Empyre – extensions of the city discussion (border reprise)

kipnistheaterI’ve been invited to participate in the Emyre mailing list discussion this week, so will cross post here. Already gone off piste I guess, but hey:

Empyre is here.

Thanks for the invitation to guest here. I wanted to start with two quotes from the rubric for this discussion:

“From the Depth of Projection to the Extension of the City The performances with projection rescue the tri-dimensionality of the place and set the image back to human proportions. This allows us to jump from closed to open spaces, from private to public domain. The city is not only a setting: every wall can be a screen; every window, a projection booth”

“The borders between public and private spaces are essential for the existence of cinema as such”

Thinking about this, I went back and looked up the early comment that: “cinema is a collection of techniques to make the light lay on a surface” – my trouble with this definition, perhaps, is mainly that it leaves out the audio – the surround sound of the cinema space. In so many ways the city, and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure. The audio cannot be ignored in cinema, even when it moves away from the proscenium screen. I think it is productive to think of the city as cinema (this is not new) but also to think the border this way. Audio-visual passports? Even our dialogue on the border is scripted. Sure, the border begins as a line in the sand, and cinema too has a silent pre-history, but even this spatiality was never totally mute.

So, ‘media as architecture’ sure, but this includes sound, and we need a way to talk of this without relegating the metaphors to secondary status behind the screen (where the speakers are?) – I am deeply dissatisfied with the term soundscape and all this talk of distance. The way metaphors of vision and geography dominate the audio-visual. The whole thing about writing on the screen gets stuck here too – though that would take an excursus into Derrida (and perhaps Stiegler) to unpack, and cost us years and lives.

So, to cut to the main theme – all this comes up in our [Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, AHRC Beyond Text] project on Borders, which I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce here. This may seem opportunistic, but my habit is to think in reverse, or against my first expectation. See what I did above – started thinking about the screen only to insist on talking about audio. The idea behind the borders project stems from this kind of wayward/dissonant process.

So, I want to think in the opposite direction from film studies, not with a view to understanding film, or screens or media, though of course film studies helps us understand what we see (and hear), but to suggest that we ask what can our understanding of film (I’d rather say, the telematic) can bring to our understanding of other pressing questions.

For me, the ‘pressing’ questions have to do with issues such as migration, racism (profiling, the war of terror, security hysteria) and capital (economic restructuring, cultural economy etc). Also perhaps climate/environment, and of course resistance to capital (what is required to ‘win’?).

One part of this – backwards thinking process – is to ask how an understanding from one field – eg., cinema/telematics, screens, the audio-visual etc., – might offer ways of rethinking things in another – such as terror, or racism, or migration/borders – and reconfigure the activities and activisms that stem therefrom. A series of our Border workshops have explored this, following a trajectory from the audio, through performativity and now, next, to cinema. How do these areas of interest provoke new modes, sites, registers of activism and action? I hope you can read between the lines here and we can set up a relay between this project and the current one on “Extension of the City” (my next post on cities I promise, though here I am already engaging with the suggestion that ‘This division [of cinema space] reflects not only the organizational logic of the cinematographic industry, but that of society as well’ ).

Anyway, here is the Border Documentary call, recently sent out, for the workshop to be held in Copenhagen in November (mentioning the earlier workshops too):

In “Sonic Border” (London Nov 2008) we explored the way sound crosses the border differently, provoking a rethink of the border’s location – not just in ports, and the authoritarian boot boys of the nation state, but between us all, in conversations, in ideas – an oppressive structure of language, meaning, representation, and in the cry of protest and in the music of solidarity across divides. The border echoes everywhere, it resonates and shouts from every station location, wherever you listen look. Sound problematized the geographic and visual location of the border regime.

In “Theatre Border” (Berlin April 2009) the performative, tactile and ritualistic force of the border as staged power suggests we rethink connection, touch, proximity and co-responsibility. The theatrical exclusion of others manufactures a charade populated by demons, caricatures and monstrosity. We don’t want to be cast in such dramas.

In “Border Documents” (Copenhagen Nov 2009) we will join the CPH.DOX documentary film festival to consider the border as it unfolds in time/screen based media – what does thinking about border activism and the telematic offer us? Possible topics include the border in television news, the in-focus out of focus role of CCTV in detention centres, the scanning screens of the immigration check, the civilian phone-cam exposé of deportation and ‘Torture Taxi’ (special rendition) flights, and more.

We are interested in new perspectives on the status and function of the documentary forms today, as they cross the ontological divide between fiction and truth, art and reality (objective/subjective, social, political, ethical etc) and frame alternative ways of seeing, witnessing, representing, archiving and experiencing ‘the elements of truth’ (Steyerl, 2003). Can we understand documentation not as paper passports or mere representation but as docketing the (re)construction of (new) social and political realities – we are interested in time and screen formats that offer access to critical recontextualization of the reproduction of borders, and of unfolding new agents of social and political (ex)change. On a more formalistic note, how does the documentary form carry a politic, an ethics or epistemology and how can the documentary film help us see and act differently? Does the time of the border transform its place, or its performative character? Does border activism lend itself to the cinematic? Can we film another way across?

Border Documents (here)

CPH.DOX: http://www.cphdox.dk/d1/front.lasso


6 thoughts on “Empyre – extensions of the city discussion (border reprise)

  1. From: “Ricardo Dominguez”

    Hola John and all,

    The question you frame have been very important to us in terms of thinking
    the trajectory border disturbance technologies here at bang.lab
    and we are approaching the question of cellphones/microscreens/sonification
    as important to our re-locative media research in relation to border(s):
    the Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT) (http://bang.calit2.net/xborder) uses
    multiple orientations of
    sonification – you can scroll down and see visual poems to be presented on
    the cellphones as one layer of the tools safety protocols for those
    crossing the Mexico/U.S. border – another element of border crossing
    sonification is part of the navigation (you can look at the how to page:

    TBT appropriates the mapping and tracking drive of locative media for a
    simulation of oppositional force that asserts an impossible task: that
    the desert and its vicissitudes, including the border patrol and vigilante
    groups, can be mapped out and anticipated, and consequently, that migrants
    can be rerouted to elude dead-end paths. The tool appears as a donation,
    an affirmation of hospitality that gestures towards the appropriation of
    the desert for a politics of solidarity. In so doing, it does not leave
    the desert to be defined only by discourses of homeland security that
    cast, as Etienne Balibar writes, ?strangers as enemies.? Instead, the
    Transborder Tool invites a multiplicity of perspectives, derived from the
    fact that it engages space in a material and metaphoric way. In that
    sense, it asks us to take it seriously, both as a tool to maneuver in the
    charged space of the border and as a prompter of social critique of the
    border- as- ideology.

    Very best,

  2. Hola John and all,

    Here is another series of border sonification gestures that might fall
    into your
    frame at gallery@calit2: especially the 24 Speakers and 24 Sound Source and
    Media Womb projects – which I would certainly place within the sounding
    out-of-the-border as-documentation. We are also placing these
    sonifications gesture to photographic
    documentation as anchors to the shift and connections of the docu-process.


    ?Tijuana/San Diego: Cooperation and Confrontation at the Interface?

    On October 5, 2009, the gallery@calit2 will open ?Tijuana/San Diego:
    Cooperation and Confrontation at the Interface? as its Fall 2009
    exhibition. The show brings together works by seven artists who draw upon
    the cultural landscape of the border region linking Tijuana and San Diego.
    While most of the artists are based in Tijuana, two of them ? Lea Rudee
    and Fred Lonidier ? are UC San Diego faculty members. The works in
    ?Tijuana/San Diego: Cooperation and Confrontation at the Interface? range
    from digital prints to interactive multimedia. Jos? Ignacio L?pez
    Ram?rez-Gast?n?s spatialized sound installation, 24 Speakers and 24 Sound
    Sources, deployed in the interior of the gallery@calit2, enacts the
    concept of the democratization of knowledge and ‘reversed migration’ in
    the use of technology. In the main hallway, Media Womb (pictured above)
    creates an interactive sound cocoon made of recycled egg cartons –
    visitors’ movements inside the womb modulate sounds connected to the
    media’s mis/representations of Tijuana and transborder drug cartels. Media
    Womb is a collaboration from the artists of the CUBO Project: Giacomo
    Castagnola, Camilo Ontiveros, Nina Waisman and Felipe Z??iga, with
    programming by Marius Schebella. Other works on display include former
    UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering dean Lea Rudee?s photographs documenting
    the Tijuana River?s path across the border, revealing its many roles as
    drainage creek, city water supply, border crossing obstacle, and preserved
    salt marsh. UCSD Visual Arts Professor Fred Lonidier?s N.A.F.T.A. #15 “Rio
    Tijuana Bridge: A Tale of Two Globes or Two Tales of a Globe/Puente del
    Rio Tijuana: Un Cuento de Dos Mundos o Cuentos de Un Mundo” provides a
    representation of the problematics of “globalization” from the perspective
    of the organized efforts by workers to make gains in labor rights and
    conditions of employment.


    Monday, October 5 ? November 25, 2009
    Gallery Hours
    Monday ? Friday, 11am-5pm
    Opening Reception
    Thursday, October 15, 2009 5pm-7pm

    Ricardo Dominguez
    Associate Professor
    Hellman Fellow

    Visual Arts Department, UCSD
    Principal Investigator, CALIT2
    Co-Chair gallery@calit2
    CRCA Researcher
    Ethnic Studies Affiliate
    Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies Affiliate

  3. Hutnyk – Post 2

    This time, trying to link the border to the city by way of the escape into film, I am resurrecting some notes from the archive. Here, the borders crossed are more about categories, commonplaces, expectations. So we have, with another aside on Derrida, and some comments on affect theory, a meditation on escape velocity. In pursuing this theme I seem to have accumulated a disproportionate bunch of notes on one book, in fact one chapter of one book. This then is also not quite a review… a summary [with crit in square brackets] of a colleague’s (Janet Harbord) chapter on ‘Innocent Monsters: film and other media’ in her book “The Evolution of Film: Rethinking Film Studies” 2007 Polity Press.

    This is a book critical of foundational, fixed, homogeneous, located notions of film – ‘film isn’t what it used to be’. Harbord pursues an expanded notion of what film is when it escapes the cinema, starting in this chapter [I’m only reading chapter 5 here] with an archive of images of terror [not detailed] ‘stacked and layered on top of each other’ (118) in Hoolbooms ‘Imitation of Life’ (2003).

    She asks if we might reconfigure the story of the decline of cinema (no more celluloid products) as a story of escape? The escape of film, not of us – escaping from fixed, viewer controlled (the view decodes and digests) contingency, escape from the cinema hall… So that film haunts new spaces, walks the streets like the uncanny zombie resurrection [not unlike fetish objects with their own lives and brains].

    The question of the constructed nature of the non-human world arises – the model of human construction has no dynamism, maybe the non-human is not to be reduced: is the alterity of the non-human irreducible to human experience, as claimed as foundation for those who deploy the concept of affect (120)? Affect defies distinction between emotional response and rational comprehension, conscious and unconscious, mind and body. Affect belongs to sensory apprehension of rampant image-based multinational capital (cites Deleuze translator Brian Massumi) in a post-grand narrative, post ‘belief’ realm –as pursued by intensity theorists – Deleuze, Bergson, Spinoza.

    This appeals to Capitalism since it attracts but does not fix. Capital today is shifty, always seeking renewal [wasn’t it always?]

    Harbord cites a certain SLash who distinguishes film as old media from information as new, non-narrative, not cinema. Harbord makes three points here: she questions Lash’s division of film as content, information as form. [This also goes against her interest in film as escape – but wasn’t running away always too easy, always a way of making new tracks for commerce? Lash’s information is the new terrain for capitalist growth]. She notes that film as aura in the cinema, in Lash’s version an old media, is different to film on DVD, and she points out that film in the cinema hall is being reworked ‘after’ recognition of contingencies in the expanded context of film (her examples will bear this out – ie that films like “Momento” are no longer ‘in sequence’ is related to fwd and rwd of video and DVD).

    Then a discussion of early cinema and contingency in Doane and Kracauer.

    New reworkings of classic films such as Gordon’s 24 hour version of “Psycho” ‘wrench open this desire to look’ that was examined by Doane and Kracauer – so that new more than ever we see it all – still more focussed upon shot, close-up, edit, contingency – but in a way that moves beyond Kracauer’s assertion of transience of the image (it flows past us) and Doane’s ‘staging’ [in the frame of the story?]. Contingency mutates as film escapes from the cinema (DVD, stop, pause, rwd, fwd).
    [Does this overstate the case for the digital as expansion, and the domestic control of the remote control?]

    3 areas to examine new contingencies
    – domestic use of technology, DVDs etc
    – rang of viewing contexts (airports, galleries, phones)
    – changes in narrative structure [which feedback into films in the cinema]

    This chapter attempts to theorise films’ escape from the cinema hall as both new contingency, and in terms of affect. The examples are detailed: non-linear DVD Iranian taxi film ‘Ten’; the station screen with Laurel and Hardy at Victoria BR; ‘My Architect’ in the cinema; Tate Modern video installation.

    Films in stations, galleries or malls have a quality of ghosting (141), phantasmatic animation a la Benjamin’s arcades for the flaneur – who turns out to be the ghost. Yet film, having left the cinema, walks the streets and refuses to die. Indeed, contingency multiplies its affective charge. Film reasserts (affectively):
    – through its historical attachment, capturing us in time
    – through its not yet worked through mutations of format
    – through interplay of narrative and inventory

    Results: its futile to search for film’s ontology [? She has been doing just this, no?] because film’s mutations escape, they reinvent, cannot be defined by what film has been.

    At the end of the chapter a turn to Derrida to recognise film as the realm of the supplement – it evolves, and incorporates its new emergent forms [ah, a mobile ontology then? – this turn to Derrida sits strangely with what comes next…]

    Then a final return to the question of affect, which is also a return to Massumi, and the idea of rumour governing the stock market- [but this comparison is underdeveloped, the stock market is not wholly governed by rumour, there is also profit, greed, accumulation, glee]

    [can we say that film does not still fix – the close up, the edit/juxtaposition – just as much as the stock market fixes brand value via rumour – what is needed here is a Marxist understanding of value – not branding, not prices – a critique of the hauntology, the fetish, the ghostly rumours that are the surface of film/stock/life]

    [Affect theorists fail to comprehend the social aggregation of value that emerges via affect – rumour, fetish, image accretion, archive, hauntology. And this amounts in effect (and affect) to an alibi for mutating capitalism – where capitalism is ‘critiqued’ but only as an image-site for a new post-cinema. I think Harbord’s chapter does indeed want to say this, but doesn’t actually do so because it is stuck amongst three divergent angles: old Kracauer, shorn of materialism; affect, read critically, but not in all its implications; and Derrida’s supplement that could be better read through the essay on hyperbole in ‘Writing and Difference’]

    [The chapter’s last line etymology – contingency, from tangere = touch, does not clinch the argument; and Chambers Dictionary gives more: Contingency, from Latin contingentum = befall, happen, touch and contagion – which would have infected this affect stuff nicely! ]

    Good chapter. Glad I took time out to read it. The contagion across borders is the illness we need. We can catch it at the movies.


  4. Dear empyreans:

    I think John goes slightly offtopic in good directions, recovering old
    question and foreshadowing next ones. Let’s see..

    >my trouble with this definition, perhaps, is mainly that it leaves out the
    >audio – the surround sound of the cinema space. In so many ways the
    >city, and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure [John Hutnyk]

    But isn’t that something that essentially characterizes cinema – that,
    in a way, it always /leaves out the audio/? From the imperative that
    reins in the theatre to the red light in the door of any recording
    studio, everything means silence. Before the recording starts, the
    assistant director yells to remind us that there shouldn’t be any
    sound – any unplanned, unauthorized sound. Before the film starts, the
    screen asks us to turn off our mobiles.

    Cinema’s experience (in opposition to the television’s, for instance)
    seems by and large visually driven – an experience of the space
    abstracted as image. In fact, the sonorization of movies mostly
    contributed to the standardization of this visual experience, as well
    as of the social mechanism of cinema.

    Except in music videos and cartoons, the soundtrack seems always to
    exist in function of the image – recovering or creating certain
    dramatic qualities that the image alone can’t. As surround as it may
    be, the recorded sound is always superficial: it localizes us not in
    the theatre, but within the image. Isn’t it always a supplement?

    >I am deeply dissatisfied with the term soundscape and all this talk of
    >distance. The way metaphors of vision and geography dominate the
    >audio-visual. [John Hutnyk]

    But there is still geometry to acoustics and sound design. Besides the
    pure mathematics of it, sound is (perhaps more than images) physical:
    waves that rebound on walls, fade on distances and are absorbed by
    bodies. Maybe the problem is that our architecture (and urbanistics)
    became too visual: the autocad planning and the façade design took
    over the discipline. Maybe the problem is the way sound relates to
    space: it occupies it in a way that cannot be easily abstracted
    (therefore the inutility of the concept of soundscape?).

    >The escape of film, not of us – escaping from fixed, viewer
    >controlled (the view decodes and digests) contingency,
    >escape from the cinema hall… […] Contingency mutates as
    >film escapes from the cinema (DVD, stop, pause, rwd,
[John Hutnyk]

    yet, these new contingencies create new parameters, which are fixed in
    a certain level – either in the standardization of normal operations
    (why fast-forward but not upside-down, if both mean the same to the
    machine?), either in the use of new techniques to maintain global
    market strategies (DVD region-codes, for example). So, has film really

    >[can we say that film does not still fix – the close up, the
    >edit/juxtaposition – just as much as the stock market fixes
    >brand value via rumour [John Hutnyk]

    I think the point is that cinema (media) does not perform an absolute
    fixation, as it never did. Everything it fixes is relative to the
    process of mediation in some level. There must exist something to make
    the public cling to this process (affect? suspension of disbelief?).
    If movie is commoditized just as other merchandize, why is going to a
    première different from downloading a pirate copy before the movie’s

    empyre forum

  5. dear all:

    thank you for all these view points.
    I became interested in the absence of sound (and the moving body) in the discussion on screens and projective media
    and now i see John Hutnyk has raised this issue very well. But some thoughts, in your longer recent postings, perhaps can be looked at again,
    I am grappling with them,

    In so many ways the city, and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure>>

    I not sure where you locate “border” and what you mean by it? Are you implying that the border crossings apparatus (and you don’t mean airports, do you?) is a scripted film? a media architecture

    Is this the “media architecture” (now spatial location or design become metaphor?) or script that Ricardo Dominguez seeks to disturb, using, i quote, “>>multiple orientations of sonification – you can scroll down and see visual poems to be presented on the cellphones as one layer of the tools safety protocols for those crossing the Mexico/U.S. border – another element of border crossing sonification is part of the navigation>>

    How would this practice of helping immigrants (illegal border crossers or migrants? they all need to have cell phones, yes?) be connected to the “border documents” John Hutnyk mentions, when he speaks of:


    Can you tell us what you could possibly mean by “filming your way across”?

    I think the theoretical language here, political as it sounds, operates in a kind of Second Life. At the same time, the conflict issues you mention — migration, racism (profiling, the war of terror, security hysteria) and capital (economic restructuring, cultural economy etc) — are of course very real, and so are the prevention measures of your or my crossing some/certain borders [e.g, i hear, at the moment, between Australia and the UK, such crossings become diffiuclt regarding application for work visa).

    Were you thinking of the potential “ubiquity” of “witnesses” to protest against perceived injustice? as might have occurred during the recent unrest and uprising in Iran, when the video of the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan went onto YouTube (in everyday parlance that now means “around the world”) and then the song (“Khas o khashak”) appeared: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FPJNvKRy0E

    I am not I see any connection between the video trailers on YouTube and the claim:

    >In that sense, transporting cinematographic practices to open spaces
    disturbs both its particular architecture and the urban logic,
    allowing the dismantling of the apparatus and its renegotiation in
    more fluid forms.>

    It would seem to be always the opposite, under capitalist / global domination-diffusion systems, namely that the apparatus goes on, healthy and strong, and panoptic and postpanoptic (I have seen term used lately, but what would it refer t to — the online dimension of I post you you post me the nighbors post their cell phone video on youtube about what happens on their streets and everyone soon gets access to the CCTV system anyway so we can control one another?) systems perfect their mechanisms. Artists “negotiate” the apparatus, yes. I have heard this said, and believed its idealism a little bit, some time ago, and I also remember the border workshops of 20 years ago, down on the California/Mexico border; they also negotiated, would you agree, Ricardo. When you enter Texas, via the Río Bravo del Norte at night, there is little for you to negotiate. The musique concrete might be gunshots, police sirens, and dogs barking. A blinding light will be pointed at you.

    with regards

    Johannes Birringer
    director, DAP Lab
    School of Arts
    Brunel University

  6. Dear empyreans:

    Thanks John for the last week contributions! I still haven’t had news
    from Grazi, but I hope she appears in time for this last week. Our
    final round is dedicated to the definitive territory of any medium:
    its circuit. By that, we are referring to the whole set of cultural,
    social and economic macrostructures that constitute the medium most
    fundamental underpinnings. Good examples of such structures are the
    channels for film distribution, along with their regulations and

    The dislocation of an image naturally alters its meaning. The value of
    a symbol can be completely different depending on the cultural context
    it is seen. By approximating the way images are transported of the way
    they are constituted on the screen, video technologies have put into
    question the poetic results of distribution – how the structure of
    diffusion affect audiovisual languages and aesthetics. Artists such as
    Nam June Paik and David Hall have explored these characteristics in
    their works.

    Digital networks create even more complex imbrications between the
    visuals and their transmission all over the world, setting new forms
    of distributions, user agency and potential experiences. How are these
    possibilities being employed by artists (and companies!) nowadays? And
    how they might affect our very concepts of movie and cinema?


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