Société Anonyme
Société Anonyme     single channel HD video     7.30 min.     2017
Beginning in 1924 Marcel Duchamp  began  work  on the dada film Anémic Cinéma, eventually completing it  two years  later with the  help of  Man Ray. The film features nine rotating text  panels  alternating in  succession  with  ten  of Duchamp’s rotorelief optic illusion disks. Katrina Martin has  noted that  the text/image  alternation in Duchamp’s  film  is a structural  allusion  to,  or  pun on, the silent films of the time.  Anémic Cinéma followed the  same  text/image structure  common to  most silent films but to a radically different end. Normally text panels were  inserted between action sequences to help viewers to resolve the preceding scene and transition to the next, thereby  clarifying  the  narrative  arc. In contrast, each of Duchamp’s cryptic, punning  captions problematize the apparent clarity of the preceding sequences. The unruliness of their evocative poetry, alliterative humor and punning sexual aggression disrupt the conceptual transparency of the visual structure, and by so doing, thwart most viewers' hopes of establishing an easy, singular interpretation. The spinning words  gyrating spirals of Anémic Cinéma are both conceptually and physically disorienting. Even the  title frame is  a funhouse  mirror of  sorts, with the (almost) anagram "Anémic Cinéma" displayed as a bilaterally symmetrical chevron, each word the imperfectly mirrored distortion of the other.   
Anémic Cinéma               Marcel Duchamp & Man Ray                                  1926
The  cinematic  avant  guard of another century  may seem to be a rather strange reference point to begin  thinking  about peace, but in my defense, This isn’t where I began the process, it’s where I ended up. I began as one might expect, by  asking the most obvious of  questions: Given the evident practical utility of peace and the nearly  universal  moral  validation  of  peace  over  conflict, suffering  and  violence,  why  does  peace  seem  so  elusive, so complicated  and so increasingly embattled?  What  are  the  biggest  challenges  or obstacles to  achieving something that seems so universally desirable?

I fairly quickly settled on distrust, paranoia, and dehumanization  as  my responses to this second question. Being  an  artist I couldn’t help but focus on the  scopic dimension  of these obstacles, specifically how  distrust, paranoia  and  dehumanization  influence  how  we  see  (or do not see) ourselves in the other. Human relations tend to take  the form of a bilaterally symmetrical chevron with each party the imperfectly mirrored distortion of the other. In the other we see our own distrust, and deem them untrustworthy.  We sense our own paranoia reflected  back and think them delusional. If we fail to perceive ourselves in the other at all, then the other appears less then human. 

The term  "perception"  most often  serves  as a kind  of foil to reality, an acknowledgment of the possibility  of  a  tension  or  rift   between  appearance  and  actuality, but the  truth is:  We actualize appearance transforming our perception into reality.  So what  is  the nearly perfect actualization of a distrustful, paranoid and dehumanizing vision?  The drone.
In Société Anonyme themes of dehumanization and telematic warfare unfold in the parallels between Predator drone signature strikes, video games, and the prescient, disorienting "nonsense" wordplay of Duchamp's Anémic Cinéma.  The title of my video was drawn from the name of the art organization founded by Katherine Deier, Duchamp and Man Ray in 1920. Man Ray suggested Société Anonyme as the name of their group thinking it meant "anonymous society", rather than it's less literal but more accurate translation, "incorporated".  In choosing this title I'm playing off of both meanings alluding in turn to the "corporate" military industrial complex, to the faceless interactions of the pilots and victims, and to the covert operations of the CIA, U.S. military and  terrorist paramilitary organizations. Sadly, almost all of the identities of the hundreds of civilian casualties attributed to drone strikes also remain unknown to us. 

My video is structured similarly to Anémic Cinéma, alternating rotating "disks" with poetic, disorienting text. In Société Anonyme I have borrowed only one of the seven text panels from Duchamp's film: "Avez-vous déjà mis la moëlle de l'épée dans le poêle de l’aimée?   In my video  this is repeated three times, each a different  possible (punning) translation  of this  same phrase:

Have you put the heart of the spy in the boiler of embroidered gold?
Have you now placed the essence of the voyeur in the pall of the fair-haired?
Have you already the marrow of the sword in the death shroud of the beloved?

The viewer watches most of the action through a small, rotating, pixellated aperture that evokes Duchamp's rotating disks, a scanning radar dish, an eyeball, and the Predator drone's camera turret.  I have taken a structuralist approach that literalizes the process of seeing through. In the video the viewer is forced to become aware of seeing telematically through the tropes of technology.  Additionally the viewer must see trough the language.  Viewers can just make out the images beyond as the phrases devolve into pixels.  All of the spoken dialogue is taken from online video game play.  I debated on whether this might not be a somewhat heavy handed way to make the connection between male violent game culture and telematic warfare, but in the end I feel that the adolescent and often disturbing voiceover added a touch of humor and dynamic edginess while allowing me to editorialize in an oblique way that didn't sound didactic.    

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