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Education Research and Audiovisual Production: The Emergence of Minor Stories in Postmedia Society

Postmedia Videolanguaging

In: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy
Authors:
Julieta Armella Human Sciences Research Laboratory, Faculty of Humanities, University of San Martín (unsam) / National Scientific and Technical Research Council, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Sofia Dafunchio Human Sciences Research Laboratory ( lich), Faculty of Humanities, unsam, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Doctorate in Educational Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Abstract

The authors discuss findings from an educational research study carried out in a secondary school of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Region based on creative research methods and on a collaborative audiovisual project. They inquire into the forms education takes in a postmedia society and they explore the possibilities of the school as time-space to reflect upon the world by means of experimenting with diverse languages and techniques. Here the authors analyze audiovisual materials produced by students and suggest three analytic categories—the scream, the testimony and the singular experience—which are related by an incident that took place in the students’ neighborhood, known as the “Carcova Massacre”. The authors hypothesize that when this event is narrated in the first person by the students—who witnessed the death of their two young neighbors—, the story reported by the media as a police incident becomes a minor story, making it a lived story.

FEATURE
FEATURE

Julieta Armella and Sofia Dafunchio’s article is based on the film ‘I Took a Load off My Mind’, which can be viewed here.

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2024; 10.1163/23644583-bja10046

  1. This article is part of the special topic ‘Postmedia Videolanguaging’ edited by Joff P. N. Bradley, Silvia Grinberg and Masayuki Iwase.

1 Introduction

In this article, we will present findings from an educational research study carried out in a public secondary school of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Region.1 The study used creative research methods (Kara, 2020) and was based on a collaborative audiovisual project between a team of researchers from a national public university and teachers and students from the school. From an everyday institutional view, we inquire into the forms education takes in a postmedia society and the possibilities of the school as time-space to explore and reflect upon the world by means of experimenting with diverse languages and techniques. This is the frame within which the research team and the school teachers run a filmmaking workshop that encourages reflection and problematization in the classroom through documentary film.

Here we pose a short film analysis that connects two audiovisual materials produced by two different groups of students in 2012 (La viborita) and in 2016 (Una tarde gris), along with a 2018 interview to one of the authors of the latter film, in which he reflects upon his experience as a filmmaker. Based on this, we suggest three analytic categories—the scream, the testimony and the singular experience—which are related by an incident that took place in the students’ neighborhood, known as the “Carcova Massacre”: two teenage boys were murdered in the Carcova neighborhood after a freight train was derailed nearby on February 3, 2011. The neighbors came to the site seeking to seize some of the fallen cargo and were dispersed by police. Two teens died and a third was seriously injured. Their families and neighbors have been claiming for justice for more than a decade as those held accountable have yet to be condemned. We hypothesize that when this event is narrated in the first person by the students—who witnessed the death of their two young neighbors—, the story reported by the media as a police incident2 becomes a minor story (Guattari & Rolnik, 2015), making it a lived story. Consequently, they manage to produce a singular story while offering an “other” point of view (Gringberg & Armella, 2023), which, in the school setting, becomes story incarnate and that narrates, in its own time, what can be told and seeks telling.

2 Postmedia Studies and the Emergence of Minor Stories

Our research work applies postmedia studies (Guattari, 2013; Guattari & Rolnik, 2013; Bradley et.al., 2023) in a theoretical-methodological way since they provide a frame to think through social interaction, subjectivity and possibilities beyond those offered by the “relatively narrow social functions performed by media technology today” (Thornton, 2023, p. 87). In this sense, postmedia theorists are concerned about mediation3 instead of fleeing from it: they are “defined less by what they say about the mediation of subjectivity and more by how they aim to utilize media technologies to intervene in and reinvent subjectivity” (Thornton, 2023, p. 87). Thus, postmedia studies represent a practical experimental technique for exploring new ways of life.

In addition, the notion of machinic autopoiesis, recovered by the postdigital education theory (Grushka et al, 2022), serves to analyze becoming and subjectivity in education within a set of machines, social relations and communication energies. All this leads to an approach that seeks to go beyond pedagogical techno-optimism (Armella & Grinberg, 2023) and technological solutionism (Morozov, 2015), exploring instead the possibilities available in the intersection between technology—specifically, audiovisual production—and the school. We assume that, while the horizon does not foretell a reduction of technology, the future does demand imagination to put into practice a way other to interact with it while finding the grounds to reactivate emotional singularity (Berardi, 2023).

As Guattari suggests in relation to the free radios movement of the 70s, this is not about being like the mainstream radio media, nor better or along the same lines. It is about finding different uses, a different listening relation, and letting minor languages speak: it is about promoting a certain type of creation which could not happen in any other place (Guattari & Rolnik, 2013). Mass media, these authors point out, model not only the ways in which we consume art or literature, but also the ways in which we produce them. What they call minor work or story is a work that breaks with the big literary or artistic identities that have spread through mass media. They are minor productions or stories since they are singular and expressed in a voice of their own: “this singular point of creativity has maximum potential to produce transformations in sensitivity, in all the different fields I have called molecular revolution”4 (Guattari & Rolnik, 2013, p. 164).

Within this frame, we aim to analyze now the narrative forms that can arise from using the audiovisual language at school when the script and the camera are in the hands of students.

3 Findings and Discussion

3.1 The Scream, the Testimony and the Experience

In this section, we will present an analysis of the results we obtained in the field by examining the students’ narration of the same event: the “Carcova Massacre.” Three moments get intertwined, turning it into a story experienced that goes back to that afternoon in which they witnessed the death of two young neighbors.

3.2 First Moment: the Scream

La viborita [The Little Snake] is an animation exercise carried out by a group of students during a 2012 audiovisual workshop. Seeking to explore different materials and languages, students were presented with the idea of narrating with the camera in the first person. In the film, they tell a short story using the stop motion technique, with plasticine and colored paper. A snake catches a man by the railway side. In a frantic scream, he is swallowed just before the train enters the scene (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

Frames of La viborita short film.

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2024; 10.1163/23644583-bja10046

graphic sequence of the stop motion film produced by the students.

It is interesting to highlight that they decided to narrate a recent event in their neighborhood without directly referencing it but for a few signs—the railway, the train siren, the man’s scream. The absence of a direct allusion to what happened seems to enable other ways for students to display what they have lived. Silence and scream, present in any painful experience, become forms of expression by the use of this register, allowing students to tell their stories in a different way (Grinberg & Dafunchio, 2016). The result is a 29-second production condensing everything that can be said at that moment: a trace of a scream from somebody who has witnessed the horror.

3.3 Second Moment: the Testimony

Una tarde gris [A Gloomy Afternoon], another audiovisual piece produced by a second group of students in 2016, goes back to the same event, which is narrated differently: the episode is named from the beginning. This short film starts with a voice-over (the voice of a student, Code, who was a direct witness of his friends’ murder):

It was Summer. I was at home one day at 2 pm and heard the train siren and then the ground trembling everything (…) We went there and I saw the police by the train and told my mom go back. There were three people who could take things from the train and didn’t let the other people take anything. So the people who was at the back started throwing stones, and the police countered.

I Took a Load off My Mind, minute 2:30

The voice is accompanied by a trace that draws the outlines of three police officers. All three hold guns (see Figure 2). It carries on drawing the outline of three young men, while Code is heard again telling what happened:

Figure 2
Figure 2

Frames of Una tarde gris short film.

Citation: Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy 2024; 10.1163/23644583-bja10046

graphic sequence of the stop motion film produced by the students.

One policeman got this close to one of the guys, he shot him in the neck and killed him. He told the other guy to stay still, but he ran away, so he shot him in the back. The third guy was hurt on the chest, and used my T-shirt to cover his wound.

I Took a Load off My Mind, minute 3:15

After this voice-over, the tone of the story changes. There is a close-up of a woman who is both a neighbor and a social referent, whom the students decided to interview about the death of the young men in Carcova:

Over 23 young guys between 17 and 22 years old have died in less than five years, and today the number is even higher.

I Took a Load off My Mind, minute 3:43

The final scene goes back to the place where it all happened. The students decide to stroll and walk along the railway. They go back to this painful place, making the audiovisual story a lived memory. The past/present of those who walk along the railway fuses with the demand for justice and the memory of those who are no longer here.

Una tarde gris braids together the story of the neighborhood, the story of two boys who were murdered and the first-person voices of those who narrate the story. A collective narrative that, at some point, singularizes the voice, which becomes incarnate: “The third guy was hurt on the chest, and used my T-shirt to cover his wound.”

It is the story of someone who, being an 11-year-old boy, is an eyewitness and wants to give testimony of what he has seen by narrating the event. In this way, in terms of Barcena (2001), by the eminent text of the poem (the work, the video), the poet becomes the bridge connecting the dead and the living, the gods and the humans, the other life and the life that is happening here.

It is worth describing how these students began to create the script that led to the short film. To start the 2016 workshop, students were presented with the idea of producing audiovisual pieces to tell the story of the neighborhood. Two of them chose the same event: they wanted to tell a story they had lived a few years ago. They gathered with other friends from the neighborhood, and one recorded his voice relating that day. That was the first time he remembered what had happened, he said afterwards. During their first talks, they linger over one detail that leads to a debate: what type of content the derailed train was transporting. For one, it transported food; for another, the train was full of sweets, a memory that evidences a gesture that tries to make a painful scene easier to process. It is a language beyond their age (Arfuch, 2018), meaning that childhood can be overwhelmed by demands which are impossible to meet or deal with: What can a boy who witnesses his friends’ death do? What can childhood do with the murdering of childhood? The narrative elaboration of traumatic memories, as “autobiographical acts” (Smith-Watson, 2001), helps face the risks of language, it is morning turned to words. There the minimum gesture becomes crucial: the memory of a child—who has witnessed the death of two neighborhood friends—may become endurable because of a detail. “We went to collect sweets that were spread everywhere,” said one of the students. The truth—whether the train was transporting sweets, food or other types of goods—is less important than the way in which memory resorts to something that can render it a form within reach, than the fact that some aspect of a child’s life appears in a death scene. Every student had their own version of the story and, at the same time, the event was shared by many. Every story met the others and stopped belonging to each student to form a common story, a testimony that gave a name to the event and to the short film: A Gloomy Afternoon.

3.4 Third Moment: the Experience

Code, one of the short-film makers, was interviewed by the research team in 2018 about his audiovisual production. In his speech, scream and testimony get intertwined:

Researcher:Can you tell us what making this short film meant to you and your peers? And what did you feel when you went to receive the award5 and saw your film on screen?
Interviewee:Going there and seeing myself on the big screen was a unique experience. I saw myself there, and then everybody applauding… it was something I had never experienced before. And when they said it was the winner. My video, the winner? It can’t be true. My video won and I came back to school and everybody congratulated me, even Alejandro, the headmaster. All the neighbors thanked me, I showed the video in the neighborhood, and they thanked me. It was a very important video to me, because of what I had been through. That video made me spill all my feelings. It was heart-warming, I was full of pride. Because it is something special, something very personal.
Researcher: Would you like to tell us anything else about that story?
Interviewee:I got a huge weight off my shoulders… No, it is not that I don’t want to, but I don’t want to say it any more.

I Took a Load off My Mind, minute 5:25

Considering we are 24/7 exposed to ubiquitous information, where pain is televised as a figure and not as an experience (Bárcena, 2001), Code’s phrase “Sawing myself on the big screen was a unique experience (…) I got a huge weight off my shoulders,” faces us with what Foucault notes about writing being both a creative act and a process to transform the way we think:

An experience is something you come out of changed. If I had to write a book to communicate what I have already thought, I’d never have the courage to begin it.

foucault, 2010, p. 426

We are talking about singular stories, minor stories which, through audiovisual production become one singular story: the story of the neighborhood narrated by its inhabitants. The individual experience of an event develops into political and collective discourse the moment that individual is presented as a subject with the right to give testimony and receive recognition (Butler, 2006).

Thus a subtle but fundamental shift takes place. The event, reported by the media as a police incident where “the police tried to stop the robbery and was involved in a shooting against slum residents,” starts to be narrated differently. It is now about the death of two young boys, murdered by the police. Narrated in the first person, the story becomes a story experienced, formulated by an I/we that fuse in a common shared word. A story experienced: “The third guy was hurt on the chest, and used my T-shirt to cover his wound,” which goes back to the storyteller as a witness who gives testimony by narrating it.

4 Conclusion

Narrating and creating stories with and through images posits a research experience that seeks to explore the possibilities of school as a place for life in common (Abálsamo & Grinberg, 2016), for encountering others and the other, who is neither completely strange, nor completely familiar.

The productions we have analyzed here are expressions in which, by means of audiovisual narration, students seek to register their lives and stories. But they are also a way of enabling other representations to survive, representations that, in terms of Richard (2006), disorganize the agreements behind the social use of images, allowing through this creative act the emergence of minor stories as singular modes of subjectivity and existence. The productions we have related here serve to consider these creative acts as minor stories by means of which those experiences intensify and reaffirm their right to exist. According to Lapoujade (2018), the intensification of an existence’s reality has its correlate in the affirmation of its right to exist. Yet, since this right is not guaranteed by itself, it demands to be acquired by other means. And this is a political and aesthetical problem. If art is the only thing that can resist death, as is suggested by Deleuze (1987), these audiovisual productions express a force that intends to resist silence and time so as to create, give testimony and speak with others.

Acknowledgements

Translation by Julieta Giambastiani.

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1

The school is situated in the first ring of conurbation within the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Region, more specifically in the city of José León Suárez, San Martín district, in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. According to the last population census, this region has the highest rate of vulnerability and social exclusion, expressed in shantytowns and slums that have been growing in people and extension since the end of the 1970s. In addition, this urban area combines high levels of poverty with environmental degradation and pollution (Curutchet, Grinberg & Gutierrez, 2012). The economic and social crisis that took place at the end of the twentieth century have impacted here, deepening social inequalities on a daily basis.

2

“José León Suárez: one person dies after attempted looting at a derailed train. The police tried to stop the robbery and were presumably involved in a shooting against slum residents. The neighbors said officers started to shoot as soon as they came to the place.” Retrieved and translated from www.lapoliticaonline.com/nota/nota-71087.

3

Thornton (2023) establishes a fundamental distinction between two ways of understanding the meaning of medium. A first one refers to medium as something that exists independently between two entities, allowing them to communicate. The second one takes medium as an environment containing the two entities. Postmedia theory uses the second definition, suggesting that there is no subject outside an environment, but that subjects are—or can be—constituted within the environment of technologies. In this sense, Guattari defines medium as an assemblage of subjective production.

4

tn: Translated from the original in Spanish.

5

Winner of the dac [Argentinian Film Directors] Foundation Award, Hacelo Corto [Make it short] Festival 2016. Selected to participate in the 2017 Lilla Dunken Festival in Malmö, Sweden.

6

tn: Text cited from the translation by James Goldstein and James Cascaito (1991). Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombadori. Semiotext(e).

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