Disclaimer: This account represents my personal interpretation/memory of what was said by the various speakers at the symposium. It may contain mishearings or spelling mistakes!
10.00 Official introductions:
– Professor Manuel José Damásio and Dr Paulo Viveiros (Universidade Lusófona) welcome everyone and introduce the Animation courses at Lusófona.
– Ecstatic Truth symposium organisers: Pedro Serrazina (Universidade Lusófona), Dr Tereza Stehlikova (University of Westminster), Dr Birgitta Hosea (University for the Creative Arts) give a brief account of the history of the symposium, the context of Werner Herzog’s statements about ecstatic truth and this year’s theme.
10.15 Keynote speaker: Susana de Sousa Dias (University of Lisbon)
Pedro introduces Susana by explaining that although she works with film, the processes that she uses of re-animating and manipulating archival footage are very close to animation.
Mugshots used in 48 (2009, Susana de Sousa Dias)
Susana’s work involves an archeology of knowledge. Through investigating archival footage, she seeks to uncover what really happened in Portugal during the years of dictatorship from 1926-74. But the archives are not a complete record. They represent documents created and collected by the authorities. Some actions by police like torture do not show up in the archives. So what is in there is the voice of the police, an archive of power, repression and censorship. Looking through the archives she doesn’t get the whole picture but is rather faced with a series of questions. What is an archive image, how to deal with what is absent? What is history, what are historical facts? What is documentary? What cinematic tools to use or invent? She is interested in how form shapes the content.
The history of cinema and photography goes hand in hand with a realistic paradigm, the notion that the photographic is proof of reality, is a form of evidence. This led to development of archives, news reels and a pact of belief with the viewer that is seen in the documentary. While cinema becomes an aesthetic system that focuses on narrative, documentary is predicated on this discourse that reality is visible and what is visible is, therefore, true. But is truth visible in these archives? She is not so concerned with superficial external images as uncovering memories and conflicting interpretations of those photographic image. In her film she interogates the archival footage through montage within the shot and decelerated movement. Her conception of history is influenced by Walter Benjamin – a fact of past is always a fact of memory.
NATUREZA MORTA (STILL LIFE), 2005, is one of her films that uses archive footage. Her initial idea was to tell a story about the dictatorship using images from the time, but the archival footage contained no oppositional voices. Looking at the images in depth on a Steenbeck, she held the material in her hands, could speed it up, slow it down, repeat. Within the images she found traces of disintegration of the messages that the regime wanted to portray. She is deanimating the image by stretching and altering the duration. Reframing the shots she is performing de-composition. She saw hundreds of hours of archive images, of which 12 minutes were chosen and expanded to last 72 minutes and, thus, she breaks the narrative threads intended in the historic footage, reinterprets it, questions the notion of one single truth. The process of decelerated movement opens up new interpretations.
In her next film 48 (2009), photographic mugshots taken by the authorities are used to tell stories of political prisoners of the Portuguese dictatorship. Although the people featured are from Portugal and its colonies, her intention is to raise issues more generally about authoritarian regimes. She interviewed survivors of torture who had been depicted in the photographs. Commenting on the historic photos of herself, one woman noticed details about her appearance, how much more dishevelled she was than normal and how she was tortured, those clothes she was wearing were used to clean the floor of excrement as part of the torturesL Each photograph is two dimensional. Simply shot with a white or black background. They have no movement. In the film voiceovers from the survivors give testimony about torture while the mugshots are shown in succession with no more than micro movements. The viewer finds themselves uncomfortably in the position of the photographer and the authorities, the perpetrators. She interviewed African political prisoners in Mozambique, but all the archive footage of them had been destroyed, so she used dark shots of landscape at night fading in and out to black, from surveillance footage with search lights taken by the Portuguese army during the colonial war to accompany these interviews. This footage is slowed down to 1% of the original.
In her approach to the archival material she works with, her intention is to create a space of thoughtfulness influenced by Ranciere’s notion of the pensive image, giving the viewer space to think. She works with discontinuities within continuity, mobility / immobility, reality/illusion. Her work raises two notions of temporal construction in moving image – cinema as reproduction of time or cinema as creation of time. These complex temporalities raise issues about history.
Q. Where did the sound come from in the first film shown?
A. No sound was recorded with the film, she used dialogue and, working with her brother, composed electro-acoustic music that is evocative and atmospheric
Q. Does she think of her work as a type of animation, manipulating the image?
A. She never thought of this before Pedro suggested this to her, but now, yes, this makes sense.
Q. When did she know to stop?
A. For her there is an articulation between the image and the word, she uses very long fade outs, she likes the after effect between images, the ghost that appears in the mind of the person.
Q. Did she use digital or optical methods?
A. She used digital.
Q. She has the idea she’s going deeper into an image, but as soon as the image slows down other ideas come in the mind of the viewer. Mainstream films nowadays are very fast and confusing, artists slowing down the image are changing the grammar: is that the same as going deeper? Artists films slowed down, shown as huge images in galleries.
A. She wanted to incorporate time to think for the viewer. She is not simply slowing down, but working with the continuity and sequencing, the vertical structure, the architecture of the film, issues of recognition and disrecognition, the structures of power
Q. With digital technology, can we now see more in the image? You can see more in the original film? Looking on a big screen you see details that are not in the original.
A. She says no, because she was able to work on an editing table looking at the original footage. At the moment she’s working with an album of scanned images.
BIO. Dr Susana Sousa Dias holds a PhD in Fine Arts/Video and an MPhil in Aesthetics and Art Philosophy. She studied Fine Arts-Painting, Cinema (National School of Theatre and Cinema) and Music (National Conservatory) in Portugal. She exhibited her works worlwide at film festivals, art exhibitions and venues such as Documenta 14 (2017), PhotoEspaña, Viennale, Sarajevo IFF, Visions du Réel, Pacific Film Archive, Harvard Film Archive, Arsenal Institut für Film- und Videokunst, Tabakalera, Museum of Contemporary Art of Ceará, etc.). She was guest artist at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, New York. She founded Kintop and was co-Director of the International Film Festival Doclisboa in 2012 and 2013 opening up new sections as Cinema of Urgency, Green Years and Passages (Documentary & Contemporary Art. She lectures at the Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Lisbon. Among her cinematic works are Natureza Morta (Atalanta Award Doclisboa 2006, Merit Prize Taiwain DFF), 48, Grand Prix Cinema du Réel 2010, FIPRESCI Award DokLeipzig 2010, Opus Bonum Award, among many others, Natureza Morta|Stilleben (3 channels installations, première at the National Museum of Contemporary Art of Lisbon) and Luz Obscura (Prix Spécial du Jury 2017, Les Rendez-vous de l’histoire, among other prizes).
11.15 Coffee break
11.30 Panel 1. Disputed Boundaries: Testimony, Memory and the Media
Patti Gaal-Holmes, ‘Grainy, blurry and out-of-focus’: into the frameless distance to the city of (no) memory
How can experimental excavations in ‘documentary’ filmmaking expose historical and aesthetic fissures, and spaces for ‘photofilmic’ engagements, existing between fact and confabulation? Patti presents a project that focuses on her father’s escape from Hungary in 1948. The project has a living nerve pend in the past that is brought into the future. Aware of the issue of nostalgia in dealing with family archives, she works towards a ‘critical nostalgia’ that responds to diverse political inflections. Her father swam across the Danube at night to escape, then took a train to Bratislava, then made his way across the border. This was his second escape, as he had previously been caught by Russian soldiers and sent back, ending up in a displaced persons camp in Austria. How can you document something for which there is no documentation, to convey the fissures and gaps of memory? There is no footage of this journey so she has been seeking traces. She has found his Belgian refugee papers, interviewed family, taken analogue and infrared footage of some of the locations.
Daido Moriyama’s ‘grainy, blurry and out-of-focus’ photography provides an otherworldly guide for investigating ephemeral spectres of history, travelling between past, present and future in a story of exile. Influences on her work:
- Daido Moriyama Farewell Photography (1972)
- Bill Morrison’s Decasia: The State of Decay, 2002, exploring the materiality of deteriorating archival images
- Peter Forgaçs, Hungarian media artist, Private Hungary series decontextualised home movies and attempts a new kind of film narrative with vacuums, mistakes and pauses.
- Penny Diopis, South African artist, uses archival footage from own family and family footage MY LOVELY DAY (1997).
None of these artists are making conventional documentary, but rather deconstructing history and complicating an understanding of the past. For Ranciere, fiction doesn’t necessarily oppose fact but can be used to identify the components used to construct history: the real has not vanished but has become a matter of enquiry. In her own work she searches for the residues and the ghosts of history.
BIO. Dr Patti Gaal‑Holmes (Arts University Bournemouth), is an artist/filmmaker and historian, Reviews Editor for Transnational Cinemas (Routledge) and Senior Lecturer in Film Production at Arts University Bournemouth. Works include the monograph, A History of 1970s Experimental Film: Britain’s Decade of Diversity(2015, Palgrave), and the experimental film Liliesleaf Farm Mayibuye: In Search of the Spectres of History (2016), screened at the 60th BFI Film Festival.
Romana Turina (Arts University Bournemouth), Silenced History in Film: The Stubborn Ecstatic Truth from Lunch with Family to Boris
With a reference to the emergence of the poetic through the use of stop-motion animation in two short essay films revealing the silenced history of the Slavs in the north-eastern part of present day Italy, Lunch with Family and San Sabba (Turina, 2016), this paper maps the irruption of the animated space in the project Boris (Turina, 2018), where the presence of an absence makes of a miniature a character, and the illusiveness of the past makes of animation the language where embracing the ecstatic truth means to release un-filmable reality.
Romana describes how she comes from Trieste, next to Slovenia and searching through the archives in Trieste, she found out by surprise her rown epressed family history of Slovenian ancestors. Her essay film uncovers a period of forced Italianisation of the people under the Fascist regime in Italy. Victoro Turina, her ancestor in the archive was referred to as a terrorist. She began to discover the history of a Slovenian underclass whose presence was suppressed. Post memory in this film is explored as inheritance of a traumatic familial history. The film establishes the background context through indexical archival materials such as and photography before using animation footage in the form of stop motion animation of a white room set used to express her own post memory. The set is examined and revealed as an illusion, just as the past has been deleted, generation after generation. The white room is a metaphor for what is there but not there, what is fake and what is real.
BIO. Romana Turina is a writer/filmmaker and historian, and Senior Lecturer in Screenwriting at Arts University Bournemouth. Recent works include the essays films, Lunch with Family (2016) and San Sabba (2016) shortlisted at the AHRC Research in Film Awards and Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards. http://film.britishcouncil.org/lunch-with-family, http://film.britishcouncil.org/san-sabba
George Barber (University for the Creative Arts), The Poetic and Conflict: The Freestone Drone
George Barber proposes that the poetic is more effective at bringing to life what really happens in war and conflict than the documentary or broadcast news approach. To illustrate he will show extracts from the Mindset Suite, a collection of his recent work on IEDs, Drones, War, amputation, ecology and the anthropocene. His new works use a lot of computer animation.
[Photo by Tereza Stehlikova]
In our current times we are almost permanently at war. Through the four essay films he has made about trauma and war, George wants to propose the poetic as a form for taking in contemporary politics at a deeper level. Watching the news colonises our imagination and desensitises us. Often war is presented in a comic book type situation with stories about drone operators shown as former gamers, distanced from the act of killing, operating at a remote and virtual level. Everything about war comes from the news. It’s addictive and forms our experience of the subject. What becomes lost is the metaphor, the poetic. Other forms of complex ideologies come to us in the form of metaphor. For example, religious texts are written in a poetic register: the poetic helps us to understand complexity. The poetic helps emotional articulation and involves the body. Ultimately, life is a dialogue with ourselves, our own interpretations of the world. The news shuts down dialogue. The commentators play on and manipulate emotions. On the other hand, metaphors universalise. Great metaphors transcend individual circumstances, bring us together in identifying our own circumstances with that metaphor and, therefore, connect our experience. The role of the imagination, is to provide a way for us to place ourself in another’s shoes. Comparing poems and news media – could it be said that the poetic is difficult to understand and the news is unambiguous and clear? However, the poetic gives time to think and an emotional weight, it defies the over simplification of complexity.
In his film The Freestone Drone, techniques of estrangement and humour are used to question accepted notions of war shown through archival footage. Mocking the construction of a children’s story, the construction of narratives and, indeed, the construction of dominant narratives of reality as shown on the news, the film questions the nature of reality.
BIO. Professor George Barber is a well-established moving-image artist. His works have been shown at many international festivals, competitions, galleries, been broadcast on television and awarded major prizes and grants. In 2018 he had work at the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, Haroon Mirza curates the Arts Council Collection, Group Show entitled ‘We stared at the Moon from the centre of the Sun’: In 2015, he had three solo shows: Young Projects Los Angeles, Waterside Contemporary, London, and Chapter Arts, Cardiff. He had a film showing at the London Film Festival in 2016, ‘Dude Down’ and ‘Akula Dream’ showed in last year’s festival as well as at Oberhausen in 2016. He has had work shown at Kate Macgarry Gallery, The Whitechapel Gallery, Split Film Festival, Croatia, BFI Southbank, Royal Academy, Tate Britain, and Victoria & Albert Museum. He has also had retrospectives at the ICA, and Dundee Contemporary Arts.
12.15 Q&A chaired by Pedro Serrazina
The papers presented so far have all involved responses to the archive, to history and employed different strategies to uncover gaps in historical documentation – the point of view of the unrepresented, victims of torture and oppression, the point of view of a drone. From the personal and familial (Patti/Romana), the archival researcher (Susanna), to the artistic approach that is concerned with a poetics and a politics of representation, all are different approaches to uncover a ‘truth’ from the partially written records of history. Each tries to question or to rewrite history when is impossible to uncover the ‘true’ history, when closure is impossible and there is no one definitive ‘true’ version of events.
One questioner asked George what his film was about, revealing a desire for a straightforward and easily digestible narrative thread as opposed to opening out problematics, ambiguity and questions about the construction of reality.
1.45 Keynote speaker: José Miguel Ribeiro in conversation with Paulo Viveiros
BIO. José Miguel Ribeiro (1966, Amadora, Portugal) is a film director, an illustrator and a teacher. In 1995, his film A Suspeita (25 ‘) was awarded several prizes, including the Cartoon D’Or 2000. In 2012, José Miguel Ribeiro founded, together with Ana Carina Estróia, the production company “Praça Filmes”, in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal. In recent years he has made the television series for children titled As Coisas lá de Casa (Home things), and the short animated films Passeio de Domingo (Sunday Drive), Viagem a Cabo Verde (Journey to Cape Verde) and Estilhaços (Fragments). The latter was selected for competition at the 2016 Locarno Film Festival and received the best documentary film award at Clermont- Ferrand in 2017. He is currently developing the feature animation film Nayola, with a script by Virgílio Almeida, based on the original theatre play A Caixa Preta, by José Eduardo Agualusa and Mia Couto.
PV: An excerpt from his last film Fragments is screened. This shows a personal point of view on the Portuguese colonial wars. An animation that won the Best Documentary award at Clermont Ferrand, it wasn’t originally framed as a documentary. Why should this film be considered as a documentary when it wasn’t intended as that?
JMR. It was a personal story about himself and his father. He used to live in a military neighbourhood and play with other army kids. The film is exploring a normality in his own life. The Portuguese short film agency framed it as a ducumentary and submitted it on his behalf.
PV. His previous film, Voyage to Cape Verde, is about a personal journey with his own voice as a narrator and yet this film is not considered as a documentary?
JMR. He made this film like a journal, doing lots of drawings as this is his way of experiencing and recording reality, he wanted to express the changes he felt inside. With Fragments, the story of the US soldiers who went to Vietnam is very familiar, but people are not so familiar with history of Portugal. 1974 marked the end of dictatorship and the beginning of democracy and ending of colonialism. A complete change in the country, so that those military who returned from the colonies returned to a different country. This is something that has not been spoken about. Those soldiers felt they has lost a part of their youth for nothing – the country didn’t want to know what they had done, kept it all quiet. This was his Father’s generation – he wanted to bring a voice to them, to be a part of the story of Portugal, although it became personal, about his father and himself.
PV. For his new animated feature film, José has been researching in colonial archives about Angola. He plans to mix archival footage and animation. Is animation not enough? Does a documentary need to involve photography?
JMR. Painting and drawing can be deeper than photography, but when you show a film to an audience, cutting in a live action image into an animated sequence causes an explosion, feels aggressive, an intervention. For him, mixing 2D and stop motion and archival footage shows different approaches to reality. He develops a film through a process, is always changing, not totally planned in advance. He likes to be provocative, working with different techniques allows him to construct a different body with different realities.
PV. Will the new film be a documentary? Is he working with external events?
JMR. He doesn’t like these labels, is just working with material that involves reality. He likes to experience new ways of doing things and experiment,
PV. But animation is hard. Needs to be prepared and planned in advance?
JMR. Maybe that’s why he likes to cut in live action, gives him more flexibility. The animatic is the most creative stage for him. He takes found images from the web and cuts in his own drawings.
Questions from the audience:
Q. What makes a documentary – is it the intention, is it the editing? Why do we have to use these labels? The clash between live action and animation disorientates the illusion, the imagined world.
A. José explains his use of different techniques. We are used to certain codes, the more we question them the more we can open our minds to different ways of showing the world. We shouldn’t keep to a code of staying all in animation.
Q. Good to explore, keep it open.
Q. How does he do the research? Interviews / photos?
A. He’s reading Angolan writers, hearing their narratives. Has visited Angola a couple of times and will go and stay in a village for a month. Influence of a book by Svetlana Alexievic about how women experienced war in Soviet Union, The Unwomanly Face of War. The book shows how different their experience of war is to men. The book is full of interviews with not much of her own voice. It won the Nobel prize. For example, a woman who was dressing wounds on battlefields, she was small and some men were big, but she knew from their weight if they were dead or not. So he wants to put the perspective of women in the next film.
Q. How did the story of his father effect him, did it change how he saw his father?
A. Of course, like other soldiers’ children his father would often talk about war. It effected the whole family, but these stories aren’t normally told, rather kept in boxes inside.
2.25 Panel 2. Making Sense: The Politics of Portrayal
Yijing Wang (Central Saint Martins), Ethnographic Animation: Participatory Design with the Longhorn Miao
This research argues animation can be used as an innovative form of ethnographic documentary. Firstly, post-colonialism in ethnographic documentary will be discussed; and then a use of representational strategies for presenting minorities’ customs from their own perspective will be illustrated. Finally, principles of participatory design will also be addressed.
Following Edward Said’s Orientalism, post-colonialist ideas began to influence Western academic disciplines such as anthropology. This had an effect on ethnographic filmmakers working in live action, who started to work with much greater participation from the subjects portrayed. In films such as Born into Brothels and Chinese Take Away, the subjects portrayed are given cameras to capture and express their own reality.
Her own research focuses on the Longhorn Miao people, who live in a remote mountainous region of China and represent one of China’s indigenous minority communities. Tourists have started to come to the region, so now some of their traditional culture is prepared like a performance for those tourists. This has resulted in a misunderstanding of the traditional culture.
In her book Animated Documentary, Annabelle Honess Roe defines three key uses of animated documentary as evocative, non-mimetic and mimetic substitution. Yijing’s own use of animation in documentary is evocative, so that people can experience the world through the subjective view of the Longhorn Miao. To create the animation, Yijing is working with 10 local art students who have interviewed their elders and she is teaching them animation and how to make their own designs move. Thus, through the process of making an animated film, she combines her own observational drawings with the work of the Longhorn Miao people themselves. This process combines the emic and the etic, in other words, the outsider’s view of an insider group and the perspective of the insiders themselves. This production process is taken from participatory design, a technique used in industrial design to work with the end users of a design in the development of that design. In the project, she herself has provided animation skills and a structure for the ethnographic fieldwork. The way she worked with the participation of the villagers was in two groups. Group 1 – students who are interviewers, designers and animators. Group 2 – consultancy panel of villagers who give feedback on work-in-progress.
BIO: Yijing Wang is a PhD candidate in Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. She earned her undergraduate degree at Central Academy of Fine Arts, China (2013) and MA at CSM, UAL (2015). Since her BA course, she had been working on several projects on Chinese minority themed animation. Currently, her PhD research uses animation as a form of ethnographic documentary, exploring animation’s potential to document the underrepresented cultures of minorities. Drawing on new approaches to animated documentary and preliminary studies of the Longhorn Miao, she is preparing an animated documentary with this group, to test animation as an innovative form of ethnographic documentary. https://jeanwang.weebly.com/hmongb-rongx.html
Joan Ashworth (Independent Artist), Portable culture: animation in Stories in Transit (SiT) refugee project, Palermo, Italy
In Stories in Transit, Marina Warner, mythographer asks: Can culture and specifically storytelling provide shelter for people who have lost their homes? Artists writers and musicians were brought together by Warner and to devise workshops. One such workshop was in Animation.
Believing in the power of storytelling and that stories are better outside of the body, Warner used part of some literary prize money she’d been awarded to set up the Stories in Transit project. Addressing the experience of refugees in European camps, the project looks at the immaterial needs of refugees once their immediate material needs have been temporarily met. In a state of trauma and transition, many children have missed their schooling at a time when their minds are in a state of plasticity and lack positive creative outlets. Warner’s original idea was to create a story box that could be taken around camps. A team of creatives working on the project contributed ideas. There was an influence of Nina Sabnani’s research and Lotte Reininger work in silhouettes for materials to use in case there is no electricity. Once the structure was in place, they went out to meet the displaced people. Many of the people they worked with had no papers and therefore no rights. Although they were traumatised, there was psychological support available.
[Photo by Tereza Stehlikova]
The project in Palermo started with a statue that represented a local mythological character – the genius of Palermo. The refugee children went through the streets sketching different statues of this character and then made maps of the city, my Palermo. They also looked at Archimoboldo to make images from spices. Most refugees were boys who were more open than the girls who were particularly noisy and disruptive, lacking in concentration. The project workers recognised that the girls could have experienced more trauma than the boys. Taking a story written by one of the boys, they then cut out characters with the intention to get them animated as stop motion cutouts. However, it was hard to get the participants to engage.
Warner asserts the importance of getting people to make new stories, to construct a new dreaming forward, to imagine a new future. Putting their cut-out characters into time, the images bring to mind the future. The participants all have mobile phones and have been given stop motion apps. The team are going back in September and will exhibit the final images in the Puppet Museum in Palermo and the Hayward in London. The UN has started to respond to the idea of the immaterial as part of human rights, that we need to think about migrants rights to education and creativity.
BIO: Joan Ashworth is an artist/ filmmaker/ independent scholar whose animated films explore women’s rights, meadow swimming, fantasy and mermaids. Ashworth’s background includes commissioned titles, commercials and graphic identities for cinema and TV and collaborative medical research projects such as CHILDSPLA: http://childspla.lshtm.ac.uk/about-the-project/ and Animation Therapy. 1994- 2015, Ashworth led the renowned MA Animation at the RCA. She lectures internationally on Filmmaking, Animation and Writing: Publication: bit.ly/1J1K9Eh. Ashworth is a participant in Stories in Transit, initiated by Marina Warner to address refugees right to a life of the mind. http://storiesintransit.org/workshops/aprilworkshops/. Ashworth studied at the National Film and Television School and co-founded 3 Peach Animation where she directed many commissions including opening titles for Tim Burton’s Batman 1. Ashworth later co-founded Seed Fold Films making How Mermaids Breed and Mushroom Thief. joanashworth.com/films. Ashworth is in production of a documentary on Sylvia Pankhurst, suffragette and artist. locatingsylviapankhurst.com/
2.55 Q&A chaired by Birgitta Hosea
[Photo by Tereza Stehlikova]
Q. From the morning’s papers which looked at working with archives to uncover the gaps in the representation of the past, these two papers looked at using the participation of others to create animation collaboratively about their own unique cultural experience. Both projects gave the gift of learning how to animate to the participants. Will either group go on to study Animation as a profession?
JA. The project left behind stop motion apps, as all participants have mobile phones. They hope they will continue, but it’s early days and they are in transit and traumatised.
YW. Working with the local college, she has given classes, engaged students as designers and animation assistants and left behind some software for them. The participants had never made their batik drawings move before and she very much hopes that after they have all finished working on the animation, the students will continue to use animation to record their own experiences.
3.15 Coffee break
3.30 Panel 3. Between Fantasy and Fact: Technological Simulation and the Real
Melissa Ferrari (CalArts), Intersections of Science, Myth, and Phantasmagoria: Using Experimental Animated Documentary and Magic Lantern to Excavate Nonfiction within Cryptozoology
Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience that intrinsically exists between fantasy and fact. This presentation provides an overview of Melissa’s practice in using experimental animated documentary, magic lantern lecture, and phantasmagoria to illuminate the implications of belief, politics, and wonder in skeptical cryptozoology. The role of CG animated documentary in visualizing cryptozoological nonfiction media will be examined.
Melissa explains the field of cryptozoology, the study of creatures that haven’t been proven to exist based on unsubstantiated folklore. Documentaries in support of this pseudo science use doctored footage of creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster as a form of evidence. These hoax videos with doctored photography actually feature on accredited channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet, whose brands as channels rely on their showing actuality, real footage not faked news. Mermaids: The New Evidence was all faked and aired on Animal Planet. These faked documentaries lessen the truth claims of these channels, who chase ratings rather than the ‘truth’. These faked animated documentaries use CG animation, which has become the language of science. What then are the ethics of the animator whose work supports a lie? This is a big issue in the USA where steadfast beliefs in anti-science natprratives, irrational beliefs and religion are privileged over fact.
Her film Phototaxis (2017) is based on interviews from Narcotics Anonymous with people have thought they’ve seen the Moth Man. Narcotics Anonymous, is also pseudo scientific, is proven to have low success rates. Influenced by the history of the role of the Magic Lantern as part of lectures that publicised science and Phantasmagoria shown as debunking of illusion and superstition with a tension between sceptics and believers, she has been doing performances with magic lanterns to show fantastic, cryotozoological creatures in connection with animated documentary.
BIO: Melissa Ferrari is an experimental animation artist, documentary filmmaker, and scholar. In her practice, she seeks to unveil the mystery and wonder that lies in the shadow of nonfiction, rather than fiction. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts (’19). Her films have been shown internationally in venues such as the Ottawa International Animation Festival, Slamdance Film Festival, and Black Maria Film Festival. Previously, she worked as an animation artist at Dusty Studio in New York City, where her nonfiction animations were featured in The New York Times Op-Docs, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Nautilus, TED Talks and PBS. Melissa received a BA in Philosophy from Tufts University where she focused on the philosophy of experimental documentary and a BFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Chantal Poch (Pompeu Fabra University), “And the Earth was Without Form”: Generated Images in Terence Malick’s Voyage of Time
This presentation will explore the role of visual effects in the documentary Voyage of Time, which not only puts the latest technology into the search for the oldest images we can think about, those of our origin, but also chooses to do so more through wonder than factual truth.
Voyage of Time is a scientific documentary for iMax that uses CGI to explain science. Malick’s grandiloquent direction is a result of a 40 year process of development working with VFX experts. Dinosaurs have an important role in CGI, a link between the future and the past, a recreation of the prehistoric. The film relies upon extensive scientist consultation. But how can it be a documentary when there is no real reference? It’s part of a commercial turn towards spectacle in documentary. In stories of wonder – like the BBC’s Blue Planet, we are presented with experience not interviews or testimonies. How is the wonder in this film constructed? There is a contrast with footage of ordinary people shown in everyday urban life and fantastic imagery. There is wonder at the atmosphere that surrounds the earth – seen in traditions of science fiction like 2001 A Space Odessy. Images generated by computer are used to evoke an ecstatic truth. The film ends with children playing in an urban situation Different constructions of the truth are employed: one is about measureable objectivity and the other is about wonder and immersive experience.
BIO: Chantal Poch holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Audiovisual Communication (Pompeu Fabra University, 2015) and a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Film and Audiovisual Studies (Pompeu Fabra University, 2016), during which she worked as a teaching assistant and wrote her Master’s Thesis “To climb a mountain: Werner Herzog and Bergfilm”. For her PhD she is focusing on the nostalgic quest for a sacred lost origin in the works of Andrei Tarkovski, Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick within the Center for Aesthetic Research on Audiovisual Media at the same university. She has recently published in the monograph “El cuerpo erótico de la actriz bajo los fascismos. España, Italia, Alemania (1939-1945)” (Cátedra, 2018) and spoken at the International Meeting O Cinema e as Outras Artes (Universidade da Beira Interior, 2017) and at the Doing Women’s Film and Television History IV (University of Southampton, 2018). She combines her research with poetic activity.
Katerina Athanasopoulou (Plymouth University), The (un)peeling of the Truth, aletheia and catharsis: poetics, pathos and empathy
How can we use Virtual Reality and animation to create experiences that encourage doctors to be more attuned to patients? Reflections on Katarina’s current doctoral research in VR in healthcare training, looking at concepts that intersect medicine, philosophy and art, such as ‘theatre’, ‘ecstasis’ and ‘catharsis’.
[Photo by Tereza Stehlikova]
Katerina explains that her practice is CGI animated documentary. She is currently undertaking a PhD where she is based in a performance department. It deals with the affective affordances of VR interactive documentaries within healthcare training and whether doctors can be taught whether to be more empathic towards patients through VR.
So often animated documentaries start with the voice, relying on a vocal narrative soundtrack. Interestingly, just telling a traumatic story starts the healing process, even if it is to a recorder. Herzog talks about the word aletheia, the Greek word for the truth and it’s roots which come from the not-hidden, the revealed. Catharsis is a process in drama whereby the spectator identifies with the character and experiences a cleansing release through empathy with their story. It was this sense of emotional identification that Brecht sought to do away with in his theatre. She has also been looking at Anne Friedberg’s 6 precepts of cinema spectatorship, Brenda Laurel’s idea of computer as theatre that is based upon Aristotle and Peggy Phelan’s idea that the ontology of performance is that it can only be in the present, here and now and cannot be reproduced. In considering these ideas she has become more critical about the concept of VR as an empathy machine. VR is theatre with the audience set in a spatial context and the spectator also partially a director of the experience. 3D animated VR allows you to explore space peripatically by moving around. In VR you also become an unexpected performer, moving around in front of others waiting their turn.
[Photo by Tereza Stehlikova]
In her film Branches of Life, 2016, a Wellcome project to create portraits of the organs, she creates an internal environment then travels round it like a cinematographer. To create this animation she was present at an operation with a woman who had lung cancer. Anatomical theatres of the past and operating theatres of the present are also sites of performance. They have so many parallels with the theatre – costumes are donned, doctors are in the starring role with curtains to reveal or conceal.
She is currently in an early stage of her research. Following a visit to see a staging of Cheek by Jowl’s Pericles, she built the space in Unity then used mo cap to animate characters within it.
BIO: Katerina Athanasopoulou is a Greek-born artist living in London who creates animated films for cinema and gallery space. She studied Fine Art at Aristotle University in Greece and graduated with an MA Animation from the RCA in 2002. Her films have been shown internationally at film festivals and galleries, including Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, Thessaloniki Biennale 5, Holland Animation Film Festival, European Media Art Festival, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb. Katerina is currently a 3D3 doctoral student within Plymouth University, researching the affective affordances of VR animated documentaries within healthcare training.
4.15 Q&A chaired by Tereza Stehlikova
Q. The three papers are all in a dialogue with the poetry of science.
K says poetry is a resistance to dying, is related to performance, is about making patterns in the chao. With Herzog his poetry comes from editing, but in VR it’s more about sculpture and performance.
M. The history of science shows a history of the romanticism of facts – science has not always been ‘factual’. There is a worry nowadays about fake news and anti-science.
Q. Perhaps there is a fear of poetry as it’s not measureable or quantifiable.
Q. Do doctors have empathy? If so, how can they then cut people?
A. K thinks they need to be more attuned. Concept of philotemo rather than empathy – it’s about honour.
Q. Is the VR training more general or for particular pathologies?
A. K says ethics committees take years to approve research proposals. More likely she’ll work with patients.
Q. Do people believe the crypto documentary programmes?
A. M says yes – they’re on Animal Planet, a reputable channel.
Q. Should we ethically be participating in making fake science programmes?
A. M explains the implications are that these techniques could also be used for climate change scepticism, race hate ideologies etc.
Q. How can you curate or experience VR as a group? It is experienced alone, despite being an empathy machine.
A. K says we read books on our own. Also what about differently abled people – set ups in galleries are primarily for able bodied people.
Q. Books and films are more accessible to people. Will VR ever take on?
A. K says maybe it will be more like arcades and peep shows. Maybe it will never fully catch on.
4.45 Coffee break
5.00 Keynote speaker: Joan Fontcuberta: The Decay of Lying and Veroficition practices
BIO: Joan Fontcuberta was born in 1955 in Barcelona, where he lives and works. With nearly four decades of prolific dedication to photography, he has developed a both artistic and theoretical work which focuses on the conflicts between nature, technology, photography and truth. He has done solo shows at New York MoMA, Chicago Art Institute, Valencia IVAM, London Science Museum among others, and his work has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), San Francisco MoMA, National Gallery of Art (Ottawa), Folkwang Museum (Essen), Musée National d’Art Contemporain – Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), MACBA (Barcelona), MNCARS (Madrid) MEP (Paris) and others.
PV introduces JF as a contemporary artist using photography to question the truth and our belief in images and the credibility of institutions to tell the truth.
JF comments on the current immersive global scene in which we are experiencing World Cup football together. He shows a shot from a sports magazine about a football match and how it used a doctored picture to question the decision of the referee, but the picture was proven to be faked. After complaints, the newspaper’s excuse was that it was digital mistake, an error – however anyone who uses Photoshop knows that cloning someone out of a picture and moving the position of someone else is a complex process with a number of clicks. It couldn’t simply be just a mistake. Football now commonly uses a Virtual Assistant Referee with an examination of footage from many angles. Seen from a panopticon position everything will be seen and there is no more subjective judgement: technology replaces the authority of the referees judgement. Before the daguerreotype all images were made by hand, by the body, since photography we delegate to the machine, because we are not part of that machine we have the idea of its objectivity. There is a distinction raised here between the forensic and the detective – the forensic provides evidences, the detective provides a model of what happened. The referee is like a detective. Does the VAR show facts? Or does the interpretation of it by the referee create the facts?
Football has a social and political dimension. For Miguel Calderon’s film Mexico v. Brazil (2004), he requested copies of all 32 matches between Mexico and Brazil, in which Brazil usually won and in all those matches Mexico only scored a total 17 goals. He then re-edited it so Mexico seemed to win 17-0 and recreated the audio track with a professional sports commentator. The video is 90 mins long and seems like an official video. Calderon showed it to an unsuspecting audience in a cafe as an unofficial match and they believed it.
This is an example of what JF calls veroficition – a mixture of fiction and veracity. The screen is a platform to articulate our view of reality. Totalitarian regimes are the masters of doctored photos . He shows examples of Stalin photos with people removed – one by one four characters are cut out in successive versions of the photograph as the people in it fall out of political favour. The phrase ‘decay of lying’ in the talk’s title is taken from an essay by Oscar Wilde who says the good lier is the artist, the bad lier is the politician. Verification is used in both political activism and artistic strategy and questions the very notion of the truth. Verofiction hides its illusory nature until it is unmasked. Lies underlie the fake news today – don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
[Photo by Tereza Stehlikova]
His own strategy of faking news is designed to infiltrate the news. His project Deconstructing Bin Laden (2007) uses a parody of news media. He was commissioned to do a piece for a magazine and wanted to use this to question the truth of journalism, so he invented a middle eastern photo agency and constructed a story about a fake investigation of a so called terrorist mastermind. This character was played by himself and placed into Al Yazira photos and footage with Osama Bin Laden. In the story this character is revealed as a bit part actor who had starred in adverts and a minor rom com. But actually it was him. Circulated on the internet, some of these stories were taken for real. His intention was not to trick or deceive but to expose the mechanism of manipulation. The pictures were clearly fake – they include one of an impossible stunt – him standing on a donkey on one leg. However, a Spanish newspaper used one of his images for real. JF also made some fake newspapers, written in Arabic, showing his character in doctored pictures. In the text he says it’s doctored, but most Europeans can’t read the Arabic. The text also includes couscous recipes. He was fascinated by the way Bin Laden became a scapegoat, the face of global terrorism. Since the fall of communism a new enemy had to be created and given a face, an archetypal villain. He shows a series of images that compare the construction of images of Bin Laden with issues images of the Middle Rastern cartoon baddy from Disney’s Aladdin. Bin Laden was a Hollywood baddie orchestrated to boost the ratings and stimulate a boost in arms spending, post capitalism.
[Photo by Tereza Stehlikova]
The media representation of Obama’s spectacular hunt for public enemy number 1 was a fascinating case study. An official press photo of Obama and Hilary Clinton with military chiefs watching a live feed of the operation to liquidate Bin Laden, all with serious intent faces, was publically circulated. This photo is carefully selected, a particular visual representation. In the official film version, ZERO DARK THIRTY – THE GREATEST MANHUNT IN HISTORY, directed by Catherine Bigelow, we are not shown a documentary but a controlled account in which we we are supposed to trust the highest official story. As details of the operation came out, this official account was shown to be a hoax. The seriously ill terrorist leader was already in custody by the Pakistanis. The CIA etc didn’t uncover his position. His whereabouts didn’t come from torture, but a Pakistani official who was bribed to give up the location. There were no heroic deeds, no Navy Seals busting in. Bin Laden wasn’t dropped into the ocean, his body was totally ripped apart by bullets. He shows two CGI constructions of the myth of the Bin Laden capture from news channels. They share the aesthetic of video games to recreate missing images from the operation. Lots of fake images of Bin Laden’s body circulated. To generate an aged version of Bin Laden to try to capture him, they used pictures of a communist leader from Spain.
JF concludes that his work in photography is in dialogue with photojournalism, to undermine and deconstruct the authority of the image. For him this is all about anti-authoritarian, anti-institution. He started doing this kind of work nondigitally as a critique of news media. He thinks this kind of work has even more relevance in a digital world. He introduces viruses, like a vaccination, to introduce doubt through hoax to provoke criticism and scepticism about the information we receive.
6.00 Q&A/Closing discussion chaired by Paulo Viveiros
Q. What does he think about 9-11? Building came down too neatly? Hiroshima buildings were obliterated very differently.
A. JF says we need to critically review all information we receive. Reality is never as simple as it is presented. The perception of the fact recreates the fact.
Q. Who is the watchdog? What about the fatigue of the public in debunking the news? IN looking for the truth?
A. This makes him think of 1984 and Brave New World, two social models – in the former censorship, violence and repression and citizens can only access certain information, in the latter people are happy and submissive to power through being manipulated by pleasure so they don’t care about the truth. So where are we now? We need to create some resistance. We image makers have a responsibility, to infiltrate, to hack the news that we receive, as artists as teachers we have responsibility for the creation of the iconic landscape.
Q. This critical approach of transgression – where does it take is?
A. He has been teaching all his life and his paternalistic impulse pervades his artwork. His work is intended like weapons to shake the viewer’s conscience.
Q. Is the truth nowadays tied in with algorithms and big data?
A. He agreed. Perhaps today to find out the truth you ask Google.
6.30 Drinks and informal discussion. Close.