Mobile Agitational Cinema: Iteration no. 1
Through the 1920s and 30s a corps of dedicated communist agitators travelled through remote regions of Siberia. One of the most significant cultural interventions they produced was the mobile cinema. Setting up their projectors in tents, shacks, and cabins they threw the shimmering images of distant scenes and foreign stories into the taiga landscape.
Mobile cinemas were one of a host of technological interventions in the lives of indigenous Siberians prior to the construction of permanent cultural facilities and the forced sedentarization of nomadic hunters and reindeer herders. Along with Western medicine, the cinematic apparatus introduced a powerful and persuasive new way of being and imagining that reinforced otherness but simultaneously helped to interpolate indigenous peoples into an internationalist and inclusive project of radical cultural transformation.
Mobile Agitational Cinema: Iteration no. 1 is a purpose-built mobile cinema; a large canvas expedition tent. The moving pictures in this iteration are not meant to agitate for revolution but to intimate unfamiliar and distant worlds. The mobile cinema plays on the ethnographer’s dream world as well as his role as cultural interpreter. It transmits images of the taiga: emanations of ficto-documents and implied histories.
Within the tent a series of video images from Siberia appear on a permanent loop. Depending when you arrive you may see one of the following movies:
- Anachronistic space: way forward. [4 min.]
- Impossible Illustration [20 min.]
- Shaman's Journey: Nine Worlds [4 min.]
Anachronistic space: way forward
Anachronistic space: way forward is an animated etching. My diptych print portrays a scene from the Turukhansk taiga, high above the Nizhnaia Tunguska river. On one bank is an abandoned Evenki sleigh, normally pulled by a small reindeer team. Lashed to the sleigh is a giant concrete hand of Lenin. The ubiquitous hand, normally attached to a statue, is an iconic symbol of Soviet life.
This scene depicts remnants of communism in the Siberian landscape. Lenin's hand, divorced from the body doubles its marked divorce from the proletarian masses, which had been an essential component of early communist iconography (cf. Bonnell 1997: 154). The residual effects of socialism, from power lines to inscrutable objects of industrial manufacture become lost in the enormity of the northern landscape.
I have animated my print to suggest the distance between the original print and the digital reproduction. Looking at a compressed digital copy of the original etching can too easily mask the different experiences elicited by each encounter. Animating the print suggests the original print is something else, something larger, and something other than that experienced on the screen.
Printmaking plays in archival metaphors as well. The source, trace, matrix, and copy are all elements in printmaking as they are in historical representation and the structures of authority implicit in artifacts of anteriority. Marking the copper plate leaves a trace that is transferred on to ink on paper. Walking through the taiga too leaves marks. Memories and histories variably forgotten, recorded, remembered, and forgotten again.
Photographs and archives are anachronistic spaces as well. The history that tends to issue from them reinforces their capacity to bear the past in the present. They elicit temporal confusion, or perhaps show up the fissures of time as it is conventionally understood.
A seemingly endless flow of images flashes by without the possibility of full recognition: a delirious archive of detail. What should have been ephemeral elements of everyday life slip past the archons when photographs are accessioned into the archive. The full sensuous excess of the photographic image carries both its illustrative power and its capacity to refuse illustration.
This video is crafted as a kind of slide show with a variable rate of duration for each slide. The confoundingly short duration is offset by the occasional lingering pause, which is meant to invite examination, only to be thwarted by a persistent forward movement through hundreds of images.
The Shaman's Journey: Nine Worlds
"Nine Worlds," a film from the multimedia installation "The Shaman's Journey" by Thomas Ross Miller, in the exhibition Siberian Shamans, Linden State Museum of Ethnology, Stuttgart, Germany (December 2008-June 2009).
- Director: Thomas Ross Miller, Curatorial Consulting (New York, USA)
- Video Producer: Craig Campbell, Metafactory Studio (Edmonton, Canada)
- Assistant Video Producer: Aaron Munson (Edmonton)
- Sound Mix: John Hudak (New York)
- Exibition Curator: Erich Kasten (Berlin)
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The British Library Endangered Archives Project, Mihaly Hoppal, Anatoly Martynov, Thomas Ross Miller, Craig Campbell, Aaron Munson, Hiroki Takakura, Reiss-Engelhorns Museen, American Museum of Natural History
Shaman songs: Thomas Ross Miller, American Museum of Natural History, Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music, Pushkin National Library (Yakutsk) Musicians: Athanasy Fyodorov, N.M. Likhachev, "Ma'shka," Eduard Noxorov, Ivan Tretyakov, N.T. Zakharov Sea Ice: Robert Asher, Glaciological Institute Reindeer: Pulse of the Planet Wolves: Sittelle Wind, Fire, Birds: John Hudak www.lindenmuseum.de
Craig Campbell is assistant professor in Folklore & Public Culture in the department of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has developed a hybrid practice in contemporary art and cultural studies that he calls intermedia ethnography. He brings a host of strategies borrowed from the visual arts to his long-term research on travel, mobility, archive, memory, and culture in the Siberian subarctic. His research and visual experiments explore the possibility for failed, defaced, degraded, manipulated, and damaged photographs to activate interpretive fields typically unacknowledged in conventional ethnographies and histories. Craig is actively developing his work through curatorial and installation practices, seeking new imbrications of affect and intellectual engagement.