Together | Part 3: Carole & Tuesday

the space between us is who we are. A hot wind, a white sea, a film.

The very last word in The White Girl‘s closing monologue (see part 2) elicits contextualization. Context is indeed intensely relevant for this film; underneath its fictional story lies an homage to a very real place, a commentary on its contemporary situation, and an act of giving a voice to its people. The final word is thus a metatextual punctuation to a consciously political film that addresses issues specifically related to Hong Kong. It indicates that the film itself is as much a bridge as the ones depicted in it – one that mediates a dialogue between place, characters, filmmakers and audience.

Read More »

Together | Part 2: The White Girl

The scene between the SDF terrorist and Nono near the end of Planetes (see part 1) presents a clash between a postcolonial contra postmodern perspective on national subjectivity. As explained by Piotr Piotrowski, the postcolonialist centralizes the oppressed national subject as a means of resistance against the oppressor, thus leaning toward an essentialist conception of nationhood and subjectivity. The postmodernist on the other hand sees no essential qualities in the nation, thus decentralizing the subject. Piotrowski argues that a balance is necessary between these opposing perspectives when tackling the power structure of center and periphery. At a macro scale, the postcolonial perspective is useful in order to defend the national subject in its peripheral position – but this must be complemented with the postmodern perspective at a micro scale, otherwise local groups and individuals are generalized and essentialized under the national domain (Piotrowski, 2012: 37).

Read More »

Together | Part 1: Planetes

Minor spoilers for Planetes (2003)

Young man, you try too hard to put everything into clear-cut categories

said the old sailor to Yuri. A non-answer to his many questions about the Self and the Other, good and evil, space and the Earth. Yuri reminisces about his self-searching journey as a young man after the accidental destruction of a memorial item from a great loss of his. He concludes from his reminiscence that the boundary between the Earth and space does not exist – that Earth already is a part of space. With this conclusion, he lets go of his grief. Nothing lasts, but nothing is lost. The scene rounds off episode 13, thus marking the midpoint of the series while also summarizing its thematic core.

Read More »

The work of art in the age of memetic simulacra

Walter Benjamin’s classic essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” somehow never ceases to be relevant. Despite being very much a reflection of its time – of anxieties surrounding industrialization and the advent of new media technologies – it time and again pops up as a point of reference in discussions on the extinction of originality. As Benjamin famously argues, the mechanical reproducibility of an artwork results in a loss of the “aura” that makes it unique and thus authentic (220-224). While he notes that art always has been reproducible, what mechanical/technical reproduction brings to the table is a diminishment of the “authority of the object.” (221) The value of originality as such disappears when art is born into the mode of reproduction from the get-go: “the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility.” (224)

Read More »

Sarah Sze’s image-objects

I’m really interested in this kind of pendulum swing; this kind of desire to be able to feel and touch and smell materials – and then the other end of the pendulum being the reality that we have a distance from materials and we have so much time with images.

Sarah Sze, “How We See the World”, art21

Where is the line between image and object? When does something become a visual representation of intangible virtuality, and when does it become tangible materiality? There exists a very interesting dialogue yet tension between the images that we consume and the objects through which we consume them – not least in today’s digital age. Take a regular cellphone for example. Looking at the screen of the phone, one’s eyes may be directed at the displayer, but what one looks at is the content that is being displayed. As one is immersed into the represented content, the material form is ignored. Yet in order to reach the former at all, the latter is necessary. One typically must grab and hold the phone in one’s hand, and then touch the displayer in order to get to and navigate through the content. Moreover, the phone contains a myriad of materials such as cards and circuits, without which its image-displaying function would be impossible. Image is vitally dependent on object – yet their phenomenological dimensions are kept separate.

Read More »

The multilayered body of Alita

Bodies are not treated with much grace in the world of Alita: Battle Angel. As much in the film as in the manga and OVA that it is based on, the approach to the cyborg body is extremely physical. Mechanized and commodified in an utmost cyberpunk “high tech low life”-manner, it is graphically enhanced, attached and detached, bought, sold, traded and stolen. Death continually occurs by bodies being smashed or cut into pieces, while survival occurs by the simple replacement of the destroyed body. As it is treated as a mere tool, the body’s ontological attachment to the self appears to have been abandoned long ago. But while this technological split in the bodily self is present in the franchise at large, what’s peculiar about Robert Rodriguez’s film adaptation is its depiction of the split through its own technological medium-materiality.

Read More »

The phenomenological metaphysics of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

In bunraku, the most recent and most developed edition to the history of Japanese puppet theater, the puppets at play come to life through the cooperation of a number of performers. Each major character is controlled by three puppeteers; one for the lower body, one for the head – including facial details in some cases – and the right arm, and one for the left arm (Bolton, 2002: 741; “Bunraku Performers: Puppeteers”). Meanwhile a single chanter performs the voices of all characters while accompanied by a shamisen player (Bolton, 2002: 739, 748; “Bunraku Performers: Narrators”; “Bunraku Performers: Musicians”). Having personally seen such an operation in action, I was particularly struck by its mimetic dissonance. Presented in front of me were meticulously crafted puppets that in detailed motion immersively acted out the play’s story. Yet just behind them were the black-clothed faceless figures pulling the strings, imbuing the puppets and their story with life by moving their bodies with technical proficiency. While “hidden” behind neutrality, the performers’ no less visible presence formed a rupture in the play’s mimetic consistency, subtly revealing its ultimate condition as fiction and the puppets’ ultimate conditions as inanimate objects. To draw a comparison to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: the shadow reflections (the puppets) and their activities inside the cave (the story) was the main point of attention – yet the figures producing the reflections (the puppeteers) were hauntingly present in the metaphysical background.

Read More »