back to their own journey. As a kind of map for navigating this ocean of accelerated time, distorted by global capitalism. For revealing other kinds of power, not based on control: horizontal forms of power that take place outside of the usual cartography of power, forms of power that stem from contemplation, from knowledge, from care and attention to others, from the communal, from that which is considered humble and insignificant, from the anonymous.
Anarchives as points of reference, spaces for gathering and discussion, reading groups and workshops, or as a base for screening and sharing programmes, convey the sense of these other forms of micro-power, counter-power, networked power, evanescent power, or simply the power of survival...
The AIDS Anarchive activates a process based on the identification, compilation and analysis of the aesthetic practices, representations, collective experiences, and performative activities that have shaped HIV/AIDS politics, for the first time taking into account practices that emerged beyond the English/speaking world and Central and Western Europe.
The methodology revolves around the production of a “counter-archive” or Anarchive of HIV/AIDS politics, focusing on practices carried out on the periphery of Western centres, in the context of postcolonial struggles for emancipation in different “souths”, including a rereading of practices in Spain.
This project takes the so-called AIDS crisis as a model that allows us to collectively read and re-imagine the limits of life under neoliberalism, which operates through a complex web of economic, scientific, artistic, activists, and affective relationships. (24)
Anarchives based on multiple origins and methods, compiled by groups such as AIDS patients, people deprived of freedom, urban resistance groups, people evicted from their homes, indigenous communities in Latin America, migrants in Europe... by all those who want to safeguard the knowledge that they are custodians of, their misfortunes and their quests, their joys and losses. Anarchives like seed banks, like compasses for navigating through time, finding their bearings to avoid the constant reset imposed by the imaginary of global capitalism. To enable them to imagine themselves and engender their own realities.
The Observatory Archives (OVNI) are structured around particular themes and have a clear purpose: to encourage a critique of the dominant contemporary culture, using a range of strategies: video art, independent documentary, and mass media archaeology.
The archives include a whole constellation of works that are very different from one another, but share a commitment to freedom of expression and reflect on our individual and collective fears and pleasures. A particular record of some of the dreams and nightmares of our time. Together, they offer a multifaceted view, thousands of tiny eyes that probe and explore our world, or announce other possible worlds. It is a discourse based above all on heterogeneity, plurality, contradiction, and the subjectivity that gives rise to it. An antidote to the cloning and repetition of corporate mass media. (25)
Together, each from its unique specificity, these self-managed anarchives create a rhizomatic view. When they are connected and juxtaposed, they intersect and clash, without trying to avoid contradictions or opposing points of views. In fact, contradiction is precisely what connects them to the real.
Along with the centralised and hierarchical organisation of the roots of trees, there are the spidery roots of shrubs and bushes, the rhizome of certain plant species creates "an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automation, defined solely by a circulation of states." (26)
Collective visual thinking.
This process of dissent and resistance to the dominant audio-visual discourse has taken many forms and developed in many areas and groups, allowing their imaginaries to emerge, connecting them to each other, becoming key to a new learning matrix. (27)
Most mainstream documentaries are made in response to a commission, they are not conceived or developed independently. They comply with the Monoform to some extent in order to be television-friendly, they work to tight productivity deadlines, and they are totally within an extractivist logic. There is no time for transformation by means of watching, no time to learn through seeing and through what is seen. There is no time for interweaving gazes, no time for a full life.
In the face of this, a whole series of collaborative works have come into being in the last few decades. Some were created by communities and groups themselves, others through collaborations established with image-makers from other backgrounds. Although some have mimicked mainstream visual language and adopted a non-critical use of its forms and practices, fortunately others have developed other approaches to image-making, to seeing and listening. Approaches that start to see by exchanging ways of seeing and learning from them. Approaches that embrace collaboration at different levels, from the exchange of knowledge to sharing equipment... Acknowledging that the act of looking (implicit in all image-based work) always entails a process of transformation. Whether it is a community in dialogue with itself or its ancestors, or outsiders who turn to it in order to discover and see.
This has particularly been the case with works that were created by or around the indigenous world. Works that have eroded the Eurocentric mirror, reflecting back a gaze that shatters the colonial epic narrative, as well as the humanist pretensions of global capitalism. They collaboratively present a gaze, a way of seeing, that reveals the narrow boundaries of Western “universalism”. As a result, they radically alter key notions such as work, land, reality, dream, time, wealth, and especially those linked to the experience of vision.
Thë walas (shamans from the Nasa community in Colombia) were invited to participate in the video workshops. Taking into account the Nasa’s rich tradition of practices based on mental images, I thought it would be interesting to ask the young people interested in making images to find their own way of understanding video recording and editing. The point of departure could be chats with the thë walas about images, dreams, and vision. (28)
This collective work around seeing is also vital to the dissemination of the realities of immigration. In this case, the mirror of global representation has smashed into thousands of fragments that reflect and are themselves deep pieces of reality. So what reaches us are voices that have been silenced, made invisible, stories of exclusion and violence that reveal the hitherto unknown extent of the violence and sectarianism of political and economic power in European society, beyond the humanist veil that this term tends to hide.
It is hard to come to terms with the fact that the supposedly civilised society that you fled to, seeking refuge, is so brutal. (29)
This seeing reveals the existence of a series of gaps that not only hinder in-depth reflection on migration, but also fuel exclusionary approaches (such as for instance the colonial lacunae: the close links between migration, coloniality, and its global mutation). And limit any reflection on migration to the political, police, financial, demographic, and humanitarian spheres, rarely entering into the realms of knowledge and wisdom, of which we are truly in need.
Suddenly, we enter a complex rhizome of stories, in which for example border protection is shown to be a profitable business for a few, with laws passed in order to manage illegality rather than prevent it. To reinforce the non-existent and thus vulnerable status of those who cross borders, rather than stop them from doing so. But at the same time, we also become aware of the disparate forces that drive these migratory movements: political persecution, flights to survive, dreams, initiatory journeys, quests for knowledge and experience. Pain and humiliation overlapping with stories of solidarity; ghettos and concentration camps with autonomous zones and experiences of self-management.
From this rhizome of other ways of seeing, the criteria that the mass media present as objective realities are shown to be partial constructs that spectacularly serve both sides of the border: as a media blast of either fear or desire. A coarse export of the global consumerist model, in which all other forms are stigmatised as poverty and backwardness.
One day my grandfather and I were talking about the rich and the poor... he told me that the whites have deceived us by telling us we are poor... it is the colonisation of words by the whites. They tell us we are poor and we accept it, but no, we are not poor. My grandfather says: there are four criteria for wealth and poverty, four different levels. The wealth of the white people, which leads us to say we are poor, is material wealth. For him, this material criterion is the lowest level of wealth. The other three criteria: intellectual wealth, moral wealth, and spiritual wealth... are stronger than material wealth. So a person may be totally rich in all four criteria, but that is very rare. Or they can be rich in some and poor in others. And many people who are rich only at the material level are very poor at the moral and spiritual levels. So they should not tell us that we are poor. (30)
The archipelago image
The decolonisation of vision does not give rise to a global imaginary, a master film, a diorama that imposes a smooth reality without chinks, an image-gel that covers every surface, filling every crack. Rather, it produces a rhizome of imaginaries that are diverse, and sometimes silent and invisible.
Decolonising vision implies shattering the dominant power’s mirror of representation, deconstructing the iconography of all those patriarchal, racial, classist, and gender archetypes that are inherent to it. And other archetypes that have mutated in global capitalism: the supposed banality of images, the productivity processes that produce them, their consumption, the extractivist urge that inspires them... the Monoform and the syntax of perception it imposes. In particular, it can also make us question the micro-fascisms that have infiltrated all of us through the colonisation of our dreams, desires, and fears... the colonisation of our concept and perception of time. But above all, it implies expanding vision, reclaiming the awareness of its transforming, visionary, oracular, and healing capacity, bringing it back to the body and the spirit, beyond the limits of optics.
This requires learning with the imaginaries of the indigenous rhizome and with its living images, or with the iconoclasm and contemplation of the Islamic world, with voices and bodies that have been pushed aside, burnt, or driven mad in the West. All of them speak of how much is at stake with images. There are no banal images, there is the banal gaze of a dead culture, which cannot interpret anything beyond the automatisms of consumerism, which have also seriously hijacked knowledge regarding how we materialise images, and how images in turn materialise. When this happens, images lose their bearings, and become illusory... And vision ends up controlled by the dominant power.
Let us now imagine an archipelago of island_imaginaries separated by an ocean of varying distances, sometimes calm, always magnificent. Sailing on its surface, one can move from one island_imaginary to the next (although not always), seeking knowledge and exchange. Beneath the ocean lies the hidden world of the silent and invisible, which is the source of everything, including the islands that visibly emerge from it. Each with its own topography, altitude, and sacred geometry. The depth and emptiness between them evoke the feminine aspect of the image. Spaces of non-representation, without images, which make it possible for us to see, to receive vision.
Duar Msuar, September 2016
(1) Shabistari, Mahmud. The Secret Rose Garden. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes, 2002
(2) “The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point that it becomes image.” Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Boks, 1994
(3) Mbembe, Achille. Crítique de la raison négre. Paris: La Découverte, 2013
(4) “Timeline” is the term used by Facebook to refer to the chronological information posted by users. http://www.facebook.com
(5) Tiqqun. Llamamiento y otros fogonazos. Madrid: Acuarela, 2011 http://acuarelalibros.blogspot.com/2011/01/descargate-llamamiento-y-otros.html
(6) Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Winchester: Zero Books, 2009
(8) Jameson, Frederic. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions London & New York: Verse. 2005
(9) Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Boks, 1994.
(10) Serra, Toni. Fes ciudad interior http://www.al-barzaj.org/2011/11/fez-ciudad-interior-texto.html
(11) Taussig, Michael. Mimesis and Alterity. New York: Routledge 1993.
(12) Corbin, Henry. La imagination creatrice dans le soufisme. Paris: Flamarion, 1958.
(13) Quran 22:46
(14) Idem (11)
(15) Idem (11)
(16) Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Third edition, Volume 1, McMillan and Co: London, 1911
(17) Bey, Hakim. Evil Eye. New York: 2001. http://hermetic.com/bey/evil_eye.html
(18) Term coined by filmmaker Peter Watkins.
(19) Watkins, Peter. http://blogs.macba.cat/peterwatkins
(20) Ali, Abu; Retroyou. Babylon Archives. Barcelona, Ovni Archives, 2004 and 2006. http://desorg.org/acts/babylon-archives/
(21) Prelinger, Richard. https://archive.org/details/prelinger
(22) Farocki, Harun. I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen), 23'. Germany, 2000
(23) OVNI Archives. The Colonial Dream & Autonomous Zones. Barcelona; 2006.
(25) OVNI Archives. http://desorg.org
(26) Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987
(27) Álvarez-Blanco, Palmar. Matrices de aprendizaje ”emancipadoras". Minnesota, 2016
(28) Hurtado, Xavier. La imaginación al poder. Prácticas oníricas, imaginario y resistencia entre los Nasas. Barcelona, 2011
(29) Statement by a refugee, in the documentary Forst. Breuer, Ascan; Hansbauer;Ursula; Konrad, Wolfgang, Lazarus, Julia.Austria, 2013
(30) Statement by a refugee, in the documentary Mahu _ Mactar Thiam Fall. Ali, Abu. Barcelona; 2013