Thematic Seminar Laura Huertas Millan

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The voice within – Decolonizing strategies towards an ethical gaze led by Laura Huertas Millan

What is decolonization in cinema? Is it a protocol, a formula, a statement, a new legal set of parameters? Or is it rather a work-in-process, a never-ending conversation, a series of questions constantly renewed? In this seminar, we will consider historic and contemporary examples of groundbreaking non-fiction practices that have reverted and dismantled the colonial gaze inherent to cinema history. Using the voice, in a literal and figurative sense, as the basis for this exploration, we will analyze different artistic strategies engaged with decolonizing processes. We will also discuss, through concrete examples, different methodologies created by filmmakers to engage and to transcend unbalanced power dynamics. We will think together artist processes towards an ethical gaze — and how building a subjective position, voicing something, can support the intertwining of aesthetics and politics. The seminar will also have a practical component, in which students will produce new work that will be reviewed collectively.

The first week of the seminar will be dedicated to considering the voice within through three different aspects.

On the one hand, we will address the “colonial wound” (Mignolo) of cinema considering how silent films could be seen as the containers of implicit violent speeches. Here, the absence of a literal voice doesn’t stand for a lack of subject seeing, exhibiting, and imposing a world representation. We will in fact consider the advent of the voice-over in cinema as a continuation of these systems of representation.

On the other hand, we will analyze films that put the voice at the center of their form, precisely to dismantle the normalized oppressive ways of their medium. By reinventing the possibilities of what a voice can do within a film, these artists voice refusals, reclamations, and new ways of building worlds.

Finally, practical exercises will be proposed to the seminar participants to think through voices. These exercises aim to guide them to work through preconceptions and imperatives, to find modes of subverting discursive limitations and work towards singular modes of expression. They also aim to encourage the students to envision their own structures of ethical necessities through their artistic practice.

After the seminar’s first week, the students will have several weeks to develop a new work, which will be discussed by the group over the second part of the seminar.

Monday, April the 11th: the colonial wound

- 11h -13h: Presentation.

Possible screening: Journey to a land otherwise known (2011, 23 mins), The Labyrinth (2018, 19 mins), Black Sun (2016, 43 mins), followed by a Q&A.

- 14h-15h: Students' intro

- 15h -18h: First session: the colonial wound

How are the history of colonialism and lens-based practices intertwined? We will dedicate this session to collectively discuss two different films that engage with colonial archives and deconstruct certain visual languages imbued with coloniality. Two films engaging and wrestling with colonial archives, that are also the traces of the filmmaker’s own family journeys and displacements.

  • Death and Devil, Peter Nestler, 55 mins, 2009.
  • the names have changed, including my own and truths have been altered, Onyeka Igwe, 25 mins, 2019.

Tuesday, April the 12th: Imperial apparatuses
- 9h -13h
Continuing to think about optical devices and modes of seeing rooted in colonialism, we will visit the Rotterdam’s Zoo. On site, we will:

  1. Observe the animals. How do they live in their settings? How do they interact with visitors? How the architecture of the place influences our perception of it?
  2. Have a conversation around this question: what other devices of seeing/being seeing the zoo makes you think of?
  3. Do a deep listening exercise on site to engage with the sonic complexity on site: which voices are present in the zoo’s soundscape?

- 15h – 18h
Back in the studio, we will watch Fabrizio Terranova’s Donna Haraway: Story telling for earthly survival (77 mins, 2017).
What considerations, reflections, the zoo experience, and the film recall regarding terms such as extractivism, possession, occupation? How to build a lens-based relationship with subjects and beings who do not share our same language?

At the end of the afternoon session, we will take a moment to write and gathering some notes around these questions.

Wednesday, April the 13th: the power of fiction

During this 3rd session, we will explore what narrative can offer to engage with broken histories, and archives filled with absences. Lost voices provoke radical gestures of remembrance.

- 10h-12h: Collective discussion around an assigned Reading: Venus in two acts, Saidiya Hartman, followed by an exercise:

Think individually about one of the questions that Saidiya Hartman asks: What are the stories one tells in dark times?

- Afternoon: Students share their thoughts on the morning question. (14h-15h)

- 15h-18h: Surname Viet, Given Name Nam, 1989, directed by Trinh T. Minh-ha, followed by a collective discussion.

Assignment for the following day: Each student thinks about the project they will develop in the weeks between our first and second session.

Thursday, April the 14th: Fluid spaces: personifications and transformations of the self

- During this fourth session’s morning, we will visit Claude Cahun’s exhibition at Rotterdam’s Kunsthal. The conversation will bring questions from the previous 3 days, around archives, silences, voicing.

- Afternoon session: Screening and discussion: Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989) and The Giverny Document (Ja’Tovia Gary).

Monday 16th to Thursday 19th inclusive: Studio critics.

The second part of the workshop is dedicated to the students’ projects. Each student presents the ongoing or new work produced in the frame of this workshop, followed by a collective discussion.