Week 4: A Cinema of Liberation (Eckerson)

First off: I’d like to thank everyone for their comments and posts this week, as I sincerely enjoyed the deeper questions provoked by this weeks readings and viewings, namely, what is the nature and purpose of activist art, and the efficacy of it for effecting social change.  Gere’s overview of the advance of digital art was instructive in its explanation of the roots of modern performance art and its fascination with the form/function/flow of information.  While the realm of the digital avante guard might seem esoteric, Grace pointed out the continuum between digital art and the traditional art of Noh theatre and Zen gardens, which I think accurately roots it in (part of  its) historical artistic tradition. Allyson aptly talks about delivery of the message in the two online immersions we had, namely, should we bludgeon people with political content, or allow the story to unfold? Personally, I think that Lindsey summed up the underlying question of the week for me, which is how can avante garde art be effective?

I’d like to take on the question of form and function with regard to the purpose and efficacy of digital art.  To me, the question and issues surround how to make and use tactical media is best articulated in the manifesto by the Third Cinema founders Solanas and Getino.  While it was a manifesto about film production made in the 1960s, their analysis of the inherent issues in the production of media are illuminating.  Set amidst the backdrop of the Cuban revolution and the decolonization of the Third World during the Cold War,  the authors argue that a cinema of “liberation” is necessary –in both process and content–in order to be revolutionary.

Their essential distinction is as follows:

“Real alternatives differing from those offered by the System are only possible if one of two requirements is fulfilled: making films that the System cannot assimilate and which are foreign to its needs, or making films that directly and explicitly set out to fight the System. Neither of these requirements fits within the alternatives that are still offered by the second cinema, but they can be found in the revolutionary opening towards a cinema outside and against the System, in a cinema of liberation: the third cinema.”

They go on to express how the artist and intellectual is a necessary element of a revolutionary struggle, and that they are traditionally cut off from the masses through the commercialization of art. They claim that film is fundamentally (and I would read “immersive media” for our 21st century eyes) a revolutionary medium because it is easily understood by the masses (they don’t have to read) and can effect emotion (for better or for worse, media can change people).  Essentially, they claim that we must use this technology for our human struggles, but that the WAY we make it, WHAT we make it about, and HOW it is received by the audience  are equally important.  (A classic example of their work, La Hora de Los Hornos, is an ecclectic, non-narrative based four-hour-long experience, and was screened in small, outdoor  group settings all over Argentina and Cuba.) This understanding is perhaps the most developed explanation of the importance of technology for activating change.  Key to their manifesto, however, is the production of material that inherently can not be coopted. To be tactical, our media must remain “ahead” of the system.

With everything we have viewed and commented on this week, do people think that digital performance art is still avante garde? Has it been coopted by the system? Are the artists we have viewed directly challenging the system with their work?

The philosophy laid out in “Towards a Third Cinema,” is my litmus test for evaluating and understanding the efficacy of activist media.

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2 comments to Week 4: A Cinema of Liberation (Eckerson)

  • Makare

    Thank you for linking to the manifesto. When I was taking an aesthetic course in film school it was referenced, but I never got a chance to read it, and had since forgotten about it, looking forward to reading it.

  • jarrattt@uoregon.edu

    It would seem that the artists we viewed this week are adhering to the manifesto’s requirements (making art that sets out to fight the system), but I wonder if their projects could still be used by the system even as they challenge that system. Could they be assimilated? Could the EPA or some other governmental agency actually use Singer’s info from Sites Unseen to raise money for cleaning up the Super Fund areas? Could they also use her information to then show how they are doing such a great job when they clean up the sites? Maybe this isn’t such a bad way for the site to function. Though, if it was meant to critique our environmental policies and the agencies that see that those policies enacted, but the agency actually gets some use out of it, was it directly challenging the system? This seems possible with the Invisible Threads project as well. Companies could start to use this project as a PR campaign to show the public how great it’s working environment is and how well they treat their workers. Maybe it does force them to actually make these changes as well because they want to be honest to the public and be respected as a good employer. Still, the project wasn’t intended for their use at the outset, it was intended as a critique of their practices, but the system then found a way to coopt it.

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