ponedjeljak, 5. studenoga 2018.

Naomi Uman - Removed (1999)

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Uzrok žudnje, uzrok bilo čega, uvijek je prazan, tek ga naknadno punimo nekim "sadržajem". Ili: sve postoji bez uzroka, uzrok je uvijek retroaktivni proizvod, posljedica.

“I am an experimental filmmaker. My non-fiction films draw from personal experience. I live with my subjects for long periods of time, often waiting to film or record sound until I have become integrated into a community or a family. I had lived with a family of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, for a period of almost a year before making a film that was unflinching in its portrait of their lives. This film, which turned a critical eye on the subject family and the situation which creates this separate and unequal world in which they live within the United States, caused the public to question my right as a filmmaker to criticize people whose status as immigrants was a status that I had never experienced myself. Taking this to heart, I decided to embark on my own immigration.” (NU) - https://www.courtisane.be/en/event/profile-naomi-uman

Ukrainian Time Machine: Living Films by Naomi Uman

IN PERSON: NAOMI UMAN ►  Like a crochet needle swiftly passing through loops of silk and wool, like sun-thickened fingers prying at garlic-clove sheaths, like a chorus of wedding songs around a table of varenyky and boiled dumplings, Naomi Uman’s camera lives amongst the people, homes and villages she films. Setting out to retrace the footsteps of her family’s own immigrant history, Naomi, an American artist who divides her time between Los Angeles and Mexico City, made a reverse journey of her great-grandparents' emigration from Uman, Ukraine. She bought a house in Legedzine, just outside of Uman, toured films around the country, befriended village babushki, and established an artist residency for cultural exchange. The films in “Ukrainian Time Machine” evolved out of the tactile and visceral experience of living in Legedzine. Kalendar chronicles her early days of Ukrainian language lessons. Clay is a portrait of a brick factory that sits atop the ruins of the 5000- year-old, clay-based Trypillian civilization. Unnamed Film contains footage, in chronological order, shot from the time she arrived in Legedzine to the time she left. “Ukrainian Time Machine” is the latest extension of an artistic practice that involves Uman’s prolonged immersion in the world of her subjects; in previous projects, she lived with a diary-farming family in rural Mexico and with a Mexican immigrant family employed in industrial dairy production in California.

In her 1999 short film Removed, Naomi Uman brilliantly intervenes in the scopophilic pleasure of visually consuming women's bodies on screen by literally erasing only the women's naked bodies from the frame. This film bears serious consideration on numerous levels beginning with the painstaking process by which the artist obliterated the women's bodies by hand, frame-by-frame (through the use of female-coded domestic products of nail polish remover and bleach) through a process that may be thought of as an ironic inversion of the media industries' practices of "retouching" to achieve apparent perfection in the bodies of (especially) women models and actresses. Removed also invites analysis in terms of the relative capacities for eroticism in sound and image. What is lost from the intended function of these scenes when pornography's conventional form of visual gratification is withheld? - Critical Commons Manager

REMOVED (1999, 5 min.)
Using a piece of 1970s porn film, nail polish and bleach, Uman creates a new pornography, one in which the woman exists only as a hole -- an empty animated space.

PRIVATE MOVIE (2000, 6 min.)
A love story in three parts. Through studies on light, movement, happiness, glowing darkness and flickering melancholia, this film tells of a woman's journey of love, with nostalgia, pets, places, and men.

(2002, 11 min.)
This film tells the story of its own making as it explores the manual manipulations upon the film body, examining the cinematic result of mechanical interventions.

LECHE (1998, 30 min.)
Filmed in black and white 16mm, hand-processed and hung to dry, Leche examines details of the life of one family, living on an isolated dairy ranch in Central Mexico.

MALA LECHE (2003, 47 min)
Considered a companion piece, this film follows the same family presented in Uman's earlier film Leche. Now living in California's agricultural Central Valley, the family continues to work with dairy cattle but under very different circumstances.

In pornography – a genre that Linda Williams has defined as “obsessed with visible proof” – bodies are spectacles, displayed and dissected by the camera in pursuit of pleasure’s physiological truths. [1] In Naomi Uman’s Removed (1999), the sexualised feminine form is obscured, interrupting pornography’s attempts to quantify and authenticate female pleasure. Uman’s film can also be situated in the artisanal realm of “Handmade Cinema” in that it moves away from “photographic representation” in favour of “abstract form … textual richness and sensory depth”. [2] To create Removed, Uman painstakingly ‘erased’ the female figures from a 1970s German soft-core porn film, frame by frame. The result: an experimental re-working of pornography that is haunted by crackling white forms wherever the celluloid was tampered with. Uman’s handiwork functions as both a dismantling of the cinematic body and a process of collage. She also performs a kind of “recorporealisation” of female film bodies, using haptic labour to complicate the idea of the camera as an objective optical apparatus in the pursuit of a fixed truth. [3]
In an interview with the Millennium Film Journal, Uman talks in detail about the construction of Removed – made during stints of boredom while she was working her job as a 35mm projectionist at The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Re-touching her own acrylic nails, Uman became aware that the nail polish would “resist the action of bleach”. She covered everything on the found footage with nail polish, except for the women’s bodies. She then doused the film strip in bleach, “leaving the women … ‘naked’ and vulnerable” to the bleach’s effects (bleach has a “chemical reaction with the emulsion and causes it to be removed from the plastic film base”). [4] Uman’s process is therefore not about ‘erasure’ so much as intervention. Here, absence and presence become two sides of the same experimental gesture. By painting the film strip with nail polish, protecting the women’s surroundings and allowing the bleach to distort the image of their forms, Uman conjures the pornographic depiction of women anew. She transforms female film bodies into shimmering ghosts.
Certainly Uman’s film is a disruption to porn’s visual fixations – the writhing white forms of Removed absorb the gaze with their alien presence. The spectrality of Uman’s work extends beyond a critique of mainstream pornography’s scopophilia, however. What interests us here is the way in which the gruelling techniques of Uman’s handmade cinema serve to materialise female sexual pleasure and question visual methods of authentication. Like the doubled absence and presence of Removed, our reading in this article will be twofold. In the first reading, Hilary Bergen sees a connection between Uman’s creative process and the technique of rotoscoping, an animation technique used to extract motion from the human body in the pursuit of realism. For Bergen, the porn actors whom Uman obscures become suppliers of a hidden and controversial labour – they are like the “secret dancers” who lent their motion to the characters of early animation. [5] Because Uman’s meticulous approach yields visual results that are similar to rotoscoping, her film evokes the kinetic qualities of female pleasure. That kineticism is teased out through her intimate tracing of the space inhabited by each female body on every frame of celluloid. In the second reading, Sandra Huber observes a link between Uman’s work and the portrayals of sexual fluid in the nineteenth century phenomenon of ectoplasm (a gauzy white substance that emerged from the orifices of female mediums and was said to be a materialisation of the spirit world). While ectoplasm had the consistency of semen, its secretion from a female body meant that it was often brought into historic discussions around fraudulence (especially where photographic ‘evidence’ was concerned).
Our interest in ‘truth’ in this article lies not in the presumed objective view of any camera but in the embodied and experiential practice of the women whose bodies perform labour (or enact the labour of performance). Discussing mainstream, hard-core pornography, Linda Williams writes of how the “woman’s ability to fake the orgasm that the man can never fake (at least according to certain standards of evidence) seems to be at the root of all the genre’s attempts to solicit what it can never be sure of: the out-of-control confession of pleasure, a hardcore ‘frenzy of the visible’”. [6] In contrast with the visibility (and overwhelming presence) of male sexuality (erection, ejaculation), female sexual pleasure cannot often be explicitly seen. It therefore relies upon a kinetic and audiovisual performance of the body – an output that is primarily affective and ephemeral rather than material and enduring. Such output is made explicit through Uman’s experimental re-working. Following Williams, our dual reading of Removed acts as a feminist intervention into modes of authentication surrounding female sexuality. As Uman’s source film would not be classified as hard-core pornography as such (it does not feature explicit penetration or contain close-ups of genitalia), it may seem counterintuitive to rely on Williams’ arguments. Nonetheless, Uman’s interventions speak directly to what Williams describes as a ‘frenzy of the visible’. By obscuring the spectacle of the female body, Uman diverts the fact-seeking gaze that wishes to clearly see all. Our intention is not to misread Uman’s film based on the specificities of genre but to think about how her creative methods contribute to conversations around visual proof (of pleasure, of authenticity), complicating the link between what is visible and what is true for the female body.
Our readings are united through our fascination with the role of the body, especially in terms of the body’s connection to mechanical ‘truths’ (be they ‘money shots’ or scientific motion studies). We see Removed as a feminist alternative to methods of truth-making that are primarily photographic. Certainly the film’s interest in seeing is also reflected in its narrative content. In one scene, a woman asks her lover to describe a sex act to her. Based on their body positions (she is lying on his lap), only he has visual access to that act. Her plea (“Oh Walter! Tell me what you see! … I want to know everything!”) singles out his gaze, substituting descriptive language for visual evidence and robbing her of her own vision. As he describes the scene in detail to his lover, she herself remains an amorphous white blob. Her presence on-screen cannot be fully seen nor can it be captured with words. As we discussed previously, Uman’s process of making the film involved tracing the female figure frame by frame in order to expose it to chemical action. Ironically, this act of singling out produces a body that lacks boundaries; through motion, the women of Removed bleed into the space around them, dizzying the gaze that tries to fix them. Form and content unite in a shared instability.
Given the abundance of mirrors and deferred gazes that occur in Removed, as well as the characters’ emphasis on the role of imagination in the production of arousal, we can invoke the thought of Jacques Lacan. Lacan’s concept of the lamella, in particular, is akin to ectoplasm in its placenta-like nature. The lamella also possesses a kind of vibrant, lively movement that is useful for both of our readings. Lacan compares the lamella to the “membranes of the egg”, situating it in the realm of the always-enigmatic feminine/maternal. As he writes, it is something “extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba” and is “like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal – because it survives any division, any scissiparous intervention”. [7] The lamella is reproductive yet unnatural. Cyborg-like, it has its own agency. It can survive the removal of its source but its connection to the libido also tethers it to the human body. As Lacan puts it, the lamella results in “pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life or irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life”. [8]
There is something ghostly about the lamella in that it is both a figuration in Lacan’s theoretical framework and it can also be read alongside other material instances. Like a monster, the lamella becomes real in that it is made sensually palpable through our imagination of it. In contrast with the pornographic gaze that Williams describes, the erotic space of fantasy is unpredictable and generative. It is never fully seen, always partially hidden and remains full of potential. Like the verb ‘secrete’ which holds the double meaning of ‘to shroud’ and ‘to reveal’, both Uman’s disappeared women and the bodies of ectoplasmic mediums occupy an uneasy space between presence and absence. That space is kinetic and alive and, above all, embodied. That space communicates, as Brian Massumi writes, “when gesture is deprived … of its terminus, its pragmatic truth potential is suspended”, making it “a purely speculative activity”. [9] The lamella, which also evades terminus, is similar to both ectoplasm and corporeal motion. Though both are produced by the body, their production occurs in excess and extension of the body. Similarly, Uman’s ghostly forms express a strong sense of fluidity. In our doubled reading, we identify fluid properties of the body which, in their secretion, keep secrets rather than revealing ‘truths’.
Reading One: Kinetic Traces
Removed uses palpable and embodied labour to alter what was originally captured by way of the camera. By way of handmade re-composition, Uman conjures new bodies and objects to interrogate the visual semiology that we accept as given. In Removed, effacement and summoning are revealed as sister acts; a repetition with a difference wherein “there is always some detritus strewn about in the aftermath, some bruising to the surface” and “the rejected entity has a habit of returning, ghostlike”. [10] Uman’s alterations to the original film strip serve not so much to blot out the porn actor’s nude figure but to obscure her shape and her facial expressions. She transforms her into a new entity, radically re-working the generic context of hard-core pornography. The bleach fades the contours of the figure into a hazy mist, enacting a kind of reverse striptease that verges on censorship. The result is, as Uman herself observes, somehow “far more erotic than the original”. [11] Whereas Roland Barthes proposes that “[w]oman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked”, Uman’s intervention suggests another possibility. [12] Her labour activates a viewer who “strains to see what is denied” and “is inexorably drawn to what is withheld”- namely, the pornographic female form as we know it. [13]
Removed is more than just a feminist intervention into the pornographic genre (although it is that, too). Rather than exposing what many believe to be the “essence of [mainstream] pornography – woman without substance”, Uman renders woman as substance, a powerful, pulpy, roiling presence. [14] In his work on ‘screendance’, Douglas Rosenberg introduces the term “recorporealisation”, writing that in order for a body to be recorporealised, it must first be decoporealised or stripped of its somatic and fleshly resonances through mediatisation. [15] Under Uman’s recorporealisation of her, the women of Removed become ‘untouchable’ – the male hands that attempt to stroke their bodies “simply sink into light”. [16] Strangely, it is Uman’s abstinence from touching the whole bodies of her filmic women that renders them impervious to the male touch on-screen. Uman allows the bleach to do its work on the female figures, transforming them into skeins of light. Uman has said that she “wanted to see what would happen if [she] remove[d] the women” from her found footage, asking: “Would it still be pornography?” [17] In Uman’s film, however, the ‘erased’ body returns with a new and more powerful force. The body becomes hyper-visible as a relational and material-kinetic presence. What is manifested on-screen is the body’s kinetic twin; a double which both exceeds the body and originates from within.
read further:
Hilary Bergen and Sandra Huber: Pornography, Ectoplasm and the Secret Dancer: A Twin Reading of Naomi Uman’s Removed