Refusing Representation: Speed, Mapping, and the Abounaddara Film Collective

By Jason Fox
Submitted to Session P4876 (Fraught Docs: Questioning Categories and Exploring Infrastructural Challenges of Documentary Filmmaking from the Arab World, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
This paper examines the critical social portraiture of Abounaddara, the anonymous Syrian video collective that emerged in 2011 with the onset of the uprising in Syria, framing their work as a practice of radical historiography that complicates traditional notions of mapping and humanitarian media produced under the conditions of “regime made disaster.” In recent years,
a small chorus of scholars have argued that viewing images of humanitarian crisis is an essential civic skill that must be developed, one whose practices make possible the reconstruction of an imagined community of the governed through the circulation of images. In this frame, the civil discourse that is catalyzed by the production of and engagement with images of humanitarian disaster has the capacity to suspend governmental representation, the nationalist dynamics that enable it, and the identification of disaster with the populations upon whom it is afflicted. My paper examines the efforts of Abounaddara to construct such a digital interface, one where disparate cultures, both inside and outside of Syria, confront one another in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination and one that links the intervals of mass-mediated, digital, and immaterial media flows with the localized and materialized conditions of a war in process.
Across their vast output, the collective employs radical techniques to uncouple the locational and divisional domains of conventional cartography and documentary from their acts of social portraiture. Their works, I argue, negate the documentary functions of authorship, metonymy, index, scale, and representation in order to fracture unified productions of Syrian locality. Avoiding cohesive representations, the collective focuses on the visual bonds facilitated by the speed at which digital interfaces allow images to circulate. At stake for the collective is the re-conception of the politics of the image, one that clears a way for a domain of political relations structured by a shared media interface rather than sovereign claims.

Partial Bibliography:
Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography. New York: Verso Books, 2012.

Alexander Galloway, The Interface Effect. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Press, 2004.

Jai Sen, “Other Worlds, Other Maps: Mapping the Unintended City,” in An Atlas of Radical Cartography, ed. Like Mogel and Alexis Bhagat. New York: D.A.P. /Distributed Art, 2008.

Jalal Toufic. The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster. Forthcoming Books, 2009.