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15.01. Documentary, Truth, and the Reality-Based Community

In the last lecture of the FIW series ›Perspektiven der Moderne‹, Erika Balsom, Department of Film Studies of King’s College London, is going to speak about "Documentary, Truth, and the Reality-Based Community".

15.01. Documentary, Truth, and the Reality-Based Community

The program of the series

The lecture will take place as usual on Wednesday at 6 p.m., at Bonner Universitätsforum (Heussallee 18-24), room 0.109. The lectures given by the FIW can count towards the certificate for international competence (component D2).



At least since Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11 in 2002, documentary practices have been a prominent feature of contemporary art. But what idea of documentary has emerged from this context? This talk will propose that the denigration of surface appearances—a phobia of the descriptive capacities of “mere” recording—is a key characteristic of the documentary turn in contemporary art. This line of argumentation proposes that the best access to reality occurs through artifice, and casts observational documentary as a bad object that naively indulges in illusory transparency and uncreative copying. The talk will also situate these arguments within a longer history of attacks on the mechanical reproduction of phenomenal reality in the intersecting histories of art and film, and, through a discussion of recent artists’ practices that assert the primacy of lens-based capture, will question the continuing viability of these arguments today, in our era of “alternative facts.”

The presentation will turn to Wang Bing’s 15 Hours (2017), a fifteen-hour document of a workday in a Chinese garment workshop, as a case study. Commissioned by Documenta 14 and intended primarily for gallery exhibition, the installation lies at the intersection of discourses of digital cinema and the documentary turn in contemporary art but poses significant challenges to key assumptions of both. Against the tendency to construe the digital image as marked by the painterly expressivity of compositing, 15 Hours reasserts the primacy of lens-based capture and possibilities of durational recording unique to digital video. And, more importantly, against the attachment to hybridity and fictionalization endemic to discussions of documentary turn in contemporary art, it offers a rehabilitation of the denigrated mode of observation – leaving behind the doubt, reflexivity, and hybridity that have marked many recent artists’ documentary practices to elicit care for that most fragile and cruel of things: worldly reality.



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