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2017, November 11: MASTERCLASS: Ackbar Abbas
Masterclass with Ackbar Abbas (Lingnan University)
LF = side note by Lai-Tze Fan
politics of disappearance and the relationship between past and future in/of Hong Kong (HK)
shows clip from film The Midnight After
- depicts dystopic HK with flashbacks to a happier time
- "satirical horror comedy" about a virus that takes out a lot of people with a few survivors
prior to Umbrella Movement, could be called anticipatory (without hope)
as survivors, they know they are the only HKers left anywhere; total erasure of home
- can't connect with the world with the Internet shutdown
- home is no longer a place
- dissolution of local neighbourhoods, livelihoods, and their affective memories
tie of Umbrella Movement to deep cry of self-determination and autonomy
cinema engages spectators in affective voyages, driven to confront ongoing social drama amid waves of hegemonic encrouchments on our homeground
- also shows a clip from Ten Years regarding the difference between "local eggs" and "Hong Kong eggs"
positioning of localism in its affective state
- reflects on her teaching the class Film and TV culture
- how to politicize subjectivity through a medium like film
- Q: what has been disappearing, reappearing, appearing
- Q. what are the conditions of different layers of appearance as shown in a variety of films?
- discusses story from Ten Years about a couple that tries to embalm themselves so not to disappear
- in the movie The Midnight After, colonial space (I guess as memories) can only be accessed through the Internet
- clip where they can't recognize the David Bowie lyrics: "No wonder they say HK people have no cultural understanding."
- record of colonial song signified by popsong "Space Oddity"
- dehistoricized by colonial void
Lau Kin Chi
Missed a lot of this talk; I ran off to get some water ...
- the situation we find ourselves in is similar to other locations, such as Thailand where there is the right to cancel a lecture just before it starts
- suggests a comparative and maybe cross-cultural understanding to looking at what we share and how we deal with things--and what we can learn, of course
- works for Asia Arts Archive as a researcher
- how can the art of a particular moment in the past, crystallized by writing, not be the art history of a place?
- is a history that's not chronological not qualified to be the history of a place?
- history and event--what bridges the two is writing
- reverse hallucination: seeing what is not there
- part of HK's art history that is assumed by the art historical discipline as being linear and complete
- maybe it's this kind of idea that has trigged a reverse hallucination
- attn to: fragmented, incomplete history that is part of our lived experiences via: books, exhibitions, stories we are told, and stories we re-tell
- "Colourful HK" as part project of painting over books on HK history and photography
- reality of histories lost, overwritten, etc.
Eunsoo Lee (Toto)
reflects reading Ackbar Abbas' Politics of Disappearance, especially the question of architecture
every building in HK confronts imminent ruin
having studied ruins and ruination, there's a retrospective perspective, that even as you observe current phenomena, regard them in their impending destruction
- critical difference that allows for different attention and analysis
question of spatial identity; how to build when buildings are impermanent
- buildings over 50 years are classified as "highly dangerous and problematic"
preservation movements in HK are often about gentrification and eviction
looks at the Blue House and how it may be doomed to fail, despite being awarded by UNESCO for allowing existing working class to stay
threat of its demise: AA notes opportunity of post-colonial identity still throws local identity into the air
- irony of situation: appearance becomes the occasion for the disappearance of identity
while debate of use of Blue House is famous, visual representation couldn't be decided by community but instead by experts
question for poco identity does not result in a stable identity
Toto's provocation for Ackbar: comment on HK's poco'ty 20 years on, esp after yesterday's Docu-thon
- pursuing this question of local identity and poco identity; if not a stable identity, because as soon as you arrive, loses its vitality
- should we continue a perpetual search for identity; self-reflexive process is what creates vitality
Ackbar Abbas' response to the four speakers
translation doesn't give you the life of the text, but the afterlife
ruins as both decay and what's left over as one-sided development
- preservation of ruins in heritage, urban ruins, etc.; also preservation as ruins
- preservation could be a form of decay
he wrote about Shanghai: the most modern city in China, really developed a lot after 1989
- the one city in China that's most interested in urban preservation
- when Shanghai goes into preservation, it's not in order to balance the too-quick development of the city
- it's part of the same logic of development! Logic of global tourism
David Clark's book on HK art: art at a particular moment, this moment of danger or crisis
- in this moment, it's as if everything can come together
- the question of the event and what an event might be
- like art event and art as event: art event is something you recognize as event (you recognize Picasso and you know it's important in art history); art as event is not just something that is happening or happened, but something is happening that has never happened before
- unpredictable and volatile, and you also see history crystallized around certain forms
- a kind of history that can and should be written along those lines
"reverse hallucination": most powerful example may be HK culture itself
- the subject was a new subject; it never existed in the 1980s; in the old days, all HK stories became a story about somewhere else. All stories had to go elsewhere before they had any kind of legitimacy
"the local is always something that is dislocated; the local loses its locale ... you don't know where it is"
- not clearly situated in place, partly bc things are changing so quickly
- there is the important notion of local, but that is always dislocated
argument of Hyphenation: HK is not a nation, can never be a nation, is always a hyphenation
Singles Day: November 11, when lonely people console themselves by buying themselves things
- probably invented by Alibaba
- anomalous details are not accidental but signal larger structures taking place
Ashish Q: what does hyphenation mean?
A: Trump's notion of America first as a defensive measure
- when you feel you have to work with other countries and nations, you come up with this other notion to put America first that is a notion of independence rather than hyphenation that is short-sighted
there is such a thing as failure as resistance: cannot be romanticization of failure (in Beckettian sense, lol, "let me fail beautifully")
Ackbar Abbas Talk
discusses issues of documentation and archival
ex. Flaherty's Nanook of the North and the use of a dead seal
ex. Vertov's Man with a Camera
- critique of the time that the real is blurred by bourgeous ideology: kino-eye is exactly not a human eye
- the prejudices of the human are perhaps overcome
- uses cinematic technique to subvert cinematic illusion
- LF: Russian formalism
something that interrogates the real and tries to raise the question of truth
if you put Flaherty with Vertov, both imagine documentary gave us the real
Q. what precipitated that crisis?
still holds onto a claim of truth, a claim that continues to be made in documentary
documentary now: that are produced after this crisis--one that comes paradoxically as representative media became more sophisticated, when rep became more accurate
- Q. would this mean that you're showing actuality more accurately?
with high res, something happens to lie and truth: no longer the lie that lies (that was the point of documentary), but the truth that lies
- ex. photoshop image: you see the thing and it's right there
- LF: question of materiality that abstracts or separates content from the physical, while still offering immediacy and instantaneity of the form
- necessary modernist fragmentation of materiality for the purpose of flexibility
crisis of the real produces a crisis of documentary
- doc often now finds expression in fiction forms or fantastic sci-fi forms
- ex. The Matrix, a movie about high res media
Q. when the real is a simulation, how do you document it?
- The Matrix is on one level, very old-fashioned film bc of idea of crisis
- but produces a nostalgia for the real
- LF: the discussion of why chicken tastes like everything and the taste of Tasty Wheat
Antonioni's Blow Up: main figure Thomas is a fashion photographer who creates celebrities, someone who shows us the power of the image
- takes a book of documentary photos
- wants to buy something at an antique shop and it's closed, so he takes photos in a park that are very peaceful vs. miserableness of the homeless house
- it turns out a peaceful image is the most violent at all: blows up the image and sees a dead body
- this secret violence, part of the life he's documenting, makes everything uncertain: real and unreal
- the real is not where we think it to be (the homeless house)
gives example of Picasso stating that his own painting is a fake Picasso, and that he is perfectly able to design his own fake Picassos
gives example of Swiss watches that don't make their own movements, and the selling of movements to other companies--same insides, different brand name
- the problem of the fake is how close the original is to the fake
- lying with the truth; lying is not the opposite of truth, truth is a form of lying: "Why do you tell me you're going to Krakow so that I think you're going to Lindberg. When in fact you are going to Krakow!"
- the hyperreal is when you can't tell the difference
- master's discourse vs. hysterics discourse
- master's discourse is power as truth: someone has the power to make anything they say be taken as true (like Trump)
- hysteric is someone who doesn't understand power as truth, so they keep asking questions "why is this" bc they don't understand the equation
- one kind of hysteric becomes a documentary filmmaker--ex. Bowling for Columbine
- becomes a new form of documentary that is not doc; it's maybe "documenteria" (documentary + hysteria)
- Bowling film ends with confrontation between master and hysteric: Charlston Heston (playing Moses, etc.) and Michael Moore
Discussion of Kelvin Wu's Docu-Thon
- problem with films like Yellowing as personal testimonial mode
- also the way the political POV was a question of preaching to the converted; saying something about democracy that you expect audience to agree
- is it true that narrative has a falsifying effect?: "You're telling me stories" means you are lying to me
- maybe one way to avoid: maybe not to not tell stories (not as if docs can have no stories), but maybe multiple stories
- no stories, but multiple stories; multiplicity and betrayal and duplicity gets at something that we would probably have to address in contemporary documentary
- when you're looking at installation, no longer looking at material: you're seeing the raw material of the documentaries being run past you, so you have to make your own story with these things that are happening
- the question of boredom: 8 hours and most of the time no one knows what's happening
- boredom can take on a positive note: Benjamin: "Boredom is the dream bird that lays the egg of experience."
- boredom is the moment when you can let your imagination go; it doesn't mean you're not doing anything, you're in a suspended state
- boredom in contemporary art can have this kind of effect; think of Stray Dog in which there's a super long take of a man standing behind a woman for 20 minutes and there's nothing happening
- boredom can be the result of our not knowing what's going on; it could be "I know everything you're going to say so don't tell me, I'm bored" or it could be "I have no idea what you're saying"
- boredom as a quality, esp in an installation, that you can play with
- boredom was one of the things about the installation Abbas found most interesting
- discusses ideas of installation with tons of documentary that raise questions about history and what HK is trying to document (political events, traditional cultural forms, migrational experience, etc.)
- from viewing experience: while seeing all the same times across three screens, can't help but create your own meaning in narrative bc you can't follow only one
- all films are calling for a kind of collective--identity, power, etc.
- Vertov and notion of national identity in relation to homogeneous time; Benedict Anderson's imagined time that is enabled through a form (and frame) of technology
- but frames of tech enable a break from this homogeneity
- at the Docu-thon, instead of viewing, "we're kind of creating our own scene"
- one of the intentions of the project was wondering if this would be part of the viewing experience
- who are these collectives? Should we create a sharing structure?
- could be related to blurring
- LF Q: in the case of the crisis of the real and nostalgia for the real, there seems to be the image that is taken for the real--particularly the digital image as you describe with photoshop. If this is our understanding of the real, or rather, if the real itself as it presents itself digitally as true phenomenological experience cannot be accepted as real, what happens to the event? You said "art as event" is that thing which has never happened before and that becomes a part of history, a writing of history. The inscription that happens in writing the event into history seems to slip against the inscription of the digital image as being true simply because we can see that it is true, it is before us. So what is the event of history when there is a crisis of the real?
Note to self: see personal notes for the longer version of this question...