Then and Now

By Louis Benassi

A subjective rhetoric, a transient ‘group’ and the challenging impossibility of the definitive gaze


‘Groups’: what are they? We could seek the answer in the archives of cultural history. Join the dots, draw a map or plot the arc. ‘Groups’ form to express a common ideal. To critique, relate collective opinions, manifest cultural actions. Self-facilitating? From local issues and social concern groups, to political workshops, art labs and film societies. Not to mention ‘Terror’.

How many ‘contemporary ‘film/art groups’ have the verve of the ‘historical avant gardes’ or are politicized cultural field workers? The ‘group’ tends to be a by-product of trouble, reactions to injustice, socio-trauma and the endless cycle of war – the deadliest of all expenditures – with its visual sophistication of deception, filtered down in to today’s semiology of stupefaction. We neutralize ourselves as ‘normo-paths’, a sopophoric state of pacified trouble. Some artists stupidly re-shape war’s ghastly imagery and capitalistic media in a fit of liberal sensationalism.

Digressions aside. The cold war is over; the West has a new enemy. Thus balance is maintained. This is our landscape. This is ‘Pravda’.


Think of a Dadaist, a Situationist, a Punk Rocker; something seems familiar here. It must be their direct lineage to each other as ‘groups’, all disenfranchised. Think of the socio-political environment of their time. The ‘paradigm’ of this brief note is ‘then and now’, a loose context for the idea of ‘group’. To reiterate. It is the aforementioned aggravations, in a problematic topography of fragmented demographics that has, in the passed, and should, in the present, bring forth ‘group’ reaction = action.

2008. Our culture is one of Post-Thatcherite individualism. We should work against individualism, yet re-work its etymology counter to homogenization – like a Diogenes – implementing a ‘Socratic’ impulse to address distorted individuality. It could be a paranoiac risk. It is not the generosity of an idealistic madman, or a holy fool, but a convivial invitation to dialectical interaction. Maybe, concluding with a collaborative manifestation set in a conscious reclamation of time and space.

“The form of social space is encounter, assembly, simultaneity; social space implies actual or potential assembly at a single point or around that point.” – Henri Lefebvre, from The Production of Space (1974)


A space captured, found or commandeered by a ‘group’ for an alternative cultural gathering to view marginalized, experimental and / or political film, symbolizes a critique against negative ‘architecture’ and its psycho-curtailments, limitations, restrictions, and mistakes – that we never made. These independent screenings or events take hold of our transience, pursue a radical subjectivity and reclaim the means of production. Keep the pointless cultural factions if you must. Remember, “all that’s solid melts into air.” I like to think of future generations’ they won’t read The Gift by Marcel Mauss, but we should leave for them an endurable trace of his contribution to us as a ‘potlatch’ lived. Explore the possibilities of a philosophical black hole articulated by poets, or a blacked-out room illuminated by an arclite, conjuring up moving images from a previous and present life.

Acknowledgements to Margaret Dickinson.

Louis Benassi is an artist / filmmaker. He has curated and programmed experimental film for numerous international film festivals. In 2001 he began Spool-Pool (, a transient forum for film and the spoken word. His new film Enigma One Docking – in collaboration with Julius Ziz – will be shown at MoMA early in 2009.