In a very interesting essay from 2008, ‘Constraint, Cruelty and Conversation’, Hector Rodriguez asks a question that is also at the centre of our project. He asks ‘whether generative or constraint-based artworks must always comprise tightly closed formal systems, or whether (and how) formal constraints can also open up the work to the life that is lived while making it’. (He wants the latter to be the case, of course.) In thinking about this question in relation to our project, I have in mind the various constraint-based or more or less parametric tasks we have set each other from week to week, but I also have in mind the form of the project itself. The constraints of time (a week to get a task done), iteration (a task every two weeks for a full year), and format (going public within the frame of this website), generate a commentary on the life we are living for the year of the project, the ups and downs of our relationship and our careers, our worries and concerns, etc. The project is a diary in a not very cryptic code (diary-keeping is another of the project’s ‘proximate modes’) as life events or cranky conversations in the kitchen get translated into tasks. And hence my task this week, to think and work about beginnings and endings in the context of changes and uncertainties in our shared life and in my career.
One answer to that question of whether a constraint-based task can open up the work to the life that is lived while making it might be ‘yes, because I was feeling rubbish when I did it and so I did it badly’. That might be this week’s answer at any rate! I have fallen back on work already done and avoided responding, except indirectly, to the challenge—implicit in the task—to confront the changes and challenges of the current moment in life and career.
The task you set asked me to orient a response according to a triangle of coordinates: Entry/Exit points—Beginnings/Endings—Construction/Architecture. This put me in mind of my work on locations and temporality in The Battle of Algiers. It has always struck me as interesting that the film’s introduction and coda (thresholds, or narrative doorways, that allow entrance or egress to/from the main story) are almost the same length. I once thought it might be interesting to run the two together in parallel to see if there were any interesting echoes. I remember trying this, and being disappointed that I didn’t spot (m)any. But your task gave me licence to return to the idea, in the light of other videoessays I’ve seen since I went to the Middlebury workshop last year. Thinking especially about two videoessays by Nick Warr and by Catherine Grant, I made a film in which the beginning and the ending of The Battle of Algiers are juxtaposed. I spent some time trying out different frame arrangements and combinations of mirroring and film run backwards. I also removed onscreen titles and captions (thereby trimming the run time considerably) because they looked odd in reverse. In the process—I now think—I lost the integrity and purpose of the exercise, and this has not been helped by an unresolved attitude to the audio, but more of the mea culpa below; here’s the film.
Making a videoessay is material thinking, but my head and my hands weren’t in it this week. There would have been so much more and better to be said in relation to the film and your three pairs of coordinates. For example, the purpose and fate of buildings by Fernand Pouillon shown in the coda resonate ironically with the material you quote from the course at the School of Architecture in Aarhus about ‘the production of architecture under unstable territorial and environmental conditions’. In this case, the Pouillon developments were intended to acculturate the Muslim Algerians to French modernity but instead became the venue for anti-occupation protests (you know this, because you’ve read chapter 2 of my new book!). The architecture itself did not change, but it was appropriated, and its ulterior function inverted, by those who lived in it.
You quote the phrases ‘loss of identity’ and ‘territorial tension’ from the School of Architecture description. These phrases can refer, as I think you intended, to my own situation. As my future as an academic looks uncertain, my sense of self and self-esteem seem under threat: at risk, if not of a ‘loss’ of identity exactly, then of the erosion of a self-image so carefully forged over a long period. ‘Territorial tension’, whatever the Architects mean by it, can refer to my own location between tax jurisdictions, with the value of my salary eroded in tandem with my self-image as Brexit chips away at Sterling.
The title of the film is ‘LiMiNaL’ (the medial and final caps aspire only to a meaningless cool). Liminality refers to an in-between phase, a threshold moment. Anthropologists use the term refer to temporality of an initiation rite or a festival, when certain social rules are held in suspension. I talk of the coda to The Battle of Algiers, especially, in my book, as a liminal or threshold moment, and hence the videoessay title and the link with your invocations of doorways and entry/exit points. The title is also an autobiographical allusion. I am myself living a liminal or threshold moment, immersed in the suspended (and suspenseful) temporality of transition. What next?