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Timothy Long

Abstract

In his lens-based installation Auroras (2007), Canadian filmmaker and artist Atom Egoyan re-presents the traumatic account of Aurora Mardiganian, a young woman who survived the Armenian genocide and whose story was published and then filmed in the United States under the titles Ravished Armenia and Auction of Souls (1919), in which she played herself. Egoyan’s installation plays on the fact that Mardiganian, after collapsing during the film’s promotional tour, was replaced by seven ‘look-alikes’. Encountered as a series of projections or monitors, Auroras shows seven women retelling Aurora’s harrowing story, which began as 15,000 Armenian women and children were ordered from their village. Their narrative culminates when Ottoman soldiers attack, raping a girl and killing her mother. Egoyan’s staging of Mardiganian’s testimony offers a startling reformulation of filmic witnessing. By multiplying the subjects who retell her traumatic story, and multiplying the screens on which they appear, Egoyan brings into question the filmic conventions by which victims are framed as sacred subjects and held at a safe remove from the viewer’s world. Bringing the black box of cinema into the white cube of the art gallery or public space, Egoyan denies audiences the anonymity of the theatre and places them on an equal footing with the screens. The reversal of power is intensified through the encounter with seven culturally diverse actors portraying Mardiganian; the viewer is literally outnumbered and surrounded. In the place of a single witness there is a chorus, a resistant ‘community of witnessing’.1 Scapegoating logic is reversed, positioning viewer as victim with the goal of solidifying a sympathetic identification with the narrator-witnesses and engendering a physical experience of ‘theatroclasm’ or ‘breaking the place of the viewer’.2 Bodily memory is thereby restored to filmic memory, a key thematic of Egoyan’s memorialisation of historical trauma.

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Edited by Cristina Santos, Adriana Spahr and Tracy Crowe Morey

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Adriana Spahr

Abstract

Between 1976 and 1983, state terrorism ruled Argentina. After the coup d’état the regime crushed political, social and student organizations – many of which were associated with the guerrillas. As a result, these people were persecuted, incarcerated and exterminated in brutal ways by the military and other members of the Argentine security forces. Many children, whose parents were persecuted and killed, were made prisoners or went into exile. They suffered a similar fate as their parents. Human rights violations during this period had repercussions worldwide. As a result, a great deal of literature was produced at home and internationally. However, little attention has been given to the children who were born in jail, in exile, or went as children into exile with their parents. Yet, despite of their parents’ political involvement they did not become politically active. The aim of this work is to examine how the political persecution of the children’s family members affected their growth and their attitudes toward life in Argentina and in Canada as a place of exile.

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Christine Ramsay

Abstract

Testimony and its witnessing grounded our collaborative curatorial project, Atom Egoyan and the Place of the Witness, a study of the lens-based installation work of internationally acclaimed Canadian-Armenian art filmmaker Atom Egoyan. The project considered Egoyan’s migration between the art film and film installation art — the black box of the film theatre and the white cube of the gallery space — through his installation works, with a special focus on an exhibition of his masterpiece, Steenbeckett, at the MacKenzie Art Gallery (5 November, 2016-January 2, 2017, Regina, Canada). The exhibition, which was the North American premiere of this important work, was also Station 9 on the larger durational series of exhibitions entitled Meet in the Middle: Stations of Migration and Memory between Art and Film (Regina 2014–2017) (Regina, Canada, 2014–2017). Egoyan’s relationship to the contexts and genres of testimonial production rests on his recurring thematic interest in memorializing the events of the Armenian Genocide, diasporic identities, and acts of witnessing; and his formal fascination with the analog/digital divide, the malleability of the moving image, ‘screen subjectivity’, and our immersion in the image. Often reworking dramatic narratives as installations, his work mobilizes the tensions between the two-dimensional cinematic screen and the three-dimensional gallery space. We are interested in the ways Egoyan uses the gallery as a space of ‘decomposition’ in which ‘the single screen gives way’, to quote Maeve Connolly, to new and different creative strategies of recomposing, expanding and immersing subjects in the moving image. This contribution to the section theme of ‘Objects and Performance of Testimony’ consists of a suite of three chapters which explore Egoyan’s installations through questions of collective and personal trauma, memory and witnessing: Christine Ramsay on Return to the Flock (1996), Timothy Long on Auroras/Testimony (2007), and Elizabeth Matheson on Steenbeckett (2002) .

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Elizabeth Matheson

Abstract

This chapter considers testimony situating moving imagery and filmic installation as an immersive form of ‘life writing genres’ through Steenbeckett (2002). Egoyan uses excerpts from his film of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, in which a haunted sexagenarian reviews self-important reel-to-reel tape recordings he made in his prime, to reflect on the pain of hubris and memories of lost love. The viewer is immersed in Krapp’s reverie through a dense aesthetic layering of technologies in space. Two thousand feet of celluloid travels around the darkened gallery on a system of pulley suspended sprockets, propelled through the Steenbeck editing table, whose small screen also serves as our fittingly obscure and distanced window onto Krapp. In her theory of ‘the kiss’ within architectural space as it relates to film projection, Lavin sees a ‘coming together of two similar but not identical surfaces that soften, flex, and deform when in contact1.’ Caruth analyzes this ‘coming together’ in filmic architectural encounters through the lens of bearing witness to history and memory. Pérez-Gómez sees the gallery as, in fact, ‘a theatre for memory’2 capable of uncovering truths, while Agamben shows that the ways of seeing experience in filmic installations are akin to the position of the witness. Alongside these developments, Grau advocates that this witnessing in moving image installations is by its very nature an immersive ‘thinking space.’ Steenbeckett is such a ‘thinking space.’ Its structural and compositional features channel and inform the body’s resonance with and immersion in its immediate surroundings. Consequently, I propose that the reciprocal relationship between the bodily gesture, Egoyan’s installation art and the gallery is best described through the notion of ‘dialectical immersion’: a temporary embodied spatial encounter that can only be fully understood from within.

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Alison Atkinson-Phillips

Abstract

Public memorials play an increasing role in the repertoire of commemorative practices through which societies attempt to come to terms with difficult or uncomfortable pasts. Increasingly, memorials are also used to acknowledge lived experiences of loss and trauma. This represents a shift in the kinds of experiences memorials can be expected to acknowledge and challenges ideas of what a memorial is and what it does. This chapter draws on research conducted within Australia, and considers three examples of memorials that are influenced by transitional justice approaches to truth-telling, and which are used to bring difficult stories of child abuse, forced separation of families and loss of land into the public sphere. Using a narrative therapy approach, this chapter considers the relationships of power that allow such stories to be told in particular ways. These examples offer insights into the strategies survivors of human rights abuses and their supporters use to claim the right to speak and to have their stories heard, and the ways such testimony is constrained. At their best, memorials to lived experience are part of an arsenal of tools available to survivors and their supporters to bear witness to difficult pasts. The materiality of the memorial form can be helpful in assisting such histories to be absorbed into mainstream narratives.

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Melissa Burchard

Abstract

Testimony is standardly defined as a relatively straightforward autobiographical narrative or account of personal experience. Working with traumatized children shows how testimony cannot always be straightforward. My claim is that exploring testimony of traumatized children leads us to conclude that both our understanding of what testimony is and our responsibilities to those who give testimony need to be reconsidered. I first argue several points regarding children’s speaking capabilities, including that children’s testimony is often not autobiographical, because children may not have the vocabulary to narrate their history. When children are traumatized pre-verbally, words are not even associated with the experience, so that testimony may take the form of a ‘performance’ rather than a telling. Further, children often cannot tell the story by themselves. Certain epistemological concepts will not function ‘normally’ in such children’s testimony, e.g., truth, certainty, knowing. Children’s testimony also challenges standard moral concepts, such as duty and honesty. I then claim that we should recognize a distinction in testimonial purposes: ‘straightforward’ testimony may be directed at justice, but the kind of narrative speaking that is necessary for healing is very different and more complex, requiring different modes of speaking and different responses from hearers. Having recognized this distinction, we can then make more sense out of the trend in testimony theory that conceptualizes it as an effort to express that which is inexpressible, or characterizes atrocities as paradoxical and impossible to know. I argue that because standard testimony is aimed at restoring justice, it places burdens on testifiers of all ages, appearing to encourage an unhealthy dissociation. Although the work of testifying for justice is necessary, it should give ample consideration to these extra burdens and provide accommodations to aid children who testify, but also adults, whenever this is appropriate.

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Mateusz Chaberski

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The aim of this chapter is to discuss the performative potential of testimony in the context of contemporary performing arts employing different technologies of media representation. The author introduces a concept of the performing witness referring to the artistic practice of contemporary practitioners who invite actual amateurs to participate in artistic projects in order to make their intimate, often traumatic testimony experienced by a larger public. Thus, witnesses are allowed to enter both the stage of the theatre and the stage of history hitherto occupied by dominant narratives about the past. On the other hand, however, witnesses not only perform but they are constantly being performed as credible witnessing beings. In other words, the ontological status of the witness within a performance event always depends upon a plethora of performative strategies employed by artists which are crucial for the emergence of a particular testimony. Firstly, the author critically examines Jan Assmann’s theory of cultural memory of the 1990s by returning to the concept of the frameworks of memory formulated by the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs. Secondly, the author applies Halbwachs’s concept to the analysis of two contemporary performances: Rimini Protokoll’s Mnemopark (2008) and Jan Klata’s Transfer! (2006) in order to show performative aspects of the Halbwachsian frameworks of memory. What is of particular interest here is the production of ‘the authentic’ by the use of media technologies and the physical presence of performing witnesses.1

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Emma Kelly

Abstract

From the box office successes of Philomena and ’71 to lesser-known, but critically acclaimed works such as Calvary and Silent Grace, Irish cinema’s sustained interest in cultural and personal trauma indicates its popularity as a topic within both the Irish film industry and wider Irish society. Recent political, social, and legal changes have provided a new space in which the telling of stories on both a personal and societal level has become possible. Consequently, Irish cinema has become an important medium through which these previously marginalised and obscured voices may be heard. Engaging with Judith Herman’s theory that the emergence of stories requires a specific context, my chapter examines social, legal, and political history to establish why previously unheard voices began to emerge in the Republic of Ireland in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Concentrating on The Magdalene Sisters (2002), Philomena (2013), and Calvary (2014), my chapter examines cinematic representations of those ‘othered’ and abjected by a society enabled by what James M. Smith terms ‘Ireland’s Architecture of Containment’: Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, Reformatory Schools, and Industrial Schools. This chapter explores how these representations enabled the disintegration of the division between the free self and the institutionalised other, and how this collapse triggered society’s realisation that it, too, was responsible for this trauma. Through close examination of pivotal scenes from pre-report films such The Magdalene Sisters (2002), directed by Peter Mullan, and post-report films such as Philomena (2013), directed by Stephen Frears,and Calvary (2014), directed by John Michael McDonagh, my chapter also examines how, if at all, Irish cinema has explored possible paths in the journey from traumatic rupture to reconciliation.