Universo vídeo. An image of the World in Motion

Alfredo Aracil


In the mid nineteenth century physics demonstrated for the first time the image’s strange ability to describe duration, in other words, to register motion and the change a body undergoes from one state to another. Later on, in the following century, thanks to montage, which is to say cutting and pasting fragments one after another, the immobility of a handful of separate time segments—frames—was harnessed to transform film from a set of heterogeneous actions into a complex system able to function as a meaningful unit. Today the moving image is still probably the only way of graphically expressing the unfolding of events. And not just that, given that it also enables them to be stored and deployed over and over again, in a quasi-magical exercise that turned the past into present, and where the passing of time is an optical effect, an illusion.

La huella, by Tatiana Fuentes Sadowski, operates like a kind of foreword that locates us face to face with the primary state of being of any image. In this film, a series of black and white archive photos bring to life the memory of the social trauma in Peru over past decades. Walter Benjamin was one of the first to establish the connection between the photo and crime. When speaking about the space contained in Atget’s images, the German philosopher was unable to stop thinking about the scene of a crime. And so the film bears witness to the ungraspable and traumatic nature of a series of events whose psychic repercussions still linger today: torture, assassinations and kidnappings are brought back to the current moment from the semantic limbo they haunted, by means of photos that act as evidence, or put another way, as the referent of what once was real. That said, the images comprising La huella also underscore absence, what is no longer there. It strikes one as paradoxical that the image does not change and that, despite the deterioration of the support, its meaning remains intact. One often hears it claimed that time destroys memory. Nonetheless, it is also true that time puts up a fight against disappearance: a limit or a threshold through which we can catch a glimpse of ghosts, or perhaps hear the offstage voice that keeps us company throughout the film.

First film and then video have made constant use of old photos that linger in the notion of the past from where they are rescued by the narrator of the moment. It is no accident that the camera’s ability to record an image forces it to place it in a time line, highlighting a series of events that break with the continuity of the everyday. To a certain extent, the earthquakes of Fukushima and L’Aquila also manage to break this routine. Elevated to the category of global events, both tragedies left an aftermath of ruins and homeless. After the quake and the destruction, life was (not) brought to a standstill. Yabuki-machi and The Mutability of All Things and the Possibility of Changing Some, by Mitsuaki Saito and by Anna Marziano respectively, endeavour to recount not only the validity of the past or its tendency to vanish, but the drive that gets history and time moving over and over again. In short, both films, through the testimony of survivors, are looking for proof of the irreversibility of time. As such, without presenting any image of the catastrophe itself, the earthquake is still to the fore, lingering between the news of a past time and the tragic efforts of man to maintain things unchanged.

Having arrived at this point, it takes very little to draw a line to one of the basic ideas that led to the birth of the moving image at the end of the nineteenth century: the idea of retinal persistence, namely, what lingers and facilitates change. We should bear in mind the way in which an image remains on the retina for a tenth of a second before disappearing, making it possible to see an uninterrupted sequence of images. A persistence that underscores the importance of duration and waiting, that is to say, from the moment between registering a sensation and the subsequent response. For instance, Visites by Clement Cogitore explores the narration of a mysterious event of which very little is disclosed. An event following a car accident. A woman falls to the roadside after a few stumbling steps. She seems wounded. She raises her hands to her head. The angle of vision opens up. We see a dented car. In this way, the starting point completely conditions the ensuing development of the narrative. Without falling back at any time on the use of the word, the images seem to float in the ambiguity of someone who is unsuccessfully trying to remember. The forms are blurred. The main character in the piece becomes the perfect metaphor for all spectators. Convention has it that seeing is in fact the same as remembering. As time or life passes by, with memory as a kind of rudder, we try to gain insights. All exercise in perception is based on the relationship between memory and present experience: an occasion to return to the past.

And also an occasion to describe, record and store the body of the other. In other words, to confront, assimilate and stop fearing the unknown. Visual anthropology flourished during the opening years of the twentieth century. Thanks to film, ethnographers captured in images their fascination for traces and for detained time or, put another way, for savages who lived on the sidelines of history. Voyage En La Terre Autrement Dite, by Laura Huertas Millan, recovers the typical methods of those early anthropologists who were still explorers and travellers. Having said that, to travel to the tropics now there is hardly any need to leave home at all. Adventure has been replaced by tourism. The jungle is a place in a film or, at most, a botanical garden to be visited on Sunday afternoon.

And then there is chance. For a long time we believed that chance was an uncontrollable force, like stopping motion, what revokes the normativity of law. It turns out that, in truth, chance is no more than the regularity or the raison d’être of all systems. In Vide pour l’amour the director, Vimukthi Jayasundara, seems to be celebrating not only the freedom of love, of bodies, but the very act of filming. The structure of the piece runs against the spectator’s constant attempt to understand and tie up loose threads, to find a meaning. Jean-Luc Godard rightly pointed out that the final impressionists were the Lumière brothers. Vimukthi Jayasundara gives himself over to the pleasure of filming in the same way that Cézanne’s and Monet’s landscapes seemed to be painted almost by themselves, almost freehand, eschewing any canon. We now know that this is far from the truth. There is no more rigid structure than the absence of structure.

Modernism constantly strove to domesticate chance. One only has to look back at the rise of statistics during the nineteenth century. A certain desire to give form, to structure, is the true driving engine of modernism: when a throw of the dice will never abolish chance. In Naufrage, Clorinde Durand dilates time to build a kind of choreography, a mise en scène that João Pedro Rodrigues takes to its ultimate consequences in Matin de la Saint Antoine, towards a machine-like and repetitive quality of reality. The film shows how narrative domesticates time. In it, real time, as experienced by the spectator, is equated with the time of the film. The continuity, achieved through an inch-perfect mise en scène, demonstrates film’s and video’s fascination for motion, which is, after all, what constructs its primary specificity, its radical difference with photography or painting.