The Object That Remains
By Ayesha Hameed
These short films and videos rub against the grain of a common narrative about migration and globalization, where objects nostalgically connect us to places and times lost. Although it is perhaps alluring to consider the material and affective ties created by objects that tell a story, a more compelling tale might be told through the disenchanted object that stubbornly remains in spite of our best efforts. What role do these non-nostalgic objects play in the context of the moving image? In other words, how does the moving image frame and create an inventory of these objects?
Objects have a potency that can arise from inhabiting a particular sociohistorical moment or even from their very materiality. However this potency is inseparable from their inertness. For Walter Benjamin, the object’s historically-produced power is separated by a knife’s-edge from its decay, while Bruno Latour describes the materiality of the object as having a life outside of what humans project upon it. In these films and videos everyday objects like swipe cards, tongue depressors, clocks, dogs, rocks, statuettes and bodies work to resist the narrative, stick around and refuse to leave the frame.
This relationship between objects and the moving image can be traced through Anselm Franke’s exploration of objects in connection with the concept of animism, where he describes the image itself as alternating schizophrenically between life and death. It also draws from Hito Steyerl’s description of the witness in documentary film, where she argues that the witness might already be spoken for in how the documentary image is framed and edited. From this perspective, the object is a witness to its own social world, and its meaning is created in conversation with the moving image that frames it. This concept is explored in this Program through four themes: the secularized object, the residual object, the creation of time as an object, and the moving image as an inventory of these objects.
Bangalore-based artists Smriti Mehra and Tahireh Lal’s Tade vividly depicts this moment of secularization in the aftermath of the Ganesh festival after the idols are immersed into the lake. As they are now made of plastic instead of clay, they have to be fished out of the water after the ceremony. Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, becomes detritus in the water. Continuing this exploration of the disenchantment of religious objects, Jane Chang Mi’s No Title records a Buddhist monk throwing rocks at dogs outside of a monastery in Nepal. The violence with which he initially throws the rocks tapers as he realizes he is being filmed. Thus in the frame of the recorded moment all the actors are neutralized — the monk, the rock and the monastery. All that is left is the dog who leaves the scene disinterested.
The residual object provides a clue to the dominant narrative in Vivek Shraya’s Seeking Single White Male. Shraya depicts a sequence of Polaroid snapshots of a young man with disingenuously racist comments written on it. The Torontonians’ performance video How to be a brown teen delves gleefully into the uncomfortable candidness of teen humour. Masterji a teacher, lectures his students on proper behaviour with the help of numerous blackboard diagrams, whose development becomes the agent that paces and sometimes produces obstacles to the performance. Nabil Ahmad’s What is the Weight of the Moon? is a set of interviews with students from Bangladesh studying in East London and facing visa problems. The invisibility of their plight is heightened as they are off-camera. Only the hand of a student is briefly visible when he hands the interviewer his university swipe card used by the UKBA to monitor his attendance. In the hand and card we see a synecdoche of the border and who gets caught in its complexity.
In certain films even time becomes materialized. In Md Hasan Morshed’s Protocol a body takes the place of the hour hand on a clock. The rhythm of the body as object transforms time into something embodied and material. In Ambereen Siddiqui’s Lying in Wait, time becomes tangible in her exploration of repetition and anxiety due to failed communication networks in Karachi. Meanwhile, in The Dilemma what seems to be the image of a pregnant belly is juxtaposed with ideas of dread that grow with time. Both the pregnant body and the foetus share a fear of destruction in the moment of birth.
How then can film and video create an inventory of these objects? Asim Waqif’s An Experiment on MG Road depicts the building of a structure under a bridge, which both materializes and bears witness to the voice-over of a pecha kucha lecture to urbanists. The camera in Shereen Soliman’s Capsule stages a quiet inventory of the artefacts surrounding her mother’s terminal illness. Both the public and private elements are shorn of their life, as medical instruments and children’s toys become equally mute witnesses to a loss that is not explicitly articulated. This muteness is extended in Nahed Mansour’s staging of auto-ethnography in Measuring where her mouth painfully becomes an object to store tongue depressors. The notion of ethnography is inverted in Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s The Exception and the Rule, where, through its fictional protagonist Raj Kumar, it seeks its object of representation. This vertiginous pursuit is lost in the materiality of the everyday, in a wild goose chase for an object that might not even exist.
Ayesha Hameed is a performance and video artist and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
RM Vaughan, “South Asian video festival explores identity with flashes of humour, terror and anxiety,” The Globe and Mail online
Wojtek Gwiazda, “Interview with Ayesha Hameed,” Masala Canada, RCI, 41:35, Ep March 19 2011
Amanjeet K Chauhan, “Short films @ Monitor 7, presented by SAVAC,” galleryakc.