[ISEA2009] Panel: Carl Mattias Ekman – Mnemonics as complementary space: theorising essayistic film towards a discourse on lost environments

Panel Statement

Panel: Post Conflict Storytelling

After conflicts, communities may find their buildings and streets fundamentally altered. In addition to economic, social and psychological repercussions, the inhabitants are deprived of their life milieu prior to the conflict. With the reduction or obstruction of space, memories and values attached to it are lost. This causes alienation, indignation and sorrow, sometimes with strong social and political implications. Building on the theories of Maurice Halbwachs, and Aleida and Jan Assmann, physical environment is here considered primarily as a framework for organising and disseminating our collective memories and meanings. In addition architecture is regarded as memory in itself, a store of cultural traces providing groups with identity. The loss of recognisable space hinders the collective processes of retrieving recollections shared by the groups, as well as reduces memory visible in built environment.

It is suggested that, actualised and problematised, these issues can have positive effect on rebuilding confidence in a community. By opposing any idea of reconstructing a true past, the paper proposes film making for engaging with the significance of remembered space. In situations where environments are lost, the film could offer a discursive space, here understood both as a space for discourse and as a discourse about space.
Two films are theorised in relation and opposition to each other – providing a field for analytical speculation: Harun Farocki’s Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (1988) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre musique (2004) dealing with the questions, conflicts and the spaces of war. Farocki’s film is organised as a thesis with a narrator talking over assemblages of images and sound. Despite its seemingly linear structure, the film is characterised by relations of images and sounds, not possible to anticipate by logical association, creating unexpected fields of meaning.
Notre musique makes use of a semi-fictive and fragmentary story within a thematic montage.
In Christina Scherer’s description of essential features of the essayistic film in Ivens, Marker, Godard, Jarman – Erinnerung im Essayfilm, it is possible to recognise attributes present in the two films. With the decomposition and fragmentation of the narrative and the components of
meaning, the essay film builds on the very doubt of recollection and the image. It questions representation of reality, suggesting its suitability for thematising memory. The paper aims at conceiving a manner of film making, not like the examples, but as an extension of the argument.
In practice, the mnemo-spatial film work can run the gamut from engagement with people in diaspora, to on-site involvement with affected communities and a theoretical investigation into modes of spatial remembering. The paper argues film can be a mnemonic in situations of
spatial conflicts. It can become available to communities as open-ended reflections complementary to reports or argumentative texts, as well as a spatial expression in itself, complementary to the altered or lost milieus. The argument is intended as a contribution to theory and practice engaged with the enigmas of memories and space, and to the production of re-interpretative and ambiguous artefacts of thought.

  • Carl Mattias Ekman, The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway