Sunday, February 24, 2008

'The silent language of infrastructure' - a rhythmanalysis

A very interesting post that I'm still digesting from Continental Drift about two recent research-video installations concerned with South Eastern Europe: Corridor X and Black Sea files. Brian Holmes asks what sort of knowledge is being produced here? How do we think the forms? What sorts of space-time are represented?

These precisely conceived investigations of the southeastern periphery of Europe, and of its continual transformations since the end of the Cold War, takeus far away from any purely aesthetic definition of art. The ambition is clearly to develop a new mode of inquiry and expression, yielding results that are
qualitatively different from those obtained either by artists or by social scientists. As Ursula Biemann remarks: “In my understanding of the practice of art, images and text are inseparably interwoven in their common purpose to produce knowledge.”But the question is, what kind of knowledge? All the works in the project are carefully researched, yielding a synthesis of existing disciplinary studies; and particular efforts have been made to to integrate the precise distinctions of the social sciences into a broad and consistent narrative. Yet there is also a critical examination here, not so much of the “text/image relation” that formed the semiological stock-in-trade of concept art, but instead of the more pragmatic confrontation between analytic discourse and cultural performance. Analysis, in short, is brought up against the lifeworlds of Southeastern Europe. And while the discriminatory power of objectifying analysis reaches deeply into the existential singularity of the encounters – and into the warp and weft of the video editing – it also serves to bring out a fundamental heterogeneity. One could say, in the spirit of French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, that the logic of capitalist rationality is inscribed into the sensuous material of art, and that the incongruity of the two points beyond the informational level of representation, toward other human realities whose promise is rarely voiced.

Later in the essay, Holmes invokes Lefebvre again in order to draw closer to the tempos and rhythms of image-editing:

The principle of the two-screen installation works perfectly with this editing philosophy, allowing for parallel narratives and historical contrasts, but also drawing on the play of repetition to generate singular affective rhythms which could never precisely be named, but which pass distinctly through the landscapes, the faces and ourselves. To quote Lefebvre once again, this could be the material of a “rhythmanalysis.” As he wrote at the very end of his life:

In the social sciences we continue to divide up time into lived time, measured time, historical time, work time and free time, everyday time, etc., that are most often studied outside their spatial context. Now, concrete times have rhythms, or rather are rhythms – and all rhythms imply the relation of a time to a space, a localized time, or, if one prefers, a temporalized space. … Let us insist on the relativity of rhythms. … A rhythm is only slow or fast in relation to other rhythms with which it finds itself associated in a more or less vast unity. … Every more or less animate body and a fortiori every gathering of bodies is consequently polyrhythmic, which is to say composed of diverse rhythms, with each part, each organ or function having its own in a perpetual interaction which constitutes a set [ensemble] or a whole [un tout]. (Rhythmanalysis 89)

Could there be any higher ideal for practitioners of video recording and non-linear montage? Like Charles Baudelaire in his “petits po√®mes en prose,” Lefebvre gleaned his inspiration “from frequent contact with enormous cities, from the junction of their innumerable connections.” Indeed, the polyrhythmical metropolis of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the great resource of differentialism and multiplicity. The works of the “B Zone” embrace a larger scale, extending the rhythmanalysis of the city to an entire region and its history. A politics of precise and detailed information is exposed to its affective and dialogical dimensions, in a process of trans-subjective editing that traverses a continent.

I've extracted the Lefebvre quote sections in a way that does no justice to Holmes' essay. But I think the point is made: that a rhythmanalysis provides a way into knowing the movements, and indeed polyrhythms, of representations emanating from neoliberal capitalist infrastructure building and use, and representations and affects involved in attempts to know and feel these movements.

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