Something in the Interval

By Marina Vishmidt

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Interval (2), Confluence and Screening: Slade School of Art and Ciné Lumière, Friday 17 March – Saturday 18 March 2006


In The Brain Is the Screen, Gregory Flaxman proposes a Bergsonian ontology of the image to trouble habitual divides between matter and perception: “There cannot be a difference in kind but only a difference in degree”. Drawing on this principle as it plays out in Deleuze’s writing on film converts the brain into a screen in the sense of a “a filter that extracts itself from chaos. The screen is a form of relation, of interchange, of mutual synthesis between the brain and the universe...” The material and conceptual apparatus of the moving image becomes a rupture in thought, just as thought is already a rupture in the plane of immanence or the everyday.

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A Deleuze and cinema conference, bimodal as a day of presentations and a day of screenings (with the installations sited at the conference venue as yet another mode), was always going to be a showcase for the feints and rigours of articulating discourse with images that are themselves always already thinking. Or, the challenge of founding an effective disjuncture between the filmic image and the academy as machines for producing concepts. The event took on this challenge with gusto, managing to commingle but not domesticate the divergent projects of film theorists, cultural studies researchers, curators, artists, and the fluctuations among these terms.

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The participants, initially showing work and/or giving talks, were later rounded up into moderated panels. They comprised D.N. Rodowick, Nicole Hewitt, Ian White, Penny Florence, Stephen Connolly, Henry VIII’s Wives, Maria Walsh, Alan Goddard, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller and the convenor of the event, filmmaker and researcher Steven Eastwood, among others. The video pieces situated in adjacent spaces as projections or playing on monitors expanded on the discursive action of the symposium by featuring relevant work by participating artists, some of whom coincided with the list of presenters, and some which didn’t, like Francis Summers, Nicola Woodham or Karen Mirza & Brad Butler. The next day’s screening consisted of two programmes structured by a process of open submission that successfully blended venerable with recent practices and included work by Peter Tscherkassky, Emily Richardson, Victoria Fu and Ben Callaway. Mark Aerial Waller staged a fraction of La Societe des Amis de Judex, a 5-hour ‘ritual in transfigured time’ glued from TV’s Batman, the oneiric flicker of a 1916 French detective film cycle, a smoke machine and the faculty of wonder.

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Hindered, like most conferences, by a material abundance and a temporal deficit, nonetheless Interval (2) hosted some striking interventions. Questions that conjugated Deleuzian trajectories with contemporary moving image art marked a departure from most Deleuzian film theory as it’s deployed these days, taking as its exemplars mainstream product or the European post-war canon that Deleuze himself concentrated upon. There was also a recurrent emphasis on the subjectivity engendered in the making, as well as consuming, of a plurally-defined ‘film’, which, again, is a little different from how film theory is generally organised in its institutional redoubts, as well as pointing beyond the spectator-centred approach to cinematic praxis Deleuze develops in Cinema 1 and Cinema 2.

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Without sidelining the formidable and incisive analysis of the differential ontology of analogue and digital images in David Rodowick’s paper or the fascinating look at contemporary Australian cinema and the evocation of ‘a people to come’ in the nexus of colonial history and contemporary indigenous art in Michael Goddard’s, there was a lot of sophisticated theory being done by the film and video pieces themselves. The alterity of the image with respect to its mediations was elegantly thematised in Sophia Kosmaoglou’s talk Playing Dead – her talk was actually a video that juxtaposed her delivery of a paper on mimesis and death inside a TV monitor with sequences from the Hannibal Lecter genre film Manhunter. Henry VIII’s Wives’ triple-monitor installation Mr. Hysteria enjoined a sublime overlap between a Jeff Wall-like placid anomie and a training video scripted by Jenny Holzer. Henry VIII’s Wives favour a revolving tableau of two interlocutors in an institutional setting and the liberal use of black screen, with found dialogue recombined from different interviews and played back in concealed earpieces to the actors, who repeat what they hear, and who act in the places where they work – incidental persons reciting the oblique words of others. Oblique, perhaps, but laden with thwarted associations and bristling with sharp alienation reflexes.

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Alluding to their work as ‘sections cut from the possible’, the group of six filmmakers (hence the name) seem to construct perfect visual analogues to Deleuze’s discussion of ‘any-space-whatever’ as the topology of modernist cinema, the space of unmotivated cuts and congealed time, where thought receives the ‘shock’ of seeing itself onscreen. The tactic of shattering then recomposing everyday scenarios also maps on to ‘the powers of the false’, invoked by Deleuze as the ability of the cinematic image to estrange reality and transform perception to critique, as well as produce a counter-world that makes an incision in the habitual one. Eschewing the staged combats of reality television or an ironic documentary format, Henry VIII’s Wives seem intent on decomposing the image in the very key of irreality that pervades our relationship to institutions and to our working lives.

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“A work of art is a ‘machine’ constructed for the very purpose of producing sensation, and therein lies its privileged relationship to constructivism. Released from the prison of referentiality by sensation, thought turns to sensation to discover a model for its own construction of concepts”. Assuming permission to briefly transpose a conference, or a confluence, in the place of the work of art as above, what kind of a machine is it? It would be trivial to observe that it works best when it’s breaking down, another well-worn Deleuzian apothegm – but not irrelevant; it is the lacunae, points of drift or frustration that break the ground for oppositional thought, and maybe a renewed form of participation.

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And here another line of inquiry might try and figure ‘the difference in degree, not the difference in kind’ between a material discursive practice and a material visual practice in the special milieu of an discussion event that models thought on the work of art for its construction of concepts. Interval (2) had a panoramic scope, and perhaps would have benefited from extending its discussions by another week, but such a lament fetishises the event, in the Aristotelian spirit of the beginning containing the whole, ab ovo. It’s rather the incisions made and the directions that were indicated here – Deleuzian theory and filmmaking, the functionality of Deleuzian film-thought paradigms to current art and moving image debates, as well as an engrossing array of contemporary practice – which constitute the ‘take-away message’ and will hopefully inspire more innovative, practical-critical uses of Deleuze to come.


Images from the festival