Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland
Rising phoenix-like from the ashes of Geneva’s former Biennale of the Moving Image (which was inaugurated as the Semaine Internationale de Vidéo in 1985), ‘Image-Mouvement’ (I-M) takes its parent’s focus on the moving image forward, both into new times and a new sense of time. I-M, we are told, is neither a biennale nor a festival, but an open and potentially endless platform. After the saturation of festivals and biennales that Katya Garcia-Anton (director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva and curator of I-M) sees as having engulfed the art world for the last 20-plus years, I-M is to develop a ‘corpus of knowledge’ and simultaneously provide a ‘platform for experimentation’.
After the biennale, the platform; so, after the work, the project. Within the shelter of I-M’s umbrella, we find various forums, cycles and salons, within which are further works that often have some sort of curatorial aspect to them. Petra Bauer and Dan Kidner have arranged three decades of radical and independent film journals in a kind of round-table of objects, in dialogue with videos screens displaying actions and interventions by radical women’s film co-ops from the 1970s onwards (including The London Women’s Film Group and the Berwick Street Film Collective). Elsewhere, Pascale Knoerr and Christophe Billeter (of the Cinema Spoutnik group) have gathered documentaries to showcase an alternative vision of the Beat poets, focusing in particular on the marginalized figure of Herbert Huncke (the star of Burroughs’ 1953 debut, Junkie). Ayreen Anastas, Francois Bucher and Rene Gabri present ‘Under the Pavement’, their ‘first essay’ on Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s 1960 experiment in cinéma verité, Chronique d’un été. Jan Peter Hammer’s The Anarchist Banker (2010) re-stages Fernando Pessoa’s eponymous short story in light of the financial crisis, now that it is clear the true anarchists – intent on dismantling the rule of states – are the financiers and the corporations themselves, as Pessoa prophesied on the eve of the Great Depression.
All of these works look back in some way upon the works of the past, revisiting former critiques and enlivening them for today. Even Azucena Rodriguez’s film Cultura contra la impunidad (‘Culture Against Impunity’, 2010), which casts such luminaries as Pedro Almodóvar and Javier Barden in a series of impossible confessions (‘I’m kidnapped, tortured and killed. They bury me in a field’) in remembrance of 15 innocent victims of Franco’s Nationalists, arbitrarily executed during the Spanish Civil War. Their deaths were hushed up for decades, victims of an era which valued silence over remembrance. The art of today thus stages the return of that which was repressed, both politically and aesthetically, in the last century – the return of memory itself.
I-M thus reverses Gilles Deleuze’s movement-image as generator of the new to become a repository of things past, even while that sense of history is sometimes the future history of science fiction. Uriel Orlow’s film, Remnants of the Future (2010) explores the discarded landscape of Mush, a brutalist concrete housing project in northwest Armenia. The building of Mush was begun in 1988 in order to house the displaced victims of an earthquake; with the fall of communism in 1991, construction was never completed, its buildings left hollow and overgrown. Following in the footsteps of Vahram Aghasyan’s Ghost City (2005) photography project, Remnants of the Future tours the unfinished city to a soundtrack built from the sound of dying stars, as its residents set about the extempore process of trying to make the estate somehow liveable, using whatever found and discarded materials are left lying around. As the film comes to an end, an alien voice interrupts the soundtrack: ‘I am an emissary from the future,’ it intones, before telling us how much communist architecture is treasured in 2191. ‘From the future,’ it concludes, ‘the past is like the palm of our hands.’ These words find their compliment in the opening lines of Otolith I, a historiographical film-essay in the form of a sci-fi movie. ‘For us, there is no memory without image,’ explains the fictional granddaughter of the Otolith Group’s Anjalika Sagar, bound to a life in space and experiencing Earth’s culture only through old videos – ‘no image without memory’.
The benevolent spirit who hangs over I-M is that of Aby Warburg. The German theorist began this process of archiving our collective visual memory in 1924 with his sprawling Mnemosyne Atlas – a ‘ghost story for adults’, as he put it. Composed of postcards, newspaper cuttings and other visual ephemera, the Atlas was organized on black cloth-bound wooden panels, not by date or alphabetical order, but an esoteric system of ‘elective affinities’. It gives its name to one of the major strands of I-M, and its spirit hangs over the whole enterprise – just as it hangs over Tumblr blogs, Wiki projects, and the HTML code by which we navigate the web. Relocated from its native Germany to London, four years after Warburg’s death, in order to escape the Nazis, the Mnemosyne Atlas now faces what could prove to be a more decisively fatal foe – the swingeing cuts of the current Tory administration.
More, perhaps, than Deleuze, the silent partner behind I-M is Jacques Derrida, for whom every archive is at once both ‘institutive and conservative. Revolutionary and traditional.’ There is a sense with a lot of the work here that it risks breaking out of the walls of the gallery and taking to the streets. Consideration of the embeddedness of contemporary politics in the moving image is a persistent concern. In introducing their forum for the Museum of Non-Participation, British artist Brad Butler of no.w.here, distinguishes three types of event: those which would happen with or without the camera; events which are changed by the presence of the camera; and events specifically choreographed for the camera. What perhaps distinguishes the current protests against cuts in the UK from pervious forms of political action is a precise awareness of the subtle interplay between these three species, and the different tactics necessary for each. Platforms like I-M are not just recording the death throes of the old civilisation, they actively prepare for its overthrow. The archive entails, in Derrida’s words, ‘a movement of the promise and of the future no less than of recording the past.’