Edge of Visual Narrative
7 – 10 February 2011
Venue: Max Mueller Bhavan and India International Centre
“They (the work of art) are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.”
–Walter Benjamin (1936)
Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” develops his own contribution to the theory of art. Right at the preface, he states the purpose of his essay is to examine the revolutionary potential in the politics of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. The body of the essay stresses on the loss of “aura” of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction and celebrates this especially in the mediums of photography and film. This loss of “aura” is essential for Benjamin, for it indicates a shift in the total function of art. He says that the work of art.
“Instead of being based on ritual, (it) begins to be based on another practice – politics”
Thus, art for art’s sake is rejected in the favor of an artistic purpose that is inextricably linked with political struggles of the time. This withering of the aura is especially linked to two developments in film, one the new relationship between the film especially of the actor and the audience, and two, the mass nature of film medium. Both these developments allow the film medium to become a potential revolutionary medium. The distinctions that are normally considered important in art are blurred and often exploded in the medium of film. Thus, for Benjamin, the most revolutionary contribution of film is “the promotion of a revolutionary criticism of traditional concepts of art”.
The independent documentary film movement (also other independent art movements) across the world today seems to embody this “revolutionary” potential that Benjamin is so excited and hopeful about. These documentary films and filmmakers set out not only explore subject matters that are otherwise sidelined in grander narratives of progress and development, but they also choose to experiment with the formal aesthetics of the form itself thus rescuing it from the tag of objectivism and social realism and opening it up to a variety of possibilities that are politically nuanced and formally open-ended. Political cinema does not necessarily only mean cinema that deals with political issues, but also cinemas that make political choices, both formally and in their subject matter. The political documentary film today, extends this notion of the politics of art.
This year, the 4th edition of Persistence Resistance: A festival of contemporary political films brings together 80 odd films that celebrate this diversity of documentary cinema across the world today. Collaborating with international documentary festival bodies like the Dok Leipzig, London International Documentary Festival, the Sheffield Doc/Fest, Unifem amongst others, Persistence Resistance 2011 is seeking to create a space where the varied political nature of this form can be displayed and debated.
Over the last four years, Persistence Resistance has also engaged with another crucial political question-that concerning the space of exhibition and the spectator’s participation. Marcel Duchamp in 1957 at Session on the Creative Act; Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas, says
“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.”
Drawing from this, the project of Persistence Resistance 2011 (as it has been for the last three years) is to allow the spectator to occupy a central position by opening up the cinema viewing space for her/him. The films, images and interactions will move fluidly between spaces, from the inside to the outside, between times and between ideas. The spectator is invited not simply to view but to engage, argue, articulate and to eventually participate. Thus, alongside with auditorium screenings, the festival will also, as always, screen films in simulated video parlors, in a multi hub video library and hold night screenings in the open.
The 2011 edition of festival will screen the new films that have been added to our collection at Under Construction and will also include special packages as well as retrospectives. Films will include both the pioneers and early masters of the documentary film in India and elsewhere, as also showcase the emerging talents of different film and design schools in India. As always, the aim is to celebrate the documentary form, its unique aesthetics, its possibilities and most of all its politics.
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in
Richard Kazi, “Benjamin’s Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no 15, pp 23-25, 1977.