The 2012 MeCCSA conference at the University of Bedfordshire was as eclectic as usual, with sessions ranging from pornography to public service broadcasting and from the Muppets to Murdoch.
My experience this time, however, was different from previous occasions, given my decision to inveigle my way into the world of practice on the basis of a paper about the status of knowledge in practice-based research. And this conference was rich in practice-based work, with parallel presentations, evening screenings and Q&A sessions with directors. Consequently I am left with impressions of some extraordinary stories, formal experiments and campaigning zeal, all of which shift in and out of focus when viewed through the ‘knowledge’ lens; in other words they become differently meaningful and significant when subjected to questions about the nature of the knowledge they produce, how they articulate it and their relationship with it. In case this sounds too casuistical (my new favourite word since hearing Peter Golding use it at the AGM), it is the exercise of such questions that will enable us to ascertain the relationship between practice and research and, perhaps, dissolve some of the boundaries that currently exist.
In the case of Deirdre O’Neill’s films, made with serving and ex-prisoners, and Kirsten Macleod’s community based work made with women from Govan, there was a sense of the co-production of knowledge. This knowledge could be described as ethnographic from a traditional research perspective, as it facilitated the articulation of understandings of culture, norms and shared beliefs and practices. But it also enabled the participants to reflect on their identities and, through the intervention of the filmmaker/researchers, for an appreciation of their own agency to emerge.
In contrast, Inga Burrows’ films set in the Cardiff Market Hall contained little that could be described as ‘explicit articulation of knowledge’, given their impressionistic, oblique and partial views of working lives and relationships. As research, then, the work seemed to require some form of exegesis in order to make the knowledge unambiguous, but only if we take for granted assumptions about what research is.
This difference in mode and approach to creative work was also exemplified by the two professional filmmakers who presented at the conference – Jan Dunn and Clio Barnard. Jan Dunn, whose first film Gypo was made according to Dogme 95 rules, was, despite this, disarmingly non-theoretical about her work, asserting the importance of instinct and emotion in her process. Clio Barnard, whose film The Arbour was screened on the first evening, however, spoke about her film and installation work as the products of conceptual development and formal experimentation.
My MeCCSA experience ended with Joanna Callaghan and Martin McQuillan’s film (“I melt the glass with my forehead” – Mayakovsky fans will get the reference!) about the rise in tuition fees, which used a documentary mode to put the marketisation of Higher Education in a historical context. This film explored questions about the value of universities – whether or not they constitute something which can be commodified, and in doing so brought me back to my original questions; if research is one of the ‘products’ of universities, what is the nature of this ‘product’? And what forms can it take?
Thanks to Mark Readman for his reflections on practice at the 2012 conference. Further information about the presentations on our Facebook page. If you are interested in hosting an event or are looking for support for an existing event please get in touch:
Powers of the false symposium
Institut Francais & Cine Lumiere, London, UK
May 18-19th 2012
Keynote presentation by Professor Stella Bruzzi
“There is a power inherent in the false: the positive power of ruse, the power to gain a strategic advantage by masking one’s life force.”
This two-day symposium addresses the complex ethics of the manipulation of real people and events in documentary, fact-fiction hybrid cinema and artists’ moving image. Inspired by Gilles Deleuze’s theories of minor cinema and his term ‘powers of the false’, the symposium will turn to other philosophers including Levinas’ philosophy of alterity. Powers of the False looks at filmmaking as a manipulative and coercive agency. When and for what reason is forgery and deception conceptually motivated, even ethically necessary?
Delegate pass (Full Rate/Reduced): 1 day £60/£30 or 2 days £100/£50
To register go to: https://www.institut-francais.org.uk/ or call
the Institut Francais Box Office on: 0207 871 3515
Supported by UEL, the MeCCSA Practice Network, Soda Films and Kings College London