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Follow up on rapport from Visible Evidence

By Henrik Gustafsson on 26.08.2011 (00:00).

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Here is an overdue follow up to Øyvind's rapport from Visible Evidence in NYC last week. My final conference day came to trail a remarkably consistent series of panels on documentary space, beginning with a morning session entitled "Contemplative Geographies" which discussed the displacing effects of landscape in auteurist documentaries like Torossian's Stone Time Touch, Sokurov's A Humble Life, and Herzog's Lessons of Darkness. In the following panel - "Case Studies in Global Documentary and Political Modernism" - Yuriko Furuhata analyzed the potential for foregrounding space in relation to the Japanese concept ofFûkeiron. Literally translating as "landscape theory," Fûkeironwas originally a manifesto for a cycle of leftwing films in the late sixties and early seventies which approached landscape as the embodiment of state power. Exemplified by Masao Adachi's AKA: Serial Killer (1969), Furuhata showed how this mode of filmmaking turned away from the readily recognizable figures of authoritative power to scrutinize instead the management of the everyday as evidenced in eventless, quotidian spaces.

A workshop on "Documentary's Haunted Spaces" brought the conference to a close. Moving from the familiar examples of S21and Night and Fog, where the dark and damaged spaces of the former prison and camp readily materialize haunting, Jennifer Malkowski case in point was the Golden Gate Bridge, a site she described as stubbornly resistant to haunting. Discussing various attempts to commemorate suicide jumpers, Malkowski analyzed how documentary can be an agent of haunting, rather than just a chronicler of it. To my mind, the discussion that followed got mired into Roland Barthes canonical proposition of haunting as a property of every photograph. As the presentations themselves had exemplified, it seems more productive to consider haunting in the active tense, in terms of agency and social practice, rather than as a fixed ontology.

On my way to JFK the following day, I stopped in Brooklyn to visit artist/photographer Mikael Levin in his new studio. I have previously written about Levin's photo-essay War Story. The book retraces a journey undertaken fifty years earlier by the photographer's father, war correspondent Meyer Levin, who travelled with the allied forces from Paris to Prague during the final days of the Second World War. Thus, War Story offers a particularly potent example of the topics that had been addressed the previous day. Haunted spaces have also been a persistent theme in Levin's more recent work - I strongly recommend checking out this rich oeuvre at: www.mikaellevin.com

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