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Speculations on Digital Art and Viral Spaces

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 11:34PM   |  5 comments
Image from Christina McPhee's La Conchita mon amour

Blog written by Sharon Lin Tay, cocurator of Map Open Space for FLEFF 2010 and Visiting Associate Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In a previous post, Dale talks about the interface between "new" and "old"media paradigms. I would like to flag up one example of such remediation: our juror Christina McPhee's La Conchita mon amour <>.

In particular, I'd like us to think about the extent to which digital and Internet technologies can enable the move beyond certain limitations that affect conventional documentary practices and open up some ideas about the image and representation in documentary film within the context of digital convergence.

McPhee's La Conchita mon amour taps into the states of panic and paranoia that characterize political events post-9/11, albeit in a different way. La Conchita mon amour references in its title the trauma of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that could not be fully articulated in Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras’s Hiroshima, mon amour (1960).

Studying the struggles of life in the beach community of La Conchita in California that was inundated by debris flow after a devastating mudslide, the panic that La Conchita mon armor highlights refers to the heightened awareness and fear that living with the aftermath of the mudslide, and continuing fears of its recurrence, brings.

Caused by increased winter rain that comes as an effect of global warming, this digital video project documents the interface between human response and geological data, when governmental assistance for victims of cyclical recursion of disaster is not forthcoming.

As McPhee notes in the statement accompanying the project, the aftermath of this environmental disaster is one from which La Conchita residents cannot escape and are forced to live through, both literally and financially, given that their properties are rendered worthless by the mudslide; it therefore becomes impossible for the residents to re-mortgage their damaged homes and/or move away from the area.

In recent days, we also think about natural disasters that afflict, for instance, Haiti and Chile, and the people there who have no means of escape.
As a performative act of witnessing, La Conchita updates the cinematic manifestations of political modernism, as articulated through the documentaries of film-makers such as Resnais, Duras, Agnès Varda and Chris Marker, thereby bringing a formal discourse of the expository documentary into the Internet age at the same time that it transcends the expository mode in specific ways.

In her search for meaning after the destruction of the landscape, McPhee records the rituals that the community performs to grieve for those who died in the mudslide as well as to survive without aid from the state.

As a digital project, La Conchita imbues documentary realism with subjective evocation to such an extent that the project effectively displaces the importance of the documentary image’s indexicality. Instead of contemplating the impossibility of representing trauma in, for instance Night and Fog (Resnais, 1955) or Hiroshima mon armor, La Conchita attempts the evocation of trauma via the algorithmic processes of selection and combination.

The viewer’s experience of La Conchita is contingent and interactive, and not unlike the notion of mining for geological information. Still photographs, composited images and video clips of the landscape, environment and vernacular shrines allow the viewer to piece together the relationship between geological instability and psychological trauma. In this case, the evidentiary is not dependent on the indexical relationship between signifier and signified. Instead, the viewer arrives at ‘evidence’ of the trauma suffered by the La Conchita residents by looking at the mudslide in terms of its geological impact on the psychological subject.

La Conchita interrogates the relationship between the visible and the evidentiary, and shows the limits of representation in instances of panic and trauma. The instability and contingency of meaning that La Conchita conveys differs from the notions of unspeakable trauma or the sublime in which many modernist expository documentaries are often invested. Instead, McPhee gestures towards a non-representational strategy, given the limits of representation, via the database aesthetics of her performative documentary that pivots on the algorithmic processes that is key in the production of a plurality of meanings.


Thank you for sharing this site with us. I admit being a little freaked out by it at first but after awhile I was quite fascinated by the concept.

I'm glad you like the work. It is, admittedly, very errie and I think in many ways, that's how it is effective...

Great post

This is very nice post and amazing

I'm really interested in all those projects, it will be very nice to read on what modern students are working now, what they are interested in, what are their solutions to chosen problems. I am really proud that we have such talented young people, who are not indifferent to our future. Thank you for such great opportunity and for constant support. I will write about this event in my blog.

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