Loops and Gaps: Video as an Entrance into the Unknown. Mieke Bal and Shahram Entekhabi collaborative video works
Mieke Bal:
(Lecture at the Vision and Rationality seminar. Temple University, Rome, Italy (May 31, 2005))
To place my presentation within a context more usual for academic discussion, let me begin with a temporal discrepancy that will return at various moments in my lecture: the pre-fix "post." As post-structuralist, postmodernist, and post-colonialist thought have amply demonstrated, "post" expresses more than temporal posteriority. For, that temporal position carries a number of burdens, not least of which is to rethink temporal sequentiality in light of the tight bond between the contemporary position and that element of the past in relation to which the contemporary considers itself posterior. For example, if one wishes to articulate a position that would be deserving of its name "post-colonialist," one is under the obligation to probe the most pressing question of contemporary culture: what is the nature, status, and forms of appearance, what are the consequences and remedies, regarding the neo-colonialism at the heart of so-called postcoloniality?
For intellectuals working in the humanities, this question cannot be avoided, whether or not one specializes in postcolonial theory and literature, art, or history, for example. Reasoning back, then, postmodernism is not simply an intellectual aesthetic movement that takes issue with modernist positions such as the hyperbolic focus on the individual self, the purity and self-reflexivity of the medium, or the positivist desire for pure knowledge. It is not a move of surpassing but, as historian Dominick LaCapra never tires of reiterating, of working through these positions as well as the retrospective accounts we have forged of them. Thus, the allegedly modernist writings of Marcel Proust are indeed hyperbolically obsessed with the subject, center of the mighty literary universe as the fictional boy imagined himself to be of the universe of the people around him. Yet, this hyperbole cannot be taken simply at face value once we realize the role of irony, self-ironic as much as mocking others, that permeates the text. If one takes a closer look at Proust’s writings, his deployment of visuality as a literary poetic demonstrates that both the subject-centeredness and the medium-reflexivity are thoroughly questioned.
The narrator’s friend (and closeted love-object, life-long model, and Aryan counterpart of our closeted Jewish boy), the golden boy Robert de Saint-Loup, is accosted in the street by a man who propositions him; he responds with his fists. This event happens just after their outing as a threesome with Rachel, Saint-Loup’s mistress. The narrator is reflecting on the illusory nature of Robert’s love for Rachel. This reflection is founded upon a visual base, which is the pear trees in flower that he had contemplated earlier that day. (2.170/II 459) In the diegesis this reflection justifies the fact that Marcel is walking behind Saint-Loup, which in turn justifies the distant vision he has of Robert.
This distance and the particular framing and focus it allows is not so much a motivation (Hamon 1981) for the insertion of the description at this point, as it is for the specific way in which the vision is made into an image. In other words, it justifies the "discrepancy of the object-glass" (Banfield), in the sense of both temporal and spatial disjunction. For it is indeed a question of desire in this system of vision that is presented as an aesthetic. The revelation of this desire happens in progressive stages, the first of which is the transition from distant to close-up vision:
But this elaborate display was nothing more than a thrashing which Saint-Loup was administering, the aggressive rather than aesthetic character of which was first revealed to me by the aspect of the shabbily dressed gentleman who appeared to be losing at once his self-possession, his lower jaw and a quantity of blood. (2.186/II 480)
The comic effect of the rhetorical figure of the zeugma [*** note with def.] only poorly disguises the more serious issue here. The gentleman has the same visual status as the narrator; the distance from one and the proximity to the other in this silent dance figure the "unstable constellation." The anonymous and fleeting character embodies the poetics that shifts Proust’s work beyond avant-garde modernism towards a prophetic post-modernism. Post-modernism, then, owes it to its own allegiance to the prefix "post" to revisit its antagonistic relationship to modernist positions in light of a sensitivity to the manner in which modernist art and thought, rather than being the simplistic naiveties we often made of them, in fact forecast postmodernist obsessions. Only when the relationship between past and present is thus both reversed, to become what in Quoting Caravaggio I have proposed to call pre-posterous, and, in the wake of that reversal, thickened, made more complex, can postmodernism come into its own. And such a postmodernism carries modernism with it.
The intellectual relationship between structuralism and poststructuralism, similarly, can only be intellectually enriching if structuralism is thought through, or worked through, not circumvented and rejected from the outside. Doing that was the greatness of the much-regretted Jacques Derrida, who liberated philosophy from its straight-jacket of single-argument reasoning and mono-disciplinary purity. That leaves the third example of a "post-" in need of complicating, post-colonialism. The notion that neo-colonialism lies at the heart of postcoloniality is central to the work of the founders of postcolonial thought, such as Gayatri Spivak and Anthony Appiah. It is also central, although not necessarily loudly and conspicuously, in the video work I have been doing with Iranian artist Shahram Entekhabi. I will try to persuade you that this work engages all three of these "posts" in ways that may be different from the written word, but certainly are both just as academically useful, productive. We do not wish to promote a new fashion, a hobbyist attitude toward academic research or to art, a rejection of methodology or specialization, or contempt for academic writing. In fact, I have been announcing the themes that are central in the artwork that I would like to present to you today as examples that takes what I just said about post-modernism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism seriously. The video work we are doing is, I hope to argue, another way of writing, a video-graphy in the true sense, where vision retains its multiple senses, and the Greek verb graphein its own, Derridean complexity.
In a very useful article that binds post-colonialist thought to self-reflexivity, anthropologist Arjun Apparudai reminds us of the paradox of research (2001). Methodological standards require us to do re-search, to repeat protocols, so that all members of the academic community are able to follow, repeat, and transfer to other objects, the modes of analysis we bring to bear on the cultural artifacts we study. At the same time we are supposed to innovate, to not repeat the work of others. Originality is an official requirement, simultaneously obligatory and impossible. Shahram and I met over the desire to do something about that paradox. We think that the problem of that paradox is bound up with the notion of object that underlies it. This notion considers the object stable, transhistorically permanent, even if we also believe in its historicality. We venerate the object, attribute value to it, but at the same time reduce it to muteness, condemning it to death, in order to honor it posthumously. In the wake of that notion of the object and the methodology it commands, under banners such as empirical research and historical truth, standard academic research tends to marginalize the role of the imagination. Appadurai argues that the research imagination opens us up to a deliberation that allows what he calls a "deparochialization of the research ethic" (15). In our projects, Shahram and I are trying to probe the potential of the research imagination, and to see how far the research imagination can lead us in an attempt to intervene in the parochialized Western academic research ethic. We will show you a few short projects that help understand how art making can claim to be research in all the senses that a good academic philosophy of research would accept, indeed, command. We will also argue that this work does not dismiss specialization. The role of specialization has been frequently misconstrued in debates on interdisciplinarity vs disciplinary research. Opponents of the former defend the latter in the name of the need for specialized, in-depth knowledge. I argue the opposite. I find specialization indispensable to zoom in on the objects as not-dead, as alive and capable of responding to the research methods or grids we attempt to impose on them. All through my career I have continued to promote the practice of close reading. (most recently, 2002) This plea is motivated by the conviction that cultural artifacts, just like the culture in which they function, are alive. Close reading is a practice capable of making that life visible and, indeed, matter. Not because, as the New Critics claimed, the works speak for themselves, but because they do not. Their capacity to "speak," to allow us to learn from them instead of simply about them, requires that they be engaged in a dialogue, not subjected to a monologue. But today, I try to argue that, and how, art-making can be a form of research. So, let me give you a sense of how art making helps research, in this case, around "post" or the condition of belatedness.

The starting Point: video "I?"
Video, PAL, 04:17 min, color, sound
In his 2004 film, "i?" of 4.17 minutes, Shahram Entekhabi (Iran 1963) revisits for contemporary culture the concept of Samuel Becketts’ only film, called FILM, starring Buster Keaton (1965). In the typical and, by 1965 historical fashion of early cinema that had no dialogue, lots of body movement, and visual explorations of the shock encounter with the city that characterized modernity, Keaton, 40 years beyond his greatest successes jumps and scuttles around in New York City, never showing his face to passers-by or public. In the final shot, and in what might be an ironic concession to the viewer hungry for realistic solutions, it turns out that face is hideously distorted. The primary element of Beckett’s concept is the unlikely combination of going around in the public space of the city while never revealing the face. Then, alone in his bare apartment, he cannot avoid the eye of the other. He must destroy all images, as well as eliminate all eyes, to be able, finally, to look into the camera. This is, in the end, a narrative film, even if no word is spoken.
Entekhabi takes up the conceptual nature of FILM but omits such a reassuring ending – reassuring because it projects the refusal of the face-to-face on the figure who hides. Why is Entekhabi’s lone figure never seen? There are three distinct, though related possibilities, all three hinting at the desire for knowledge as it is, also, resisted, in those corners of cultural life that open up to, but do not access, the unknown. First, we might speculate that this is because the environment doesn’t care to see him. For today, it is of crucial importance to reflect on the relationship between the individual subject whose life the constitution demands we respect, and the larger communities whose members the Western world denies that individuality. For, as "i?" in its intertextual relationship to FILM seeks to explore, it is not productive to remain obsessed with the individual face as long as a true face-to-face cannot occur. As it happens, in a culture whose predominant semiotic mode is narrative, the film doesn’t manage to be narrative, either. It just describes ten episodes of an ordinary day, in no particular order and without any event out of routine. This, it seems to me, is no coincidence.
The second possible meaning derives from this semiotic situation: no face, hence, no narrative. This concerns such standard notions as the individual hero of Western narrative, in novels and films, along with the concept of the artist that still persists, as a remnant of romanticism. The mechanics of a conceptual exploration of the structure of cultural existence, abolishing the heroizing individualism that subtends Hollywood stardom along with elite notions of artistic genius, offer an opportunity to research identity without sentimentalizing that concept, reclaiming it from abuse in identity politics and its backlash. Instead, identity is connected here to what most profoundly characterizes it – the images, including the faces of others, which surround us. In "i?" , ten very short sequences position the Migrant in different urban spaces that hint at his everyday life, from a shave in his own home to the market, the coffee house, and returning to the apartment building he lives in. A full day, a full life, and no face-to-face. Thirdly, it is noticeable that the only image that can follow this day is the reiterated first one, the shave in front of a mirror into which we cannot look. Unlike narrative, the film, essentially to be displayed on a loop, has neither beginning nor ending. While we never see the face of the man in "i?", his identity – all we can ever know of it – is accessed in what he sees and lives, not how we see him. As viewers of this video we must surrender to invisibility, to the unknown aspect of other people. And yet, as if the film is giving us a precious gift, once we realize that all we see is his own field of vision, we are allowed a glimpse of something which, in ordinary life, remains by definition unknown: what someone else can see. Of course, this is a semiotic, not an optic limitation. We do see him from aside and from the back, in ways he cannot see himself. This is the filmic pointer, the deictic element that positions the focalizer so that we, as viewers, can realize that we are looking with him, in a way that only written fiction can produce without drawing attention to the deception. A visual, not psychic form of identification results, entirely fictitious and as such, as effective as any product of fiction, but without the appeal to sentimentality that so often results from identification.

Just as "i?"recycles Beckett’s Film and radicalizes its concept, Entekhabi’s video solicited an afterlife. It became the starting point of a series of short films Entekhabi and I made together, in which the inscription of historical (dis-)continuity crossed with geographical failed encounters is shaped further. In a variety of ways we tried to "boycott" narrative at least in its traditional guise, in order to avoid some of the power structures that inhere in that mode. The first narrative aspect we tried to avoid was the narrator, or voice. I have been interested, lately, in the deceptive and manipulative nature of concepts that parade as neutral and scientific. My primary target was the narratological concept of "voice," the answer to the question "who speaks?" I have myself promoted that concept, but am beginning to feel that, if applied uncritically, it does more harm than good. My critique of voice in the article listed on the handout makes clear why: first, the concept posits the authority of a speaker. Instead, I propose to replace it with a complex notion of performance that puts the burden of representation not in one basket but in that of the performer and the people he interacts with, as well as, in the case of film and video, the camera whose activity is made visible by the mode of editing. We worked out a concept for the videos that would do justice to this revised notion of representation of events, so as to create a work that can only be called narrative if we seriously rethink narrative itself. I will make some comments on the contribution of the camera to this revision later. As a second point of critique of the concept of voice, we sought to avoid the illusion of an origin of the story. Not coincidentally, stories are most frequently told in the past tense, suggesting that somewhere, outside the orbit of the text or film, is a world for which the narratorial voice accounts. This is another way of conveying authority, a sense of invulnerability, a lack of potential for change. This is in contradction with the knowledge that readers and viewers contribute seriously to the meaning and effect of a narrative. To address this point we sought to avoid the illusion of a "past tense," so as to make the event one in the present. Yet, this was not done in a dialogic fashion. As we have seen with "i?", visual dialogue would produce another illusion – of a harmonious "face-to-face" that obscures the power relations in the world. Hence, the situation in which the figure is co-present in a world inhabited by others, is one of non-communication. A third reason to avoid classical narrative has more to do with plot, or diegesis, than with voice per se. It is the coherence such a voice presupposes and promotes, and from which a sequence of events ordered and focalized would derive its privileged status as narrative, with all the realistic illusions and naturalized logic this status brings. Hence, we refused the sequence of events, replacing this by single, disconnected happenings. In these films, the everyday life of the migrant is further stylized and reduced to single acts: traveling, looking for work, intervening in public space, offering cake on his birthday, standing in the street with a bunch of flowers looking for someone to give them to, running away from suspicious urbanites who finally see him, and think he’s up to no good. This conclusion is the equivalent of the loop that starts at the beginning, endlessly repeating entrance and exit, while conflating that social reality with the collapse of the look: looking as being-looked-at.
I titled this lecture "Loops and Gaps", and the series of short films is called Gaps. In an exploration of the media that have shaped visual consciousness, the works show that the temporal looping that characterizes video installation is on a par with a multiple "looping" that is visual, social, and "mediatic." The three interpretations I suggested earlier for the structure of vision in "i?"can now be seen not as alternative interpretations but as alternative viewing positions, all equally valid and instructive. In addition to the circularity of looping that precludes the suspense-raising beginning and the satisfying ending of narrative, the films are marked by gaps. They show a constant interruption, sometimes a failure of the action, as in Alcazar, sometimes a visual interruption of movement, as another way of creating never-ending stories, as in Road Movie. The films reflect (on) the medium in which they are made, sometimes to the point of interrupting the medium itself, as in Rockefeller Boulevard. At the same time, the films reflect on the hierarchies among media, in particular, the prime position of painting in the Western artistic tradition since the Renaissance, on the one hand, as a counterpoint to the lure images constitute for prospective migrants, attracted by blondes and cars, both equally flashy; and, on the other hand, narrative, the structure with beginning and end that informs us about events, forming sequences and frequently involving a crisis, told by a narrator or "voice," versus the endless series of unspectacular, "trashy" narratives that "just happen" as a way of shaping the everyday life in a cultural setting.

Road moviePaL video, 2004, 16:00 min, color, sound Depending on when one enters the gallery space, the film looks like a still photograph, evoking a traditional landscape painting, or like a film. The one-shot film Road Movie is 17 minutes long. On a four-lane highway, dangerously close to the cars, on the edge of a green median stretch of hollow road, a man walks. The man in the somewhat shabby, slightly out-of-style but very proper suit and black shoes just walks away, his back turned to us. He carries two old cardboard suitcases. He walks fast and disappears into the distance, into nothingness. He never looks up. Cars keep rushing by. Then for at least eight minutes nothing happens but more cars. Just when the viewer might either get a bit annoyed by the narrative silence, or forget about the narrative potential proposed at thebeginning and just look at a photograph of painting, something happens again. From very small to recognizable, the man comes back, as a relief of the tension emptiness creates. But to process this as a narrative one begins to ask questions that explain the two otherwise disconnected events of his departure and his return. Was he sent back at the other end, refused entry or chased away by angry Americans-only types, or did he return because America has nothing to offer? Or did he return in belated acknowledgement of the viewer? At the end, he comes close enough to looks at us, but he doesn’t ever look us in the eyes, because he is too busy walking on. That’s all.
In conceiving this film, we speculated that for the viewer something else happens. First, when you see him walk away, it is simply an event that doesn’t concern you. He seems a bit out of place under the ominous clouds, but since we only see him from the back, we can’t quite tell. Formally, it is a narrative "in the third person," about someone else. You look on, the way you ordinarily look, with indifference. An unreflective look, taking in only what interests us, remaining on the surface of everything else: this is the look the first half of the film solicits. When he has disappeared and the image remains empty of his presence, the memory of his passing by seems like a little piece of lint on a black shoulder, swatted away in an unconscious gesture of propriety. This man wanted to come and stay among "us" – fine. We don’t give it a thought. The empty road is the image of normality. His disappearance depletes whatever narrative expectations we might have had, so that the film becomes a photograph again.
But that image, when nothing happens, becomes boring and, by means of that boredom, it does begin to intrigue us. What’s the point of this emptiness? Why would this be what we want: because we know it so well, because it is what we find normal, although the lack of meaning begins to glare at us as soon as we start to think? This is the turning point, long before he turns around and walks back. The turning point of the act of viewing is the moment boredom becomes a trigger of asking ourselves questions about the point of our existence, not that of the anonymous walker. Boredom as the alternative of suspense, identification, or sentimental appeal.
But boredom is also triggered by the conceptual and sensory gap between film and painting. One would not be bored looking at a landscape painting, however long one feels like it. Knowing this is a film, instead, mobilizes the spectacle-induced expectation of action. This is how boredom is anti-narrative; it is what makes narrative intolerable. When we get bored, we shut ourselves off, close the book, or leave the film. Between the departure of the man and his return, the expected action remains like a glaring gap. For, strictly nothing happens. That nothing kills narrative.
In the middle of this mood change, in the far distance where the vanishing point has swallowed him, a tiny figure appears. It’s the man, reappearing. Strangely, now the viewer looks actively forward to his approach. He is facing us and we are getting ready for an encounter. The previous emptiness that had triggered a simmering of melancholy is going to be relieved. Even the sky has cleared up a little bit. He comes closer and we look at the rhythm of his equally fast, although slightly more tired steps. The visual discourse has changed profoundly. From a narrative in the third person, we are now set up as the "first person," having an active experience, addressing with our eyes the other who is the ""second person," and as a result, our affective relationship to the figure and his return may change. When, finally, he comes to us, however, he just walks out of the image. Not for a moment can we look him in the eyes, can the encounter that we desire so, and that would turn this non-story into a narrative, take place. Is it that, after having been rejected once too often, he cannot be bothered with our needs to feel good about ourselves? He turns the table on us, responding to our previous indifference with his own. But these speculations stem from a narrative desire to fabricate a story. His pale face lets us try many possible readings: exhaustion, perhaps anger, but really, nothing is readable in it. No imploring, no begging for mercy, no demand for sympathy and contact. We did not see him, now he does not see us. It’s too late. Too late for contact, to late for a story.
The man’s disappearance into the vanishing point is a literalized metaphor of the image’s deceptive superficiality, disguised as depth. When after the man’s disappearance, nothing else happens but cars rushing by, the frustration engages video on its own terms. Only when we have shed the habit of seeking to reach beyond visibility will the visibility that video offers strike home in full force. The boredom of the film’s length is in turn a metaphor for the temporality of the loop.
The ten or so minutes that the man is invisible, that he has disappeared into that most classical of Western visual structures, the vanishing point, stand for everything we cannot know – about other people, other lives, other desires and initiatives. The limit of knowledge is, at the same time, the trigger of a potential encounter. The other three films we have made so far speculate on what the man can possible have undertaken during those allegorical ten minutes. we see what might have happened during the primary gap that constitutes this film’s anti-narrative void: that time during which he was, so to speak, inside the vanishing point. These tiny events, in turn, also constitute interruptions, gaps, disappointments. The camera participates in the production of this failed narrative in specific ways, not assimilatable to narrative voice. The camera stays in the same position: stable, confident that the migrant passing by will willingly submit his story without much effort from the side of the camera. However, the resistance of the other to facile narrativization (the migrant walks on without stopping for the camera) shakes the self-assurance of the eye of the camera (manifest in its immobility).

Caution video, PAL, 09:06 min, color, sound Road Movie was an implicit dialogue with painting and photography, the tradition of landscape. Caution, in turn, responds to the tradition of performance art. This movement that started in the late 1960s sought to denounce the deceptions of art, including the theater and its narrative realism, and the subordination of viewers condemned to passivity. Performance art resisted narrative. Performance art struck a deal with video, an art form that begun to develop in the heydays of performance. Think of artists like Marina Abramovic, who is a continuous presence on the scene of both performance and video, from the seventies to the presence. The second film of our series converses with this dual tradition. Here, the man reappears on the prestigious oval lawn in front of the library, where students walk by to go to classes. A normal day on an American campus. Nothing seems likely to happen, and for a few minutes, that is just what you see, from the distant height of a rooftop, as well as from the frontal and side positions on the ground. The overt and fast editing undercuts the smooth narration one might expect. The tiny figure walking the middle of the path opposite the high viewing point, strikes as slightly out of place: the gap is put in place, visually. It is also put in place in the performance, as he walks faster than others, as if he had a purpose. He begins to unroll red-and-white European caution tape, routinely used to block off areas that represent a danger for the public. He knots the end of that tape to a tree. With fierce determination – or is it resigned repetition? – he screens off an area. Repetition, here constituting a dense sculptural wall of bright colors, establishes the hallmark of the series as video installation. Repetition also counters narrativity, where retroversion, instead, helps the story along. Then, he begins a somewhat longer walk over the lawn to the other side of the oval. He attached the tape to a tree there, then returns. Color, sculpture, and performance vie for attention as the kick-off media, measured against video’s power to make surface stick on the retina. Some of the images ask how it is that space can get overruled by intervention. When the people behind the tape lose their visibility, or their faces, for example, one can wonder how abstract art – here, blocks of bright red and clear white – takes over figuration as if it had always been lodged at the latter’s heart. Or, whether it is the walking man who is the sculpture, or the tape waving in the wind. One wonders, too, about the blandness of the public space before, and its new look after the intervention. And of course, the close-ups of the action are fundamentally different from the long shots, just as the actions differ. All these musings concern visual, not narrative aspects.
But other details are not so clear-cut void of narrativity. The walk across the lawn is bolder, and longer, and more incomprehensible than the earlier, shorter itinerary. His walk is steady, remains faster than "normal," and his face remains unreadable. At one point, he is himself inside the space he is creating, turning sculpture inside out. But being inside is only for the performer; everyone else is kept out. This inside-outside dynamic creates a new gap, between expectation and the small change effected upon it by this stranger. Instead of protecting the people from accidents, the caution tape pushes them out of the space they consider legitimately theirs. What seemed without story becomes a potential story of war.
Ostensibly playing a role, he marks a gap as the discrepancy between the man and the people walking around on the campus is visible in the traces of migrant existence. The sense of belatedness translates into his somewhat sped-up pace, his whitened face expresses no communication with others, and his determination to succeed in whatever it is he is doing, seeps out of the eyes-hand coordination – also characteristic of what artists do. When the act is done, he turns around and walks away, just as briskly as his arrival stride, trailing the last end of the tape behind him. Mid-path he tosses the remaining spool into the bushes, as if symbolically tossing away narrative potential, and he is gone. The image from the roof shows the difference he leaves behind. He has come and gone, but the space is definitively altered. Is this a narrative? Yes and no, or rather, at first no, then yes, after all. Avoiding a narratorial voice in video is nothing to write home about. But to avoid what "voice" stands for is easier said than done. Instead of a voice, there is the organizing editorial hand, but in spite of the attempt to show its hand by fast and extreme cutting, alternating extremely high and distant clips with frontal close-ups, we cannot take that hand for a voice. Rather, the editing is subjected to two competing "voices": the performer who centers the images, and the relentless dictate of sequence. Sequentiality is another of those tenacious concepts that are taken to structure narrative. The minuscule acts that constitute the larger intervention are, as narratology has it, "logically and chronologically" ordered. The onlookers or indifferent bystanders and passersby moreover, create what can be called a "sense of narrative." Any moment, one expects one of them to respond, and act in relation to the performance, thus breaking the invisible wall between the performer and the public and turning the performance into a narrative. Does it happen, hence, does an embryonic narrative occur? Yes, almost, for example, when two people cross at the exact place where the tape cuts the path in two. But then, no, when they each simply lift the tape and walk underneath it, separating again. Not even an encounter takes place. Narrative is again aborted. In relation to performance art, the meaningless tiny acts that constitute a sequence but don’t have the weight to produce a narrative, resemble the acts that performance art put forward. But they don’t make up the circularity of acts that lead nowhere. There is, in spite of all resistance to it, a narrative content in the potential of the acts to solicit resistance, anger, discomfort, or laughter. The public plays along, or not; that was up to them. As in Road Movie, the camera work contributes to the relationship with the tradition the piece engages. There, it was the tension between still land moving image. The camera enhanced that tension in its stillness, foregrounded by the length of the single shot. The movement, in turn, was foregrounded precisely by means of the immobility of the camera. Here, in Caution, the camera embarks on more active attempts to capture the narrative of the migrant: it is experimenting, changing positions and adopting two main perspectives: it either follows the man in his frantic operations in the campus park, or looks down on the man from a higher position, as if trying to reclaim the rights to omniscience, to the eye of God. This omniscient position, however, proves to be irretrievable, a lost dream: the man continues to be oblivious and indifferent to the movements and interpretative attempts of the camera, and thus impervious to them. The changing of the camera’s position betrays its indecisiveness and inconvenience at its inability to construct a story that makes sense: the one minute following the man, the other looking from above, the camera is almost fidgeting. [CHECK IF FILM IS FINISHED; IF NOT, WAIT

Rockefeller Boulevard, PaL video, 2004, 06:00 min, color, sound Yet another act can have happened in the gap when the figure had disappeared in Road movie, but do not expect it to be related to that of Caution. And here, too, the camera interacts with the figure as well as with a dual tradition in Western art. This time, it is cinematic comedy in the allusions to Charley Chaplin’s Modern Times, and painting, in the composition of the images. The wind blows fiercely; the legs of his pants flip-flop, showing the thinness of the fabric. He must be cold, and the hot climate of his home emerges by contrast. Just as the media of photography and video, here, are set off against each other. If you need a story, it would be this account of what happened during the time he was gone, in Road Movie, in the vanishing point. With the two suitcases that mark his recent arrival, he explores different sites on a large, impenetrable space. Urban, but without people; desolate, without nature. He might be looking for work. The industrial area of a city that is long past its economic flourish. He walks past huge oil containers, that ironic icon of the Mid-West’s appropriation of the middle-East’s natural riches. Between him and the containers stands an insurmountable fence. Then, looking around, sitting at a picnic table, peeping into broken windows, walking along an unreadable low building, he seems lost. In the distance, a chimney still vomits clouds, unreachably far-away symptoms of possibility; a reminder of what he came to search.
But, embodying retroversion, he is irremediably late. Industry is over. The buildings to which he came, on which he had set his hopes for a better life, are ruins of history. By the time he has understood that the only way to survive was to follow the oil from his country to its destination, the oil had burned up. Modern times have become an object of nostalgia, and the Migrant is no longer wanted. In the end, we imagine, he returns to the invisible point from whence he came, on this side of the camera. In "Rockefeller Boulevard" the camera decides to follow the man, give him full attention, so as not to miss a thing from his walk and actions. The voyeuristic eye of the camera is stalking the man, in the hope perhaps that he will finally respond, turn around and offer us his gaze, which would be a portal to his inner world and even the key to his story. But just as the Western world in which the migrant sought answers does not welcome him or offer him any solutions (the doors of industry seem to be closed), he, too, stubbornly refuses to offer any aperture and to submit to our need for a coherent narrative of otherness. This, of course, does not stop the camera (and the viewers) from making stories about him. But the man’s invisible gaze throughout the films reminds us that these stories are more ours than his. But this story is as out of joint as everything else in this series. Here, this out-of-jointness is given shape by video’s struggle with the gap as such. The video is constantly interrupted. The bits of moving image are powerless against the almost violent way the gap takes over. Since the migrant never reaches any destination, the obsoleteness of the industrial building loses its relevance. For historical time always holds the promise of a return of the swing, a utopian possibility that things will get better. The halting rhythm of this video holds such false promises at arm’s length. What happens in the gaps – the primary one, within Road Movie, the ones within Rockefeller Boulevard, and the ones between the films, is further de-narrativized by the incongruity of moods. Alcazar is a deeply melancholic film, on which more shortly. Caution a mildly comical one. It fits the mood of Rockefeller Boulevard that the audio-visual stagnation is set in grey tones, only sparsely interrupted by sap green and ochre, with a grey-blue sky. These colours disappear along with the readable image when the interruptions occur. The colours of painting cannot hold up against the reproducible images that have taken over the public domain. In this sense, this video is also a meditation on the monopoly of electronic media, the accounts to be settled with the arts of the past, and the new art that can emerge when all else fails. This, too, is a commentary on the culture of migrancy.
What I submit for discussion here, in this context, is what I see as the wavering between narrative temptation and the ultimate failure of narrative, both phenomena leading to the question of performativity. If on the one hand, the narratorial voice in its cinematic form of camera and editing, is countered, if its power is taken over by performer and unreflecting bystanders, and on the other, the coherence of the series of events in sequences with some logical and chronological solidity is destroyed by gaps of all kinds, do we therefore have to say that narrative is no longer at issue in these films? Personally, I don’t think so. I am convinced that the impulse, or desire, for narrative, is so strong that precisely those gaps that destroy the potential story, also generate the possibility of story. Without falling back on phenomenological accounts of gaps, such as Wolfgang Iser’s "leerstelle," I would like to hear your view of what those gaps do there, in the larger part of Road Movie, between the films, or acts, as well as within Rockefeller Boulevard. Without being characters or events, the gaps are something, do something. And when beings and doings get together, classical narratology holds that story begins.

Alcazar Video, PaL, 2004, 13:00 min, color, sound Alcazar is the most theatrical of these films. Here, the tradition in painting of chiaroscuro is invoked to counter the hyper-visibility of technically perfected film we call "Hollywood" in favor of a sometimes over-exposed, sometimes obscure image that remains somewhat less visible than one might desire. At the same time, there is, now, a flirt with theater going on, checked just in time by the man’s refusal to engage with others except physically, mechanically, and to open up his face. The darkness of the setting underscores the melancholy of the potential story. The man walks into an old, decrepit hotel. From the blue suitcase decorations, plastic spoons, and lemonade cups emerge. He tosses these on the coffee table, after positing a cardboard box there, which, it turns out, has a birthday cake inside. Again, his face and body postures are unreadable, although tainted like an old mirror by reminiscences to the early comedians of Hollywood, and the cultural of migrancy across space, time, and class they engraved upon the retina of Western cultural memory. Buster Keaton’s unsmooth movements and sad face, Charley Chaplin’s incomprehension in the face of the industry that rejected him as redundant, fit this strange man to a T. But the jerky movements of his shuttling back and forth between the two sides of the sitting area in the Alcazar’s lobby to decorate this desolate space are poignant in a weirdly contemporary way, precisely because they are so historically out of joint with the present. When all is set, he sits down on his suitcase, folds his hands as if in prayer, and waits for his imaginary guests. He just sits there. These images do not offer the solace of psychological understanding and the identificatory sympathy that follows in its wake. His sitting is just an image, perhaps a painting, perhaps an ad, perhaps an old photograph.
In the dark images that evoke the chiaroscuro of baroque painting as well as the melancholy of old pictures, an elderly woman shyly comes into the scene, invited by a gesture to sit down. With another gesture, but without speech, the man invites her to dance. The woman teaches him the elements of ballroom dancing, the pleasure of her own long-gone time of glory. Then he stands up, takes the suitcase and leaves. He walks out of the hotel just as he came in, without reason, without purpose. Outside, he looks in both directions of the street, takes a left, and disappears. Only to reappear as the loop goes on, irreducibly repetitive, erasing the illusion of a beginning and ending that the act itself might have suggested. Between the medium that continues, the evoked paintings that, like time itself, stand still, and the stagnation of life this hotel embodies, the act of coming and going leaves a gap that only the silliest of acts can pretend to fill. Melancholy is the mood of this film. But whose melancholia is this? The man is inscrutable, unreadable. The woman’s face doesn’t show any emotion, but her body movement, equally anachronistic so to speak, is rather cheerful. The space is a melancholy-inducing space, but there are no figures on whom this mood can be projected. As a result, we can only assign the melancholia to the film as a whole. This raises, then, the question of narrative again. Instead of representing actions, events, and situations that, we feel, are melancholic, this film itself – in that it performs the belatedness and out-of-place-ness of relationality – embodies that mood. As viewers, we don’t need to identify with this mood, of course. There is enough humour to escape from that gloomy mood. Yet, even if the mood itself may glide from our shoulders like drops from the anti-burn layer of a tefal frying pan, melancholy’s meanings presents themselves. And that, in a neo-Brechtian manner – outside of sentiment but not without affective response, and steeped in the media that streamline our culture – compels us to think about the meanings of "-post." These include melancholia triggered by the impossibility to mourn the past because it isn’t past enough; missed opportunities and reiterated refusals to engage; in short, the neo-colonialism at the heart of post-coloniality. But they also include a certain lightness of being, translated into humorous visual moments that suggest still-open possibilities. But either way, the viewer is not let off the hook; we cannot defer to the authority of a narrative voice. Performing their part in the intercultural play, viewers cannot rely on a narrator who tells us what the past was like, nor a film director who offers armchair emotions that inevitably promote condescendence and feel-good sentimentality. Video is not for absorption in the dark. Video, instead, can be qualified among the migrant-media, and these films, each in their own way, explore what that phrase can possibly mean.

GLUB appeared at the following exhibitions, festivals and Lectures, among others: 2009/20 Weltenbewegend. Migration macht Geschichten, Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt/ Main, Germany
2017: Migratory Aesthetics, in combination with GLUB (HEARTS) at the Université de Lyon 3 Jean Moulin, Lyon, France
2010: Auto-theory. Audio-visual thinking and migratory culture., Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria
2010: Glub - Installation, Etagji Art Center, Saint Petersburg, Russia
2017: How Things Are Being Told?, Third Congress Arte, Universidad de Málaga,, Málaga, Andalusia, Spain
2010: Interculturality Week, Royal Dutch Institute Rome, Rome, Italy
2015 Cine Tonalá, Retrospectiva Fílmica, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria
2011: The Last Frontier / La última frontera, curated by Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro, Fundación José García. Jiménez, Murcia, Spain
2011: Towards the Other, Peter & Paul Fortress, St Petersburg, Russia (catalouge)
2010: Glub Etagji Art Center, Saint Petersburg, Russia
2009: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics. Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, Finland
2008:Culture and Citizenship, Conference, CRESC, Hugh College, Open University, Oxford, UK
2008: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Fremantle Fibonacci Centre, Fremantle, Australia
2008: GLUB and the Aesthetics of Eveyday Life,Townsend Centre, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
2006: GLUB, Eigenheim Galerie Konstatin Bayer, Weimar, Germany
2005: GLUB and the Aesthetics of Eveyday Life, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
2005: Cultural Circulations: The Movement of People, Goods, Ideas, conference, Ohio State University, Columbus, USA
2004: Narrative Without Narrator?, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2004: Producing Visibility: Speech, Seeing and the Aesthetics of Everyday Life., CENDEAC, Murcia, Spain
2004: Narrative and Voice., Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA
2004: Critique of Voice., Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA
2004: Political Art Now., University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
Lost in Space appeared at the following exhibitions, festivals and Lectures, among others: 2017: Employment History, Royal Dutch Institute Rome, Italy
2017: Mieke Bal Film Day, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway
2014: Trauma and Art, by Gannit Ankori, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., USA
2010: Auto-theory. Audio-visual thinking and migratory culture. Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria
2009: Writing with Images, Lecture, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
2009: Nothing is Missing, European University, St. Petersburg, Russia
2009: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, Finland
2008: Culture and Citizenship, Conference “, CRESC, Hugh College, Open University, Oxford, UK
2008: Visual essentialism and the object of visual culture, University of Washington, USA
2006: 10th International Documentary Film Festival Jihlava, Jihlava, Czech Republic
2006: 19th Annual Images Festival of Independent Film & Video, Vtape, Toronto, Canada
2006: Lost in Space, MASS MoCA Museum for Contemporary Arts, North Adams, Massachusetts, USA
2006: Lost in Space, International Contemporary Art Experts Forum (ARCO), Madrid, Spain
2006: The Role of Humanities in Society Today conference, Oslo, Norway
2005: Codification of Violence in Medial Transformation, graduate seminar, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
2005: Contemporary Art and Globalization: Issues, Research, Resources and Networks in Europe, INHA European Symposium, Paris, France
2005: BEOGRAD NEKAD I SAD, exhibition, Galerija Beograd, Belgrade, Serbia
2005: Borders, Markets, Movements, CASA meeting 2005, Amsterdam, Netherlands
2005: Sonic Interventions, conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Alcazar appeared at the following exhibitions and festivals, among others: 2009: How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin?, curated by Christopher Marinos. "Heaven", 2nd Athens Biennal, Greece
2009: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, Finland
2008: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Fremantle Fibonacci Centre, Fremantle, Australia

Caution appeared at the following exhibitions and festivals, among others: 2009: How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin?, curated by Christopher Marinos. “Heaven”, 2nd Athens Biennal, Greece
2009: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics. ,Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, Finland
2008: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Fremantle Fibonacci Centre, Fremantle, Australia
2005: What? Me? A Racist?, exhibition, Pankow Gallery, Berlin, Germany
2005: Bologna Flash Art Show, Sofitel Hotel, Bologna, Italy
2005: Irgendwoanders, international video-art exhibition on migration, Hildesheim, Germany
2005: E-flux Video Rental project, Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany

Road Movie appeared at the following exhibitions, among others: 2018: Baggage Claims, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, USA
2017: Baggage Claims, Orlando Museum of Art, Florida, USA
2018: Baggage Claims, a curatorial partnership between Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos. Peeler Art Center, DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, USA
2009: How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin? curated by Christopher Marinos. “Heaven”, 2nd Athens Biennal, Greece
2009: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, Finland
2008: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Fremantle Fibonacci Centre, Fremantle, Australia
2007: Road Movie, Aula Provinciale Hogeschool Hasselt, Hasselt, Belgium
Rockerfeller Boulevard appeared at the following exhibitions, among others: 2009: How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin? curated by Christopher Marinos. “Heaven”, 2nd Athens Biennal, Greece
2009: Going the Distance: Video Works in Migratory Aesthetics., Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, Finland

شهرام  انتخابی    尚莱姆_恩特卡比
Shahram Entekhabi is an German-Iranian- artist, curator & architect, currently living & working across Tehran, Iran - Berlin, Germany and Europe.