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Symposium: Imaginaries of the Desert


Full programme below, including special guest Walter Murch, triple Oscar and triple BAFTA-winning sound designer and editor of iconic films such as Apocalypse NowThe Godfather and The Conversation

Engaging with the ICA’s 2018 Frames of Representation documentary film festival theme of ‘Landscape’ this symposium invites critical responses to the expanded notion of the desert.

Taking as a starting point anthropologist Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s discussion of the Desert as a category of thought, this convening will explore some of the ways the figure of the desert becomes a receptacle for imaginaries about our relationship to the earth, life and non-life. The aim is to engage the preconceptions of both Third World and future landscapes as ‘empty’ and stripped of life, while at the same time being open to technological experimentation and insertion of life, as well as exploitation as a resource.

“The Desert comprises discourses, tactics, and figures that restabilize the distinction between Life and Nonlife. It stands for all things perceived and conceived as denuded of life— and, by implication, all things that could, with the correct deployment of technological expertise or proper stewardship, be (re)made hospitable to life. […] The Desert is the affect that motivates the search for other instances of life in the universe and technologies for seeding planets with life; it colors the contemporary imaginary of North African oil fields; and it drives the fear that all places will soon be nothing more than the setting within a Mad Max movie.”

Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Duke University Press, 2014 p. 17-18

The desert not a literal space that is inhospitable to life due to a lack of water, but could be a lens for any place that is figured as silent; waiting to be made visible; lacking memory; available as a resource for more valuable forms of life; requiring de-toxification; needing the establishment of boundaries of maps; etc. This vision serves a particular form of life linked to capital and anthropocentric destruction.

The artists, filmmakers, researchers and writers contributing to this symposium explore how particular landscapes and their inhabitants resist this perspective through different forms of artistic imagination.


Panel 1: Silence, lack and interior landscapes

11:00-11:15 Introductions

11:15-11:40 Walter Murch

11:40-12:05 Andrew Asibong

12:30- 12:55 Louise K Wilson

12:05 – 12:30 Helen Hughes

12:55-13:30 Discussion

13:30 – 14:30 Lunch

Panel 2

14:30-14:45 Introductions

14:45- 15:10 Madi Piller

14:10-15:35 Ozlem Koksal

15:35-16:00 Judith Tucker

16:00- 16:30 Discussion



Earlier Event: April 27
Orione + Q&A
Later Event: April 28
FoR Shorts #2