Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Unmovable Features

Im/mobility and Digital World Cinema (working tittle)

Prof. Dr. Deniz Göktürk


In contemporary cultural theory, the focus on migration, mobility and transnational flows diminishes site-specificity as anti-modern and trivial – usually attached to rural backwaters rather than bustling metropoles. Social scientists such as John Urry and Saskia Sassen remind us that mobility is always supported by immobile infrastructures.

The idea of place entailing physical embodiment of experience and memory has become an antidote to anonymous non-places of post-modern transitory life. Whether we are celebrating accellerated mobility or nostalgically bemoaning the loss of Heimat, the return to the local and regional is always already mediated through global frameworks. This is evident in debates on environmental concerns or in city-branding efforts in the context of the European Capitals of Culture program, as we have demonstrated in our new book Orienting Istanbul: Cultural Capital of Europe?, published in 2010. The challenge is to develop “a global sense of place” (Doreen Massey) that takes into account circulation, interaction and “friction” (Anna Tsing).

Analyzing tensions between mobility and immobility within this broader theoretical framework, my discussion of an expanded “world cinema” draws on examples from DVD editions of films by travelling directors Fatih Akin and Werner Herzog, as well as recent works of video and Internet art. My book will analyze forms of artistic and popular engagement with geopolitics in audiovisual texts and public debates by addressing the following questions:

  • Can motion pictures produce exemplary and affective knowledge about places that cannot be found on Google Earth?
  • How do spectators as world citizens orient themselves geographically?
  • What is the interplay between place and time?
  • Do digital media open up new ways of accessing old media archives and relating to the world?
  • What choices are made in preservation efforts for online streaming platforms such as Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation?
  • Can cinema and cyberspace function as new transnational meeting places, where identifications with territory and nation are potentially becoming obsolete?
  • What remains immobile and untranslated in proliferating networks of mobility?

Digital technologies both emulate and disrupt conventions of landscape representation by massively increasing illusionist potentials and rendering location shooting potentially obsolete. However, digital media also enable the viewer to participate in interactive emplacements. The DVD presentation not only enables auteurs to reassert their authority with  their commentary, it also allows spectators to participate in the construction of locations by offering extra features such as out-takes and behind-the-scenes documentaries, which render the filmic text open, multilayered and polymorphous.

As scholars of new media technologies such as Anne Friedberg, Jonathan Gray, Barbara Klinger and Laura Mulvey have pointed out, spectators can choose to pause, zoom-in, jump forward or replay, they can combine para-texts and fragments, they can draw on multiple sources and click on links online, creating proximities on a global scale. Regional identification thus appears as a process of constant mediation of shared memories and fragments, never a return to the roots.

Building on work on spatial analysis in art history, philosophy and literary studies, we can maintain that pictorial representation of landscape has always relied on mise-en-scène, framing, and editing, as well as mediations immersed in power relations. Proposing a media archeology of the global imaginary, my study will take into account travel literature and early ethnography (i.e. Georg Forster), Georg Simmel’s theories of relationality and interaction, Siefried Kracauer’s conceptualization of travel and space, resistance to geopolitical referentiality in the texts of Franz Kafka and Yoko Tawada.

Further examples include: coincidences between transportation technologies and early cinema in setting “locations on the move”, global compilation documentaries from Walter Ruttmann’s Melodie der Welt (1929) to Ron Fricke’s Baraka (1992), F.W. Murnau’s travelling film aesthetic, and a body of comic interventions, ironic stagings and anarchic uniform acts around residency permits, pasports and borders (Köpenickiaden in a transnational perspective) by Carl Zuckmayer, Richard Oswald as well as comedian Kemal Sunal and video and performance artist Shahram Entekhabi.

International art exhibitions such as the Documenta or Biennials in Istanbul, Venice or Shanghai have turned to multimedia presentation formats with screen installations. A visit to the museum today resembles a trip to a multiplex theater where mobile spectators can circulate among multi-screen installations, becoming part of these spatial arrangments. Zurich based video artist Ursula Biemann’s video essays, mostly set in border regions, are good examples. Her work directs attention to the mobility and immobility of bodies, resources and images as complementary phenomena, offering a “counter-geography” that complicates homogenizing concepts of globalization. A different kind of resistance can be found in Fikret Atay’s videos, which are almost exclusively shot in his hometown Batman in southeastern Turkey. His focus on performance on part of border-dwellers is static, but nonetheless sets into motion a range of intertextual and translocal references. There is no singular definitive interpretation of such texts, as readings will always depend on the viewers familiarity with locations, histories and languages.

To characterize the aesthetic sensibility of montage, ironic juxtaposition and mash-up, I have coined the term „DocuDada“ (as a counter point to „docudrama“). In fact “DocuDada,” also provides a model for rethinking reading and viewing in the digital age. Perhaps one way of coping with the unwieldy abundance of links can be found in recourse to the Dada-spirit of organization that calls into question the status of “documents” as “truth”?

My project entails a reconceptualization of reception aesthetics in a global and multimedial horizon. By putting texts into contrastive constellations in a series of interrelated case studies, I demonstrate an approach to “the production of locality” (Arjun Appadurai) that is based on intertextuality and intermediality. Our archives are in transit with proliferating points of access and participation. My aim is to incite dynamic thinking about practices of spectatorship and global connectivity with regard to new and old media. My study contributes to debates on globalization, migration and mediation. First and foremost, it offers a critique of culturalist approaches to integration, identity and affiliation with territory.