I have been viewing many interesting film and media works by contemporary artists and filmmakers while attending the Flaherty Seminar at Colgate University in upstate New York. Three artists representing a cross section of the work presented at the Flaherty Seminar—and offering three different positions on form—will be at MoMA to discuss their work during a special Modern Mondays event on Monday, June 23, in conjunction with the film exhibition Flaherty at MoMA: Turning the Inside Out.
The engaging and gracious Duncan Campbell (b.1972, Dublin, Ireland), who lives and works in Glasgow, was nominated for the 2014 Turner Prize for his installation It for Others, which was included in Scotland + Venice at the 55th Venice Biennale. (The results will be announced on December 1.) Campbell is noted for his films, which reflect on provocative personalities in history and how they are represented. To that end, he interweaves archival and found material with new material and often fuses documentary and fiction to assess subject matter and modes of communication.
It for Others exists as an installation and a film, and is a response to the Chris Marker/Alain Resnais essay film Statues Also Die (1953), which looks at the affects of colonization on how African art is perceived, removed from its original source, and commodified—and, according to the position of the film, is thus rendered “lifeless” by Western culture. Campbell’s piece spins off from the original film and incorporates contemporary references to the banal, basing some of its images on a staged Stephen Shore photograph and on anthropomorphic perfume bottles. At the Seminar, Campbell related that when the Musee de L’Homme would not give him the rights to photograph the objects in Statues Also Die, it ended up leading him to some creative alternatives: he instead collected some examples of African sculpture from Ebay and had others recreated by a sculptor. Campbell considers the art objects in the film as a point from which to further explore the use and exchange value of art objects today through a beautifully executed new dance work by Michael Clarke. The installation also touches upon the labor theory of value.
Campbell’s earlier films in the program involve formal investigations of how identities are constructed: Bernadette (2008), about the Irish dissident and political activist Bernadette Devlin; Make It New John, (2009) a look at American car engineer John DeLorean and the workers of his ill-fated Belfast plant; Arbeit (2011), an examination of the buildup to Europe’s current financial breakdown in areas such as Westphalia; and Falls Burns Malone Fiddles (2004), a portrait of youth in poor neighborhoods of Belfast.
Shuddhabrata Sengupta is a highly articulate media artist with a deep interest in and understanding of etymology. He is a founding member of the Raqs Media Collective (pronounced “rux”), started in 1992 in New Delhi by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Sengupta. Raqs is also involved with the Sarai program at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, an initiative they co-founded in 2000, and which is widely respected for its platform for research on the transformation of urban space and contemporary realities. The Raqs Media Collective makes contemporary art and film, using media, sculpture, writing, and performance as a means to broaden dialogue on contemporary culture in India and global cultures and movements. The members of the collective engage in contemporary art as artists and curators with a philosophical bent.
Their films are essayistic and open-ended, less like films and more like poetic ruminations on a range of interwoven subjects. The Capital of Accumulation (2010) is a video diptych about cities, capitalism, and the turbulent history of the 20th century, and Strikes at Time (2011) is an installation that fuses a worker’s diary with an eerie apocalyptic city at night and Jacques Ranciere’s The Nights of Labor. Shuddha explains that the unique approach and form of the collective’s works grew from necessity—as trained filmmakers they needed to make more individualized artwork in a country with a dominant popular film industry. The name of the group evolved from the idea of a whirling Dervish, and is also a play on the English acronym “Rarely Asked Questions.”
Shaina Anand is a deeply thoughtful and engaging founding member of CAMP, a collaborative studio founded in Bombay in 2007 by Anand, Sanjay Bhangar, and Ashok Sukumaran and based in Chuim Village. CAMP, initially an acronym for Critical Art and Media Practice, is an ever-evolving rhizomatic name: Conversations Around Missing Philosophies, Culture According to My People, etc..
CAMP is distinct from Raqs Media Collective, but shares the latter’s interests in alternative expressions of the history, life, and contemporary concerns of India and the world at large. CAMP expansively combines art and non-art, film and video, a range of software technologies, and open-access archives with theory. They work on long-term, complex projects that evolve on multiple platforms, slowly maturing into their final form. Fascinating examples include Act II: Hum Logos (2012), presented as a video projection of white text against a black background. The soundtrack is made up of audio transcripts of government-tapped phone conversations of a corporate lobbyist that, once leaked to the public, raised debate on their authenticity, which have been edited by CAMP to reflect the myriad possibilities of their meaning and veracity. CAMP’s recent popular work, From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf (2013) is a feature-length film, four years in the making, created in dialogue with seafarers working on handmade, unwieldy cargo boats in Gujarat, Sindh, Pakistan, southern Iran, and northern Somalia. The sailors recorded parts of their own journeys on cell phone videos and DV cameras.
CAMP are co-initiators of several unique and important online archives including pad ma, which includes a Shared Footage Group of videos gathered from multiple sources that comprehensively document events—elements of which, over time, become part of their films. During the June 23 Modern Mondays event, Anand will talk about these dynamic archives and how they are incorporated into the group’s working process.
My recent week at Flaherty, filled with non-stop film screenings, discussions, and conversations—fueled by many meals, ice cream breaks, and coffee—with the over 150 academics, filmmakers, and programmers in attendance truly was “turning the inside out” of contemporary art practice in the realms of experience, dreams, essay, philosophy, film, media, digital technologies, and installation.