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Amor Mundi: Documentary, Contemporary Art, and the Descriptive Power of Lens-Based Capture

Monday 18 February 2019, 4.30PM

Speaker(s): Erika Balsom, King's College London

At least since Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11 in 2002, documentary practices have been a prominent feature of contemporary art. This presentation will identify and diagnose a key tendency in recent theorizations of documentary to emerge from this arena: the denigration of surface appearance. Werner Herzog has influentially claimed that cinéma vérité offers “a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants,” and opposes this to the “deeper strata” of “poetic, ecstatic truth” that “can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” I will explore how such positions emerged from the postmodern critique of representation in the 1990s to become central to the conceptualization of the so-called “documentary turn” of contemporary art, in order to question the continuing viability of these arguments today, in our era of “alternative facts.” What if capturing the surfaces of physical reality were not conceived as a superficial act, devoid of creativity, but as an ethics of attunement, able to reconnect us to a sense of a shared world?


Image: still from Joshua Bonetta and JP Sniadecki’s film El Mar La Mar, from 2017.

Location: Bowland Auditorium