The Image as a 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 capitalist machines, is driven by an extractivist impulse: it sees life as an infinite reservoir to be exploited. Against this instrumentalist drive, it seems logical to adopt a method based on collaboration, immersion, and commitment—one that connects image-makers and their environment, rather than turning them into agents at the service of the machine. However, this measure alone may 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 as well as to involve and project; if we do not deconstruct the visual language that implements the colonisation of time and of perception....
We tend to associate images with vision, but the use of images as spectacle (2) in the global capitalist society has turned vision into a kind of blindness, creating a shared imaginary woven from countless images that are constantly updated and at the same time replicated—images that solidify, forming a dense veil that not only hinders vision and obstructs direct experience, but also tends to colonise our realities and dreams. plundering our “wells of fantasy” (3) and personal and 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 lives, their daily chores and places, were already burning once again.
The Master Film
Much has been said about the manipulative nature of media images and their capacity to deflect, distort and distract the senses, creating a view of reality that is completely biased towards the big economic powers. The media as a huge audio-visual production machine that is outwardly diverse but is actually in the hands of a small number of private, government, or hybrid corporations. But the real power of these images does not lie in denial, coercion, or manipulation (which always generate resistance and thus opposition), but in their claim to build, to create, to give space and make meaning. In other words, to create an imaginary and offer a place, an individual or collective role in the “master film” that is then projected under the heading of “reality”. Of course it is no more real than a theme park or a shopping mall simulating a town square, with street musicians, and even action scenes...
This spectacle-reality is manufactured under the constant, high-speed centrifugation of labels: news, fiction, advertising, education, entertainment, training, and so on. Subjects and concepts are mixed together (as is the very syntax of consumption), permutating them in time and space until they become indistinguishable or their differences become irrelevant as they are consumed and absorbed into a segment of experience.
With the advent of new consumer, entertainment and socialising technologies, audio-visual media are undergoing radical change and hybridisation. They have partly relinquished the oligopoly of the means of audio-visual production, and are now accompanied (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 mediascape in which TV news, advertising, video games, film, advertorials, and social media are constantly self-referential. 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, in which 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, as in the old Hollywood dream factory. Instead, what were formerly “audiences” are now offered an “opportunity to participate”, a chance for interaction and 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 understood, free participation and interaction paradoxically coexist 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.
Although the dominant power presents itself as an outward-oriented imaginary, this does not mean that it only operates on forms and surfaces. On the contrary, it drives and forces the (anonymous, hidden, insignificant) interior to flow towards the surface, to be reduced to it, to show and advertise itself—ultimately to 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 among “central” audiences and export it as a global imaginary. At the same time, the dominant imaginary of wealth is also exported into 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 must 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 onto the global imaginary by much 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 capitalist realism but deeply embed it 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 prefabricated 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 of artisanal images, personal or collective experiences and visions, dreams, fantasies and ruins of ancient imaginaries... dotted with gaps, imprecisions, and eyes_lacunae that encourage vision and imagination. A tattered and life-filled patchwork.
This is where things get tricky. Unless we deconstruct the notion of vision that prevails in the global era, as well as the mechanisms by which it takes over imaginaries, and its use of perceptive syntax... our 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. But as a counterpoint, 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 defence 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 meaning-making machines and fragments. In their presence and their use, they are machines of power.
Cameras, for instance, are often described, tellingly, as image-capture devices. For decades, cameras have been associated with film and television, and thus with economic and political power... So when one a camera appears, 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 significantly similar 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. But we must take advantage of the 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.
However, 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, on the one hand, a desire to be embedded in the image, to appropriate that which is being represented: to be photographed with landmarks, people, landscapes, fleeting moments. 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 commodification. This latter response is fuelling an increasing iconoclastic urge that is impossible to ignore, because it suggests, above all, an insurrection against the iconocracy.
The Opening of Vision
Any desire to decolonise images must address this situation: it must not just break the Eurocentric mirror, but also challenge its notion of vision.
Essentially, this notion of vision gives rise to a disembodied conception of the image—images that will 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 the opening of 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 actual 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 analysed until there was nothing left. The power of vision linked to dreams and visions, to the creative imagination (12), matrix of realities.
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 rethink 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 an image conveys and above all suggests, promotes, and spreads. This mimesis opens up a channel between thing and image, but also between image and thing. A path that is strongly present in the ritual and shamanic practices within the indigenous rhizome.
Let us then be aware of magic, of the emotional power that emanates from the copy. Because this should be our starting point: 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 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
The history of screens shows the strange tendency towards the “screenifation” of the world. Screen 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 everything, 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, 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 maintains a series of formal dogmas linked to viewer perception and attention. Or should we say formal dogmas linked to capturing the viewers’ attention? Because it is also cumulative in this sense: a spectacle-language that clones itself from one production to another, eventually becoming a kind of “Monoform”. (18)
Desires and fears are colonised and given the form and direction of quests or escapes, as per the kind of “black magic” Hakim Bey spoke of. Spectators absorb these 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. It is not only images that 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 activated along with this particular state of perception accompany 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 create a dense atmosphere to be breathed passively, almost like a kind of media-nature.
Against this backdrop, media archaeology has a very 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 perspective, 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 the powerful want 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.
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 and capture the attention of visitors, and the best way to do this is through intense videos that use upbeat language, dynamic images, upbeat 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 that had been 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 seen in 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 is laid out before our eyes like an enormous diorama, an immeasurable painting... an imaginary destined to engender realities.
Hence the importance of open access audio-visual archives. However, the big archives are usually connected to institutions linked to 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 geared towards making a profit. 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 channels, without funding, and under suspicion of critical intent. Hence the importance of reclaiming and defending public access to these archives, which should be considered and managed as human cultural heritage. Not in the romantic sense, as repositories of the collective memory of events of the past, but as a record of who saw those events, how they saw them, and above all how it made us see them (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 hide 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 exude representativeness. However, when we turn our attention to particular subjects, especially those that have to do with marginalised or exploited groups, or other voices or images from the past, this seeming representativeness disappears, and a sense of arbitrariness often prevails... These 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.
There is thus a need to create 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 call for subjective intentionality rather than supposed objectivity. Archives that are linked to a place, a land, a city, a neighbourhood... and a particular time, its emergence and disappearance, its journey, its needs, concerns, and dreams, its own assessment 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 crucial for transmitting this knowledge and this memory, but above for allowing communities to refer back to their own past. Anarchives are maps 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 exist outside of the usual cartography of power and stem from contemplation, from knowledge, from care and attention to others, from community, 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 various forms and been carried out in many areas and groups, allowing different imaginaries to emerge, connecting them to each other, and giving rise to a new learning matrix. (27)
Most mainstream documentaries are made in response to a commission, so they are not conceived or developed independently. They comply with the Monoform to some extent in order to be television-friendly, they meet tight production deadlines, and they follow an extractivist logic. There is no time for transformation through vision, no time to learn through seeing and through what is seen. There is no time for interweaving gazes; no time for the fullness of life.
In the face of this, many collaborative works have come into being in the last few decades. Some were created by different communities or groups themselves, others in collaboration with external image-makers. It is true that some mimic mainstream visual language and adopt a non-critical use of its forms and practices. But fortunately others have developed different approaches to image-making, to seeing and listening— approaches that try out other points of view and learn from them; approaches that embrace collaboration on different levels, knowledge-sharing, equipment-sharing… Approaches that acknowledge the fact that the act of seeing (implicit in all image-based work) always brings about a process of transformation—whether it affects a community in dialogue with itself or its ancestors, or the audiences who turn to it in order to learn and see.
This is especially the case with works created in or around the indigenous world—they erode the Eurocentric mirror, reflecting back a gaze that shatters the epic colonial narrative and the humanist pretensions of global capitalism. Together, these works offer a collaborative gaze, a way of seeing that reveals the narrow limits of Western “universalism”. In doing so, they radically disrupt key notions such as work, land, reality, dream, time, and wealth—and above all notions 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 discussions with the thë walas about images, dreams, and vision. (28)
This collective work of seeing is also key in the dissemination of the realities of immigration. In this case, the mirror of global representation has smashed into thousands of fragments that reflect reality and are in themselves pieces of these realities. What these works bring us are voices that have been silenced and made invisible, stories of exclusion and violence that reveal the hidden extent of the violence and sectarianism of political and economic power in European society, behind the humanist veil of the term “European”.
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 collective-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). Gaps that also confine discussions of migration to the political, police, financial, demographic, and humanitarian spheres, but rarely engage in terms of knowledge and wisdom, of which we are truly in need.
We suddenly find ourselves in a complex rhizome of stories. For example, we see border protection as a profitable business for a small minority, 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 become aware of the disparate forces driving these migratory movements: political persecution, flights to survive, dreams, journeys of discovery, quests for knowledge and experience. Pain and abuses overlap 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 opinions that the mass media present as objective realities are shown to be partial constructs that “spectacularly” serve both sides of the border: a media jolt of either fear or desire. It is a rough export of the global consumer model, in which anything else is 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 decolonisation of vision does not give rise to a global imaginary, a master film, a diorama depicting a smooth unbroken reality, an image-gel coating every surface, filling every crack. Rather, it produces a rhizome of diverse imaginaries, some of which are silent and invisible.
Decolonising vision means shattering the representation mirror of the dominant power. It means deconstructing the iconography of all the patriarchal, racial, classist, and gender archetypes that are inherent to it, as well as other mutations of global capitalism: the supposed banality of images, the processes that produce them, their consumption, the extractivist urge that inspires them… the Monoform and its imposed syntax of perception. It also means questioning the micro-fascisms that have infiltrated us through the colonisation of our dreams, desires, and fears... colonising our concept and perception of time. But above all, it means expanding vision and reclaiming the awareness of its transformative, 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 and the living images of the indigenous rhizome, with the iconoclasm and contemplation of the Islamic world, with the voices and bodies that have been pushed aside, burnt or driven mad in the West… They all speak of how much is at stake in images. Images are not banal, what is banal is the gaze of a dead culture that is unable of interpret anything other than the automatisms of consumerism—automatisms that have also seriously hijacked our knowledge of how we materialise images and how images them become embodied. When this happens, images lose their bearings and become illusory… And the potential of vision ends up in the hands of the dominant power.
Imagine now an archipelago of island-imaginaries separated at varying distances by an ocean, sometimes calm, always magnificent. Sailing on its surface, one can (usually but not always) move from one island-imaginary to the next, in search of knowledge and exchange. Beneath the ocean lies the hidden world the silent and invisible, which is the source of everything, including the islands that surface and become visible. Each with its own topography, altitude and sacred geometry. The depths and emptiness between them evoke the feminine aspect of images. Spaces of non-representation, without images, enabling 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