Art, cinema and animism in Modernity and Extra-modernity
Location SOAS Senate House - S118
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Rodrigo Lacerda (CRIA/NOVA FCSH/ISCTE-IUL) email
  • Catarina de Laranjeiro (Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra) email

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Short abstract

Animism has been described as a mimetic involvement that goes beyond the bounds of Cartesian reason. Considering different cinematographic approaches, we aim to explore the transformative potential of any political reference in image to animism to question knowledge systems and modernity narratives.

Long abstract

In the last two decades, the concept of animism has been reassessed and revamped (Viveiros de Castro 2009, Descola 2005, Ingold 2000, Kohn 2013). These recent proposals have enabled new thinking on the material and visual culture of indigenous peoples (Santos-Granero 2009), including indigenous cinema. Concurrently, animism has been rediscovered in modernity. On the one hand, according to Latour we have never been modern (1993). On the other hand, certain authors contend that animism and spirituality are constitutive of modernity and modernism, although they have been repressed and sidetracked from discourses about them. In fact, some film theories have long advocated that this is an animistic medium capable of thought and argumentation, animating the things of the world or revealing the invisible. Nevertheless, cinema not only represents but constitutes a given subject-world relation. In this respect, it is in tension with other ontologies, e.g. dreams and image-spirits. What is the influence of the spirits that inhabit a particular colonial territory in the cinematic images produced there? How is the modern image changing with computation and algorithm networks to communicate independently of humans? Are visual regimes incommensurate or can animism, instead of naturalism, be the constitutive basis for a cosmopolitics of art and cinema between different worlds?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Animism, climate change and extinction

Author: Rita Natálio (FCSH- Universidade Nova de Lisboa & FFLCH- Universidade São Paulo) email

Short abstract

We will discuss animism in visual culture through the re(presentation) of climate change and extinction in both Western film theory and indigenous film, focusing on Video nas Aldeias (Brazil), Karrabing Film Collective (Australia) and "Story telling for Earthly Survival" by Fabrizio Terranova.

Long abstract

Climate change entails that contemporary societies are now making natural history and climates become inscriptions of human culture. Reversely, climate change is also about the "intrusion of non-humans" in human temporality, generating a kind of geo-subjectivity (the Anthropocene), where one can no longer divide nature and humanity as equidistant representations and models. In the case of cinema, the visualisation of the Anthropocene paradox becomes more and more an issue to film theory, not only as thematics but as foundation of the cinematic experience (Adam Ivakhiv). Carbon capitalism, extraction and disposal become thus intimately connected with the cinematic experience. In a way, the eventfullness of the Anthropocene gives a step further in the discussion between naturalism and animism as opposite ontologies (as Descola demonstrated), while it also builds common imaginaries to Western cinema and indigenous cinema around extinction, and the fragile distinction between life and non-live (Povinelli, 2016). In this presentation, we will focus in the documentary film "Story telling for Earthly Survival" by Fabrizio Terranova (2016) about Donna Haraway, and on the work of Video nas Aldeias (Brasil) and Karrabing Film Collective (Australia), and we will bound the problem of animism in visual culture to the re(presentation) of climate change and extinction.

Animism and shamanism in the Mbya Guarani cinema

Author: Rodrigo Lacerda (CRIA/NOVA FCSH/ISCTE-IUL) email

Short abstract

The Mbya Guarani cinema is defined by one of the directors as political and spiritual. In this presentation, I analyse how cinema encounters phenomenological resonances with the ethos and shamanism of this people and how other ways of living mean other ways of feeling, knowing and making films.

Long abstract

The Video in the Villages (VNA) project was founded in Brazil in 1986 with the aim of strengthening the struggle of indigenous peoples. Since 1997, it has organized filmmaking workshops for indigenous directors in a spirit of dialogue and shared production. In 2007, VNA began to collaborate with a group of Mbya-Guarani that live in the south of Brazil and in Argentina. Until today, they have produced six films that circulate in the villages and in national and international film festivals. According to one of the indigenous directors, the Mbya Guarani cinema is political and spiritual. At the political level, cinema has been an important tool to "talk back", correct prejudices and claim rights, especially in the demarcation of indigenous lands. In terms of spirituality, cinema finds phenomenological resonances with the ethos and shamanism of this people, namely with the aesthetic-ethical practices of commensality, corporality and conviviality (such as singing-praying, beautiful walking, xondaro) aimed at fostering the good life and supplanting death by reaching the Land Without Evil. In short, I intend to analyse how other ways of living mean other ways of feeling, knowing and making films.

Between Images and Spirits: Encounters in the Liberation War in Guinea-Bissau

Author: Catarina de Laranjeiro (Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra) email

Short abstract

My aim is to explore how the images produced in the Guinea-Bissau liberation War legitimized the idea of a nation state and simultaneously generated silences and absences of elements which, being part of symbolic and military resistance, escape the frames of modern hegemonic meaning.

Long abstract

Between 1963 and 1974 took place in Guinea-Bissau one of the most important struggles against the Portuguese colonial rule. This struggle was led by Amílcar Cabral, one of the most important anti-colonial thinkers of the XX century. Taking as a weapon, cinema played an fundamental role on the diplomatic victories achieved.

The choice of the cinematic image as an object of study is related to its political importance. During the anti-colonial struggle as well as other struggles, it was a favoured instrument of denunciation and a fundamental political narrative in finding fields for the emancipation of Guinean people, which aimed to give the people back its culture (Cabral, 1974:35).

In dialogue with different approaches from the postcolonial studies field, I will carry out an analysis and consequently an interpretation of its findings, which could reveal how images produced during the liberation struggle period silenced narratives that do not fall within the ideological structures of modernity. Therefore, I will explore the religious aspects linked to the liberation struggle as a field where the epistemology of the absent subject can be revealed which do not dovetail with the ideological devices that in modernity constitute the political community. Specifically, considering the importance of religious aspects in indigenous populations that inhabit the Guinean territory and the artificiality of borders that draw it as a state, I intend to explore the hypothesis that spiritual entities create forms of territoriality (Lund, 2006), which remain silenced, since they are neither translatable nor possible to archive.

"Ritual experiences in contemporary cinema"

Author: Raquel Schefer (University of Lisbon ) email

Short abstract

The early 20th century avant-garde's theories emphasize cinema's capacity to restore the experience of ritual and the sacred that was suppressed by modern rationality. This paper aims to reflect upon the representation of ritual in contemporary cinema (Alonso, Weerasethakul, Klotz).

Long abstract

Since its invention, cinema oscillates between the representation of ritual and ritualization. Approaching cinema from the perspective of ritual implies thinking moving images as points of fixation of reality that aim to transform it more than simply reproduce it. The early 20th century avant-garde's theories emphasize cinema's capacity to restore the experience of ritual and the sacred that was suppressed by modern rationality. The link between the capacity of cinema to transfigure reality, ritual and myth was examined by several filmmakers in their theoretical production. The discovery of experimental psychology and ethnology - particularly, Lévi-Bruhl's "L'Âme primitive" (1927) - leads Eisenstein to formulate his theses on the "prelogical" thought and the "pathos". Also Epstein reflects on the animistic dimension of cinema as an "hypnotic machine". For Rocha, cinema must be able to "put everything into trance" (Deleuze).

Approaching this theoretical background and adopting a transversal historical perspective, this paper aims to reflect upon the representation of ritual in contemporary cinema (Lisandro Alonso, Apitchapong Weerasethakul, Nicolas Klotz, among others), examining in parallel the formal intersections between the sphere of material reality and the 'supernatural'. In other words, by suppressing the clear separation between the material and the ritual spheres, the film forms of this "corpus" suggest the hypothesis of cinema, besides representing ritual, becoming itself a ritual, a cinema-ritual.

Can Film become an Organic Medium? Animism and Animation in Botanical Time Lapse

Author: Chonja Lee (University of Bern) email

Short abstract

Through film animated plants were an important contribution to the discussion of a vegetal soul. I analyse the aesthetic properties of early time lapse film, its media theoretical position within cinema, history of science and popular culture and show how the technic itself was perceived as organic.

Long abstract

Do plants have a soul? In the 19th century Botanists, psychologists, philosophers and anthropologists fiercely discussed this question. With the invention of time lapse film in 1898 the vegetal movement could for the first time be experienced aesthetically in an overcoming of the different timeliness of human and plant, so that for many spectators it was the proof of a plant soul. It seemed the invisible agency would inscribe itself as a formative power like an acheiropoieton into the film.

With its immediateness and beauty, botanic time lapse was by the 1910s popularly staged for a mass audience. The big film distributors incorporated the plant growth sequences into older modes of representation of an ensouled plant as known from proto-filmic magical shows, fairy theatres and cinema of attractions.

I aim to discuss the aesthetic properties of the early time lapse film and its media theoretical position in cinema, history of science and popular culture. The time lapse technic merged animism with its conceptual sibling animation, long before the notion was introduced in film theory in the 1920s. French avant-garde filmmaker Germaine Dulac found the essence of cinema itself in the films of growing vegetals and considered the sentient plant a cinematographic form itself, since its organically grown body renders temporality visible. We could, along with Jean Epstein and Rudolf Arnheim in an inversion of the argument state that time lapse is a vitalist, organic form of film, which becomes itself a kind of natura naturans by creating - and not naturalistically depicting - images of reproducing life.

Animation and Animism: Everything is Otherthing

Author: Pepe Rojo (UCSD) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the relationship between animation and animism through Harry Smith´s cut-out animation “Heaven and Earth Magic” and Bruce Bickford’s stop-motion sequences in Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes.

Long abstract

There are two main principles that form the radical core of animation techniques during cinema’s short history. The first one is a non-identitarian starting point: anything can be transformed, through animation, into anything else, proposing a fluid universe. The second one is the technical belief that everything moves (or can de moved), in a sense, that everything is animated.

If animism is a “relational epistemology” (Bird-David, 1999), then animation, and the modern capability of explicitly animate what is thought of as inanimate through technical means should be explored.

In this paper, two “outsider” film-makers will be compared. Both of them made films without beginning or end, challenging the notion of a “work of art” as a product, engaging animation as a process that also challenged the highly organized film distribution system.

Bruce Bickford’s “Baby Snake” (1979) animations are a never-stopping flux of characters and situation that morph into each other, suspending any kind of identity principle in ways that are both terrifying and exhilarating, and offering a different understanding of both time and personhood.

Harry Smith’s “Earth and Sky Magic” (1957-62) was conceived as a magic procedure, and performed with accompanying chants and narration. Smith’s cutouts indulge in esoteric and transformative moments which were meant to produce a certain magical trance state on the viewers.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.