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Rewriting memory

Florian Schneider

The anthology Politics of Memory aims to investigate the document as such, as an objective trace left by events, as material proof or the creation of reality – the strategies with which they transform a state of memory into state memory, those by means of which a historical removal is enacted, those, ultimately, in which there is an attempt to challenge permanent or temporary amnesia, opening up to the future. The artists and filmmakers contributing to this publication represent the most advanced area on an international scale of a research that inaugurates a new relationship between artistic practices and the documentary.

The artists’ contributions have been collected within the context of a cycle of conferences held between 2010 and 2013 and are re-presented here in a format aimed at highlighting their connections and common research perspectives. To this end, the volume is articulated in four sections and does not follow the chronological order of the conferences. The first section is dedicated to archival practices, the second to the memory of conflicts, the third to the documentary dispositive and the last to the representation of migration as a social practice and as the enactment of breaching boundaries.

Edited by Marco Scotini and Elisabetta Galasso

Contributions by John Akomfrah, Eric Baudelaire, Ursula Biemann, Harun Farocki, Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, Khaled Jarrar, Lamia Joreige, Gintaras Makarevičius, Angela Melitopoulos,Deimantas Narkevičius, Lisl Ponger, Florian Schneider, Eyal Sivan, Hito Steyerl, Jean-Marie Teno, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Mohanad Yaqubi and Reem Shilleh

Rewriting memory
Florian Schneider

"The history of art is the struggle between all optical experiences, invented spaces, and representations." (Carl Einstein)

"We remember nothing, we only rewrite memory" in his film "Sans Soleil" Chris Marker made an extraordinary statement. Here I think lies the new potential of an open source and documentary approach towards the challenges of the political that are connected to collective intelligence and collective imagination: How to shape and develop technologies of a self that would be capable of rewriting history, since maybe we finally might have had enough of all sorts of fabricated fiction that reduce and limit complex realities towards more or less paranoid plots and universally exchangeable narratives?


The backdrop to much of the recent debates on the relation between art and politics is a an erosion of art's utopian horizon, upon which its power to generate counter-concepts was based. Art's power lay in the ability to imagine things differently, in the rejection of the given, and in the subversion and transgression of the boundaries of a disciplinary modernity and its hegemonic rationality.

Under the parameters of the disciplinary regime, the utopian imagination was fueled by ideas and practices of transgression, subversion and unbounding, based on the ideas of an "outside", a "beyond" and progression. These ideas gave shape to an entire economy of the imaginary, in which creative imagination and the ideas of an emancipatory politics were fused.

With the rise of what has been called cognitive capitalism and the society of control, in which the creative imagination and the modulation of the imaginary are put to the service as productive force and resource, the dialectics of affirmation and negation and the parameters of critique are subjected to tectonic shifts.

This effects a crisis in the economy of imagination itself, in the very ability to imagine things differently. Today, the static boundaries against which a dissident imagination was shaped, are on the move, subjected to management, calculation and evaluation, giving rise to novel configurations of power, in which the imaginations power to negotiate the limits of the possible is itself at stake.

What will be the production of vision that is emerging out of the current crisis?

A production of vision that is based on the opposite experience: rather than fragmentation, alienation and disconnectendness it is the experience of networked control, monitoring in real-time and performance of a charismatic self...

In a society of control, imagination seems to become almost equal to the power to make an image. We can experience two different modes of image production: pre-emptive and anticipatory imagery.

Pre-emptive images postulate a contimuum, the anticipatory mode implies a rupture between what is present and future events. The pre-emptive mode relates to a fabrication of fiction, while anticipation attempts a defense of the real that is crossed out.


What is the political?

Politics is the art of creating a political body: in its very essence it
is the art of properly placing objects and subjects. It is the knowledge where things or (increasingly important) persons are situated, identifying their places and establishing an order by separation, segregation, classification and organization. The properness of the resulting order appears as organic. Its appropriateness resonates the fact that the knowledge of situations has been appropriated and turned into the key property of power.

Thus modern politics have emerged as strategies of inclusion and exclusion: regimes that are disciplinating an individual, restricting its freedom of movement, arresting it at a specific place for a certain amount of time.

The political, in the return, appears as a line of flight, it is all about escaping an established order of politics: refusal, secession, migration, exodus. The political is the becoming minoritarian, it is the resistance against the knowledge of power that renders subject and object as identifiable and therefore calculable within a spatio-temporal domain, that renders them functional within the apparatus of industrial production.

Over the past decades we have been experiencing how the paradigm of discipline, how the very idea of inclusion and exclusion, how politics have undergone dramatic shifts: rather than placement it is about localization, rather than identification politics require the performance of a charismatic self in real-time.

What is then political? What could constitute a refusal of politics as we know them, what could characterize resistance against power as we experience it today?

The act of resistance has two sides: It is human struggle, ranging from from Bartlebys micropolitical "I would prefer not to" to simple insights that there is always a way out, no matter how desparate a situation may seem. The semiotic machines of becoming minor, that in reverse engineering mode generate the great myths of exodus, are essential for survival. It is resistance against death. It is a sign of life.

But resistance is also the act of art. Art is resistance against communication. It is resistance against the sharing of opinions, the exchange of everything that is made exchangeable and the communication of communicability. It is resistance against the esthetication of participatory politics and the user-generated fabrication of fiction.

Resistance becomes politics as soon as it is made public. But it becomes political as a production of reality, an augmentation of reality through the production of vision of a different kind. It is a transformation of how we see, rather than what we see.

It is a defense of the real that is crossed out. In that respect, there are no politics, but everything is virtually political.

It is an act of speech and it is the making of an image, but what is audible and what is visible is no longer in sync, but in permanent crisis:

- What is at stake is the very capacity to make an image. Todays crisis of imagination poses the question of property: Whose images? Whose fictions? Who is producing them and who is owning them? What does it mean to own an image?

- "Uns trägt kein Volk, aber wir suchen ein Volk." Art is made for a people who are missing. "A people" needs to be invoked rather than represented or addressed, let alone actively involved, since the people no longer exist, or not yet...

- What matters in art as well as in life is the collaborative restructuring of social facts, the making of world, rather than mirroring and re-affirming the the existing order and the prevailing values as well as their meanings:


The documentary mode is characterized by a very peculiar relationship
to the unexpected, unforeseeable and uncalculable. This is what still
distinguishes it from fiction, which is ruled by the idea of
pre-emption, by fabricating a narrative before the project actually
takes place and aligning the respective images in advance.

The documentary is anticipatory. Its anticipatory character is in
radical opposition to the former assumption that documentary films were
boring. It rejects the idea of presupposing a possible reaction by the
spectator and therefore has to refuse also the notion of interactivity
that is based on offering a choice. In documentary there is no
determination and there is no choice.

Documentary projects are realized after the event. They do not happen
while shooting, but while editing. Their place of birth is the editing
room. The core notion of the documentary refers to an artificial
re-composition of a past event, but in a way that it will return in the
future and in newly created relationships to yet unknown witnesses who
will be enabled to account for that creation, and not the event itself.

The network appears as a redundant array that documents any possible move. It logs and captures, records and stores any interaction between subject and object. Its reality is documented before it comes into place, let alone a matter of criticism.

Against this backdrop, documentary film is fighting a losing battle. As soon as a clip, sequence or entire video is uploaded, its content exists only in relation to a an already foreseen activity that is going to be computed and therefore documented anyway.

A mode of the documentary that is characterized by:

- the emancipation of the documentary from its carrier medium

- a very peculiar relationship to the unexpected, unforeseeable and uncalculable. the documentary filmmaker is mostly occupied with waiting. Waiting for something to happen that cannot be calculated.

- The digitization of film has triggered a complete redefinition of editing: rather than cutting into the material by splicing the film stock, different streams of data are connected and disconnected, joint and separated in a way that is only affecting the metadata, as opposed to the material itself.

- The mode of the documentary as we know it has always emerged out of a desire and its technical realization to get out of the hermetic spaces of the studios and into the streets, capturing public life, appropriating a reality that would exist independently from the filmmaking. The streets of the documentary today are on the net.

- the documentary as a space that reconstructs past by anticipating a future event that is open, and without emptying its possible meaning and reducing it to a set of possible options.


Facing the advent of new technologies that will revolutionioze the production of moving images on the web (HTML5) a wide range of new possibilities opens up to radically re-think conventional filmmaking.

The esthetics of these new possibilities are radically experimental. It requires reflections on the formal conditions of contemporary image making:

1. Relationship between the legible and illegible

As soon as film is brought "online", there is a seemingly irresistible tendency to entirely reduce the image to what is readable. In the realm of the digital and under the conditions of the network the illegible parts that used to constitute the image are endangered by extinction: everything is supposed to become legible and decipherable, in order to be searched and found, categorized, indexed or tagged, and in the last instance subject to an algorithm.

In the end, this means the death of film. Instead we need to look forward to the unreadable, illegible and therefore unforeseeable. For instance, we need to develop creative relationships between tags and images rather than descriptive ones. We have to to learn to welcome what is not calculable.

2. Exploring an "absolute" out-of-field

The re-invention of the documentary will take place out of the field, and not inside the frame. Networked environments allow filmmakers to work with sources that are not ultimately captured in the original process of shooting.

The potential of the network is that of an absolute "hors-champ": something that is not visible and not understandable but perfectly present. The absolute out-of-the-field of the networked environment demands a passage from the one to the many-voiced: text streams, for example, that do not just translate what is said but add voices that are not visible and not audible.

3. De-cadrage

The result is a substantial and permanent destabilization, renegotiation and reorganization of the frame. There is no escape into full-screen mode. On the contrary, the content of the image is constantly fleeing a proper framing, crossing the border of the picture, in order to make itself common with alien information, unrelated events or inappropriate flows. Under these circumstances there is no chance to re-adjust the frame, there is no possible re-cadrage. De-cadrage is the absolute condition of the networked image, it constitutes its freedom of movement.

4. A-synchronization

In the last instance, we have to give up one of the main virtues of analogue film-making: the retrospect synchronization of the movement of the image with additional flows, most notably sound. Finally we are irrevocably out of sync. This is opening up to the great potentials of an untimeliness that might be capable to overcome the enslavery of the sound by the image, the commodification of the sense through the plot, and last but not least, the self-humiliation of the alienated spectator.

5. Discontinuity

Current online aesthetics are mainly characterized by weaving every item into a mesh of similarities and connotations -- also known as tagging or "customers who bought this item also bought..."

It is supposed to appease us in view of the arbitrary and hallucinatory aspect of networked realities. It reintroduces the mechanisms of a conventional reality that reduces complexity and heterogeneity to concepts and terminologies that are based on sameness, identity and similarity. In doing so, it destroys any aspect of form that is non-repetitive.

"Classical representation creates a continuous space in which objects and persons are arranged as discontinuous entities" (Didi-Huberman)

To rescue us from the swindle of monotonous reality based on the repitition of the same we have to figure out what could constitute on the contrary, a notion of networking that is based on disjunctions rather than conjunctions, rupture rather than continuity: an algorithm that produces dissimilarity rather than similarity, difference rather than sameness, multiplicity rather than identity.

6. Transvisuality

Aesthetical experiments with the networked character of production will come along with a transformation of vision, of the laws of vision that determine how we see a world that has become a networked space.

They need to explore a new field that i would suggest to call with Carl Einstein "transvisual". It operates in the void of a gap that opens up between what is real and imaginary, what is conceivable and inconceivable, what is visible and what not.

The transvisual is what is beyond optical experience. In certain ways it marks the opposite of the unconcsious. How can we see the network? Or better: what would be networked seeing?

Einstein suggested a radical transformation of vision based on "the hegemony of the inner life over the outer life", facing the "abyss of inner experience" and subsequently leading to the "final disintegration of the I in the creative act".

Contemporary positivism of a world that is paralysed by networking technologies needs to be rejected by a new kind of verticality.

In both, contemporary production and esthetics, there is nothing less at stake than the relationship between subject and object in a new experience of networked spaces.

Finally, the challenge is about how to re-acquire a somehow stable and clear view or visualization of a world that has undergone dramatic changes due to the stunning experiences of an acceleration on various different global scales.

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