Program (videos available!)

Session 1 | Lost Footage

(chair: Robrecht Vanderbeeken, KASK)

10:00 Welcome

Audio: Robrecht Vanderbeeken: introduction

Uncommercial break 1

10:15 Comparative Approaches to Recent Documentary Practice in Artists’ Films | Katerina Gregos (curator)

It has been a number of years that the so-called ‘documentary turn’ has become a frequent phenomenon in many artists’ films. The talk will be a comparative look into recent documentary practices that diverge from the orthodoxy of documentary as ‘factual’ film’, a notion which contemporary artists have repeatedly challenged of late. These artists working from a documentary point of departure use multiple strategies to reveal known or hidden ‘truths’, sometimes weaving fictional elements into their stories. Many of them demonstrate that ‘truth value’ does not lie in mere representation but may emerge even more forceful through artistic abstraction, translation, filtering and interpretation and that nowadays the borderline between documentary and fiction, or reality and fantasy is often becoming hard to distinguish. The talk aims to illustrate that the notion of the ‘documentary real’ is continuously evolving and cannot now be pinned down to a single definition or delineated through specific boundaries. Indeed it aims to show that some of the most interesting documentary practices are those which I call documentary ‘with a twist’, i.e. films that interweave the political with the poetic, and navigate between different filmic categories to arrive at highly individualistic hybrid documentary forms where the notion of realism is in constant renewal and the idea of ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ may be encoded into ambiguous but no less potent forms.

Video: Katerina Gregos: lecture
Audio: Katerina Gregos: lecture

Video: Katerina Gregos: questions
Audio: Katerina Gregos: questions

10:45 Discussion Newsflash 1

11:00 Appropriating the Documentary Language | Jasper Rigole (artist)

Rigole will discuss some of the strategies that form the basis for his artistic practice. For his films and installations, he appropriates documentary language and uses found ego-documents such as family film and so-called vernacular photography to reflect on various themes such as the assigned value of the document, authenticity, authority and objectivity.
Paradise Recollected: Teaser:
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OUTNUMBERED, a brief history of imposture – REAR VIEW (excerpt)
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11:30 Discussion

Newsflash 2

11:45 Reanimating Found Footage | Edwin Carels (curator, art theorist KASK)

The tradition of found footage is nearly as old as cinema itself, but is has also changed over the course of the decades, and its strategic implications evolve with the changing context in which they appear. As we are now daily exposed to samples, mash ups and other forms of digital piracy (or open source) behaviour, the status of an ‘original’ or ‘authentic’ image is rapidly loosing its authority. Re-editing and manipulating found footage is always a from of reanimation: breathing new life into old matter. At best, it is also a conscious way of activating our memory and commenting on the source material. From the beginning animation also has been used to comment on live action cinema. Much rarer however are the moments when animation recycles itself, or that one artist ‘borrows’ the authorship of another. Already a distinct sign system within itself, animation is less easy to divert. Just like it is hard to caricaturize a caricature, cartoons already contain a form of exaggerated content on their own and make it harder to change their signification. Yet, as animation and graphic cinema in general have become so much more common in everyday media, they also form a ready and all the more relevant source material to recycle and recontextualise. This presentation is an exploration of reanimated imagery through various manifestations, with diverse strategies by experimental filmmakers, media-activists and visual artists. The theoretical framework combines filmtheory with iconology. The investigation is part of a larger frame work, an investigation into animation as a methodology in contemporary art.

Video: Edwin Carels
Audio: Edwin Carels

12:15 Discussion

12:30 Lunch Break

Session 2 | Art & Reality

(chair: Pieter Vermeulen, KASK)

13:30 CAMERA AND CANVAS – The Art Documentaries by Luciano Emmer and Henri Storck in the 1940s | Steven Jacobs (art historian, KASK, Sint-Lukas Brussels & Antwerp University)

Referring to contemporaneous writings by Siegfried Kracauer, André Bazin, and André Malraux among others, this paper deals with the “Golden Age” of the art documentary in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Supported by international institutions such as UNESCO and FIAF, a film d’art movement developed, which offered experimental filmmakers a platform to reflect on the relations between art and cinema. Focusing on the art documentaries by Luciano Emmer and Henri Storck, who worked in Italy and Belgium respectively, this paper demonstrates how these filmmakers saw the genre of the art documentary as a means to investigate the boundaries of film by juxtaposing art versus the real, movement versus stasis, narrative versus iconic images, and cinematic space versus pictorial surface.

Video: Steven Jacobs
Audio: Steven Jacobs

14:00 Discussion

Uncommercial break 2

14:15 CLINAMEN CINEMA – The Documentary Swerve | Vincent Meessen (artist)

In Clinamen Cinema, a hybrid that recalls Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema, Vincent Meessen will look at documentary as a set of protocols, a method more than as a genre, open to uncertainty and failure. Instead of a tool to produce evidences, documentary practices could then be approriated and approached in terms of “speculative realism”, that is to say, a pragmatic of looking at things being made, a methodology for inventing ideas and creating new intelligence between the facts.

Video: Vincent Meessen
Audio: Vincent Meessen
NOTE: The performative lecture of Vincent Meessen included a screening of unique footage of a famous modernist architect protected by copyrights. For this reason the presentation cannot be made available online. Only the introduction and questions after the performance are shown.

14:45 Discussion

Newsflash 3

15:00 THIS HAPPENED HERE – Griersons’s Documentary Legacy in Pervasive Media | Duncan Speakman (artist)

‘The creative treatment of actuality’ was John Grierson’s early definition of documentary. Mobile, pervasive and augmented media invite us to explore Grierson’s ideas away from the screen. What happens when the actuality being documented is happening around the viewer? By replacing the camera with the viewers eye and physical presence, then layering the world with soundscape and commentary to be experienced in situ, the poetic approaches of the GPO film unit are celebrated and re-imagined in a world saturated by the ugly children of reality television. Drawing on the speakers own work and that of a number of locative media artists, this paper proposes that mobile media is where we will find the contemporary fruition of early documentary practice.

Video: Duncan Speakman
Audio: Duncan Speakman

15:30 Discussion

15:45 Coffee Break

Session 3 | Reality & Documentary

(chair: Robrecht Vanderbeeken, KASK)

16:15 APPROXIMATION – Documentary, History and Staging Reality | Stella Bruzzi (film theorist, University of Warwick)

This paper will offer a response to our current preoccupation with diversifying the ways in which the media and related cultural forms represent, use and manipulate real events, to be investigated here against the backdrop of recent important technological advances. In this, the second decade of the 21st century, we are witnessing a particularly significant convergence of momentous historical events and huge changes to our audiovisual media, an inevitable and welcome consequence of which is a global reassessment of how images are compiled, constructed, valued and received. Within this overarching framework, my attention will remain on factual and historical representation and, more specifically, what happens to the integrity of the original facts, documents and documentary at a time when the use of these fact related forms by other media is altering our understanding of them completely. With the proliferation of DVD and the arrival of new, primarily internet-based viewing and distributing platforms, recognised, discrete categories such as ‘documentary’, ‘dramatisation’ and ‘fiction’ are undergoing radical reassessment. In 1999, James M. Moran pondered the problem documentary theory faced from ‘the digital code’s circumvention of analogue recording’ (Collecting Visible Evidence, eds. Gaines and Renov: 267). Belief in the indexical properties of the factual analogue image has since been questioned (cf. my New Documentary), but the impact of the digital on how we interpret the authenticity of the factual image is only now being fully realised. In the digital age documents are available to be reworked, not just by filmmakers but also by viewers.

What is occurring is an excitable flirtation with how to show and perform facts and evidence, with mixing genres and switching cultural arenas, the collective effect of which I want to explore through the concept of ‘approximation’, a term used in this context to signal works whose aim is to approximate reality rather than more straightforwardly represent it. Although the documents and facts on which ‘approximate’ texts are based remain pre-eminent, it is the detachment between the two that remains the focus of my research as the films I want to examine largely occupy that area of representation that both transcribes information and factual events and transgresses the sometimes crudely delineated boundaries between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’. This project is driven by the resulting dynamic relationship between raw documentary data (documents, archive, news etc) and their re-use and repackaging in films. What ‘approximation’ offers is the mise-en-scene or staging of fact and history: a place where what is known about a historical event, a factual occurrence, a real person is inserted into a narrative, not in order to be collapsed into fiction, but to co-exist in collision with it. ‘Approximations’ are propelled by the frisson of recognition: of knowing a film or drama’s point of reference, but also being able to recognise that the reconstruction and the point of reference are not equivalents. It is into this gap that we insert our desires, convictions and opinions.

My paper will focus on historical moments as incidental events, focusing on the use of history in the American television series Mad Men (Matthew Weiner, 2007.) I would analyse as approximations the casual interjections of historical events into narratives that are otherwise entirely fictitious. Mad Men spans the late 1950s to the early 1960s; momentous contemporary events (the 1960 presidential election, the Cuban missile crisis, Medger Evers’ murder, JFK’s assassination) are inserted almost incidentally. The JFK episode from Series 3 raises key issues of approximation and shared consciousness by drawing on not only the familiar news footage from November 1963 but also our shared consciousness of what was not instantly available, notably the Zapruder film. Mad Men inhabits a design-oriented space that lovingly recreates via décor and costume an ‘authentic’ early ‘60s milieu; the insertion of real events into this pristine pastiche leads to a re-evaluation of different levels of authenticity and exemplifies the manner in which approximation works by inter-layering and cross-referring between texts that share a common point of reference and, through being viewed collectively, lead to an imaginative reconfiguration of it.

Video: Stella Bruzzi: lecture
Audio: Stella Bruzzi: lecture

Video: Stella Bruzzi: questions
Audio: Stella Bruzzi: questions

16:45 Discussion

Uncommercial break 3

17:00 HOTEL HOLOCAUST – On ‘Shoah Documentary Real’ | Marc De Kesel (philosopher, Radboud University Nijmegen, Artevelde Hogeschool Gent)

The Shoah may not be represented. The Shoah must be represented. Both contradictory attitudes with respect to 20th century cruelest genocide are defended nowadays, and the discussion is far from being closed. One says that the horror of the Shoah is beyond representation and that even if the memory of the Holocaust cannot but use images and representations, those must celebrate first of all its irrepresentability. The other defends that images of the holocaust are not only unavoidable or even needed, but that it is simply our ethical duty to put fictions about the holocaust on stage and to make theater plays and movies on that theme.

In his lecture Marc De Kesel zooms in on some recent examples of ‘Shoah documentary real’, although his reflection starts from the problematic place of the ‘ban of images’ in monotheistic tradition. That perspective, so he will show, shuts a unexpected light on the way contemporary visual culture keeps on struggling with the (typically modern) distorted relation between image and reality.

Video: Marc De Kesel: lecture
Audio: Marc De Kesel: lecture

Video: Marc De Kesel: questions
Audio: Marc De Kesel: questions

17:30 Discussion

Newsflash 4

17:45 THE MAKING OF – a Discussion on the Funding, Production and Programming of Documentary Film | Cis Bierinckx (curator and artistic director, Beurshouwburg Brussels) and Johan Grimonprez (artist and film maker)

Video: Cis Bierinckx
Audio: Cis Bierinckx

18:15 End

[Notice: unfortunately, Thomas Elseasser and Janus Metz cancelled their presentation]


Cis Bierinckx is artistic director at Art Center Beursschouwburg in Brussels. Previously, he worked as chief curator for the Film/Video at the Walker Art Center, at the theater departement of the Salzburger Festspiele and others. Programmed the former “A Look Apart” section for the International Film Festival Ghent. Founded and programmed film festivals as VIEWPOINT and the Documentary FilmPlatform ZONE. Contributed to the program of several international film festivals, wrote film critics for several magazines and acted as producer for films by e.g. H. Farocki, O. Zabat, A. Poliak.

Stella Bruzzi is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick (UK). She is also currently Chair of Faculty. Her publications include the books NEW DOCUMENTARY (2000, 2nd edition 2006), UNDRESSING CINEMA: CLOTHING AND IDENTITY IN THE MOVIES (1997), FASHION CULTURES: THEORIES, EXPLORATIONS AND ANALYSIS (co-edited, 2000), BRINGING UP DADDY: FATHERHOOD AND MASCULINITY IN POSTWAR HOLLYWOOD (2005), SEVEN UP (2007). She also wrote an extended analysis of masculinity and mise-en-scene, ‘Men’s Cinema’ for Wallflower Press’ CLOSE UP 3, which will form the basis for a future monograph. She is currently embarking upon a second major documentary book provisionally entitled ‘Approximation’.

Edwin Carels is a curator and critic. He programmes for the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. At KASK, Carels lectures on experimental strategies in film. He is in the process of writing a doctoral thesis on ‘expanded animation,’ in which he relates the pioneers of animation with contemporary art.

Mark De Kesel teaches philosophy at Artevelde University College Gent (Belgium), and is senior researcher at the Faculty of Religious Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands). The field of his research contains: continental philosophy, Lacanian theory, Shoah studies, and Theories of religion. In 2009, ‘Eros & Ethics: Reading Jacques Lacan, Séminaire VII’ appeared with SUNY Press. In September 2010 appeared (in Dutch): Goden breken. Essays over monotheïsme, Amsterdam: Boom) (translation of the title: ‘Destroying Gods: Essays on Monotheism’).

Katerina Gregos is a curator and writer based in Brussels. She is currently curator of the Danish Pavilion at the next Venice Biennial (2011) and co-curator (together with Solvej Ovesen) of the 4.Fotofestival Mannheim Ludwigshafen Heidelberg (also 2011). She is also currently preparing a large-scale exhibition on human rights for the City of Mechelen for 2012, which is timed to coincide with the opening of Kazerne Dossin Museum and Documentation Centre of the Holocaust and of Human Rights, also in Mechelen. Previously she was the artistic director of Argos – Centre for Art & Media, Brussels and director of the Deste Foundation, Athens. She has organised numerous exhibitions internationally including, most recently, Contour 2009 – the 4th Biennial of Moving Image in Mechelen, Belgium entitled “Hidden in Remembrance is the Silent Memory of Our Future”. As an independent curator she has also organised several major group exhibitions including: E V+ A 2006 “Give(a)way: On Generosity, Giving, Sharing and Social Exchange” in Limerick, Ireland; “Regarding Denmark”, at the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Centre, Athens; “Leaps of Faith: An International Art Project for the Green Line and the City of Nicosia”, Cyprus; and “Channel Zero”, for the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam. Katerina Gregos regularly publishes on art and artists in magazines, books and exhibition catalogues. She is a frequent contributor to Flash Art and Mousse, among others. She is also a visiting lecturer at HISK, Antwerp.

Johan Grimonprez is an internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker. His works include Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997), Looking for Alfred (2004), and Double Take (2009). His curatorial projects were host at museums worldwide, including the Whitney Museum (New York) and the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles). His work resides at major museum collections such as the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris) and Tate Modern (London). Acquisitioned by NBC Universal, ARTE TV (Germany/France), and Channel 4 (UK), his productions travelled the main festival circuits and garnered a Spirit Award (2007) and the ZKM International Media Award (2005). He has published with Hatje/Cantz (Germany) and spends his time between Brussels and New York, where he lectures at the School of Visual Arts.

Steven Jacobs is an art historian specialized in the representation of architecture, cities, and landscapes in film and photography. In 2007, he published The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock (010 Publishers, Rotterdam). He is in the process of writing a book on the relations between Film and Visual Arts to be published by Edinburgh University Press. He teaches film history at KASK Gent, Sint-Lukas Brussels, and the University of Antwerp.

Vincent Meessen (U.S.A., 1971; lives in Brussels) produces work at the crossroads of the documentary and conceptual art, whose codes he manipulates in order to create hybrids he calls “documents of experience”: films, texts, interventions, photographs, etc. He focuses on the cultural appropriation of usages, signs or documents, which he moulds and reshapes as narrative. His work is characterised by a recitative style in formats as diverse as the essay (Vita Nova), the fable (Dear Adviser) and the tale (Les Sociétaires). He has developed a poetics of re-reading and translation, wherein the document is transformed into experience and experience into a document. He often employs collaborative procedures which undermine the authority of the author and privilege the collective understanding of multiplicities.

Vincent Meessen’s work has recently been the subject of a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA) and has been presented with the collective Potential Estate at the Brussels Biennial and at M HKA (off-site) in Antwerp. His films have been widely screened at venues such as Contour Biennale for Moving Images, the Jeu de Paume and the Cinémathèque française in Paris, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Swiss Institute in New York and in international festivals such as the IDFA in Amsterdam, the IFFR in Rotterdam, the Cinéma du Réel in Paris and Transmediale in Berlin. His films are distributed by par Argos centre for art & media in Brussels.

Jasper Rigole started working on his multi-media project The International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories (IICADOM) in 2005. Since then this fictive institute has become an alter ego for his artistic practice. In this project he starts from his archive of found films, photographs and documents to create autonomous artworks (films, installations and graphical works). This archive is an ever-growing collection of found ego-documents, mainly sourced from flea markets, second-hand shops and garage sales. These documents include amateur films, travelogues and family documents whose main purpose is to remember certain occasions. All material fulfil the same criteria: they once had a personal and emotional value which is now lost (and therefore the collected memories in the archive have become worthless). By redistributing these orphaned memories through film screenings, exhibitions and online projects, his–somewhat utopian–aim is to re-establish the lost emotional value of these, once so personal, memories.

He reuses these documents using found footage techniques such as ‘cut & paste’ and uses compilation, collage and appropriation as strategies for the creation of artworks based on archival documents. His main goal is to reflect on the closely related subjects of archive and memory. By focussing on the subjective side of the production and the consulting of memory, he elaborates on the notion of identity (of the individual, the collective, history, the archive, etc.). The idea of historiography–in the construction of ‘official’ history as well as in the process of establishing private history from personal memory–has a key role in his research. He investigates concepts such as authenticity and objectivity by using an encyclopaedic approach and quasi-scientific precision and by referencing documentaries, ‘fact-fiction’ and popular scientific equivalents. This results in an examination of both the human need for ‘conclusive’ stories and the question whether anecdotes ‘fictionalise’ history.

Rigole is currently preparing his Ph-D in Art at the University College Ghent, Faculty of Fine Arts (KASK).

Duncan Speakman I am an artist based in Bristol, UK. Currently in residence at the Pervasive Media Studio, also associate artist at the Arnolfini and part-time senior lecturer in media practice at University of West of England. My work explores how we use sound to navigate geographical, personal and political environments, creating experiences that physically and emotionally engage audiences in public spaces. I often employ walking as both a process and/or an outcome of my work, partly because it is ‘within the speed culture of our time, a kind of resistance’ (Alys). Many of my pieces, such as the soundwalks and live performances, are experienced on headphones while walking through public spaces. Sometimes they are pre-recorded, at other times they may use satellite positioning, live performers and realtime sound processing. Other works include large-scale video projections, micro-documentaries and books. Recently I have been continuing my research into sound and social spaces by developing street based games and subtlemobs. Throughout my practice I have been trying to adopt Grierson’s definition of documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’.