Vacuumed and Sealed Image Subjects of City and Scenes from Alleys
by Tul Akbal Sualp
In the era of “post-industrial”, “post-modern”, “post-colonial” society and the multicultural, electronic, mass mediated, transnational capitalist world the boundaries, definitions, experiences and cultural constructions of home and exile are all shifted and transformed into different physical, cultural and experiential dimensions. There, the ways of seeing, communication and meaning are displaced and sanctioned to be in the different spaces of exile. This transformed, displaced, indefinable, and terminal space hangs in the limbo with no gravity where the text is unanchored from the context and meanings are free floating and text cannot flow, only the intertexts and the incomplete words remain. However we also know that socially produced space (of Lefebvre) holds both trespasses and smooth transgresses in between actual, visual, cognitive and virtual borders where “looks” are multiplied and even seek for the fourth look (of Willemen and Lacan) of dialogic understanding and encounters (of Bakhtin). In this sense it is important to see whether the living city space stands for the tower of Babylon or is a hope for the fourth look, hetoroglosia and dialogic encounter; or only offers a terminal for passengers of nobody’s lands to stand by for some time; or whether all of them coexist simultaneously. I also would like to question whether or not what we broadly call visual culture today might be as a veiling shield in between those looks and produces the irresistible flow in between the looks and dialogs and contributes to the production of “out-of-focus”, visually made image subjects as well.

To take the fragmented and fractured experiences of the world population into consideration encompasses the technology of dominating television environment that produces and reproduces the partial images of the whole; and in the process, capturing the whole or comprehension of the context becomes almost impossible or at least a quest. It seems that the ways of seeing are yielded up to the kaleidoscopic images of the “globalized” represented by multinational technology. Television, as a dominating visual culture medium, gets the images of life in bites and pieces and, through the cut glasses of shattered experiences produces patterns that veil the daily life experiences and social wholeness. This technique becomes perfectly appropriate for the experiences of fractured world (Druckrey and Aronowitz). Television reproduces its own screen time with its fast flowing and tensile temporality as a prolonged, terminalized duration of time and its own screen space where there is no gravity, no sense of distance, dimension and scale. Television re-appropriates its chronotope. This simulated chronotope is reproduced by parts whose contextual relation does not exist and in which no comparison is possible. Television seeks mainly the flow, almost nothing else.

It seems that we all have already accepted the global flows in which capital, labor, people and places, images and symbols all flow although “experiences” of rearrangements of international division of labor drastically shatter the life of the ordinary men and women on the street level. For them globalization or the suffix of all “posts” mean squeezed lives at the corners, which are celled, bordered, vacuumed and sealed. So they carry their borders with their bodies. They dwell in the city and so do their borders. People who survive the era have become vacuumed and sealed image subjects. The ones, who are lucky enough to be saved from the casualties of war, hunger, abundance and famine; just because they are not living under the zones of war and deprivations, are hunted by another trap in which they have become out of focus and visually image made subjects.

However the polycentric looks coming from different geographies may open up a space for us to see the tension between the cognitive search and reactionary survival strategies under the shifts of imperialism, which is re-mapping and rearranging the world system. To this end, we need stories, looks and voices to give us our need for gravity. When and if these stories come together and create another kind of chronotope through which comprehension of the world, lived experiences can be seen behind the veils. When we watch Solonas’ Social Genocide (2004, Argentina) together with Godard’s Our Music (2004, France) critical and creative understanding becomes possible and we grasp the history of uneven developments, wars and the systematic terror from the above, that assaults everyday life and the life of the ordinary people. As, in late 1940s, Brecht notes in his diary, we are not aware of the violence of the economy under the democratic countries but under the autocratic ones; the one we can not be aware of is the economic properties of violence. So when we watch Oberli’s North Wind (2004, Switzerland) next to Chan Wook’s Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002, South Korea) from different worlds we can see the faces of “globalization” and its ways of terror and violence. In this minimal histories causalities of the world system echo so latest films from Argentina such as Good Life Delivery (Di Cesare, 2003) Bonbon, the Dog (Sorin, 2004) join them. Furthermore repercussions become more down to earth with the stories of wound and lost children of the same world who live in the alleys of different cities tell us how capitalism eats its own children Hi Tereska (Glinski, Poland, 2001), Purely Belter (Herman, UK, 2000), Ratcatcher (Ramsay, UK, 1999), 4Ever Lilya (Moodysson, Sweden, 2002), Child Murders (Szabo, Hungary, 1993), Engel & Joe (Jopp, Germany, 2001), Stolen Childhood (Frazzi,A & A, Italy, 2004) Nobody Knows (Hirokazu, 2004, Japan) are some of them.

We now witness with our own eyes that time flows and leaves traces on the social landscape. (Bakhtin, 1986). These imprints, which are now visually detectable, are the signs of the history. In ontological terms the chronotope functions as ‘the primary means for materializing time in space’ (1981: 250) The unspoken or the empty text in heteroglossial dialogical space is re-presented and re-produced as the off frame spaces of our pictures about the world. Most of the time, we skip over those images; they are arrested in the corner of our eyes and buried in the vast zone of the social leftovers; untold/invisible experiences lay beyond the stories and/or cognitive maps of the city dwellers.

In order to liberate the space of dialogic encounter of intercultural environment where the interconnectedness and independence of diverse areas and the experiences of these multiply located people can have the possibilities for an encounter, we might look at the abilities of the street of polarized cities, their ‘media free’, ‘globalizing fiction effect free’, not sterilized relationships which are in both conflict and dialogue, and at their different forms of representations, even presentations. Public life is fractured and fragmented so are its spaces and representations. In this nobody’s land, we survive the terminal spaces of all kind - electronic, noisy, crowded and too fast that veil ones perceptions. It seems that the experience of city dwellers is forced to re-map, to reconfigure the conditions of coexistence, order, division of labor, and to re-conceptualize the survival qualities, definitions and experiences of the self and the other on the levels of class, gender and ethnicity, again. The city moves in and out here and there. Habitants neither gain confidence or security feelings over their cognitive maps, nor can resist against the flow. No map is sustainable. Both the city and the habitants are like morphing organisms. There are indefinite and indefinable negotiations, conflicts and crashes.

These maps actually resemble terminal experiences in a passage where we, people, live in between space and time relations. The people of terminal chronotope are on the passages. They need to rediscover their “being there” and beyond and waiting for the passage to be carried away to the beyond. They do really need to know how to look at the doorsteps, half opened doors or the windows suggesting another panorama of the social milieu they exist in, but they, now, look at them through the looking glass: television. As if they have dressed the images of TV. They have sealed themselves with the monitors of TV screen to be protected from the causalities of daily life: the emotionally hazardous zone of social reality. They have dressed to quickly forget, flow and fade out. Since we are in this accelerated flow, our ways of looking are superseded by TV, the world we live in is no more comprehensible by our actual or real experiences and perceptions and we have become accustomed to fictions and representations without which we no more make sense of this world, we become dizzy by this speedy flow and trained eyes. We lost the focus. Our look we adopt is out of focus and we as imaged subjects are out of focus. We have become alien and cannot recognize, comprehend or have cognitive map of space of the bodily- lived experiences. This is what we are offered by the flow of everyday media: looking without seeing, living without experiencing. Yet we don’t survive on image TV and fiction. We still live in a physical, biological, emotional and social world. To Ballard, “we have been surrounded by highways, advertisement, media and international finance by which everything is fictionalized; so now, the task of the author is to invent the reality”. (Ballard, 1984: 98) So may be we are to invent or discover the reality in invented ones.

As Lefebvre says, “everyday life is a crust of earth over the tunnels and caves of the unconscious and against a skyline of uncertainty and illusion” we can stalk the history of human experiences and power relations. (Lefebvre, 1990: vii) In these traces there lie dreams, frustrations, utopia, angers, conflicts, struggles and encouragements. All these human conditions’ articulation, utterance and /or representation both can forward us to detect “the social and cultural” may enable some to create, rearticulate, publicize. In this sense our negations in everyday experiences; our cognitive maps become twofold activity. On the one side it is about negotiations and survival tactics and complex comprehension and positioning one’s self and on the other which all become readable in the matrix of diverse forms of representations. As Ella Shohat and Robert Stam say, we are studying the horizon of multiply staged representations in the longer history of multiply located oppressions by studying the film makers’ conscious or unconscious creativeness when they re-represent the space and the human experiences. (Shohat & Stam, 1994: 5) These filmmakers’ productivity can be regarded as a liberating act of the ghettoized histories and geographies in productive relationships with the audience of multiply located and trained eyes. Assuming that human experiences are not identical but interconnected, certain type of films and film-making can create a space, as Willeman says, in which we can recognize spaces where history can be seen at work and the horizon of multiply performed representations. (Willemen, 1994: 141- 161)

Inventing the reality in the films of the street people of 80s and 90s tells the stories of public and private on the doorsteps, alleys, playgrounds of the project houses, roads, slams outskirts and getthos. These directors are coming from different geographies, have different looks and sounds of the division of labor, poverty, unemployment, and lives of the underclass of differently located but polarized cities all around. In the lost look and the voice of the working class in the films of 80s and 90s, some new arrivals’ stubborn camera takes us to the narrow streets of working class neighborhood. Camera is moving again into the little houses, dark kitchens, doorsteps; singing songs together with neighbors; chatting women solidarity of back streets, squatters, refugees now cover the daily life troubles of others more in the depth focus than ever. The films coming from different parts of the world such as My Beautiful Launderette, (Frears, 1985) Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, (Frears, 1987) Distant Voices Still Lives, (Davies, 1988) Naked, (Leigh, 1993) Raining stones, (Loach, 1993) La Hain, (Kassovitz, 1995) Brass off (Herman, 1996) Somersault in a Coffin, (Zaim, 1996, Turkey), Innocence, Demirkubuz, 1997, Turkey) Short Sharp Shock (Akın, Germany, 1998) Town is Quiet (Guédiguian, 2000, France) Suzhou River (Ye, 2000, China) Purley Belter (Herman, 2000, UK), Color Turkish (Çadırcı, Turkiye, 2000), Elephants and Grass (Zaim, Turkiye, 2000), Blame it on Voltaire (Kechiche, 2000, France) Girl Fight (Kusama, 1999, USA) Berlin is in Germany (Stöhr, 2001 Germany) Beijing Bicycle (Wu Ming, 2001, China) Dog Days (Seidl, 2001, Austria) Nevigators (Loach, 2001, UK) Unkown Pleasures (Zhang-Ke, 2002, China) All or Nothing (Leigh, 2002, UK) City of God (Meirelles, 2002, Brazil), Life Kills Me (Sinapi, 20002, France) Drifters (Wu Ming , 2003, China) Struggle (Mader, 2003, Austria) Maria (Netzer, 2003, Romania) Crimson Gold (Panahi, 2003, Iran) Love in Concrete (DePena, 2003, Venezuella) L’esquive (Kachiche, 2003, France) Whisky (Rebella & Stoll, 2004 Uruguay) 3- Iron (Ki-Duk, 2004, South Korea) tell us long and uneven struggle of ordinary people. Their camera not only lowers its eye level, gets into the heart of experiences and shows us that their characters are not alone but also goes to the “off-center” of the cities and walks with them through the alleys. Then we witness the different regimes of film making from aesthetic to mode of production that create a horizon for film making in which gay and lesbians, feminist and the left-wing work together.

They also ask for our look, not the gaze, at the polarized city, in which unemployed, underclass, either quietly and with hesitations, survive the inconvenient at the deserted corners of the city or become ones pushed away and reserved out in the projects from where city keeps its myth for “beauty”, “civilization” and “egality” and at the very center of it Eiffel Tower and or Big Ben stand for the older myths and powers. The new protagonist is not anti hero anymore. May be we can name her/him as a non-hero. S/he looks for a sharable street life, which might have been lost somewhere in the city or in the history, in this vast land. For the children of street as they are on the way, street becomes both public and private space. The reactionary act and feeling of discomfort find their utterance and look at those streets. (from Lovers on the Bridge, (Carax, 1991, France) to Fallen Angels (Kar-Wai, 1995, Hong Kong and /or from Dream Catcher (Radtke, 1999, USA) to Circle (Panahi, 2000, Iran) or to What Time is it There? (Ming-Liang, 2001, Taiwan).) Street is out of focus and perception and cannot be seen even from the bird’s eye. Children of those streets are scattered and in panic, which might be the source of incomprehensible state of mind in the lost social wholeness that has been sized totally long before by the media, architecture, and by the division of international labor. Now, they, on the streets, only trace back the invisible lines of being social. In Hong Kong, street becomes every kind of space for 24 hours. Whatever private is cornered and attached to the private corporate buildings like post-its narrowed down, as if it has been just left to the safe-keeper for infinite time where we can not talk about public either. Kar Wai first arrests these images in Chunking Express (Kar-Wai, 1994). A claustrophobic small flat is unbelievably patched to the big shopping mall with a view of the malls escalator. Moving images of real life become so fast that camera eye can not catch but only record them as moving lines of body silouthes and blue, red and yellow neon lights.

Turkish cinema seemed to lose its voice in public sphere and its streets as well in the 80s. Films were mainly about private confessions. Public side of life experiences is censored and self censored. Turkish cinema sounded like murmuring and mourning. Street as a public and political space had been first banned then forgotten. In order to feel one should remember. If the memory is assaulted, feelings and emotions might have been disturbed as well. If the street and space for the public sphere are erased private sphere might have been eroded as well or vise versa. Remarkable yet, unreliable examples have appeared recently. We can observe two diverse tendencies. In these examples, one can be thought of as the track of veiling the sounds and looks of the living streets. In their representation of life they turn the experiences of the streets into a raw material of the mass media industry for consumption via the reproduction of the ideologies of these new forms of simulations. Fictionalized and simulated experiences replacing the daily life practices not only blocks the possibilities for other forms of representations but also become functional in the international market of globalizing fiction effect industry, not as a finished work may be but to be recycled in the hands of bigger and authorized ones. Cholera Street (Altıoklar, 1997) is the outstanding one of this trend. The other track can be evaluated in our comparative discussion. Somersault in a Coffin, (Zaim, 1996), Innocence (Demirkubuz, 1997) Journey to the Sun (Ustaoglu, 1999, Turkiye) Color Turkish (Çadırcı, Turkiye, 2000), Elephants and Grass (Zaim, Turkiye, 2000), Hejar (İpekçi, Greece, Turkiye, Hungary, 2001) are compatible with their diverse and similar properties in their story telling which opens up a space for “inner film”, “fourth look”, memory and our common cognitive maps of the world today.

The first line for the map comes from the establishing shot of the Once They Were Warriors (Tamahori, 1994, New Zelland). On the scene we see the outback landscape. When camera pulls back slowly we realize that it is only a billboard; behind the billboard is the highway and under the highway there is the poor and crowded life of the deserted working class neighborhood. These images recall the others depending on the camera locations. May be the view of the high way becomes the view of the highway of the high-tech buildings of North America of the Crash (Cronenberg, 1996, Canada) in which our highly specialized class protagonist step out their luxurious balcony and watch. The far away and off screen city that we imagine can also be a common “fourth look” of Somersault in a Coffin of Turkey, La Hain of France, Angel of Fire (Angel de Fuego, Rotberg, 1992) of Mexico and others. The spatial design of sequence in which the bill board and the highway and then the outcast land can resonate the visual design of BladeRunner (Scott, 1982 USA), tell the stories of relocation of other geographies of our times and find its look in Chunking Express, Autumn Moon (Qiuyue, Law, 1992) River (Ming-Liang, 1997, Taiwan). On the level of street it meets the frontal presentations of the Do Right Thing, Samy and Rosie Get Laid.