Camera Memory for Human Forgetfulness
© EL BOUM
A film programme in cooperation with Arsenal – Institut für Film und Videokunst by 29.05.-12.06.2020, curated by Karina GriffithThe streaming area of arsenal 3 will open its platform for the interdisciplinary digital festival Latitude. All information about how to access the films can be found on the website.
This film programme answers the decolonial call of Latitude with an affective, visceral response centered on experiences of memory. The antiphonic, visual and sonic melodies of these films dissonate the clear-cut categories of racism, economy and restitution, representing how these issues fold onto each other, pulling at the seams of our desires to make things right. Each film chants a refrain of circulation and repair. They all deal with mobility, transnational experience and movement, and in one creative way or another, the need for not just institutional or economic, but affective reform.
The programme’s title, Camera Memory for Human Forgetfulness, is taken from the film Forgetting Vietnam by Trinh T Minh-ha. Her meditative exploration of repair through poetic retellings of history binds the films in this series, a collection of subversive works by artists Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Ng’endo Mukii, Christa Joo Hyun D'Angelo, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor and Thirza Cuthand. Each demonstrate an interest in the affective expression of unequal power structures and the labours of unsettling them.
Forgetting Vietnam is a meditative exploration of history in repair. Nation is rendered affectively through the visual interpretations of the national poem of Vietnam. Minh-ha’s motifs are water and boat as she alludes to various legends of the water ways on the 40th Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. The film boldly asks, “Can one simply place a war into a museum?” and “Can the survivors of war trauma disremember?” two questions that take on special meaning in Germany and its capital of Berlin. Word fragments drop like rain on the images, introduced with slow zooms outwards from interactions with the sea and inwards towards actions in the metropole. The pastel-coloured text moves, slides, fades, and scrolls across the screen. Consisting of quotes, notes on the technical recording devices (video in Hi-8 from 1995 and high definition in 2012) and rhetorical questions, the text is an ever-present voice, confident but not above self-critique. “Camera memory for human forgetfulness...or is it the other way around?” Minh-ha’s editing is active in its presence; it calls attention to the construction of the cinematic text. Wipes, picture in picture, slides, cross fades and retro iris box transitions weave this moving image journal together. Reversals and repetition dissuade a chronological understanding of time in this video essay about leaving and returning.
Restitution comes in the form of European medical treatment for Lillian, a refugee turned activist in Christa Joo D’Angelo’s empathic portrait Protest and Desire. Lillian patiently allays assumptions about living as a migrant in Germany with HIV and teases out the experience of “Europe as therapy.” D’angelo’s pastel palette creates an atmosphere of harmony and tranquillity, while Lillian’s bold and assured statements leave an unforgettable impression, strong enough to collapse stereotypes. A moving story about how migration saves lives and how courageous migrants work every day to change patterns of neo-colonial thinking.
Patterns play a different role in the animations Portrait of Marielle Franco and Homage to Wangari Maathai. These eclectic, hand-painted transatlantic portraits were made collectively and collaboratively during workshops in Nairobi and Salvador de Bahia respectively. One is a colourful and invigorating celebration of late Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist who in in the late 1960s conducted doctoral research at the University of Giessen and the University of Munich in Germany, returned to Nairobi to found the Green Belt Movement in 1977 and later serve as a member of parliament. The film celebrates her Nobel Prize honour.
The second film is a similarly hand-drawn tribute to Brazilian activist Marielle Franco, a politician and activist who was murdered in 2018. A city councillor of the Municipal Chamber of Rio de Janeiro, Franco fought for reproductive rights and end to gender violence. Director Ng’endo Mukii mixes footage of people protesting Franco’s assignation with shots of Franco walking the favelas, a combination that combusts time and animates a living memory. The two short animations celebrate women from the global south and affectively portray the energies in circulation through sharing stories about Black women and resistance.
La Javanaise patiently portrays the circulation of goods and the affective relationship of fashion to nationality. The Dutch fabric maker Vlisco has been producing fabric for the West African market since the 1830s. Known colloquially as Java Holland Wax, the patterns and process for making the prints developed from attempts to imitate Indonesian batik, which ended up finding customers in West Africa. On a leisurely walk through the former Colonial Museum in Amsterdam, fashion model Sonja Wanda and artist Charl Landvreugd (also a former model) engage with the space while they speak about the experiences of working for the Dutch fabric company that produces African prints. Strolling the museum, the two enter the private spaces of the museum and expose the fetishes of the archive. The voice of theorist David Dibosa ads to the conversation to contextualize the relationship to Javanese Batiks, while Landvreugd and Wanda exchange stories about the subversiveness of messages in patterns and particular ways of sharing signs by wearing cloth.
Land bears the signs of home in the queer, indigenous road movie Homelands. Thirza Cuthand takes us to the places where her grandparents, of Cree and Irish decent, called home. Cuthand’s tender, DIY attention to video documentation and archival footage along with her wry wit accompany the stories of her elders. Cuthand’s great great grandfather was wounded while fighting the Canadian government in the 1885 North West rebellion, along with other First Nations Cree and Assiniboine of the District of Saskatchewan. Cuthand’s great grandmother came Canada in a wartime convoy from Scotland in 1916. The film weaves stories of survival through home movies and interviews to portray the endurance of family and memory.
Memory is tactile in Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor’s gentle film Muttererde. The German title can be translated to mean “mother earth”, but is also a term for the rich, fertile topsoil essential for plant life. The film plays with this double meaning as it interweaves the narratives of transnational Black femmes and their mothers. The film is a fecund safer space of feminist tellings of stories of resistance and an homage to femmes gardens. Across experiences spanning five countries, the femmes trace the matriarchal knowledge of their families, acknowledge the interruptions in their cultural archiving caused by trauma and neo-colonial structures and celebrate the femmes who made them great.
The idea of mother as “home” continues in the Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You. Black and white, pensive and passionate in its expression of sorrow, the essay film by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese is an intimate farewell letter painstakingly written, but never sent. How can you say goodbye to your homeland? Citing European films and their cinematic goodbyes, the distracted voice shares snippets of intimate memories with pop culture references. The echoing and crackling lament of the voiced letter feels thrice removed; a sonic representation of memories recalled in exile. Drenched in perspiration and dragging a wooden cross, Mosese’s barefoot protagonist crosses contemporary Lesotho, occasionally returning our gaze and those of the unimpressed onlookers in the street. They are accompanied by another figure, a beautiful fairy with translucent wings who dances and smiles at the camera. These two characters, one laden and one light, lead us through the city. The film speaks in images of empty markets, bare landscapes and intimate gazes; portraits that resonate when juxtaposed with the elegiac voiceover. Camera memory is captured in sumptuous long takes, occasional hand-held camera shots, vivid freeze-frames and pointed extreme close-ups. Mosese’s Lesotho is modern, picturesque and complex.
The human forgetfulness recollected by this selection of journal films each have their own syntax of scrapbook storytelling; their personal and tender approaches get under your skin and harken to memories connected to our senses. Soft and sensitive in their mediation of testimonies, the films go beyond discussion of political, social and economic inequalities to ask how moving image can capture the affective debt of atrocities past and present.
(by Karina Griffith)
Forgetting Vietnam (2015)
Director: Trinh T Minh-ha, 90 minutes
Vietnam in ancient times was named đất nứớc vạn xuân – the land of ten thousand springs. One of the myths surrounding the creation of Vietnam involves a fight between two dragons whose intertwined bodies fell into the South China Sea and formed Vietnam’s curving ‘S’ shaped coastline. Legend also has it that Vietnam’s ancestors were born from the union of a Dragon King, Lạc Long Quân and a fairy, Âu Cơ. Âu Cơ was a mythical bird that swallowed a handful of earthly soil and consequently lost the power to return to the 36th Heaven. Her tears formed Vietnam’s myriad rivers and the country’s recurring floods are the land’s way of remembering her. In her geo-political situation, Vietnam thrives on a fragile equilibrium between land and water management. A life-sustaining power, water is evoked in every aspect of the culture.
Shot in Hi-8 video in 1995 and in HD and SD in 2012, the images unfold spatially as a dialogue between the two elements—land and water—that underlie the formation of the term “country” (đất nứớc). Carrying the histories of both visual technology and Vietnam’s political reality, these images are also meant to feature the encounter between the ancient as related to the solid earth, and the new as related to the liquid changes in a time of rapid globalization. In conversation with these two parts is a third space, that of historical and cultural re-memory – or what local inhabitants, immigrants and veterans remember of yesterday’s stories to comment on today’s events. Through the insights of these witnesses to one of America’s most divisive wars, Vietnam’s specter and her contributions to world history remain both present and all too easy to forget. Touching on a trauma of international scale, Forgetting Vietnam is made in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the end of the war and of its survivors.
(2010), director: Thirza Cuthand, 53 minutes
"On my mother’s side there are two lands I come from, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, all those fathoms deep. The lands of my grandma and grandpa. I had been through the lands of my grandfather, that is where I still live. The now tamed prairies, missing their bison herds and fenced out into neat geometrical patterns. My grandma comes from a similarly colonized land, Scotland. Ruled by the British Commonwealth and forbidden to speak their language... I had never been to Scotland. And I wanted to see my Grandpa’s traditional territory. This is the story of our family, about where we started and where we came from." A love story about the history of an interracial family's ancestors and the lands they emigrated from and migrated to. It is also a personal story about being mixed race. Shot on location in the USA, Canada, and Scotland, and featuring Ruth, Thirza, Chris and Stan Cuthand.
Funded by Canada Council for the Arts.
Homage to Wangari Maathai
Director: Ng’endo Mukii
With young Baiana artists, Ng’endo Mukii made this collaborative film celebrating Wangarī Maathai in a workshop supported by the Goethe-Institut Bahia. Wangarī’s vision included a sustainable Kenya with its citizens content and free from political persecution, its women liberated and unrestricted by archaic ideologies, its children hopeful for a better future.
Portrait von Marielle Franco
Director: Ng’endo Mukii
During an animation workshop in Nairobi, the films is worked frame-by-frame, drawing over Marielle’s image as she walked the streets of a Rio favela. Participants drew their gestures on and around her smiling face, and with each mark, felt closer and closer to Afro-Brazilians, and to her story.
(2018), director: Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor, in collaboration with filmmaker Astrid Gleichmann, 52 minutes
Muttererde calls for femme forms of ancestral history in the face of the often interrupted historical knowledge of the African diaspora in Europe and elsewhere. What are rituals, teachings and abilities passed on from our matriarchs? How do these inherited skills serve us or inhibit us today? The conversations with five black femmes on the knowledge and non-knowledge of their mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers and as far back as the knowledge carries them create a rich and powerful archive. They explore themes of motherhood, migration, cultural differences, beauty standards, queerness, kinship, death and rebirth. Their stories, although from five different countries, intertwine to weave a tapestry of herstory through the African diaspora. Through their testimonies the viewer discovers that ritual, memory and oral history can challenge the status quo. Featuring the stories of Camalo Gaskin, Tobi Ayedadjou, Niv Acosta, Natalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro and Fannie Sosa.
Protest and Desire
(2019), director: Christa Joo Hyun D'Angelo, 20 minutes
“Protest and Desire” is a video artwork that challenges popular STD / HIV discourse by focusing on how women of color deal with intimacy, sex, and age that relates to STDs and HIV within the landscape of white Europe. The video concentrates on an endearing 2-year portrait of, “Lillian”, a 49-year-old woman from Uganda who has lived in Germany since the early 2000s as a consequence of her HIV status. Her words disentangle notions about how women of color relate to their own sexuality, interracial relationships, ideas of belonging, and their personal complexities with HIV / STDs. The work delicately unveils inherent biases that are bound to women of color and their struggle to attain acceptance both within and outside their own communities. Through dream-like sequences and whimsical imagery, “Protest and Desire” imagines new ways to define what is normal and propels new meaning on “sickness”, desire, and relationships by confronting the ghosts of the past and the fears that haunt our present realities.
Kindly Supported by: Delight Rental Service, The Berlin Senate, The District Cultural Fund of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, Galerie im Turm, Edited at Mentoring Artists for Women's Art, Winnipeg Canada.
Director: Wendelien van Oldenborgh, 25 minutes
Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s La Javanaise is a filmic exercise which centers on the circularity of relations between a Dutch textile company, former colonies in the East Indies, the display of colonial history, and current African markets within a contemporary, globalized world.
It uses the example of the textile firm Vlisco, which developed a particular fabric known as Dutch Wax or Wax Hollandaise based on the traditional Javanese resist-dye method batik. Under recent pressure of imitation from Chinese producers, Vlisco now brands itself as the ‘True Original’ Dutch Wax and has relaunched as a fashion label creating images in the Netherlands, with international African top models presenting the products to an African clientele.
La Javanaise features fashion model Sonja Wanda, artist, writer, and former model Charl Landvreugd and the writer and theorist David Dibosa. Through unrehearsed dialogue and performance staged in the setting of the former Colonial Institute in Amsterdam, the work addresses the inextricable link between imagination and authenticity and between colonialism and globalization.
Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You
(2019), director: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, 76 minutes
The people on the dusty streets of Lesotho stare inquisitively at the young woman, who, like Jesus, carries a wooden cross on her back. She looks back into their faces, at mystically beautiful landscapes, a herd of sheep, and a pair of hands that knit unceasingly. What she sees is rendered more visually precise by the black and white, more abstract by the slowed-down images, it is filtered through memories. A raw voice-over – aware that it is not being heard by those being addressed – structures the flow of images into a cinematic lament. In this essay film, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese succeeds in creating the chronicle of a radicalising sorrow, which steadily increases in scope from a personal farewell to the mother to a politically aware defection from the motherland. The painful process of shifting from an internal view of the small African country to an external one is visualised and commented on in a profoundly personal way – from the perspective of today, in exile, in Berlin. A pretty angel accompanies the passage. In intense, aching fashion, this unusual lament on an African story of migration sheds light on a realm of experience that is taboo and not only in cinema. (Dorothee Wenner)
With special thanks to Stefanie Schulte Strathaus and Elena Agudio.