CINEMA AS ASSEMBLY | Symposium

photo courtesy of Francisco Lion, 2018 ©

Location / Lugar Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia Date / Fecha: September 16 11:30 – 13:30 

The symposium brings together curators Mao Mollona and Natalia Arcos with indigenous filmmakers from Chiapas Francisco Huichauqeo, María Sojob, Delmar Méndez-Gómez, Liliana K’an whose works will be screened in the framework of the exhibition Somos fragmentos de la luz que impide que todo sea noche.

CINEMA AS ASSEMBLY

by Mao Mollona

unpublished manuscript

“The roots of the foreign film script climate run very deep. Take the verse from the Bible: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’. If a script based on this principle were submitted to a Maori panel it is likely it would be rejected straight off because, from a Maori point of view, the command is fascist.” Barry Barclay, Our Images.

“Long forgotten or ignored by radical movements as relics of a world destined to disappear, indigenous commons are returning today to the foreground of political action, as an inspirational force and the only clear alternative form of organization to contemporary capitalism.” Sylvia Federici, Reenchanting the World. 

“One ought to imagine that at the moment the shutter closes in order to reopen again in a fraction of a second – to proclaim a new state, a new border, or a new museum – the people whose lives are forever going to be changed by the act are rebelling and do not let the shutter sanction such acts as faits accomplis. Ariella Azoulay, Unlearning Imperialism. 

Maori filmmaker Barry Barclay describes cinema as a form of gathering (hui) and communal assembly which entails, at the same time, collective knowledge-production, reciprocal exchange and a cosmopolitics of connectedness,

The aim of the cinema as assembly project is to foster intersectional conversations and collaborations, around communist, indigenous and black radical imaginaries, revolving on cinema – intended as a political, ecological and cosmological space. The cinema as assembly project has three components: (1) a film programme that activates a series of local discussions in collaboration with social centres, and cultural and civic organizations in Madrid, Venice, Milan, Naples, Istanbul, Beyluen, Siuraarjuk, Bissau, and New York (2) a symposium with international filmmakers (3) the production of films, film residencies and visual archives across the nodes of the project. 

Cinema as Assembly considers cinema as part of a space that can allow for breathing, for better questions, for transformation, for enunciation, for bridges of solidarity that build power across, and engages in the war being waged in the imagination, interrogating what lies beyond and behind the frozen visual reality produced by the imperialist apparatuses of image-making (Azulay 2019). Cinema as assembly goes beyond the notion of aesthetics or the cinematic event, – the shoot, the screening and the mass entertainment – and engages with images in terms of enduring relationality, human and non-human entanglements, cine-kinship (César), undercommons and fugitive dwelling (Harney and Moten), and diasporic and indigenous sovereignty (Raeja, Povinelli). It also interrogates cinema before and beyond the act of filming, in terms of trans-generational movements, cine-geographies (Eshun and Grey; and César); degrowth and nomadic attachments (Teshone); reparation (Akomfrah), and more than human dwelling (Povinelli and Wachowhich).  

Committed to post-capitalist, anti-racist and anti-patriarchal ethics, Cinema as Assembly intends to transcend the western ontology of revolution associated with linear temporalities and fixed centres-peripheries, and explore instead relational, multimodal, multisensory and multi-perspectivist methodologies based on attunement, listening and caring (Campt, Jasmina); the sociology of absences, emergences and resonances (Tsing, Lepsetter, de Sousa Santos) and indigenous and black temporality and futurities – not intended as technologically-determined futures, but as hidden histories of ancestral past, sipping into the toxic present, to sketch viable and post-apocalyptic futures. 

BACKGROUND: CINEMA, CAPITALISM AND INTERSECTIONALISM. 

The story of cinema starts with workers. The film Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory In Lyon (La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon, 1895) by the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière, shows the approximately 100 workers at a factory for photographic goods in Lyon-Montplaisir leaving through two gates and exiting the frame to both sides. 

But why does the story of cinema begin with the end of work? Is it because, as it has been suggested it is impossible to represent work from the perspective of labour but only from the point of view of capital, because the revolutionary horizon of the working-class coincides with the end of work? After all, the early revolutionary art avantgarde, had an ambiguous relationship with capitalism: it provided both a critique of bourgeoise sociability, whilst also reproducing the commodity form. Even the cinema of Eisenstein which so subverted the bourgeois sense of space, time and personhood,  at the same time, standardised and commodified reality with techniques of framing and editing that moulded images on the commodity form. 

Cinema was born at the intersection of industrial capitalism and empire, when images were endorsed with the animistic power of capturing the invisible, put object in motion, freeze the proletariat into an alienated and spectatorial consciousness (as described by Lukácz) and at the same time, make it productive and docile, together with the people from the colonies through techniques of crono-photography, ergonomics, body mapping and ethnographic film.  Early cinema oscillates between mass distraction, mass production and mass extermination, and brings together different modes of representation, social relations and forms of knowledge: documentary evidence, popular entertainment; magics, voyeurism, patriarchal social reproduction; ethnographic nostalgia, scientific violence and propaganda

Like Eisenstein, and Vertov, the documentary movement founded by John Grierson in the UK aimed not just at representing the new proletariat but also sustain the alliance between the working-class and the state at a time of early construction of what will become Keynesian capitalism. But by the 1970s social realist films were under attack from both feminist and black film collectives for several reasons:  their voyeuristic distance, rooted in uneven class relations between the filmmaker (often male, white and middle class) and the subjects (often ‘the poor’, ‘the marginal’ or ‘the working-class’); their victimising approach; their lack of intersectional narratives; and their excessively materialistic and productivist focus on work, poverty and inequality.

Third-Cinema movement in the global south radicalised cinema, using it as tool of political mobilization against military regimes and colonial powers. Refusing the imperialist forms of the commercial Hollywood films (first cinema) and of the European authorial cinema (second cinema), ‘Third Cinema’ devised democratic and participatory film processes, a popular and non-elitist visual grammar, grassroots forms of production and distribution, and a powerful realist style that reflected ‘allegorically’, the condition of underdevelopment of the global south. Cinema as tool of decolonial freedom, is a way of unlearning imperialism, of challenging the imperial way of looking, not just inside the frame of representation, but also with regards to the social relations and power structure surrounding it. An unlearning that for Ariella Azoulay, implies the acknowledgment of what the camera doesn’t show.

In 1996, speaking at the British Film Institute, the film-maker John Akomfrah announced the death of Third Cinema, that is, of that political cinema aligned with a socialist, decolonising impulse. The impulse of the BAVFC was to ground image making in the diasporic experience of racism and violent nationalism, through which empire had reconstituted itself in Britain, stirring the documentary tradition towards a multisensory, expanded and prefigurative search for the form of cinema to come (Eshun,) and based on transnational post-cinematic diasporic spaces (Enwezor). 

During the 1990s, with cultural globalization or multiculturalism, hiding racial ideology through ethnic naturalizations, media projects among indigenous communities in the global south opened new uses for cinema. Fourth cinema, as described by Maori filmmaker Barry Barclay, rejects the nationalistic rhetoric of third cinema or the aim of creating a universal popular grammar and insists instead on generating community based, languages and processes, putting at the core of the filmic process the reproduction of indigenous knowledge and culture, to counter the genocidal violence of settlers’ states. Indigenous films made by the community, for the community, were used by settlers’ states to co-opt indigenous communities into accepting land privatization and mineral extraction by foreign capitalist. According to indigenous philosopher Linda Tuhiwai Smith indigenous activism in the 1960s and 1970s was driven by a sense of outrage and injustice about the failure of education, democracy and research to deliver social change for people who were oppressed and in such she saw a clear parallel with Marxist politics. At the same time, however, she argues, there is a clear differentiation between Indigenous and Marxist positions, these latter being rooted in European history and evolutionary and teleological idea of progress that do not map onto much indigenous theorising.

Following Audra Simpson Cinema as Assembly considers the idea of visual sovereignty as a ‘practice of critique’; ‘ethnographic refusal’ (Simpson, 2020 and 2014) and reconstruction of an imagination “in commons”.  Michelle Raheja describes visual sovereignty as ‘creative act of self-representation’ offering not only the possibility of engaging and deconstructing white-generated representations of Indigenous people, but more broadly ‘intervening in larger discussions of Native American sovereignty by locating and advocating for Indigenous cultural and political power both within and outside of Western legal jurisprudence’. Like the creolite of Eduard Glissant, indigenous sovereignty incorporates multiple definitions and relations. 

DECOLONIZING ASSEMBLY 

The notion of political assembly is central to the western political imagination, and to the phantasmatic image of the “people” who, by gathering in the square, the party, and the parliament, produce democracy that is, a quantity of anonymous and replaceable individuals who, oscillating between contractual obligation and spontaneous solidarity, work to sustain the political machine of the polis, the colony and the nation-state. In the 1970s feminist and postcolonial movements, introduced polyphonic, diverse and fluid imaginaries of the assembly, such as circles of consciousness-raising; indigenous and black practices of autonomy, self-determination, and horizontal and consensus-based radical pedagogies. Rooted in the so-called cultural critique of capitalism waged by liberal middle-classes against the mono-logic and bureaucratic violence of nation-states, these forms of cultural critique provided the rationale for the flexibilization, deregulation and delocalization of labour, the breaking of the working-class and the financialization of life, as well as the content of such reorganization, that is, post-modern, creative and cultural capital. It is especially in the field of feminist studies that a new articulation of the working-class along queer, intersectional and communitarian lines emerged, whose politics emerged in performative and discursive assemblies, neither public nor private, but located in sensory and bodily contact-zones – and out of the generalised experience of material and ontological dispossession. 

The economic shift from manufacturing to post-industrial capitalism in the Global North, led to the rearticulation of working-class struggles around culture and social capital, with new class stratification between cultural workers, as the new lumpen, and Gramscian intellectuals as a new political cadre. Within the European left, Judith Butler’s notion of political performativity – the sensuous bond that emerges from the common experience of dispossession – and Chantal Mouffe’s notion of agonistic politics–fluid, discursive and cross-sectional – replaced the orthodox Marxist language of needs, demands, class identification and party activism. This new Gramscian focus on cultural struggles led to new forms of art activism emerged in the figure of “radical museology”, “post-occupy art” (McKeats) artists as organisers (MTL), boycott art and assembleism (Staal). 

But, can the bodily and material context of radical uncertainty be separated from the immaterial process of political prefiguration intended as creation of abstract form? Doesn’t the figure of the artist as prefigurator reproduces Eurocentric dichotomies between nature and culture, present and past, theory and practice?

Besides, even if public assemblies, Situationist détournements, socially engaged choreographies and direct actions performatively subvert the existing social canon, they do so within temporally and spatially demarcated and segregated spaces – the enclosures of art and politics – with the objective of challenging if not neutering, state violence and re-enacting their coming together as egalitarian communities. Unlike these, in the tragic and often violent non-capitalist rituals, communities face the horizon of their own annihilation, and this experience of self-annihilation is foundational for the construction of the egalitarian order. Thus, the anti-capitalist and non-capitalist imagination is abolitionist: it builds the new foundations starting from its own dissolution. 

We see assembly as a form of governance grounded in everyday gestures of life reproduction. Image as assembly is a method in which the reproduction of life, the reproduction of the self and the reproduction of the community, are one and the same with the production of knowledge and images that sustain such life-making praxes. Images as assemblies are akin to Nishnaabeg intelligence as “the making and remaking of the world in a generative fashion within Indigenous bodies that are engaged in accountable relationships with other beings.” (Leanne Simpson). Filmmaking as assembly is a ritual of acknowledging.  

CINEMA AS ASSEMBLY

Maori filmmaker Barry Barclay describes Fourth Cinema as:

1/ RECIPROCITY AND TIKANGA (customary law and ‘the right way’)

Barclay’s idea of reciprocity in the film process is more than a simple idea of a return. It embodies notions of guardianship, ownership, rights and retention. Living images cannot detached form place, stored, archived or sold. They are living knowledge, the outcome of relationship – not a thing. Cinema as living knowledge involve also issues of law, knowledge and property. Knowledge as ‘ANTI-PROPERTY’. “Handing those tapes across one by one to each elder became some of the most special moments I have ever had in film-making. Part of it was knowing that I was keeping the trust… and part of it was seeing the pride in those old people’s eyes… [T]hey were holding their own image in their own hands” Our Own Image.

2/ ARCHIVING IN THE PRESENT 

Barclay’s idea of ‘archiving-in-the-present’, is a response to the challenges of holding images of Mäori responsibly, and of respecting the presence of individuals on film and the legacy those images automatically create simply through their existence – suspended as they are, between reinforcing ancestral power and taking it away. Film is a medium of potential history, in which ancestral past and indigenous futures are played out in reciprocal intergenerational exchanges. Maori writer, Arapata Hakiwai argues that the mana power, authority, and significance of photographs “transcend time and space, reconnecting present generations to an umbilical cord of genealogy, history and identity’. Film is metaphysical extension of the connected environment, requires guardianship and ethical forms of distribution and circulation. 

3/ ASSEMBLING GATHERINGS (HUI). 

Filming is a collective circular process, in which the act of capturing reality through images is preceded by a collective conversation in the creation of the film script and followed by a collective conversation at the moment in which images are distributed – shared – within the community. For Barclay ‘the film not so much as a product but a stage’. In Barclays film, the very film plot is intercut with real assemblies by the community, which he often films from a distance of 20 or even 50 meters with 300 mm. or 600 mm. lenses. Instead of having a screening, here we have a film event, a communal ritual, in which conviviality is as important as judgement; a cosmopolitical ritual of construction of indigenous sovereignty.

4/ TANIWHA (WATER SPIRIT, CHIEF, LIVING ENTITY, SHAPESHIFTER) 

Humans are extensions of places – Tangata whenua “people of the place” entangled and interconnected with water, land, and forest who also have agency. Through this encounter Maori being is part of something living, older and larger than the individual person. Cinema as Taniwha is the medium through which ‘things pass’ and people are reconnected to place. Cinema is the medium of the movement necessary for the world to be made anew, all day, every day. 

CINEMA AS ASSEMBLY/CINEMA AS COMMONS

Elsewhere (2021) I have argued that art as commons brings together non-Eurocentric and post-capitalist ontologies, social practices and processes of knowledge-production in processes of prefiguration and enactment of life in commons. Art/commons brings together insurgent practices and imaginaries – communist, black, indigenous and feminist – that have existed at the margins of European racial and patriarchal capitalism, since before the beginning of history. Following Barry Barclay’s vision of cinema as, simultaneously, social practice (HIU); Ontology (TANIWA), Knowledge Production (TIKANGA) and history, (ARCHIVING IN THE PRESENT), the Cinema as Assembly project address filmmaking as a practice of prefiguration of commons, or under-commons that is, of relations that are not contained and containable within the frame, of conversations, ways of touching, listening, and being together – assemblies – that ‘hold up’ (Moten and Harney) and at the same time complicate and disrupt, the Eurocentric gaze 

Cinema as assembly of commons is prefiguration of a future beyond capitalism, simultaneously as:   
  • Pedagogy and form of knowledge – around decolonial ecologies (César and Grey); diasporic geographies (Eshun); and traditional forms of dwelling (Walcovich);
  • Visual sovereignty – toxic (Povinelli); anti-colonial (César) and anti-imperialist (Azoulay) forms of image-making and archiving that challenge the legal sovereignty of white, settler and racial capitalism. 
  • Durational and collective social process – of archival annotation (Metwaly); transgenerational and trans-cultural exchange and “kine-kinship” (César) and political organizing (Dhillon and Husain) 
  • multisensory and multi-perspectivist – sonic (Rikz, Metwaly and Otolith); post-cinematic (Azoulay); opaque (Da Silva); and in movement (Amin and Nitasha).

PANELISTS PROFILES

Natalia Arcos (Santiago de Chile, 1979) has a Degree in Theory and Art History from the University of Chile and a Master in Contemporary Art from Paris IV-Sorbonne University, where she was the first latinamerican accepted. As an independent curator, she has done twenty exhibitions in Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Cuba, England and Greece. From 2008 to 2013, she was Programming Director of the Chilean Television Channel specialized in art, ARTV. From 2013 to 2020, she was member of GIAP (Grupo de Investigación en Arte y Política) based in Chiapas, México, where she also directed the center for artistic residencies. Natalia was collaborator on the books “Los latidos del corazón nunca callan: poemas y canciones zapatistas” and “Para una estética de la liberación decolonial”invited by Professor Enrique Dussel. Actually, she follows a Master Degree in Sociology of Art at CESMECA Institute of University UNICACH, México.

Massimiliano (Mao) Mollona writer, filmmaker and anthropologist. He has a multidisciplinary background in economics and anthropology and his work focuses on the relationships between art and political economy. He conducted extensive fieldworks in Italy, UK, Norway and Brazil, mainly in economic institutions, looking at the relationships between economic development and political identity through participatory and experimental film projects. His practice is situated at the intersection of pedagogy, art and activism. He has rececntly published Art/Commons.

Delmar Méndez-Gómez, Chiapas, Mexico, 1990 is an essayist, documentarian, and Tseltal scholar. He has a PhD in Anthropological Sciences at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa. He is a member of the Mexican Youth Network for Research (ReMJI) and a member of the Audiovisual collective Satil Film. He has been a fellow of the Young Creators program of the National Fund for Culture and the Arts (FONCA) in two issues (2018 and 2021), of the Interfaz literary scholarships (2018) and of the Program of Stimulus to Artistic Creation and Development, PECDA- Chiapas (2018-2019). He has participated as director and editor of the documentaries Sonowiletik: music of the soul (2013), and Ak ’Riox: guide of roads (2015, with Liliana López). He is currently filming the documentary about him Meme ‘/ Abuela. He has published academic articles such as “Breaking down walls: filmic narratives on Central American irregular migrations” (2020), “The ways of fighting: art and politics of native peoples in Chiapas” (2020), “Alternative paths and screens: production and exhibition Community Cinema in the Indigenous Peoples of Chiapas ”(2019). Likewise, several of his literary essays are published in the magazines Primera Página, Sinfín, Cielo sur, Tierra Adentro, Círculo de Poesía and Punto de Partida. He is the author of the essay book Te sututet ixtabil / El rota de la bola (Coneculta, 2020). His lines of research are communication and visual culture, body and performativity, and sociology of memory.

Francisco Huichaqueo Mapuche people 1977 South of Chile, is a visual artist, filmmaker and academic from the Faculty of Humanities and Visual Arts of the University of Concepción. He graduated from the University of Chile Faculty of Visual Arts, with a master’s degree in documentary film from the same university and a specialization in optics at the Cuban film school. His visual work is developed around the themes that concern his Mapuche lineage and expresses his work in video installation, documentary film and essay film formats. He also intervenes in colonial spaces where tangible and intangible heritage is kept, such as archaeological collections in museums within Chile and abroad. Longing in the near future for a return and management of the indigenous heritage in the hands of his people. Huichaqueo combines the spectral image of the cinema under the codes of the worldview to complement and accompany the objects of spiritual and ceremonial use, recording common life today. Mission: WENU PELON / Portal de Luz MAVI 2015-2021 Santiago de Chile MAS. KUIFI ÜL / Ancient Sound, Gropius Bau Museum, Berlin Biennale, Germany 2020. CHI RÜTRAN AMULNIEI ÑI NÜTRAM / Metal Continues to Speak, Pre-Columbian Museum of Santiago 2016. MALON WIÑO / The Silver Serpent, Matta Cultural Center, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2016 KALÜL TRAWÜN / Meeting of the Corps, MNBA of Santiago 2011-2012. He has exhibited at International Film Festivals such as ImagiNative in Toronto-Canada, Toulouse Latino Film Festival, Museum of the American Indian in Washington, Human Resources Gallery, Los Angeles USA among others. He has completed film and art residencies in Taiwan, France, and Colombia; and has lectured on First Nations cinema at NYU University and Bernard Columbia, USA-NYC. The most outstanding film work of him are: Mencer ñi pewma 2012. ILWEN / The earth has the smell of father 2013. Mujeres Espíritu 2020, being the last ones with a world premiere and highlighted by specialized critics.

Liliana K’an (Liliana Guadalupe López López) was born on December 12, 1992 in a community of San Juan Chamula, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, her mother tongue is Tsotsil. She studied a Bachelor’s Degree in Intercultural Communication from the Intercultural University of Chiapas (UNICH). She has worked as a photographer and documentary filmmaker Chiapaneca, among her works as a Photographer, the photographic series “Erotic Zapatista woman” (2014) stands out, where a group exhibition with different photographers was inaugurated in Berlin, Germany. She has also collaborated as a photographer in documentary projects of different filmmakers, such as: “Video Cartas” by María Sojob and “Sat yelob Jlumaltik” by Humberto Gómez (2016). As a director, her films stand out: Ak ’riox. (Road guide) (2014); Svabajel pukuj (The Devil’s Rhythm) Fiction short film (2017). Jmetik U (Mother moon) she has been a CCC fellow. Cinematographic Training Center of Mexico City, with its short film Ak’riox (Guiadora de Caminos) and the stimulus it grants (PECDA), Program of Stimulus to the Creation and Artistic Development of Chiapas (2020), with its short film J- kuxlejaltik (Our life). She has participated in Festivals such as: El, Göttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival, (2016) Place: Göttingen, Germany. (MORELIA INDIGENOUS FILM AND VIDEO FESTIVAL) (2017), Documentary Film Festival at the National Cinemas of Mexico among others. She is currently in the post-production stage of her next short film called “J-kuxlejaltik” Our Life (2021).

María Sojob was born on November 18, 1983 in the Tsotsil Mayan territory of Ch’enalvo Chiapas. She studied Communication Sciences and a master’s degree in Documentary Film at the University of Chile. She is the mother of two girls and a coffee farmer. Among her documentary projects are Voces de hoy that portrays the musical movement of young Tsotsiles in rock. In 2015 she directed Bankilal / The Big Brother, a documentary selected and screened at different festivals and film shows at the national and international level. In 2019 she premiered Tote_Abuelo at the 17th Morelia International Film Festival, where she won the La Musa award for best documentary made by a woman and the Ambulante award, for the 2020 documentary tour; as well as the selection in competition in different festivals inside and outside of Mexico. She has given film workshops in different collective spaces. She developed the video letter project with Tsotsil girls and boys. She is currently in the making of the documentary Por la vida, which portrays the struggle and resistance of Lenca women against extractivist projects in Honduras. She is a programmer and Co-founder of Cine Bolomchon, a community collective that seeks to generate spaces for artistic interaction through training, exhibition and filmmaking. Among her interests is the exploration of audiovisual narratives that approach Tsotsil sentipensares.