What is SalonAnthro?

SalonAnthro is a repository of blog entries, interesting notes videos and other tidbits, and junior scholarly research on politics of representation, art, and anthropology. My focus is particularly on representation and visual art from an anthropological perspective and located in the Middle East. Other contributors are always welcome; if you have some thoughts about a piece, drop me a line!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Film Review: The Forgotten Space, or On Modernity, Globalization & Space

Allan Sekula and Noel Burch have made a film essay entitled The Forgotten Space. The film screened at LACMA on Saturday night, sponsored by LACMA and Redcat.

Sekula and Burch write, "Our film is about globalization and the sea, the "forgotten space" of our modernity. First and foremost, globalization is the penetration of the multinational corporate economy into every nook and cranny of human life." They cite that 90% of the world's cargo moves by sea - even though most people don't imagine that to be so. It makes sense, though, if you think about it; all the cheap plastic stuff and clothing made in Bangladesh, Cambodia or the Philippines must come to the US and to Western Europe somehow. That's exactly Sekula and Burch's point - the sea, and this globalization of modernity, the flow of trade is invisible to most of us.

The film essay form isn't a documentary, though it kind of feels like it at first. You have to get yourself to see the art in it, rather than expect it to be a documentary. That is what Sekula and Burch are after - the Brechtian "distanciation" that comes from the discontinuities, the illusion of the documentary.

It reminded me of Professor Gilsenan talking about the feel of places in our graduate seminar on the anthropology of cities, the idea of places: ports as dirty places, liminal, places of passing through and moving on, transitional - and in that, scary because they are not stable places, they represent an unfixed lifestyle. Marseilles used to be considered so filthy, so immoral.

The film's message also addresses globalization, modernity and trade. In this vein, the film is very much about neoliberalism: it is all about flow, and speed of transaction. Modernity and globalization are measured in speed of flow: flow of goods, peoples, information (see: Christopher Parker, Ahmed Kanna). Speed is king. Cindi Katz also wrote about the way neoliberalism divides places, creates spaces of modernity and spaces of not modernity. The insidious effect, Katz argues, is that these divisions reify and deepen existing categorizations especially including class and power divides, while simultaneously hiding the divisive nature of these distinctions. It is not a honest distinguishing, then, but a hiding of facts, a covering of unmodern bodies and spaces - removing them from view. So that the flow can continue unobstructed.

And Sekula and Burch are here to show us images from these forgotten spaces, the Katzian hidden spaces left out of the flow of modernity and globalization and neoliberalism. They show us a Dutch village, Doel, that disappears because of the expansion of the port of Antwerp; the boxy containers that transport goods from China to the US and back around the world again - but containing what exactly; Korean and Indonesian workers aboard the ships that move that cargo but can't speak the same language; Aussies and Brits working in naval academies in Hong Kong; and jobless, formerly middle class Americans who are now homeless, living in a tent city in Ontario, CA. The film surveys these disparate people, left from the flow of modernization; they have been sidelined, and Sekula & Burch give them a voice.

The question that remains is, are we willing to hear these voices if it means higher prices on our goods manufactured in other places, transported here by cogs in the forgotten machine of sea trade? If it means less speed, less flow? Will we place the human above the flow?

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