The Lives of Others
Artist Statement – Macy Harrell
Love, Hate & Censorship (2014)
After carefully considering cultural universals such as love, hate, currency, and food; censorship made my list. This piece addresses censorship laws around the globe. This theme is significant and timely. Art and expression is universal, and with that universal liberty we also are met with censorship. This gif is comprised of 85 separate images framed within a vintage television set. I chose a TV set for its traditional nature in conveying information to the masses. Using a medium as contemporary as a gif is an ode to the development of digital art and everyone’s easy access to it.
Most of the images in this gif are either censored works or their creators. It features the banned cinematic work of Iranian director Jafar Panahi, Chinese director Chen Kaige, American director Seth Rogan, Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, American Gary Ross, American screenwriter James W. Horne among a few others. Titles include “The Interview (2014)” “The Mirror (1997),” “Farewell My Concubine (1993).” All the cinematic works featured in this gif have been banned in some part of the world.
Cinema is not the only creative medium plagued with censorship laws and limitations. News and art are also marginalized. To emphasize that, I included the banned album artwork of Kanye Wests’ “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010),” Tracey Emin’s contemporary Sarah Lucas image of a Christ made of cigarette buds being crucified on the cross of the English flag. Images of journalists that have either been murdered, jailed, blackmailed for expressing truths to the public are also featured (Georgiy Gongadze – Ukraine, Mohamed Sokrate – Morocco, Walgney Assis Carvalho – Brazil). I strategically selected artist and public figures from opposite sides of the world to emphasize the universality of censorship.
This gif is quite literally a referential work of artistic appropriation greatly inspired by Soda_Jerks 2006 film ”Hollywood Burn.” In the Mckenzie Wark reading we are reminded that “What digital technology makes possible is a vast outpouring of the gift.” This gif and “Hollywood Burn” are testaments to this statement. Because consistency is seemingly absent, the viewer’s viewers mind is never at ease. Despite its wacky design, these works are challenging in that they demand a rich understanding of pop culture, and patience to consume all the messages.
The Yochai Benkler’s discourse “The Political Economy of Commons” encompasses the message of this work perfectly when he says “The ability to control who gets to say what to whom with the core cultural signifiers of our time.” The global stipulations bestowed upon artists are usually perceived as hindrances in the creative process, but some of the greatest works in cinema I’ve see make subtle political statements. Many artists still manage to flourish artistically. In Thomas Y Levins “Rhetoric of the Temporal Index: Surveillant Narration and the Cinema” he says “surveillance has become the condition of narration itself.” Levins is addressing a larger theme of this project: surveillance.
A couple of weeks ago Sean Bobbit, D.P. of movies like Shame and 12 Years A Slave came to speak at Brooklyn College. I found what he had to say very helpful, because it applied not just to cinematography, but filmmaking in general. He mentioned at one point how important it is to master the basics, once you do that you’ll be breaking away from them with skill and not luck. Skill was another important factor, the majority of people working didn’t get good from innate talent he says, it’s a skill you must develop, and it’s something he’s been doing for decades. Before movies, he also talks about how he started out working in the news then became a cameraman in documentaries, and how it helped him when he made the jump to features, because working in documentaries forces you to become spontaneous and have quick reaction time, and it helps in something that’s very planned like film since you learn to make the most of your resources and the opportunities you get.
9/22 Non-Places & Places
Non-places are those in which it is nearly impossible to actually pinpoint a geographic location on an area due to the fact that it is so generic. Marc Augé states in his work these non-places are occurring much more frequently with the advancements in globalization. He defines non-places as those spaces of circulation, consumption and communication. Delving into the idea that architecture is an expression of the society and system, he points out that as things become more and more generic and similar so do the structural foundations. Augé says, “Under current conditions it is both more important and more difficult to manage this gap between expression and reflexiveness, which concerns in the first instance the paradoxical eclecticism of that resource to the exterior in a world where there is no longer an “elsewhere”” and worries that artists of today and the future are “doomed to seek beauty in these ‘non-places’”.
Contemporary migration, as TJ Demos defines it is the migration in designating the traveler who travels by choice, whether for economic necessity or, as more recently, ecological reasons. Claiming that these kinds of people gain a “double consciousness” he explains they become hyper sensitive to their surroundings and outside cultures due to the fact that they’re surviving in a new environment. He states “travel also holds the capacity to unleash a creative flight into the experience of multiplicity beyond the fixed categories of identities, mediums, and conventions. In this sense, its transformative experience may inspire both critical and creative energies…” The migrator has the potential to view their surroundings through an unusual lens, providing different perspectives into historical backgrounds, inventions and art. They are the kinds of people who reject restrictions and “xenophobic hostility”, rather, providing a new interest in the communities they enter.
10/6- The Specter of Colonialism
Clair Denis’ films are those that focus on the lens of individuals struggling with the various issues of colonialism. With the Westernization of communities around the world, we cannot account for individual differences and different ways of life all under one set logic. Not one nation can become “ethnically absolute” though they may attempt to appear so. The struggles arise for those outside of this ethnic bubble. “The effect of post-colonialism can be such that when there is no ‘other’ to fight, containment and displacement can occur and you attack your own having first identified him/her as not belonging.”
11/3- Invisible Subjects
“Shadow of a Doubt: Lucrecia Martel Interviewed” is a interview article by Amy Taubin about Lucrecia Martel, director of the independent film, “The Headless Woman”. Amy criticizes the main character of the film stating, “For me, the first time I saw the film, my reaction was that I don’t want to spend time with this woman, I know what she is, she’s reprehensible, I know her problems, I know why she’s a problem. So I went back to see the film again just to make sure I hadn’t missed something, and my reaction was very different, because although I still don’t like her, I can’t say anymore that I’m nothing like her. It’s a matter of degree. Yes, she does something very bad, but I do things everyday that to a certain degree are parallel to what she does. And I think that’s what makes the film difficult. One doesn’t like to admit that.” Yet Amy notices the most important aspect of Veronica, that she is still identifiable because of her reactions, though they may not be liked. Lucrecia Martel describes her fears of humanity through the characters in her films explaining, “I think that in the film I show a social mechanism, which in itself could be really beautiful and fascinating, but at the same time is really frightening. And that’s the mechanism whereby a social group as a whole tries to alleviate the suffering of one of its members. They gather together and cover up what happened in order to protect one of their own, even though it is possible that the person has committed a crime. On the one hand, that is beautiful in terms of human support, but it also contains all the roots of what’s evil about a social class: hiding facts, crimes even, and it leads to racism. It is the psychological basis of racism.” She uses allegories and satire to get her points across in the film.
The fear of being watched is something many people have to deal with in todays society. With cell phones tracking individuals locations and conversations, computers storing every ounce of data accessed, businesses tracking people through credit cards, and the looming threat of identity theft due to this tracking makes some uneasy. The question still resides, is surveillance a good or bad thing to have in society? The invasion of privacy versus the safety of the public has to be weighed out. Films throughout history depict the dystopian effects surveillance may have on society such as 1984 and Gattaca. As Thomas Y. Levin puts it, “the relationship between cinema and surveillance is both long and complicated” as artists tend to put their political beliefs on the subject into their works either negatively or positively.
11/24- Image Communities
In todays media centered world, samples are used of other works to create new artistic developments constantly. The question is, is this form of borrowing actually stealing?
“The current free market system and the existing legal system block the free development of our culture” according to McKenzie Wark, author of Copyright, Copyleft, Copygift. She argues that intelecutal property presents itself as being in the interest of the creator while in reality it is in the interest of the owner. She describes a new age of media sharing, where everything is easily accessible at ones fingertips and rapid sharing is the only kind. In this world, Wark believes it is wrong to define arts as individual property, she claims it to be extremely limiting to the creative flow of others and the way the work is appreciated especially in such an openly sharing age of media. Thus, she created her idea of ‘copygift’ rather than stay in the confines of copyright laws. By gifting her book to those interested she not only inspired them to use it as they please but to reference it and promote further works in the future.
12/1- Aid & Empire
“Using cinema, Westerners created an image of the black world that they transmitted to their children…The African cinema is in the process of reestablishing the truth about Africa, because Africans themselves have taken charge of their cinema. The vision is becoming an interior one”
African filmmaking is much more socially connected than that of western film. Sissako is an example of one of the filmmakers who exemplified social issues artistically and politically in a way that appealed to his people and his points. Europe was first to delve into the art cinema category yet for Latin-American filmmakers it was more just an alternative to “bourgeois Hollywood.” Inspiring them to move to a more accurate representation in film claiming this form of ‘second cinema’ in Europe to be more nihilistic and cut off whereas their new, neo-realistic style or, third cinema was a more accurate on historical foundations. As the Latin American cinema flourished with the re-creation and winning back of their culture, Africa began to involve themselves in the movement of producing films relevant to the working, struggling peoples in their countries. The objective: to revert as far away as possible from the Hollywood staple.
12/8- Architecture & Control
Avi Mograbi’s films are documentaries focusing on the violence and present issues Israel faces. By breaking the fourth wall, Mograbi talks directly to the camera or, the audience at brief intervals to explain his connections to the tales and imagery he reveals in the area. Thusly, he not only depicts the effects of violence in the surrounding area, the viewer gets to understand how it affects him as an individual as well, creating a more personal connection with the audience. As our tour guide throughout his films, Mograbi inserts himself directly into his scenes and we watch the entire filmmaking process progress and any mishaps along the way. This style of documentary is not relatively common and provides a much more personal atmosphere to a film. Much like Michael Moore, an American director who also gives himself to his audience as the main protagonist in retrieving information for his documentaries. Both filmmakers tell their tales in ways that reveal so much more than just the main plotline.
Sean Bobbitt’s talk was so inspiring. He told us about how he got his start, his take on cinematography, and how we can make our work better. He talked about how documentary is a good help for narrative because with documentary you need to know how to tell a story, you need to know pacing, and how to manipulate things in order to get the footage you want. He also talked about collaboration and how important it is. I liked that part because so many people are focused on their vision and theirs along – they’re not open to other people’s opinions on their ideas even if it helps. I think that when someone as kind and generous as Bobbitt comes in and shares his thoughts on that, it really helps us learn (or at least consider) to be more open minded and willing to listen to each other.
Here is the link to my video on Non-Place, based on Jem Cohen’s Chain
10/6: The Specter of Colonialism
Post-colonial body, post-racial society mean the same thing and for many blacks it means a statement that is just a statement alone but which society shows isn’t actually true. What we have instead of a post-colonial or post-racial landscape is double-consciousness in blacks which in summation is the awareness of oneself in all aspects of themselves when they are in the company of those they have been oppressed by and for the rest of the world, guilt as well as lingering racism that is practiced through actions instead of the old ways of verbal attacks.
In Sleep Dealer by director Alex Rivera, the idea that the wealthy or the more well off’s lifestyle is created on the backs of those who could work their whole life and never see a better existence is a part of life that is very prevalent in our world. It’s a study that was detailed in Glasswogger’s “MegaCities” as well. I found I really enjoyed the film due to the creative way Rivera chose to tell this aspect but many times was pulled out of the film due to the graphics being so glaringly rudimentary at times such as with the airplane wars or the video chat sessions. The nodules however that were connected to the different parts of the body was very well crafted.
“If we reduce the idea of violence to the horrific acts that we see in the press, then we fail to understand the deeper systematic violence. All we see is the atrocity. We no longer see the humanity of the victim or the perpetrator, nor the violence that is inflicted on the community that lives within this context. The more grotesque the image, the more removed the spectator is from its reality.” states Natalia Almada in an interview by Chris Chang. While American citizens don’t have to view graphic images in their mainstream newspapers and programs, we learn to be desensitized to other crimes and injustices in our nation. The black community has been desensitized in believing justice will be served if a white police officer kills unarmed civilians, rape culture thrives through cues from graphic novels, portrayals of women in media, and in video games, and the high rent of literally a box, where one shouldn’t expect to have a savings account, and works themselves all their lives to live in is considered a steal in New York whereas in other parts of the country, the world even, one could get so much more for their dollar. We’re all desensitized and it impacts our quality of life.
11/3: Invisible Subjects
“It’s a mechanism whereby even in the most basic social interactions people tend to deny responsibility. Instead they attribute whatever happens to an entire social class or to the nature of things, so that they can ignore the suffering of others. They tend to say that’s the way things are, that’s the way history has made it, that’s the way the laws of nature have made it.” As stated by director Lucrecia Martel during an interview about her film The Headless Woman is a statement that I think is also addressed in Naomi Klein’s essay “Disaster Capitalism: The new economy of catastrophe”. There is a tendency with individuals especially wealthy ones or more well off than others ones to detach themselves both from the situations occurring around them and at the same time use up all the resources to make their already stable life, even more cushiony. It is what divides the world even more so, and what Martel’s film shows and the world presents, the lower class is largely unseen, barely heard. Strides are being made for certain classes, certain subcultures of people like those of the transgender groups, but more deaths and violence, more ongoing injustices are still felt such as in the current cases with Mike Brown and enablers fail to understand and empathize with the wronged class. There is that tendency to blame the class wronged or to absolve the one who did the crime such as with Darren Wilson and it affects the morale of the entire society, we begin to believe that the way things have always been, is how they will continue to be.
Surveillance is an interesting topic in American culture because we typically ridicule it, sometimes making jokes while we’re on the phone that we can’t say certain things because the government is tapping our phone calls, yet at the same time aren’t truly sure to what extent we are being watched and listened in on. We know that suspects have had their phones tapped, we’ve seen this played numerous times in films, that private investigators are hired when affairs assumed, but we aren’t really sure why and if civilians are also monitored. In the article “Look Who’s Listening” we get the report back that civilians, non-suspects have been listened in on for years. There is an immediate question in the head of the reader, “Am I one of those people?” and immediately, surveillance seems real. The TV show, Orphan Black plays on this. Clones are being monitored yet to themselves they are basic civilians with nothing to hide who are monitored by someone they have a close relationship with. It is soon realized to them that they are a part of something grand. In the case of the NSA the question is are they wasting their time.
11/17: Speed & Catastrophe
There will be more Katrinas, says Naomi Klein in her essay, “Disaster Capitalism: The new economy of catastrophe”. When disaster hits a part of the world, a part of the state even, when it doesn’t happen in your area, where you live, one of the first feelings one feels is relief, then detachment. We watch from an observer’s point of view, only really feeling pings of fear if it will physically come towards us, or if someone we know lives in that area. I’ve felt that way many times but on a greater scale these feelings as Klein so greatly illustrates, further separates us if we are also financially more well off than someone else, or of a certain skin tone that is favored throughout all parts of the world. The world opens for them only and we are divided even more. On a personal, local scale, I’m beginning to feel this divide even more as I wonder about the state of New York City and it’s locals who currently can’t afford to live here and what our future will look like. On an even lower scale we see the divide Klein speaks of from the way the rich gets access to certain things the poor or those that live on the outskirts do not in the form of where the Citibikes after finding additional funding are existing first. They hit the wealthier parts, the well-known parts first while the rest of the boroughs wait for how long.
Right now, our main source for apartments is via the lottery or some sort of government assisted method, we can’t afford to live in Manhattan, we aren’t millionaires and I assume the divide will be much greater between the poor and the rich until it eventually just collapses and a real solution is given. But, how long will we live in that interim, is what I’m very afraid of. The rich do not understand this.
11/24: Image Communities
Commons according to Yochai Benkler’s article “The Political Economy of Commons” are a particular type of institutional arrangement for governing the use and disposition of resources. One of the more striking types of commons detailed is open access commons which while anyone can use a certain resource there are certain social conventions that still make it a regulated commons such as Air. These led me to the train of thought on gender and sex regulation in society and how it embodied the bolded question in the article, “Are Commons Sustainable?”. Judging by the wave of states legalizing gay marriage and of transgender individuals becoming more visible, the answer is no certain commons are not sustainable. Commons listed in the article such as the invention of roads and regulations are sustainable and are a sustainable just because they regulate impulse control on the individual, but those conventions that many of us have had indoctrinated in us through society, on a physical level are not sustainable because the individual will not stay caged and suffering forever. We grow up in a world where color is gendered, our money gendered and eventually our mind is gendered. Where we are told who is right to marry, what we are supposed to wear, what we’re supposed to look like, but as the decades go on and more people vocalize what they want, the commons of yesterday slowly but surely wear away. Physically they wear away easy. But, physically is a choice word. Mentally our minds have been affected by what we are taught and there is the ground where commons also reside. Even as we destroy the commons in our society, we have the commons in our mind that are harder to destroy and is where we began to police ourselve. Certain commons aren’t sustainable, but they can be permanent if we don’t fight to break the social conventions we were taught in all places of our lives.
12/1: Aid & Empire
Silvia Federici’s essay “The Debt crisis, Africa and the new enclosures”, writes how many of Africa’s problems is an internal one, from the stagnated structure of its land ownership to how it relies on its youth to better the village and I couldn’t help drawing parallels to Haiti. I have a very close relationship to Haiti through having my familial origins there and my mom both grew up there and faces the burden of having to provide for the family that is still there. Her own account of land ownership is similar to Federici’s account of it in Africa. Federici states that communal land ownership is still a structure that thrives in certain parts of Africa having seemed to bypass the new developments that would strengthen its economy. In Haiti, the land, and the structure built on the land once owned by a person is seemingly owned forever. There isn’t such a thing as a mortgage the person must pay. If they built it, they own it, and I can’t help wondering if this old structure is what stagnates Haiti as well. After all, it faces many direct parallels with Africa even down to the AIDS crisis (Haitians and gays were the first associated with the virus). Haiti and many third world countries also place emphasis on its young to provide for the community the way Federici states the communal villages in Africa do towards their young after paying to send them off to school. On a grander scale, should they leave the country and voyage to the first world, ie, USA, they are deemed wealthy and expected to keep sending gifts and money back to their country. Such acts place burden on both those who bear them and the country itself as they have not found the means to depend on themselves rather than the young that have sought better opportunities.
12/8: Architecture & Control
The question of how far these borders that fence people in, keep people out will go is a question that needs to be raised especially within the situation that is occurring with the Palestinians and Israelis, artist Khaled Jarrar even after taking measures to ensure a smooth flight out of Palestine to New York for his exhibition was still met with problems due to the conflict. While it’s a situation that the world has been aware of even within Brooklyn College taking a stand due to its large Jewish community, it still is a situation many on the smaller scale, including myself, ignore as it’s not a part of my life really and doesn’t immediately affect me and this way of thinking, this problem is what Naomi Klein and Natalia Almada in their essays and interviews and the other articles we’ve read in class demonstrate. There are all these problems in the world, many occurring simultaneously, but unless we seek it, and seek to care, we don’t care and we don’t know. I had no idea about the problems Jarrar faced, but I knew about the exhibition because I like the New Museum, we tend to pick and choose what we learn until it greatly affects us. For how long will the Palestine-Israel conflicts continue? I don’t know, and I’m not writing as if I’m aware that it’s still going on, only from the standpoint of two years ago when I stumbled on a group connected to this conflict at Brooklyn College who in was selling desserts and asked for my support through me signing my name. For the next couple of months I got emails about the conflicts happening, then I unsubscribed.
I went to see Sean Bobbitt that day he visited the BC film department. I totally forgot to write about it. I think most listeners including myself were charmed by his honesty, his accepting of his own flaws and his overall humility. He approached this discussion with a great sense of humor and genuine desire to inform and guide the film hopefuls in front of him. i took some notes. A few things he mentioned that really stuck with me (All paraphrased extracted ideas and not direct quotes from Bobbitt):
— Film is a subjective career. As with many creative fields there really is no definitive wrong or right to do thing. Sometimes you have to let go of conventions to unleash your greatest creative work
— He peaked his own level of intelligence at about 17
— He’s been fired
— Clarity comes from doing
— Don’t be surprised if you’re not where you want to be in the first year the first five years or even the first 10 years
— If you really want to work in this industry KEEP doing it despite the inevitable “nos” and less than favorable jobs you’ll encounter
— Keep practicing. Film is practiced skill that is not born.
— Telling the story is what is most important