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Title: The 'video-essay' in contemporary art : documenting capital and gender for the 21st century
Author: Charlesworth, Amy
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis examines how the term ‘video-essay’ or ‘film essay’ has gained particular momentum in contemporary art practice and theoretical debates throughout the past twenty years. Speficially, I examine the work of Ursula Biemann and María Ruido. The thesis plots how the ‘genre’ is considered to have emerged through a post-structuralist framework. Feminist and post-colonial praxis initiated an important critique of the documentary project from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Much of this criticism sought to re-ignite the active qualities latent in the technologies of lens-based mediums: qualities considered to be hidden, or dealt with uncritically in the documentary paradigm. A focus on construction, and a distrust of the ‘reflective’ capacities of the camera to record the real gave way to the mode of the ‘fictive’ and an interest in ‘discursive formations’. Fictive devices were implemented in order to give attention to maligned, purposefully obscured, or not-yet written histories, operating in place of absent ‘official’ documentation. This thesis argues that the term video or film essay is better conceptualised through a broader, yet nuanced enquiry of the documentary as it has unfolded throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The case studies in this thesis are part of a wider array of works that privilege, once more, the recording capacity of the camera (both analogue and digital), its social purpose and thus potential strategy to enforce change. I explore how these practices straddle, and re-kindle the familiar debates around utility and formal reflexivity in the ‘documentary turn’ of critical art production in the twenty-first century. The chosen themes of the works under analysis speak to the tension ever-present between form and content, text and context. Here the camera is used to render visible the concealed heterogeneous strands of labour. I evaluate how this practice is specifically apt for exploring the dialectic of waged/un-waged labour, undertaken historically by women. The works consider how female ‘migrant’ labourers are most ‘useful’ and ‘profitable’ to neoliberal capitalism. The manner in which bodies interact with the abstract flows of deregulated capital and electronic communication, has contributed to a need for re-cognition of the social world. Artists aiming to understand the power of the visual under these reordered circumstances have had to negotiate the vicissitudes of truth once more. I argue that the capacity of the document to provide knowledge and to track lived realities, has made it a dependable and useful form once more. Its contentious past is and must be acknowledged, as such debates have re-written our understandings of what the document is, should, and might be.
Supervisor: Day, G. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available