Aesthetics of Crisis in the Arab World – Epistemologies of Connectivity in Documentary Modes of the Real

By Rania Gaafar
Submitted to Session P4933 (Art and Mediation: Affective and Socio-political Practices of Revolutionary Challenges, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Arab States;
Cultural Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
This project will discuss the documentary image against the background of the visual traces and ramifications of violent conflicts, wars, and political uprisings in the Arab world. Through the encounter with digital and mobile image archives, post-cinematic installation art, user-generated content on the internet, and contemporary media art, this paper seeks to explore the economy of crisis in (post-)revolutionary and (post-) colonial visual topographies and conceive of new relationships between temporality, materiality, and affect. Technologies of media and of the visual are no longer evident solely by means of cables and buttons, but have permeated human and non-human lives by data streams, technological infrastructures, sensor-based networks and screens. Digital – documentary – images of the war in Syria, the on-going crisis in Iraq, and the Egyptian uprising, for one, disclose the intricate relationship between technological processes and ‘naked life’ that permeates the boundary between virtual lifeworlds and the materiality of human lives. The topographies of the zones of conflict, their violent and vernacular surplus, are absorbed in / as documentary modes of the real and reflect self-identifying territories of agential practices.
Documentary images in/through mobile media and their digital connectivity, quality and transformation have thus altered the relationship between the image and its referent by focusing on the interrelation of the virtuality of spatiotemporal movements and structures, the technosphere of cultural production, and the subject’s time, life, and death in geopolitically contested spaces. The structural transformation of documentary images shapes the new public sphere of a medial materialization of political, social, and economic crises. Given the decisive role digital technologies in social networks have acquired during revolutionary events in the Middle East and North Africa – and the audiovisual and digital aesthetic strategies artists have employed – the emphasis will be on reassessing the question of agency through the documentary image.
This paper will trace the implications of different configurations of the documentary real and its affective impact on the art and economy of crisis.