On undisciplined bodies: notes on nudity, urban space, and civic demonstration

On April 20th of this year, during one of the dozens of demonstrations against Nicolás Maduro’s government in the last months, 27-year old Hans Wuerich undressed before a group of National Bolivarian Police officers. Bible in hand, he managed to climb one of the police tanks; he descended after exchanging a few words with the officers, his back covered in pellet shots. Then he walked home, still naked, and his family healed his wounds (or so Hans himself told Climax magazine). Professional and amateur photographs abound in protests –at least in Caracas–, so in a matter of minutes the images of Hans raising his arms and waving his Bible were on everyone’s screens.

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Public reactions, both condemnatory and condescending as well as glorifying and even “messianic”, emerged immediately. For me, the scene initially provoked an immediate comparison with the performance work of Érika Ordosgoitti, whose discourse has interested me for several years and with whom I had the opportunity to speak in an exchange published by Atlas magazine a few months ago. What Érika does has many subtleties and encompasses different formats and strategies, but, generally speaking, it has become a reference for the questioning of public space through the naked body. However, with the passing of the days and after reading subsequent statements by Hans Wuerich himself, I understood that his was perhaps a more precarious proposal and that it came from a different place; however, it certainly holds important similarities with Érika’s performances. In both cases, Hans and Érika confront the public space, which is besieged by patriarchal-military forces, with their vulnerable bodies, thus sensitizing –through the photographic capture, and not only with their actions in real time– their audience  to the issues of marginality and violence.

Much has been already said, and I don’t mean to over-analyze what Hans Wuerich did on the Francisco Fajardo highway that day, but I also think that not talking about it in these terms means conceding too much space to the malicious, sexist interpretations that I found when I Googled his name (keep in mind that, within hours of his appearance, the President of Venezuela made a joke about the size of Hans’s penis on public television). News portals sympathetic to the government refer to Hans as “the opositor (member of the opposition) who set up a show on the freeway,” claim that he was drugged during the event, and they have even found out what kind of pension his father (of immigrant descent, they are quick to note) receives, so as to bring “shame” to his family. All of this because of a naked, injured body.

In an interview with Clímax magazine a few days after his jump to “fame”, Wuerich stated that his actions had been premeditated (not, as I thought, a spontaneous reaction to the siege of tear gas and pellets). He mentioned that he felt the wave of protests thus far needed “something that really created attention,” and that he searched Google for references: “I read about people who stripped naked in Spain to protest bullfighting. I also saw some women undressing against Trump. And a woman in Brazil who did more or less what I did, but she could not stand it. She ran off with the pellets. Of course, I also saw the old lady who stood in front of the tanks here in Caracas.” Even if he did not express it or the published interview did not reflect it, he was clearly referring to ways of protesting individually with the body and through nudity.

Continue reading “On undisciplined bodies: notes on nudity, urban space, and civic demonstration”

Elizabeth Cemborain: Dialog, Displacement, Distortion

This is the English translation of my latest column at La ONG’s blog (it is available here). I only found out about Elizabeth’s (extensive) work a few months ago, and I was very excited to share a few words about her glitch art experiments. This also makes me feel optimistic that there might be more people making interesting digital art being made in the country that I don’t know about yet.

Elizabeth Cemborain (Caracas, 1959) studied Architecture at Universidad Central de Venezuela and later pursued a degree in Pure Art at the Cristóbal Rojas School of Visual Arts, majoring in Drawing and Painting. Nowadays, she develops an artistic practice mainly focused on electronic media and languages, and is probably one of the greatest exponents of glitch art in Venezuela. Her most recent piece –screened at the 68th Arturo Michelena Biennial– is a 42-second video entitled El Puente (The Bridge), and it serves as a starting point for this brief interrogation of Cemborain’s extensive work in the digital arts.

El puente from LA TIZA on Vimeo.

In The Bridge, Cemborain records the landscape as she transits the bridge over Lake of Maracaibo. Those images are later processed to generate interlaced patterns that, in her own words, establish “a dialogue with the abstract-geometric tradition … it is a landscape of a gray, disoriented, and transitional Venezuela.” The gray-blue landscape suddenly becomes a series of broken lines of color, and the underlying image reappears and dissolves over and over during the journey.

Elizabeth Cemborain’s work is closely related to displacements (physical and symbolic), and often stems from meditations on movement: movement as a recurring element of study in the history of Venezuelan art, the movement inherent to electronic displays, movement as the engine of dialogue. This term –dialog– also resonates through Cemborain’s work, especially since she employs mobile devices that allow her to create images that engage in “dialog” with landscapes and objects she encounters.

Trained an architect, Cemborain became familiar with digital technologies before their use became widespread in Venezuela, and though she employed CAD and Mac Perspective to work, her favorite tools were sketch paper and pencils. After 9 years of professional practice, she decided to enter the Cristóbal Rojas School and gradually abandon architecture. Finally, in 2003, two factors influenced a total shift towards digitality in her career: her growing interest in and participation in workshops on contemporary art and culture (including some promoted by visual artist Antonio Lazo), and her experience living outside the country for several months. Regarding this experience, Cemborain recalls: “(I had) no other expressive resource than a simple digital camera and a laptop. I began touring cities and towns while doing photographic and video recordings. My urban tours have unfolded like this ever since: I see them through the movement generated by my actions, and through the language generated by the computer when reviewing the material.”

Cemborain’s first approximation  to glitch as an expressive resource was quite accidental. She explains: “I work with several programs open at the same time. I can have Photoshop, Adobe Premier, Camtasia, and Skype running simultaneously… I exchanged information between them, and glitches began to appear when I moved files from one place to another. After these random incidents, the system often “froze” –which was a prelude to the imminent death of my hard drive. I began to observe what movements could generate the glitches, initially to avoid their appearance and then to generate them intentionally.” Hers is, therefore, a truly organic approach to the technical error; a practice that stems from pure aesthetic experimentation and curiosity about the limits and failures of a device.

Since her first experiences with glitch, Cemborain has incorporated error into her work by using glitch simulators. She has also experimented with direct intervention in executable files: “I have performed ‘parallel experiences’ in which I introduce words in the binary files of the frames. I have also achieved interventions with sound factors through audio editing programs. Often the files are rendered unreadable, but on other rare occasions that can be opened with graphic editing programs.” In addition to producing and collecting glitches on her computer screen –and perhaps inspired by the transformative movement inherent to the intentional generation of technical error–, Cemborain has developed a discourse that unfolds as a sort of constant dialogue with her surroundings, the landscape, the Other. Glitch is then configured as an element of mediation; it represents Cemborain’s hand appropriating preexisting images to turn them into patterns of light and color.

Cemborain’s inclination towards abstraction –or an image’s deconstruction in chromatic patterns– is especially tangible in her portfolio and in her personal Instagram (where she shares short videos and images, “immediate works” created in her phone). Her “dialogs” with the work of other artists (for example, during her recent visit to Miami Art Basel), developed from encounters in exhibition spaces, are also frequent.

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Dialog with Hayfer Brea’s Registro de Territorio

Aesthetically and technically, Cemborain’s work is a fundamental exponent of Venezuelan new media art, but it is tempting to draw a vague relationship with kineticism –the  reference most contemporary Venezuelan visual artists must confront. For Cemborain, her own work is intimately linked to movement insofar as movement is the “generating principle” of her work from beginning to end. This reflection leads, in turn, to consider the concept of motion in the context of recording and processing data: the artist transits the space (the city, the landscape, the gallery) with the camera in her hand, performs a digital zoom into the object, and then subjects the file to a series of movements within the “post-production” device to generate errors and distortions.

Urban landscapes are also recurrent protagonists of Cemborain’s work, and it is important to note that her approach comes from movement even if the final result might be a fixed image. In her recordings, the camera (or cell phone in a horizontal position) becomes one with the body; after digital processing, the final work is usually a chromatic abstraction of the landscape based on the “sweep” generated by the camera. Cemborain says: “When reviewing my videos frame by frame, I discover areas of interest precisely in the lapses when movement has been present. When I expand these interlaced frames, new ‘synthetic’ landscapes arise, composed of fringes and rhythms that dialogue with the aesthetics of geometric abstraction. I am attracted to the moving image, and I feel that it is the central link and generator of my work.” The movement of the body (and therefore of the camera) is then seen as the aesthetic principle and main resource of her “synthetic” technique.

I have inserted below some images from the Displacements series that effectively illustrate this dynamic process: touring Times Square at dusk, between hurried crosses, Cemborain records the movement of her own body, the movement of the LED screens and flashing signs, and the movement of bodies around them. The displacement of the camera/body produces images that can be situated between pictorial abstraction and glitch art.

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Elizabeth Cemborain shares influences and even thematic interests with certain traditions in Venezuelan art, but her approximation has few precedents. Landscapes, politics, dialogs with the past, are all addressed in her work from the mobile –closely related to the playful and the unforeseen– and from the digital-corrupt as a metaphor (a key factor to differentiate glitch art from a “natural” glitch). She is one of the few Venezuelan artists with a long career who have developed a profound discourse using digital technologies in each stage of their creative processes. Her work contains a fresh conceptual proposal in regards to thinking about the environment as flexible and malleable –the landscape that is manipulated by technology to reveal some of its multiple possible appearances. El Puente, the work at the top of this article, is a clear example: departing from Cemborain’s perception of Venezuela as a “disoriented” country, the camera’s horizontal movement might be a metaphor for a journey towards confronting the flaws and challenges that characterize this landscape/country –the conflicts and breaks that become visible in the glitches that interrupt her view on Lake Maracaibo.

Source:
Cemborain, Elizabeth. Interview with the author via e-mail. December 7, 2016.
Coordinates:
Official website: http://www.elizabethcemborain.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elizabethcemborain/
All images are property of Elizabeth Cemborain and are used here with due permission.

Article in Shift Journal 9: Networks

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A bit after the date, but an article I wrote about poor image circulation in Venezuela was published in the 9th issue of Shift, a journal on material culture currently hosted by the Graduate Center at CUNY and the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. This is an exciting event as it’s my first article in a peer-reviewed journal, and it also represents the most recent iteration of my research on this issue. In this particular text, I attempted to propose certain additions to Hito Steyerl’s poor image theory that I came up with as I applied it outside of the Euro-American context, with special emphasis on how it works in terms of localized effects.  There is plenty of ground still to cover, and more complications of the theory remain to be proposed. The entire issue of Shift (which is, this article notwithstanding, very interesting and multidisciplinary) can be read/downloaded here.

 

The Assault of The Body, The Body Under Assault: Interview with Érika Ordosgoitti

This is the English translation of an interview with Venezuelan performance artist Érika Ordosgoitti published last week by the Chilean magazine Atlas Revista Fotografía e Imagen (it can be read here). Érika is a dynamic force in the Venezuelan arts scene, a tireless political activist, driving force behind the Caracas Performance Biennale, and an extremely sensitive, disciplined, and thorough thinker and poet. It was a privilege to speak with her. This interview is particularly focused on the body, urban violence, and the “photo-assaults” that she has been developing for more than 6 years now.

How would you describe public spaces in Caracas to someone who is not familiar with the city? This is crucial to understanding the risk your work involves, and your character as an artist.

Abuse. Abuse is what defines public space in Venezuela: loud noises, disregard for rules of the road, and disregard for personal space. The unifying experience for female bodies in public spaces in Caracas is sexual harassment, especially catcalling. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed like a nun, if you are a child, even if you are an elderly woman: there is no escaping it. Women are constantly, unfairly forced to listen to vile words directed at them for no reason. Personally, I try to cover myself up as much as possible, but that usually doesn’t help. It doesn’t even matter that I am walking with my young daughter.

When you work in public spaces, you often perform what you have called “photo-assaults.” Most of these involve photographing your naked body next to iconic structures in the city. Why do you employ the term “assault”?

Photo-assaults are performances I do without any announcement, invitation, or permission. They are fleeting: one moment I am there and the next I am gone. If you are doing something weird, but you announce it, it doesn’t have the same effect as if you take people by surprise. It’s more confrontational.

So the reaction of the passers-by/spectators is key to the success of a photo-assault?

Audience reaction is always important to me, but I would say it is more so in the case of actual performances. Photo-assaults are about looking for an image, getting it, and making it out alive.

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Photo-assault at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas, 2012

Would you characterize your performances as ways of reclaiming a position, in your own terms, within the public space?

I would say there is an act of reclaiming, yes. And I would add that it is a somewhat violent act of reclaiming.

Continue reading “The Assault of The Body, The Body Under Assault: Interview with Érika Ordosgoitti”

Article in Revista Comunicación No. 175

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An article I wrote last year about poor image circulation in Venezuela titled Reacción y subversión: la imagen pobre en Venezuela (Reaction and Subversion: The poor image in Venezuela) is included in the 175th number of Comunicación journal, edited by Centro Gumilla Foundation in Caracas. The entire number is devoted to issues related to audiovisual technologies, and it can be read in its entirety here (my article is 69-75); it will probably come out in print next year.

This is very exciting for me as it’s my first article in an academic journal, and Comunicación is probably the #1 media-related publication in Venezuela. I feel very honored to be in such good company, with other scholars that are still working and producing quality research in spite of the crisis that affects us on a very primal level.

#Here: A Conversation with Costanza de Rogatis

Below is the English translation of my most recent article for La ONG’s blog. This time I interviewed Venezuelan photographer Costanza de Rogatis, with special focus on her social media images. The original Spanish can be found here.

Costanza de Rogatis (Caracas, 1976) holds a B.A. in Arts from Universidad Central de Venezuela and a Diploma in Photography from the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, in countries such as Venezuela, Italy, the United States, Latvia, and Finland. This past August, she opened the individual show Puente at Tresy3 gallery in Caracas. However, I know Costanza’s work mostly through her personal Instagram, where she has developed a discourse that unifies the aesthetics of her work in other formats with the possibilities of mobile photography – more recently, she has been sharing a series on the body titled with the hashtag #Aquí (here). Focusing on her work on this social network, I asked Costanza for an interview via a collaborative Google Doc, in which we sketched out some reflections and shared screenshots. The following text is the result of that exchange.

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Before starting this Doc I looked at your Instagram grid once again, and I sensed a proposition of sorts –not just a theme or aesthetic, but a conscious display. I’m interested in several things about your use of the Instagram platform. How has the language of the snapshot with a mobile camera forced or helped you develop other facets of your photographic language?

The aesthetics of the snapshot interests me because it is instantaneous and leaves little room for pretensions. I like the idea of being able to make pictures without more preparation than carrying my cell phone and making photographs as I need to on that particular day. It often happens that in producing some of these images I have an impulse to see what I can do with the shapes of my body, as my mood changes throughout the day or week… also, the directness of the snapshot makes it very close and real to me.

I find it interesting when a professional photographer shares her work on Instagram, because the moment of consumption (or contemplation) is totally uncontrollable. Your audience is scrolling down according to their own preferences, and your image might be visualized in the middle of others that may collide with it or decontextualize it. Have you ever had this in mind?

The truth is I don’t think about how my images will be seen within the maremagnum of images on Instagram… I imagine that among my followers are the people who work with me at the office, my relatives, people I have met by chance, and total strangers, and all of them have a different background and interests that are different from mine. I suppose that, to some of them, my images of the body might seem strange, but it’s something that I can’t control. I don’t think I care to control it either. Mine is just a voice –maybe just a few words– in that stream of glittering visual information.

And with respect to your grid, do you approach the “assembly” of your own profile consciously, with any proposal?

I like to think of my grid as a thread with a certain visual continuity. It is definitely not a narrative, but when I make my images, I see the order they are carrying and I try not to allow any cacophony between them, or if there are any, I try for it to take me somewhere. The grid helps me understand where I go, and question why certain images I like more or less in relation to others.

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Continue reading “#Here: A Conversation with Costanza de Rogatis”

ArchivoAbierto: Carlos Zerpa Archive at Abra Caracas (09/2016)

Some pics from a visit to ArchivoAbierto, Venezuelan artist Carlos Zerpa‘s “Open Archive” at Abra Caracas gallery. The exhibit includes press clippings, photographs, collage works, posters, and other documents that sum up Zerpa’s work and interests between 1969 and 1997. My favorites were definitely the flyers and zines (the powers of a Xerox machine, yes!). Zerpa had a playful approach to performance and video that, oddly enough, comes across in a much more relatable way (for me) in the design of his printed works.

I also want to commend the work of ArtEncontrado, the producers. Artists of Zerpa’s generation, who are still alive, working, and therefore have political opinions, are usually not in official Museums so we don’t often have the opportunity to experience their work retrospectively. I hope they open up another artist’s archive soon.

Museographically (and this is just my personal taste), this exhibit would have benefitted from some kind of chronological layout, or at least some wall text or tags. It felt a little too much like a random collection of memorabilia, which has its charm, but is ultimately less educational –and I think that’s important given the current state of affairs.

All pics by me.

Talk: The Conditions of the Poor Image in Venezuela @ Librería Lugar Común, Caracas

On 09/23 I gave a talk at Librería Lugar Común in Caracas, in which I presented some of my most recent research on poor image circulation in Venezuela. Aside from pretty good insights about other aspects to consider in future versions of my paper (like the really terrible Internet access conditions in the country), most comments left very clear that there is a general interest in discussing and arriving at some sort of solution for the current conditions of access to national film production. Ultimately, we are more and more moving towards getting these images ‘out there’ illegally. This will continue to happen –often in detriment of the makers– in problematic ways, above all through disc-based sales, until more makers take a (creative) stand about the present structures of distribution, or until we rethink film distribution altogether. The time is always right for coming up with new ‘models’ or platforms to do this. I will personally continue to look into what’s going on in YouTube with Venezuelan films.

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Slides (in Spanish):

 

Images from @LibreriaLC and @BackroomCaracas

The anonymous and the animal in the imaginary of Lucía Pizzani

 

everything has a border doesn’t it? / the edge where the light cannot get in/ until joy knows the original wound.
which is why the earth is feminine,/ and the body, not the soul, cries out in heaven–
March Dawn, Brenda Hillman

 

I have only seen Lucía Pizzani’s work live on one occasion: her solo show Mariposario at Oficina #1 (2013). Since then, I am fascinated by her output and I try to stay up to date with it, so I was glad to learn she made the book The Body of Nature available for free in her website. This publication compiles images of her works, curatorial texts, and reviews of her shows from 2008 to 2015. This article proposes an approximation to Pizzani’s work based on a reading of the book, as I have not been able to see so many of her exhibitions in person. 

Pizzani (Caracas, 1975) studied Mass Communications, Fine Arts, and holds a Certificate in Conservational Biology. She employs photography, performance, sculpture, installation, and video to explore issues of gender, nature, and corporality –  The Body of Nature, therefore, is a perfect summary. Her work is delicate and precise, and could also be considered “feminine,” due to the association of certain practices, like ceramics (and dance, which is also present in her work), with activities developed traditionally by women. In general terms, Pizzani’s work is thematically luminous and dark, serene and turbulent; it constantly confounds and challenges the spectator to unravel what appears to be a formally “beautiful” piece and discover its intrinsic narrative. 

Without much previous knowledge about her research, my first encounter with Lucía’s work stirred up profound questions related to my self-image, my image as projected onto the collective, and the image that the collective returns to me –all of this associated, of course, with my female (straight, white, Latin American) condition. It is from this perspective that I wish to delve into two notions that I felt very present during my reading of The Body of Nature: the anonymous and the animal.

First, Pizzani claims to take stories and artistic references from Europe and South America and different periods, combining aesthetic, cultural and historical figures. This leads to the creation of hybrid and anonymous figures –without specific origin, without time- that inhabit her imaginary, particularly in Las Cáscaras, a piece from of El Adorador de la Imagen. Pizzani also frequently employs her own body, but it is presented in contexts that displace or complicate its identity: in the Vessel series and her body drawings, the body is a tool to generate a trace, and El Adorador de la Imagen Pizzani’s image is displayed performing a dance choreographed by the American Loie Fuller (1862-1928).

In a review of her solo show Vessel (Galería Fernando Zubillaga, 2009) published in El Nacional, curator and art critic Lorena González argues that this body of work, developed as culmination of Pizzani’s MFA at Chelsea College of Fine Arts, is the expression of a “fragmented corporeality, torn between physical confinement and today’s illusions of escape.” This is the result of an investigation that evinces “the vicissitudes of a body ebclosed by the anguish of our contemporary world.”

Vessel (2009) (live action at Chelsea College) © Lucía Pizzani

The room is the enclosed environment that distresses the body. It is through the impression of movement on the plaster walls that the body expresses its desire to escape. Pizzani’s body can only face enclosure through fragmentation, and can only be fragmented symbolically by generating its own traces. Once the action is completed only marks and grooves remain, which have the possibility of identity but are, in themselves, anonymous.

Philosopher and professor Megan M. Burke argues that, from a phenomenological perspective, anonymity is “the place prior to which my body and self are noticeably different than that of an other,” such that ” anonymity is a pure shared existence”. In the case of Vessels, if the traces on the wall are non- preceded by the performative action, they could be said to belong to anyone: Lucía’s footprints are everyone’s.

This understanding of anonymity is problematic from a feminist perspective, because that “everyone” involves the imposition of a single universal referent (the self) denying , therefore, difference (this is the main criticism that Burke directs towards Merleau-Ponty). On the other hand, the notion of indifferentiation is closely linked to the objectification of the body for commercial or sexual purposes. By introducing undifferentiated bodies in her work, Pizzani might seek to replicate in aesthetic terms the experience of social anonymity to which female bodies are subject.

Indifferentiation is addressed more directly in The unknown of the Seine and other Ophelias, winner of the Eugenio Mendoza Prize in 2013. This work refers to the story of “The Unknown,” an anonymous young woman who drowned in the Seine River in the late 1800s (her death was pronounced a suicide, though no evidence of it existed). The coroner was so captivated by the mysterious expression of serenity on the corpse’s face that he commissioned a death mask; later, in the twentieth century, that face became an object of fascination among the Surrealists and other artists and writers.

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The death mask of the Unknown at Sala Mendoza © Lucía Pizzani

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 Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Pizzani was inspired by the fascination caused by the mask of The Unknown and made it the leitmotif of her exhibition, also replicating it in ink drawings. Thus, she created a collection of “other Ophelias.” She also incorporated press clippings about four female suicides in rivers. The Unknown of the Seine was a dialog between fictional and real women who, in the shared space of “the Ophelias,” partook of the same identity and the same fate, their individualities dissolved in the legend of the death of Ophelia –which is not just any death, but a poetic death, practically devoid of violence, as described by queen Gertrude in the fourth act of Hamlet:

Continue reading “The anonymous and the animal in the imaginary of Lucía Pizzani”

Quemaditos and Youtube Nostalgia: The Conditions of the Poor Image in Venezuela [Excerpt]

Over the past year I have been working on research about the circulation of poor images in Venezuelan film economy. This is an excerpt from the most recent version of my paper devoted to the subject. An earlier version will be published by the end of this year in the journal Comunicación (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello).  I am in Venezuela  hoping to complete more interviews and some much needed ethnographic and netnographic research, moving towards an even more extensive essay. I will probably post more about this subject here in the future.

 

The Conditions of The Poor Image

A digital moving image travels fast across platforms and devices. It can be streamed, ripped, downloaded and re-uploaded, appropriated, modified, and corrupted. Adaptability is perhaps the most important distinction from its analog counterpart. But these processes of transmission/adaptation/retransmission take their toll on digital files: their journeys through formats eventually bring about loss of data, resulting in the degraded, precarious images that Hito Steyerl calls “poor images.”[1] A poor image belongs at the bottom of the contemporary hierarchy of images in which resolution constitutes a class position of privilege; a low-resolution image is the “debris of audiovisual production, the trash that washes up on the digital economies’ shores… [It testifies] to the violent dislocations, transferals, and displacements of images —their acceleration and circulation within the vicious cycles of audiovisual capitalism”.[2] A copy that deteriorates as it circulates, a poor image is a marginal product of the film distribution industry that upholds high resolution as its maximum value.[3]

The economy of poor images is a departure from the way mainstream film is traditionally accessed. Steyerl explains that the commercialization of cinema and the establishment of monopolies at local and global levels —about thirty to twenty years ago— pushed independent filmmaking underground, and it was individuals circulating copies within small groups who kept experimental, militant, and essayistic cinema alive. But more recently, with the appearance of online streaming services, these images have begun to resurface on open platforms like UbuWeb and YouTube.[4] The possibility of P2P sharing and free downloads has also made files widely available, as now they can be saved, edited, and redistributed individually. Steyerl argues that the networks thus created by poor image circulation are global and anonymous, and that they contribute to reconnect dispersed worldwide audiences.[5] In short, file-sharing platforms enable the ‘resurrection’ of content marginalized by the mainstream in the form of poor images, and facilitate its circulation well beyond the limits of a group of interested individuals.

It is clear that, today, someone in a small town in South America with a working Internet connection can legally or illegally stream and download an experimental film created by an artist in Europe several decades ago, but poor image circulation is not only about its own ability to surpass geographical and political borders (just as it is not only about the dissemination of marginalized content, as will be discussed later). Although Steyerl emphasizes that the poor image creates a “shared history” as it travels across the globe,[6] it is also true that it impacts and contributes to shared histories in much more reduced contexts. In the case of Venezuelan film economy, the poor image is a key agent that critically influences how national cinema is produced and distributed. For example, it empowers illegal commercial networks and generates problems that directly impact the subsistence of local filmmakers; on the other hand, it gives way to solutions to problems of access, and configures communities within Venezuelan audiences that harness its properties to rescue an unprotected film legacy.

Venezuelan Film Economies and The Poor Image

The ‘resurrection’ of marginalized films as poor images has implications beyond appearance or content. The fact that they are only available outside the mainstream reveals “the conditions of their marginalization, the constellation of social forces leading to their online circulation as poor images.”[7] As they surface, they raise questions about how they got to be degraded. Steyerl upholds the idea that the poor image is resistant insofar as it continues to circulate in spite of its degradation, refusing to submit to the conditions of exclusion being imposed on it.[8]

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Source: lapatilla.com

Hito Steyerl argues that the privatization of media production has gradually become more important than state-sponsored media production, and this has given way to poor image circulation since privatization of intellectual content enables piracy.[9] What is most puzzling about Venezuelan film economies is that, at first glance, they seem to work the other way around. Rodrigo Llamozas, founder of Cameo Marketing Audiovisual and former Distribution Director at the multiplex chain Cines Unidos, argues that almost all of the national films that are shown in the country are produced and/or distributed theatrically with some kind of sponsorship from the state.[10] The state operates through the distribution company Amazonia Films, and supports productions with various funding programs through the CNAC.[11] Additionally, state sponsorship is available to help makers finance transfers to 35mm and physically distribute their films across the country.[12] Therefore, it would be erroneous to assert that the state has preferred to privatize film production in Venezuela; its support simply does not extend to making films available to the public after their theater run.

hermano-cartel
Source: labutaca.net

Hermano by Marcel Rasquin was the domestic box-office hit of 2010. It played internationally, it is available in DVD format in Spain and the United States, and it streams on Netflix and Hulu, yet it was never officially distributed in Venezuela after its successful theater run. According to Rasquin himself, CNAC was interested in releasing a DVD, but the plans never materialized. He was also in conversation with private companies to release DVDs through alternative channels: one option was to sell them in the Farmatodo chain of drugstores, and another was to include it in issues of El Nacional newspaper.[13] Neither possibility came to be, and only pirate copies were (and are) finally available, which Rasquin laments: “What upset me most about the pirate Hermano was not only its low quality, but that it was an offline version –without color correction or credits, and with referential music —which included no less than The Rolling Stones.”[14] Ultimately, Rasquin thinks that those failed plans for distribution represented a moral obligation, rather than an actual ‘good business’ opportunity, and adds: “Movies that do well at the box office are cannibalized incredibly fast in the pirate market, and the truth is that the pirate market has enveloped everything. Legal DVD sales do not exist, and the state is not in conditions to battle piracy. It doesn’t have the time or the interest, either”.[15]

Continue reading “Quemaditos and Youtube Nostalgia: The Conditions of the Poor Image in Venezuela [Excerpt]”