In mid-2011, I accessed a vernacular archive of slides which contained hundreds of images of Chile. These images were sent to England during the 80s to connect Chilean exiles (who were living in Britain at that time) with the changes that were taking place in their ‘homeland’ during Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990). The archive contains images of social change. Overall, it reflects the increasing obsolescence of the Chilean socialism embodied by Allende’s government, the perpetuation of Pinochet’s neoliberal model, and the struggle against those changes.
I began to manipulate the slides, to interrogate both their materiality and their hidden stories. Since the archive’s images were mostly taken during the 80’s, during my childhood, I could also recognize in these images my own recollections of a dictatorial past and my own childhood experiences. It was irrelevant to me whether that recognition was valid for others or not. I was much more interested in the opportunity to reflect on myself as taking up the role of an anthropologist while investigating these images.
At the beginning of this year Kodak announced the end of its production of reversal film, which is the film used to make slides. I found it compelling that today I was watching this archive about the increasing obsolescence of a political system through an obsolete medium. And I found it compelling that I was looking at this ‘obsolescence’ today in London; at a time when, in Chile, a socialist utopia seems to be being reborn through the student social movements. In the same way, the obsolete medium of film was being reborn through my digital camera.
The outcome of this research process is this video named diapofilm-1 elaborated out of the projection of the slides and sounds from Chile. It is an invitation not only to connect with the exiles’ experience of watching the archive and their possible concerns at the time. But also to the sensorial and tactile dimension of the analogue experience, in which the slides as objects, the mechanical sounds and the projector also count. The piece involves a complex relationship with temporality and space, creating a dialogue between past and present, here and there, that includes the media used.
In the film, the slide machine apparatus is like the ‘pre-cinema’ technology of the magic lantern. Like in Proust’s ‘Swann’s Way’ when the boy projects the images with the magic lantern in his room, the projection of the slides transforming the space into a series of legendary and historical scenes. These scenes, by triggering memories and fantasies in the viewer, produce a connection between the past and the present through the mechanical apparatus.
This process is not only represented through digital video and audio, but also it is translated into other media, it is a “media translation”, in this case through digital video. This dual operation opens the discussion on two very contemporary subjects, which are media convergence and media obsolescence.
The current moment is conceived as one of convergence: a moment in which different media can be “transcoded” into the new digital one. It has been said that this media convergence eliminates notions of medium specificity. However it has brought into existence, as Raymond Bellour has proposed, two kinds of crossbred works. Firstly, those that produce new images by an exchange and collision between different media images. Secondly, those that makes an old medium apparatus go beyond its traditional formations, while absorbing the formations of the new digital media. Diapofilm-1 belongs to the first group, because through digital video, the slide apparatus is dissected, analyzed, halted, reanimated and reassembled, so as to serve as a means of producing formal and conceptual expressions.
There has been a special interest in the “outmoded”, discarded media, in recent times. In fact, there has been a contemporary obsession with the obsolete and with ruins. Andreas Huyseen points out that this obsession hides a nostalgia for an earlier age that had not yet lost its ability to imagine other futures.
In the last few years, this obsession has become especially tangible due to the political and economic uncertainties and the lack of alternatives that the economic crisis has shown up. When we think about other futures, it reminds us immediately of the social utopias of the XX century. In the case of the Diapofilm-1, that is the socialist utopia of the Marxist government of Salvador Allende.
Through the digital camera, it is not only analyzed and reassembled the obsolete photochemical medium of the slides, but also the obsolete political utopia of Chile in the 70s, which definitively disappeared in the first decade of the XXI century. In the film, both the obsolete medium and the obsolete political system are reborn as a frozen moment of the past that speaks to the present through the space of viewing and the slide apparatus.
Thus, like the boy watching the images of the magic lantern in Proust’s novel, the slide projector triggered memories and fantasies of my childhood in Chile, bringing back images of those times, and at the same time it transformed the sensorial space in the new home that I am building day by day in London.
by Pablo Mollenhauer
(to be presented in the conference “Journey Across Media”, University of Reading, 2012)
Huyssen, A., 2006. Nostalgia for Ruins. Grey Room -, 6–21.
Shaw, J., Weibel, P., Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, 2003. Future cinema : the cinematic imaginary after film. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.; London.