Impressed by the direct cinema of Albert Maysles, Richard Leacock, and D. A. Pennebaker, Klaus Wildenhahn (1930–2018) translated their methods to the West German context. Starting in the early 1960s and spanning several decades, Wildenhahn was employed by the public broadcasting channel Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), where he worked both as a documentary filmmaker and commissioning editor. In the Summer of 1968, he spent time in New York filming Harlem Theater, portraying Robert Macbeth and his New Lafayette Theater group, contextualizing it in Harlem and the Black community (including a speech by Bobby Seale) after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In October 1968, Wildenhahn became a lecturer at the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB), where he was an important protagonist providing stability after the crisis of the film school in late 1968. He also organized the “Wochenschau” (Newsreel) group modeled after Dziga Vertov’s revolutionary news programs. It is most likely in this context, documented in the collective film Wochenschau 2 (1969), that Wildenhahn and Skip Norman—who directed his thesis film, Strange Fruit, in 1969—met. A material trace of their acquaintance is Norman’s post-DFFB film On Africa (1970), where Wildenhahn participated as one of the voice-over narrators. A print of Harlem Theater was found in 2018 and the film had its US premiere, first at UnionDocs (UNDO) in Brooklyn, then (in December 2018) at the Maysles Documentary Center.
December 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / Contexts
A word on “post-truth” by postcolonial and photography scholar Zahid R. Chauhary (from his 2020 essay “The Politics of Exposure: Truth after Post-Facts”): “So perhaps it is not simply that truth acts (such as whistleblowing) expose what we already know, but that the place of knowledge in an atmosphere of fetishistic disavowal lends such disavowal a libidinal frisson. In cynical reasoning, truth actually matters a great deal because acting in spite of it is what endows the action with its distinctive fetishistic pleasure.”
October 26th, 2021
In its last issue 155, Camera Austria published a review by Sabine Weier of the HaFI booklet Harun Farocki: Hard Selling. Reframed by Elske Rosenfeld.
October 26th, 2021
Lauren Berlant, the brilliant theorist of “cruel optimism” and related issues, died of a rare form of cancer on June 28. The following, devastatingly optimistic quote is from a 2016 essay on the commons as “infrastructures for troubling times,” part of a book that they worked on with the typically double-edged title On the Inconvenience of Other People: “What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation and that, at the same time, hold out the prospect of a world worth attaching to that’s something other than an old hope’s bitter echo. A failed episode is not evidence that the project was in error. By definition, the common forms of life are always going through a phase, as infrastructures will.”
Some basics from the Strike MoMA site: “Campaigns, actions, and letters chip away at the regime’s facade from the outside. Inside, every time workers organize, defy the boss, care for a coworker, disrespect secrecy, or enact other forms of subversion, cracks are created in the core. Cracking and chipping, chipping and cracking. As the walls that artificially separate the museum from the world collapse, we reorient away from the institution and come together to make plans. Let us strike in all the ways possible to exit from the terms of the museum so we can set our own.”
Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”
Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”
Sara Ahmed on the performativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”
November 7th, 2020