This exhibition is an island

Kit Hammonds

This Exhibition is an Island

Preface: a point of departure


How should I write about an exhibition I haven’t seen? This is a common problem for curators or critics or anyone else writing for exhibition catalogues. Inevitably the essay needs to be written before the doors of the gallery open, before the private view, and usually before the works have been delivered, or even, in some cases, confirmed. That is if the catalogue is to be ready at the opening.

Of course, there are ways around this. Delaying the publication is the most expedient and most usual. After all, according to Boris Groys’s typically pointed analysis, most art writing at that time was not meant to be read but ‘consists, it is thought, in preparing … protective text-clothes for works of art. These are, from the start, texts not necessarily written to be read.’[1]

If truth be told, the problems were more pragmatic, time-based. As the curatorial team in this material world would be absorbed with more pressing matters (said confirmation of works and their shipping, for instance), time would be short to sit down and reflect, draft and edit in response to the art. Another strategy is not to talk about the works so much as the curatorial idea. This may contextualise the work (whether art or other objects) historically or culturally, it might be scholarly or of a more open form then still in the process of being identified as ‘curatorial’, which was such a popular genre of the time. Regardless of the approach, the reader (even the imaginary one) would expect some evidence rather than mere opinion. The catalogue essay would have to be the outcome of some degree of research and, on that basis, to be complete, and to some degree authoritative.


When last summer Yu-Chen Wang asked me to write an essay for her exhibition Nostalgia for the Future: An Introspective Retrospective, I had some reservations on both these counts. How could I be authoritative about a practice when I know the person better than I do the artist? And, to be honest, I have little interest in producing criticism per se. I’ve become too solipsistic of late simply to write about the art of others. And if I were to examine the exhibition itself, then how could I do more than speculate?


What I did know was that the exhibition would be a survey show of sorts, curated in a genuine sense by the artist herself as a way to both show and appraise her work. I knew that it would involve a community of people in Taiwan (a community in which I am embedded) to think through her work from perspectives other than her own. Furthermore, I knew that all her drawings, stories, videos, sculptures, and performances have at least a passing relationship with science fiction.


With this in mind I suggested a more creative approach to examining the show over time, which seemed in keeping with the artist’s own motives. Envisaging the exhibition as an island, over four chapters I would use science fiction tropes and other generic devices to represent the show. Their contents are a fictional narrative, rather than a curatorial or critical one. And these chapters would be written over the course of the exhibition, each looking at different aspects of the life of the island.


As with any fiction, the chapters are fed by the ideas of others drawn from art, history, literature, science, and philosophy; references are bound together by flights of fancy rather than lines of argument. And, as with any fiction or art, to dissect the text and lay out its own internal logic reveals its lapses of reason and leaves it a mere cadaver. However, in presenting the full text here with annotations and marginalia I intend to expose how a fictional narrative can mirror the construction of a curatorial narrative and its basis in research – literally revealing a truth – that is closely aligned with the transformation of early modern into contemporary patterns of thought. But this is some way off over the horizon.

So, as a point of departure, this exposition follows the chapters to build a landscape of ideas rather than a linear argument to contextualise the narrative. Fiction, after all cannot be explained in full. Supporting texts give a survey of each chapter’s aims, landmark references, and further field notes and illustrations. The exposition can be followed here. However, to read the narrative without the exposition, a PDF is also available. For further reference, Yu-Chen Wang’s webpage related to the exhibition can be found here.

Go to Introduction


[1] Boris Groys, ‘Critical Reflections’ in The State of Art Criticism, ed. by James Elkins and Michael Newman (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 61.


Cross-Border Data Flows: Where Are the Barriers, and What Do They Cost?

May 1, 2017



A growing number of countries are making it more expensive and time consuming, if not illegal, to transfer data overseas. This reduces economic growth and undercuts social value.


Data is the lifeblood of the modern global economy. Digital trade and cross-border data flows are expected to continue to grow faster than the overall rate of global trade. Businesses use data to create value, and many can only maximize that value when data can flow freely across borders, yet a growing number of countries are enacting barriers that make it more expensive and time consuming, if not illegal, to transfer data overseas. Some nations base their decisions to erect such barriers on the mistaken rationale that it will mitigate privacy and cybersecurity concerns; others do so for purely mercantilist reasons. Yet, whatever the motivation, as this report demonstrates, the costs of these policies are significant, not just for the global economy, but for the nations that “shoot themselves in the foot” by using these policies.

The increased digitization of organizations, driven by the rapid adoption of technologies such as cloud computing and data analytics, has increased the importance of data as an input to commerce, impacting not just information industries, but traditional industries as well. The use of data analytics in virtually all industries has streamlined business practices and increased efficiency, but also made the movement of data more important. Organizations increasingly rely on data for a number of purposes, including to monitor production systems, manage global workforces, monitor supply chains, and support products in the field in real time. Companies collect and analyze personal data to better understand customers’ preferences and willingness to pay, and adapt their products and services accordingly. It is a simple fact that international trade involving consumers cannot take place without collecting and sending personal data across borders—such as names, addresses, billing information, etc.

Despite the significant benefits to companies, consumers, and national economies that arise from the ability of organizations to easily share data across borders, dozens of countries—across every stage of development—have erected barriers to cross-border data flows, such as data-residency requirements that confine data within a country’s borders, a concept known as “data localization.” Data localization can be explicitly required by law or is the de facto result of a culmination of other restrictive policies that make it unfeasible to transfer data, such as requiring companies to store a copy of the data locally, requiring companies to process data locally, and mandating individual or government consent for data transfers. These policies represent a new barrier to global digital trade. Cutting off data flows or making such flows harder or more expensive puts foreign firms at a disadvantage. This is especially the case for small and solely Internet-based firms and platforms that do not have the resources to deal with burdensome restrictions in every country in which they may have customers. In essence, these tactics constitute “data protectionism” because they keep foreign competitors out of domestic markets.

This report first analyzes the privacy and security “justifications” nations offer for enacting barriers to data flows, concluding that, while such policies may be well intentioned, these rationales are generally not valid. (A forthcoming Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report will focus on a third motivation—to enable surveillance and government access for law enforcement—and will explain how governments need to develop a revised framework to help them determine jurisdiction over data while also facilitating cooperation among governments.) The report then examines the economic rationales countries provide to justify their data-localization policies, explaining the shortcomings in those arguments and noting that such policies impose large costs on countries’ own economies. The report then proceeds to review the emerging body of research that estimates the cost of barriers to data flows in terms of lost trade and investment opportunities, higher information technology (IT) costs, reduced competitiveness, and lower economic productivity and GDP growth. These studies show that data localization and other barriers to data flows impose significant costs: reducing U.S. GDP by 0.1-0.36 percent; causing prices for some cloud services in Brazil and the European Union to increase 10.5 to 54 percent; and reducing GDP by 0.7 to 1.7 percent in Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Korea, and Vietnam, which have all either proposed or enacted data localization policies.

Finally, the report offers recommendations for policymakers in both the United States and other countries.

The Trump administration should:

  • Negotiate trade agreements that prohibit and eliminate digital barriers.
  • Develop better measures of the digital economy and trade.
  • Expand the focus on digital economy and trade issues.
  • Initiate enforcement cases against countries, such as China, that have enacted digital-protectionism policies.
  • Propose and negotiate a “data-services agreement” to address digital trade barriers.
  • Propose and negotiate a “Geneva convention on the status of data” to establish international legal standards for government access to data, to improve mutual legal-assistance processes, and to decide on a framework to manage questions on data-related jurisdiction issues.

For policymakers in other countries:

  • Recognize the critical role of data flows and prohibit data-localization policies.
  • Promote international interoperability in privacy and data protection.
  • Encourage international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, to focus on digital trade barriers.

Data-Localization Policies Around the World

The table below captures most of the world’s data-localization policies. The entries with icons show where countries have enacted and implemented data localization policies targeting specific types of data. Other entries cover cases where countries have proposed, but not enacted, data localization policies or provide context for data-related policies, such as in the European Union. The list shows that data localization comes in many forms: While some countries enact blanket bans on data transfers, many are sector specific, covering personal, health, accounting, tax, gambling, financial, mapping, government, telecommunications, e-commerce, and online publishing data. Others target specific processes or services, such as online publishing, online gambling, financial transaction processing, and apps that provide services over the Internet (thereby bypassing traditional distribution).

In some cases (such as those for tax and accounting records), data localization stems from outdated legacy laws and rules formulated before the development of the Internet (e.g., laws that require documents to be held at the business’s premises). Other data localization stems from countries formulating laws to address technology issues (the Internet, data, or privacy). In a knee-jerk reaction, these countries, instead of tackling the actual issue (such as focusing on data protection or ensuring government access, instead of geography), require local data storage. For others, data localization is a mercantilist tool they think provides them with an advantage over foreign firms, often using public-policy concerns about privacy or cybersecurity as a smokescreen.

Type of Data
Data-Localization Policy
Argentina’s Data Protection Act prohibits the transfer of personal data to countries that do not have an adequate level of protection in place, but so far Argentina’s government has not determined which countries fall within this category. However, the Act states that the prohibition is not applicable when the data subject has given express consent to the data transfer. In addition, Argentina’s National Directorate for Personal Data Protection issued Provision no. 18/2015, which stated that cloud storage is considered an international transfer of data, so that software application that send data abroad must comply with the Data Protection Act.
In 2012, Australia enacted the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act, which requires that personal health records be stored only in Australia.
Belgium’s laws require accounting and tax documents to be kept in the office, agency, branch, or other private premises of the taxpayer where they have been kept, prepared, or sent. Companies can apply to Belgian tax authorities for an exemption to this requirement. These accounting records may be kept in another place (such as overseas), provided that immediate access to the records can be granted or that such records can be provided on short notice. Furthermore, Belgium’s Companies Code requires companies to keep their register of shareholders and register of bonds at the registered office of the company. Since 2005, it has been possible to keep digital copies of these registries as long as they are accessible at the company’s registered office.
In September 2013, Brazil began considering a policy that would have forced Internet-based companies, such as Google and Facebook, to store data relating to Brazilians in local data centers. It withdrew this provision from the final copy of the bill. Furthermore, in 2016, Brazilian government agencies, including the Secretary of Information Technology of the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Management, have included forced data localization as a requirement for public procurement contracts involving cloud-computing services.
In 2012, Bulgaria enacted a new law—the Gambling Act—that required applicants for a gaming license to store all data related to operations in Bulgaria locally. Furthermore, the company’s communication equipment and central control point for IT must be in Bulgaria, another EU member country, or Switzerland.
Two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, have implemented laws mandating that personal data held by public bodies such as schools, hospitals, and public agencies must be stored and accessed only in Canada, unless certain conditions are fulfilled.The tender for the project to consolidate the federal government’s ICT services, including email, for 63 different agencies requires the contracting company to store the data in Canada (citing national security reasons).

China has one of the widest sets of data-localization policies, which stops the flow of data between China and the rest of the world. To start with, it has long limited data “imports.” For example, the Ministry of Public Security runs the Golden Shield program (commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”), which restricts access to certain websites and services, particularly ones that are critical of the Chinese Communist Party. But, more importantly, from a trade perspective, China has made several policy changes in the wake of the Snowden revelations that restrict the cross-border transfer of data. For example:

  • In 2006, China introduced measures for e-banking that require such companies to keep their servers in China.
  • In 2011, China introduced a law that prohibits the off-shore analyzing, processing, or storage of Chinese personal financial information.
  • In 2013, China enacted new rules regarding credit reporting that requires all credit information on Chinese citizens to be processed and stored in China.
  • In 2014, China enacted new rules that require health and medical information to be stored only in China.
  • In 2015, China released draft administrative regulations for the insurance industry that included localization requirements.
  • In 2016, China enacted new rules the forced companies involved in Internet-based mapping services to store data locally.
  • In 2016, China issued new rules regarding online publishing that require all servers used for a broad range of services involved in online publishing in China to be located in China. This includes app stores, audio and video distribution platforms, online literature databases, and online gaming.
  • In 2016, China’s new Counter-Terrorism Law requires Internet and telecommunication companies and other providers of “critical information infrastructure” to store data on Chinese servers and to provide encryption keys to government authorities. Any movement of data offshore must undergo a “security assessment.”
  • In 2016, China enacted a new cybersecurity law that forces a broad range of companies to store users’ personal information and other important business data in China.
  • In March 2016, China enacted new regulations regarding cloud-computing services in China that essentially exclude foreign technology firms and reinforce local data-storage requirements.
  • In April 2017, China released a draft circular that outlined extensive localization requirements—both explicit and implicit—as part of a restrictive regime of “security checks” for businesses wanting to transfer data overseas, further to the cybersecurity law, which outlined the need for such security assessments. This draft extends data localization from “critical information infrastructure” to all “network operators,” which is likely any owner or administrator of a computerized information network system. Furthermore, any outbound data transfer would be prohibited if it brings risks to the security of the national political system, economy, science and technology or national defense.”
In 2016, Colombia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology publicly called for data localization and released a document—on “Basic Digital Services”—that recommends that data-processing centers should be in Colombia, as they perceive storing data overseas to be too great a risk to network security and personal data. Furthermore, there are concerns that Colombia’s National Procurement Office (NPO) may include data localization requirements or other barriers to data flows as part of a cloud services procurement project for government agencies. Early drafts show the NPO is considering a vague and arbitrary “adequacy” assessment to decide which countries provide adequate data protection. The NPO has reportedly prepared a draft list of “adequate” countries, which does not include the United States, without detailing how these countries were assessed.
  Cyprus has failed to replace several restrictive provisions under the Directive on Data Retention, which was declared invalid by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ). This directive required data operators to retain certain categories of traffic and location data (excluding the content of those communications) for a period between six months and two years and to make them available, on request, to law-enforcement authorities for the purposes of investigating, detecting, and prosecuting serious crime and terrorism.

Since 2011, the Danish Data Protection authority has ruled in several cases against processing of local authorities’ data in third countries (non-European Union) without using standard contractual clauses. Also, the Danish law on data retention is still in force after the ECJ ruled the Data Retention Directive invalid. In 2011, the Danish Data Protection Agency denied the city of Odense permission to transfer “data concerning health, serious social problems, and other purely private matters” to Google Apps, citing security concerns. Furthermore, Denmark’s Book Keeping Act requires companies to store accounting data in Denmark for five years. Under special circumstances, the Danish Commerce and Companies Agency may grant companies permission to preserve accounting records abroad. However, the practice has proven quite restrictive, and permission is seldom granted.
European Union
Data localization is a contentious issue in the European Union, as some members (such as France and Germany) push for localization in relevant policies, while others (such as the United Kingdom and Sweden) push for free flow of data across borders. The European Commission’s (EC) effort to build a Digital Single Market is a valiant attempt to remove barriers that inhibit digital economic activity, such as those that require data localization. Yet, as this report shows, many such barriers remain. Large U.S. firms ranked Europe as the area where data privacy and protection requirements represented the largest obstacle to doing business online. Andrus Ansip, EC vice president for the digital single market, has been pushing to remove localization barriers and wants to ban such measures, but his efforts are undermined by others (such as some in Germany and France) that do not want the EC to explicitly ban localization.A central part of the European Union’s policy platform that affects cross-border data transfers is its pursuit of global harmonization of privacy regimes. The EU’s law on personal data protection only allows for the transfer of such data to third countries outside the EU that it has determined provide an “adequate” level of protection. So far, the EU has only recognized 12 countries: Andorra, Argentina, Canada, Switzerland, the Faeroe Islands, Guernsey, Israel, the Isle of Man, Jersey, New Zealand, the United States (through the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield Framework), and Uruguay. EU personal data is technically not supposed to be transferred to any other country, although it is naïve to believe this is so. Europe has taken a hardline toward the United States about data transfers; however, when its own studies into data protection in other major countries, such as China, show that other countries have little or no level of data protection, it refrains from taking any action. This highlights how untenable the EU’s approach is as it tries to set up checkpoints for data flows to each and every country around the world.
Finland’s Account Act (1997) requires that a copy of companies’ accounting records be stored in Finland. Alternatively, the records can be stored in another EU country if a real-time connection to the data is guaranteed.
The French government has sought over the last few years to promote a local data-center infrastructure, which some have dubbed “le cloud souverain,” or the sovereign cloud. In 2016, a French government ministerial circular (dated April 5) on public procurement outlined that it is illegal to use a non-“sovereign” cloud (i.e., foreign cloud provider) for data produced by public (national and local) administration. All data from public administrations has to be considered as archives and therefore stored and processed in France. The French Blocking Statute (Law No. 80-538) makes it illegal to transfer information (such as data) overseas if the information is involved in legal proceedings, absent a French court order.
Germany, along with France, has been at the center of efforts to force companies to store data only in Europe or even in-country, such as through a “Bundescloud” (a cloud for government data) in Germany. This preference for digital protectionism stands in stark contrast to Germany’s otherwise open approach to global trade. Data requirements can vary by state in Germany. For example, the German state of Brandenburg requires that data on residents can only be stored on cloud computing services located in the state.On December 18, 2016, Germany introduced local data-storage requirements for a type of telecommunications metadata, through a law that will come into force on July 1, 2017. The law aims to generate and retain telecommunications metadata—the who, when, where, and how, not the what (the content)—of telecommunications for law enforcement and security purposes. This can include citizens’ call records, phone numbers, location information, Internet protocol addresses, time and data of Internet usage, and billing information. Germany’s Commercial Code requires companies to store accounting data and documents locally. Also, Germany’s tax code requires all persons and companies liable for German taxes to keep accounting records in Germany (with some exceptions for multinational companies). Furthermore, for data processed by public bodies, there does not seem to be a provision which expressly requires data to be held in Germany. However, such data processing outside the German territory has to be carefully checked.
In 2001, Greece introduced data-localization requirements through a law implementing the EU Data Retention Directive, which stated that “Data generated and stored on physical media, which are located within the Greek territory, shall be retained within the Greek territory.” Even though the Data Retention Directive was invalidated by the European Court of Justice, Greece has not yet reformed the law. The European Commission has also criticized the law as being inconsistent with the E.U. single market, but it remains in effect.



India has proposed a range, and enacted some, laws and regulations requiring data localization. India’s Ministry of Communications and Technology enacted data transfer requirements as part of a 2011 change to privacy rules that could be (but haven’t been) used to restrict data flows containing personal information. These rules limit the transfer of “sensitive personal data or information” abroad to only two restrictive cases—when “necessary” or when the subject consents to the transfer abroad. Because it is difficult to establish that a transfer data abroad is “necessary,” this provision would effectively ban transfers abroad except when an individual consents. The ministry clarified that these rules only apply to companies gathering data on Indians and only when the company is located in India. On paper these laws are restrictive, however, India has thus far not used the law to require local data storage.In 2012, India enacted a “National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy,” which effectively means that government data (data that is owned by government agencies and/or collected using public funds) must be stored in local data centers.In February 2014, the Indian National Security Council proposed a policy that would institute data localization by requiring all email providers to set up local servers for their India operations and mandating that all data related to communication between two users in India should remain within the country.In 2014, India’s enacted the Companies (Accounts) Rules law that required backups of financial information, if primarily stored overseas, to be stored in India.

In 2015, India released a National Telecom Machine-to-Machine roadmap that requires all relevant gateways and application servers that serve customers in India to be located in India. The Roadmap has not yet been implemented.Indian government agencies have also made data localization a requirement for cloud providers computing for public contracts. For example, in 2015, India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology issued guidelines that cloud providers seeking accreditation for government contracts would have to require them to store all data in India.



Indonesia has a range of data-localization laws that cover a broad range of sectors and technologies. Indonesia has been expanding its range of localization policies as part of a persistent attachment to state-directed development and digital protectionism strategies.In 2012, Indonesia enacted a rule—regulation no. 82— regarding the Provision of Electronic System and Transactions, which requires “electronic systems operators for public service” to store data locally. Indonesian officials have stated that “public service” means any activity that provides a service by a public service provider, consistent with the broad definition of the term used in the implementing regulations to the 2009 Public Service Law. In 2014, Indonesia seemed to follow through on this as the government began considering a “Draft Regulation with Technical Guidelines for Data Centres” that would require Internet-based companies, such as Google and Facebook, to set up local data storage centers.The potentially broad effect of the law was evident by a spokesman’s comments that the law “covers any institution that provides information technology-based services.” Most recently, Indonesia’s Technology and Information Ministry issued regulation 20/2016 on personal data protection that stated that electronic system providers are required to process protected private data only in data centers and disaster recovery centers located in Indonesia.Localization policies are also spreading to other areas. In 2014, Indonesia’s central bank enacted a rule that requires e-money operators to store data locally. In 2016, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Informatics issued Circular Letter No. 3, which notifies over-the-top service companies (such as Skype and WhatsApp) about new regulations, including the requirement to store data locally.
Iran does not have an explicit personal data-protection act, but it has been slowly moving toward developing its own national intranet—the Halal Internet—to separate itself (as best it can) from the rest of the Internet, including moves toward greater data localization. Iran’s government operates an extensive online censorship regime. During political protests in 2009, Iran blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In 2015, Iran launched its own search engines, which only show approved websites. In August 2016, Iran set up its first government-paid cloud data center. In May 2016, Iran ordered foreign messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and Telegram, to store data from Iranian users locally.
Since 2005, Kazakhstan has required that all domestically registered domain names (i.e., those on the “.kz” top-level domain) operate on physical servers within the country). Furthermore, in 2015, Kazakhstan enacted an amendment to its personal data-protection law that requires owners and operators collecting and using personal data to keep such data in-country. The requirement for localization of personal data applies to companies established in Kazakhstan and individual proprietors in Kazakhstan, including branches and representative offices of foreign companies. It is not clear whether the localization requirement should apply to foreign companies without any legal presence in Kazakhstan but whose websites are accessible in Kazakhstan.
In June 2016, Kenya released its draft National Information and Communications Technology Policy, which aims to update the government’s efforts to revise ICT-related economic policy. In the section on data centers, under the title of policy objectives, the report states that policy should “facilitate the development and enactment of legislation to support growth in IT service consumption—as an engine to spur data center growth.” While no data localization has been enacted (yet), this sounds suspiciously like an attempt to use localization for mercantilist ends.
In 2012, Luxembourg’s financial services regulator issued a circular that financial institutions are required to process their data in-country, unless the overseas entity is part of the same company or if the data is transferred with explicit consent.
In 2010, Malaysia enacted the Personal Data Protection Act, which came into force in 2013. Personal data cannot be transferred outside Malaysia, unless the action has been approved by the Malaysian government. Exceptions to this rule include if the data subject has given approval, the transfer is part of a contract between the data subject and data user, if reasonable steps have been taken to protect the data, or if the transfer is necessary to protect the data subject’s vital interests. As with other countries, a consent requirement for transfer abroad is a burdensome requirement to satisfy.
The Netherlands
The Netherlands Public Records Act requires public records to be stored in archives in specific locations in the country.

In 2014, Nigeria enacted the “Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in Information and Communications Technology (ICT),” which introduced several restrictions on cross-border data flows and mandated that all subscriber, government, and consumer data be stored locally. Furthermore, in 2011, Nigeria’s Central Bank introduced a measure that required all point-of-sale and ATM transactions to be processed locally. Under no circumstances are these transactions to be processed outside Nigeria.
New Zealand
New Zealand’s Internal Revenue Act requires businesses to store business records in local data centers.
Poland required e-commerce entities to store customer details in Poland, but after an intervention by the European Commission, Poland was forced to lift the requirement, and it is now sufficient that the servers are in the EU. The Polish Gambling Act also requires online gambling firms to store all data relating to customer betting in the European Union.
In 2015, Romania enacted new online gambling regulations that requires all data on players and their gambling activities to be stored in Romania.
Russia operates one of the most extensive sets of data-localization policies in the world. In 2015, Russia enacted a Personal Data Law that mandates that data operators who collect personal data about Russian citizens must “record, systematize, accumulate, store, amend, update and retrieve” data using databases physically located in Russia. This personal data may be transferred out, but only after it is first stored in Russia. Russia has threatened to shut down and fine websites, such as LinkedIn, that refuse to store data locally.Furthermore, in 2016, Russia enacted extensive new data-localization requirements for telecommunications data. Russia’s approach is much broader than other countries’ telecommunications data-retention requirements, as it requires companies to store the actual content of users’ communications for six months, such as voice data, text messages, pictures, sounds, and video, not just the metadata (the who, when, and how long of communications). Second, it requires telecommunications companies and ISPs to cut services to users if they fail to respond to a request from law enforcement to confirm their identity (which raises a range of privacy issues).
South Korea
In South Korea, the Personal Information Protection Act requires companies to obtain consent from “data subjects” (i.e., the individuals associated with particular data sets) prior to exporting that data. The act also requires “data subjects” to be informed of who receives their data, the recipient’s purpose for having that information, the period that information will be retained, and the specific personal information to be provided. This is clearly a substantial burden on companies trying to send data across borders.Korea has used data localization requirements to protect local e-commerce and online payment operators. Korea’s Regulation on Supervision of Credit-Specialized Financial Business prohibited e-commerce firms from storing Korean customer’s credit card numbers outside the country. In 2013, Korea slightly revised this rule by allowing certain foreign e-commerce firms (those with stores in more than five countries) to store such data abroad.In 2014, South Korea enacted a law—Act on the Establishment, Management, Etc. of Spatial Data—that prohibits mapping data from being stored outside the country due to security concerns. Korea is the only significant market in the world that maintains data localization requirements for mapping data. Korea has defended the policy as it wants to limit the availability of high-resolution commercial satellite imagery of Korea for national security reasons, even though such imagery is already

available commercially. In 2015, Korea enacted the Act on Promotion of Cloud Computing and Protection of Users. Subsequent guidelines—the Data Protection Standards for Cloud Computing Services Guidelines—contain rules that effectively require data localization as cloud computing networks serving public agencies have to be physically separate from networks serving the general public. While these guidelines are only “recommended” and there is no penalty for non-compliance, Korean institutions usually follow such guidelines. This discriminatory policy may have a significant affect as it applies to thousands of institutions, such as educational institutions, public banks, and public hospitals.

Sweden’s Financial Services Authority requires “immediate” access to data in its market supervision, which, according to business, the supervisory body interprets as being given physical access to servers. This amounts to de facto localization, as companies are forced to store data in Sweden.Furthermore, Sweden has accounting requirements that force companies to store data about current company records and accounts in Sweden for seven years. In addition, there is the potential for Swedish government regulations to be interpreted such that data processed by a government agency needs to be held within Sweden, which would obviously affect cloud computing and ultimately result in data localization.
Article 21 of Taiwan’s Personal Data Protection Act permits government agencies the authority to restrict international transfers in the industries they regulate, under certain conditions, such as when the information involves major national interests, by treaty or agreement, inadequate protection, or when the foreign transfer is used to avoid Taiwanese laws.
In 2013, Turkey enacted a law—the Law on Payments and Security Settlement Systems, Payment Services and Electronic Money Institutions—that forces Internet-based payment services, such as PayPal, to store all data in Turkey for ten years. PayPal withdrew from the country after refusing to abide by this data localization requirement.In 2016, Turkey enacted the Law on the Protection of Personal Data, which limits transfer of personal data out of Turkey and may require firms to store data on Turkish citizens in country. The law places burdensome obligations on data controllers and processors, requiring “express consent” from individuals to transfer personal data to another country. The need for specific and individual engagement holds the potential to act as de facto data localization.  Turkey’s new law adopts a similarly untenable and unrealistic approach to international data flows and protection as that of the European Union by requiring country-by-country assessments of privacy protections. Turkey’s newly formed “Data Protection Board” (staffed with political appointees, not technical staff) will assess whether other countries provide an “adequate” level of privacy protection. Under this law, if the country receiving data from Turkey does not offer “adequate” protection, the Data Protection Board must provide permission for each transfer.
United Kingdom
According to the United Kingdom’s Companies Act 2006, “if accounting records are kept at a place outside the United Kingdom, accounts and returns … must be sent to, and kept at, a place in the United Kingdom, and must at all times be open to such inspection.”
United States
The United States has proposed or enacted a few data localization requirements, most of which focus on public procurement. Most recently, the United States pushed for financial services data to be exempt from rules in the Trans Pacific Partnership that prohibited countries from enacting barriers to data flows. However, after the agreement was finalized, the United States sought to limit the scope of this provision through bilateral discussions and via provisions in ongoing negotiations for a Trade in Services Agreement.In 2016, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service issued publication 1075—Tax Information Security Guidelines For Federal, State and Local Agencies—which outlined (section that federal agencies must “restrict the location of information systems that receive, process, store, or transmit [federal tax information] to areas within the United States territories, embassies, or military installations.”In 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense issued revised rules that require all cloud-computing service providers that work for the department to store data domestically. Domestic data storage requirements are sometimes a requirement for other federal public procurement contracts, but are not an explicit government-wide policy.Similarly, some state and local governments impose these requirements in contracts. The City of Los Angeles, for example, required Google to store its data within the continental United States as a condition of its contract with the city. In 2004, Tennessee enacted a bill (SB 2344) that gives a preference to local providers when evaluating proposals for state-level procurement contracts requiring data entry and/or call center services. The preference is provided when the contract is provided by U.S. citizens and other persons authorized to work in the United States. Similarly, in 2004, an Ohio state representative proposed a bill (No. 459) that would prohibit transferring personal data overseas without written consent as part of any state procurement projects. The bill never became law. Similar laws were proposed in Missouri and other states. In 2011, a New York State senator proposed a law (S3713) that would prohibit the transfer of personal information outside the United States without the prior written consent of the consumer. It was intended to favor local companies, whilst tangentially trying to connect overseas data storage to consumer fraud and theft.
Vietnam has extensive data-localization policies in place as part of broad efforts to control Internet-based activities (for both political and commercial purposes). For example, Vietnam forbids direct access to the Internet through foreign ISPs and requires domestic ISPs to store information transmitted on the Internet for at least 15 days.In January 2016, Vietnam released a draft regulation—Draft Decree Amending Decree 72—for over-the-top services (such as WhatsApp and Skype) that included a forced data-localization requirement. In 2013, Vietnam enacted a law—Decree 72—on the management, provision, and use of Internet services and online information that requires a broad range of online companies (such as social networks, online game providers, and general information websites) to have at least one server in Vietnam “serving the inspection, storage, and provision of information at the request of competent state management agencies.” In 2008, Vietnam enacted a law—Decree 90—against spam (unwanted emails and text messages) that forces relevant advertising companies involved in these activities to send emails and texts only from servers in Vietnam.
Venezuela has passed regulations requiring that IT infrastructure for payment processing be located domestically.



SITE : STAGE : STRUCTURE is an archival documentary project. It is a Transmedia Installation that integrates books, objects, photographs, short films, audio narratives, and heritage walks as a way of revitalizing memories and telling a history that is absent from the formal narratives.

Architectural print 01.jpg

Mazgaon is a port and dock area of Mumbai with a rich heritage and complex history. An integral and once central part of the city seems to be almost abandoned, its history neglected, its heritage slowly corroded by the passages of Time and the amnesia of people.

The series of photographs is a cross section of a layered and multi-tiered space, which comprises historic architecture and iconic landmarks amidst more eclectic mix of temporary setups, chawls, shanties, tenements and its inhabitants. The highlight of the exhibition are the paintings, each presenting an important aspect of the city’s history and heritage; as well as photobooks of Mazgaon that document the changing demographic and visual identity of the space. The project maps Mathar Pacady – a catholic village, the remnants of Chinatown, a Bohri (a sect within the Shia Islam) family’s apartment and Darukhana where ships are brought to be torn apart on the dry dock. The project works in multiple directions by documenting the life and living conditions of these diverse communities within the area and the relationships and dynamics of people and places spanning 300 years into the past. Here I fight nostalgia by documenting it, recreating it through videos, conversations and staging ethnographic reconstructions of people’s homes.

Mazgaon has been important to me – my grandparents have lived in Mazgaon for 42 years, for more than my entire life. During school summer vacations, I visited their home and was taken to the famous Mazgaon Gardens. The Garden located on a hilltop offers stunning views of the docks, the ships and the urban landscape of Mazgaon and beyond. This vivid memory has remained with me and I was keen to revisit the space now as an artist.

Historically, Mazgaon has been important to Bombay. Slowly over a period of time, this importance has shifted and declined. Mazgaon has moved from the center of the city to its sidelines. Sites are explored through the lens of history and heritage by looking at the importance of each of these spaces to Mazgaon and to Bombay, and how collectively they formed Mazgaon.

Mazgaon is a vast and changing space. Between the heritage and historical spaces, there are newer spaces. Some of these are devoid of significant history, while others are waiting to be assimilated into the historical and cultural narratives of the future.

Sites revisited on a daily basis over a period of two years have resulted in these spaces becoming ‘stages set for the performances of the everyday’. This transformation is something that I want to make transparent as an experience.

Slowly documenting the Site gives way to the viewing of specific elements – doors, windows, elevations and props. As individual elements they provide the setting and the drama of life – Trivia and personal histories form the script; the seemingly ordinary architecture as well as the normal unassuming people of Mazgaon transform into the set, location and protagonists of the narrative.

Structure is involved with the architectural aspects of the space – the individual houses, individual structures, and personal spaces – the interiors. This leads to another level of enquiry that is concerned with the intimacy and privacy of space as memory.

The Project is a focused attempt to document the history and the present conditions of the people of Mazgaon. They contribute to the city’s self-knowledge as a place with a conflicted and tangled cosmopolitan past. Such projects enrich Mumbai’s art scene by offering something other than aesthetic wall hangings and floor pieces, or theory-laden group shows. In an era in which rightwing groups continue to insist on Mumbai narrowly as a Hindu Marathi city, counter-historical practices like SITE : STAGE : STRUCTURE serve much more than ethnographic curiosity.

Each aspect of the current exhibition can be extrapolated into a substantial body of work. At the same time this existing body of work needs to be disseminated beyond Bombay because it’s not the story of Bombay in itself, or the way Mazgaon has changed. Mazgaon is exemplary of the way several spaces/places in the country and the world are changing – silently, and without our knowing about it. It is like a falling teacup that we don’t see till it shatters. Fortunately Mazgaon and other places like that haven’t shattered yet. But they’re falling. It is up to us how soon we can look at them and how soon we can arrest that fall.

Memories matter in any day and age ­­- I believe in the saying, “Those who forget history, are bound to repeat it”. In the context of the city and its people, the easiest thing would be to forget people who live beyond the perimeter of our immediate vision, but in doing so we condemn ourselves to be forgotten by others – A fairy tale, the origin of a deity, stories of old men recounting childhood and parents, origins of their home, recounting of a 75 year old friendship that lasted relocation to Calcutta and back, the memories of ‘Paradise Lost’ – accounts that do not enter a formal narrative – information that in the grander scheme of things seem not as important, but which we cannot afford to forget.

In this meandering process, I had the good fortune of being introduced to Rafique Baghdadi, a journalist and amateur historian living in Mazgaon for the last 60 years. His unparalleled knowledge, insight and his long lasting relationships with the various integral communities have allowed this project to take the shape it now has.

This project is a documentation of my intimate connection with various people, strangers whose lives are an open book to me. I realized how something as intangible as a community could be reflected very concretely in architecture, colours and spaces, and most importantly in the people, those who hold on and treasure its past as well as those who look towards its future.

This is Mazgaon from 2012 to 2014.
Ali Akbar Mehta


Five challenges to artistic freedom


Violations of international human rights conventions

To some it was good news when the universal right to freedom of expression, including creative and artistic expression, was reaffirmed in a joint statement by 57 states at the Human Rights Council Session 30 on 18 September 2015. In reality it was really bad news that less than a third of all UN member states were supportive. All UN Member State should respect international human rights conventions and the rule of law. Speaking on behalf of the original 53 States joining the statement (some of which actually do violate those rights), the Ambassador of Latvia, Jānis Kārkliņš, told the Council:

“In addition to being an integral part of the protected human right to freedom of expression, artistic and creative expression is critical to the human spirit, the development of vibrant cultures, and the functioning of democratic societies. Artistic expression connects us all, transcending borders and barriers. Artistic expression can challenge us and change the way we view the world.”

The major challenge is to convince all States to respect international conventions.

Repression by non-state actors

Even if all Member States of the UN did respect the right to artistic freedom, unfortunately huge regions of the world are controlled and suppressed by non-state actors such as Daesh/IS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.

Their attitude toward artistic expressions is that of total control, total condemnation and total repression to any expression that they dislike. This poses a major threat to artistic freedom and the right for citizens to access artistic expressions.

Nationalism and religious orthodoxy

Nationalism and religious orthodoxy is spreading in many parts of the world – in the North as well as in the South, East and West. Controlling the minds and expressions of people is based on fear, and the tool of control is spreading more fear, leading to self-censorship, and to stereotyping of ‘the other’ whether these ‘others’ are cultural, religious, sexual or social minorities.

Behind messages such as ‘protecting our culture and nation’ and ‘protecting our moral values’, lies the fear of diversity of expressions, opinions and creativity. Has the world not learned anything from Hitler’s ‘Entartete (degenerate) art’ campaigns?

Lack of solidarity

Journalists all over the world support their colleagues through national, regional and international networks. Freedom of expression is built into the “DNA” of most journalists. That DNA does not come naturally to artists and artists’ organizations. Very few national artist’s organizations, international umbrella organizations and members of the well-endowed culture industry address artistic freedom violations. Even fewer support their colleagues – PEN International who support authors being the large exception as many members of PEN are creative writers. The documentation of violations and advocacy for artistic freedom is predominately made by human rights and freedom of expression organizations such as Freemuse.

Insufficient monitoring

Artistic freedom violations are underreported in many countries due to fear, self-censorship and repression. Attracting funding to support documentation is almost impossible, with some exceptions such as from the Government of Sweden. Donors tend to support media and internet freedom, and the small number of people dedicated to documenting violations of artistic freedom and advocating for it can easily be counted. This is a huge challenge


Limitations of Liability, 2017

Ali Akbar Mehta talks to Kevin Lobo about his project ‘256 Million Colours of Violence’, Manifestations of Violence, Big Data Ethics and the urgency of asking questions. They discuss tools of inquiry used and attempt to dissect the various narratives presented through the survey. Inquiries into colour, violence and their perceptions can lead to multiple directions – the conversation looks at how the narrative experience of colour may be embodied, embedded and extended in the contexts of these meanings.

The conversation was conducted in Piramal Museum of Art, as part of Limitations of Liability.

Limitations of Liability was an eight day program between March 17 to 28, 2017, structured around ‘256 Million Colours of Violence’ – an interactive survey-based-research project by contemporary transmedia artist, Ali Akbar Mehta. The project began in 2016, and now includes more than 200 entries of people from all walks of life. 256 Million Colours of Violence is available to the public for free. The exposition of the past survey results were installed along with a participation booth at The Mumbai Assembly and Harkat studios inviting everyone to participate in the ongoing survey.

256 Million Colours of Violence Complete Artist Note:


Limitations of Liability was held across three venues in Mumbai:

  • The Mumbai Assembly (Bandra),
  • The Piramal Art Foundation (Lower Parel) and
  • Harkat Studios (Versova)

The program also included spoken word performances, talks and discussions, and a series of films screenings concerned with the subject of violence and trauma.

256 Million Colours of Violence_ Poster




Ali Akbar Mehta – Artist statement 2015-16

He is a Contemporary Artist working in diverse media ranging from oil painting and drawing to digital painting, photography, video, documentation and archival work.

His art practice has been concerned with creating new archetypal images involving Contemporary and Hybrid Mythologies, investigating the themes of the Hero and his/her position in contemporary society, the nature of violence, and identity. The concept of the mythic Hero and the link with a radical, transformational violence has fascinated him ever since his childhood involvement with graphic novels, cartoons and comics. A great deal of his visual vocabulary has been influenced by science fiction, manga, animation, cinema, music, mythology, philosophy and cultural anthropology.

He collaborates with robotic engineers, computer programmers, musicians, writers, theater and filmmakers and aims to found processes that would leave deep impacts on contemporary culture, technology and knowledge. He is also a poet.

In the last 10 years, he has established a multidisciplinary practice involving traditional drawing and painting, Digital painting, Photography and bookmaking. His background in 3D Animation, VFX and postproduction has facilitated an ability to support his Art practice forming a parallel body of work.

His desire to integrate these two streams of work have led to explorations in new directions of Transmedia performance installations, sound and video creation.

He is currently pursuing a Master’s Programme in Visual Contemporary Culture in Art at Aalto University’s Art, Design and Architecture Department, Helsinki, Finland; where he aims to explore digital technology in all its manifestations of audiovisual content creation, archival and documentation possibilities, and most importantly the hybridization of reality and sensory world building.


Born August 1983.

BFA (Painting) Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, 2005

MFA (ViCCA) Aalto University of Art, Design and Architecture, currently studying

256 Million Colours of Violence, 2016

Visit the project:

256 Million Colours of Violence is a survey based interactive archival research project that asks the participants to choose a colour that to them represents violence. The project started as a response to the specific events unfolding after the Malegaon Blasts 1 (2006, India). Now, a decade after the event, this response has grown to encompass several other events in a world that is radically changing.

An inquiry into colour can lead to multiple directions. Colour is troubled light – a violently oscillating frequency entering our optical system that is translated by the visual cortex of our brain. When Newton split light into the visible colour spectrum it was science.Colours have become symbolic of emotions and thoughts, taking on animate qualities and connotations that surpass their scientific properties. Colour is a central feature of social life yet its value in sociological theory is ambiguous. Colour in its perception is familiar and intuitive and subjective in its meaning where we seldom understand it beyond the parameters of our own consentual social reality.

The relationship between colour and perception is fundamental, and this project is an attempt to dismantle our selves through our understanding of colour. Perception is informed by Context. The human eye is capable of distinguishing millions of colours, but total objective colour acuity is a skill more rarified than perfect pitch (the ability to identify a single musical note without accompaniment). Most of us need context in order to make accurate colour recognition but when coupled with the proper context, we notice very subtle differences in hue, lightness, and intensity.

Colour and its perception are an unstable and contestable phenomenon shaped by personal memory and social and material factors. Similarly, Violence and its perception are an unstable and contestable phenomenon shaped by social and material factors. When colour is coupled with a subject as topical as violence, we probably have a deeply personal and unique emotional response to it. Most of us, having a sufficiently distinct understanding of things could probably assign a colour value in terms of a quick interface of the emotional quotient associated with it. This often cannot be verbalised but may be linked to a sensory memory or association – this kind of attribution is done not as an intuitive understanding but rather as a Pavlovian learning 2 or an acquired understanding. Despite having no inherited political value, colour can be made political through a sequence of contextual references. Colour can become a complex dataset presenting a person’s nuanced understanding of the world. The format of the survey is intended to gather this understanding.

Most Data mining exercises and empirical scientific surveys require a culled group in order to eradicate diversity, a standardisation of the test group to remove ‘noise’. ‘256 Million Colours of Violence’ is a celebration of that noise which represents the diversity of Human experience and collective memetic history. It is also part of an ongoing discourse to reduce effects of stereo-typification through personal scrutiny of the word and meanings of ‘Violence’ by asking how is the narrative experience of colour embodied, embedded and extended in the contexts of these meanings.

The aim of the Project is also to make the participant aware, or conscious of his/her decision regarding their choice by embedding it within series of contexts. Choice here is an active participation as well as a subliminal interfacing of several seemingly disconnected values.

Political parties and media are comfortable with the political position of attributing ‘no colour’ on religious, community or ideology based acts of violence so as to avoid issues of colour associations and its apparent, actual or perceived impacts on society. The inherent logic of the project takes their view and reverses it by stating that “Violence has a colour – it is a value of an acquired understanding unique to each individual.” The project is an artist experiment based on no previous survey or standardisation. The choice of the participants are purely their own, which is to say formed by unique combination of various elements such as parenting, religion, gender, social circles, peer group and education to name a few.

The project is addressing the notion of freely given information, conditional agreements and consent – to corporations and governments, as opposed to an artist project; that an artist may be require to profile its participants in itself seems like a joke. The survey hints at issues pertaining to equality of gender, skin colour, race and ethnicity; questions privilege, social class and problems of minimum income as well as confronts through inquiry the political-religious-socio-economic quadrangle as a constant existence in our lives today. It also acts as an introductory archive of several streams of information, and as such occupies a paradoxical position making the viewer/participant both the giver and receiver of information, if they so wish.

To this end, the viewer/participant is confronted with a question:

What according to you is a colour of violence?

If I ask you this question, chances are that you already have a colour in mind. It’s probably a very strong colour, resonating with intensity of how important this question may be to you. You probably have a specific colour in mind, you just need to pinpoint it specifically to lock it down – to triangulate its position on the map of the colour chart, as it were.

This might be easy to do in a palette of 8, or 16, or even 64 shades. As a choice, it may even fit into a colour that may be generic template for the question – but what happens if you are confronted with a digital palette of 256 million colours 3? Is your particular tint/shade/hue the exact same tint/shade/hue as the one you had in your mind – is your black / saffron / green / white / red the same as another’s?

Ali Akbar Mehta

    1. The Indian Connection – The Malegaon Bomb Blasts, 2006 and ‘Saffron Terror’:
      Saffron terror is a neologism used to describe acts of violence motivated by Hindu nationalism. The acts are allegedly perpetrated by members, or alleged members of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Abhinav Bharat. However, in some cases the motivation for the acts has not been clearly determined, and in others it has been determined to be unrelated to Hindu nationalism. The term comes from the symbolic use made of the saffron color by the Hindu nationalist organisations.
      The first known use of the term ‘Saffron Terror’ is from a 2002 article in Frontline. However it was in the aftermath of the 29 September 2008 bomb blast in the predominantly Muslim town of Malegaon in Maharashtra that it came to be used widely. In late 2008, Indian police arrested members of a Hindu terrorist cell allegedly involved in Malegaon blast. The blame for several of these attacks had been placed on radical Islamist groups.
      Former Home Minister of India P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of “Saffron terror” in August 2010 at a meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi.
      Since that remark was made, a Hindu Swami in the Patan district has filed a defamation lawsuit against Chidambaram, saying that the saffron color is symbol of Hindu religion and that saints across the country wear attire of the same color. The Swami also said that saffron was a symbol of peace, sacrifice and God, and that Chidambaram has hurt the sentiments of Hindus by linking the symbol with terrorism. On 6 September 2010, a Gujarat court ordered a probe into the use of the term by Chidambaram. Chidambaram was also criticised by members of his own party (the Indian National Congress) for the use of the term.
      “Saffron or bhagwa or kesariya (Hindi equivalents of saffron) is not the issue here. The issue is terrorism. Terrorism does not have any colour other than black,” said Janardan Dwivedi, Congress general secretary and head of the party’s media department.
      Making plain the party’s disapproval of Chidambaram’s controversial formulation, Dwivedi said terrorism could not be associated with any color, “be it saffron, green, white or red”. He further said, “Terrorism is terrorism and should be opposed in whatever form it comes.” Significantly, he also stressed that “saffron colour has been part of our ancient tradition and is associated with our freedom struggle”.
      Home minister P Chidambaram did not exactly use the phrase ‘saffron terrorism’ but made it clear it was not his patent and in the past UPA and Congress leaders have found it quite expedient to refer to ‘saffronisation of education’ to target the previous NDA government.
      While vowing that he would follow the ‘party line’ as supreme, the minister said there were right-wing extremist groups and the message that they could be capable of violence should not be lost in phrases. He said, “Perhaps the use of that phrase has brought home the message. So, the purpose, in a way, has been served.”
    2. A method to cause a reflex response or behaviour by training with repetitive action. The Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov conditioned dogs to respond in what proved to be a predictable manner.
    3. Photoshop has a digital palette of 256 Million Colours.

Toward a re-invention of cinema

Cinema Militans Lecture

by Peter Greenaway


Cinema died on the 31st September 1983 when the zapper, or the remote control, was introduced into the living-rooms of the world.

Cinema is a passive medium. It might well have fulfilled many of the expectations of an audience of our fathers and forefathers prepared to sit back, watch illusions and suspend disbelief, but I believe we can no longer claim this to be sufficient. New technologies have prepared and empowered the human imagination in new ways. There is, as we all well know, brand new audiences out there who make up not just a television generation, but a post-television generation where the characteristics of the laptop are persuasive and generate new demands and create new benchmark standards. The ideas of excessive choice, personal investigation, personal communication and huge interactivity have come a long way since September 1983, and the act of cinema has had to exist alongside and be a partner to a whole new world of multiple-media activities, which have all intrinsically metamorphosed cinema itself. Interactivity and multimedia may well be words that are too familiar anymore to be truly attended to, but they are certainly the major contemporary cultural stimulants. How will cinema cope with them, because it surely must. If the cinema intends to survive, I believe, it has to make a pact and a relationship with concepts of interactivity, and it has to see itself as only part of a multimedia cultural adventure.

Once upon a time, cinema — after avoiding the issue, refusing to encompass it, pretending that the patient was not sick and the object not broken, so why try to cure one, and mend the other? — faced and tackled and adapted itself to a new technology of sound. The long existing, world-dominant entertainment technology of the so-called silent cinema changed almost overnight, and in essence it died. And it is virtually entirely buried. Who now watches silent cinema? Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin on television, and a small minority of film enthusiasts.

Whether we are going to like it or not, the same may well soon happen to so-called sound cinema.

This is a Militans Cinema lecture. I can afford to be militant. I have been given some license to be provocative, disrespectful, irritated and angry. And militant. The terms of this platform expect it of me. And I have been given this license for a second time. Last time I tried to make a little entertainment. With pictures and projected alphabets. And a few thorns. This time I want to make a heavier polemic. With thorns. Because my complaint is that now, after 108 years of activity, we have a cinema that is dull, familiar, predictable, hopelessly weighed down by old conventions and outworn verities, an archaic and heavily restricted system of distribution, and an out-of-date and cumbersome technology.

We need to re-invent cinema.

Every medium needs to constantly re-invent itself. We need now not to put new wine in old bottles, and certainly not to put old wine in new bottles, we need to put new wine into new bottles. You are allowed to recognize the wine, which is human ingenuity and imagination, and you are permitted to recognize the bottles, which is cinema, though I am convinced we shall be needing to change that name.

Current state of the cinema’s demise.

First, a brief run through of some of the current factors we all know about cinema’s demise.

Cinema in cinemas is undoubtedly not the popular art it used to be. In the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, it is said that European families saw two films at the cinema every week. We can easily agree that you would be hard pressed to find a European family that would see cinema now in cinemas twice a year.

Statistics from the heart of the major Western film industry in Hollywood state that 75% of people see their cinema on television, 20% buy their cinema as video or DVDs, and only 5% view their cinema in places called cinemas.

In this country, I am told, the average Dutch citizen watches only two feature films in a cinema every three years.

The head of Kodak has stated that his company will not be manufacturing celluloid in 10 year’s time.

The poverty of official cinema distribution means that I cannot, and you cannot, see any film of your choice in any cinema of your choosing this afternoon, or even next week, and probably not next month, and possibly never. It is easier for me to see a minor painting by Caravaggio in a small Umbrian town than it is for me to see Kubrick’s “2001” in any cinema that would represent that film in the way it was manufactured to be presented.

Four thousand feature-potential films have been made in the U.S. every year for the last four years: 350 get some cinema distribution, 50 hit sensible distribution figures in 80 U.S. cities, lasting for about (on average) 10 days in a cinema. That is one reasonably distributed film for every week of the year. Twenty feature films a year hit the big time, 10 hit the very big time and four make it super big time. Four out of 4,000. Where do all the undistributed films end up? The usual places are “straight to video” or television, a third of them are dumped, though most filmmakers would not be so blunt as to admit it.

European newspapers were noisy in their complaints this year that the Cannes Film Festival was of poor quality, and followed it up soon after by saying that the Venice Film Festival was not much better. These two festivals are traditionally supposed to be a litmus paper to the life and health of the inventive cinema world. The reaction is no surprise. There is precious little invention in the cinema world, because traditional cut-and-paste, narrative, illusionistic cinema has had its day. We must move on. We must re-invent cinema.

It is a fact that there are more and more film festivals instituted every year, programming greater and greater numbers of festival films which are never seen again, films which have no hope of any cinema distribution; there is less and less informed film criticism in our newspapers, fewer and fewer serious programs about cinema on television, a fall in readership of film magazines, and greater and greater creation of media courses in the universities of the Western world. Confusing and apparently contradictory statistics? Well not necessarily. It would seem that something very similar happened at the decline of opera and classical dance as major cultural forces — although happening over a longer space of time — an excess of attention as the quality and proliferation declined, a propping up of the institutions by the dismayed, that the energy had evaporated, and a deterioration of quality and insight as the means of production apparently seemed easier.

Mallarme suggested that all the world is created to be put into a book. He might now say that all the world is created to be put into a film. Everyone wants to make movies. It is a sign of overkill and a state of exhaustion, resulting in banality and repetition. And we have arrived at a monoculture, single model of cinema all over the world. Hollywood product is made in Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai, Rotterdam and London, and especially in London.

Perhaps we can say that the cut-and-paste, narrative, chronologically plotted, illustrated-text, illusionistic cinema has played itself out. If you believe it is still alive. Consider that they say a slow-moving, herbivorous and not very bright dinosaur, shot in the head on a Monday, is brain dead for a week, and can manage to wag its tail until the Friday, before the last breath leaves its body. Friday will soon be upon us.

However, however, however, all of which is no great cause for alarm or despondency, tears, sadness or nostalgia, but probably for jubilation, because it is a situation fitting to a recognizable pattern, and the exhaustion invariably coincides with rejuvenation. We should rejoice that the dinosaur is soon to be a fossil. We await those small creatures in the forest floor who will soon take over the world.

We have every right to be optimistic about the future as long as we are prepared to acknowledge “cinema is dead, long live cinema.” We can believe in the phoenix.

A medium is governed and shaped and perceived by the characteristics of its technology. The aesthetic-technology of cinema has lasted 108 years — but if cinema essentially expired on the apocryphal 31st September 1983 — then, from 1895 to 1983, is 88 years, the length of three generations. It would seem that the life of many aesthetic-technologies might fit into an exaggerated three generation lifespan, covering the activities of invention, consolidation and then a throwing away in anticipation of a new cycle. The prime time of fresco-painting technology in the Renaissance spans Giotto, the inventor of the primary technologies, through Michelangelo, the consolidator, to the restless Carracci brothers who experimented with oil-based techniques in association with the wet plaster, and essentially corrupted its primacy to make way for a significant change. The basic fresco characteristics existed before this cycle, and persisted after it, but the major significant work in the medium is created within this span of time.

Similar arguments can be put forward for the subsequent painting technologies of egg tempera painters on wood panels — van Eyck to Durer — and the first and second waves of post-baroque canvas painters — Bernini, Velasquez, El Greco — and then the painters of artificial light — Caravaggio and de la Tour, David, Goya and Delacroix. Cinema has responded to the theory very well. If you are a European, Eisenstein invents the language, Fellini consolidates the language and Godard throws it away. If you are American, then the cycle might read Griffith, Orson Welles and Cassavetes.

In all cases, the medium might continue wagging its tail, but in homage to, or in admiration of, a tradition, or to further mine fields already strongly prospected, or simply to enjoy the well-oiled machineries of production structures and studio facilities, there will be revisionist filmmakers, as in the 1973 to 1986 period — Coppola, Kubrick, Scorsese working the Fellini-Welles vein — and Woody Allen, the Coen brothers and Wenders working the Godard vein, and then the post-revisionists of the late ’80s, further trading, pastiching and homaging like Tarantino, Stone and Scott.

Running parallel to the last throws of the old medium, the technology changes — out of a desire for change itself, or because the bending of the medium creates various breaking points, or out of a wish to repudiate the past, or because the stretching of the previous technology generates huge improvements along the avenues of cheapness, swiftness, greater accessibility and greater ease of handling, and sometimes even because of the introduction of a brand-new base-energy source, which in the case of the moving picture industry, as in music, has been first magnetic tape, and then, as in so many other fields, the full explosion of the digital revolution.

If this theory of the three generations of invention, consolidation and rejection will not suit your perception of the progress of 108 years of cinema, cinema as an entire medium has always been slow and sluggish and resistant to vigorous change. Even a well-respected cinema director like Scorsese basically makes the same films, structurally and narratively, as Griffith, the founder of narrative in cinema. There are better emulsions, smarter equipment and superior publicity, but the same structures with beginnings, middles and ends, moving from a position of negative behavior to positive behavior on a largely Christian morality program, have not changed; revenge ordained and completed, wrongs righted, retribution obtained, success rewarded, innocents exonerated, finishing with happy closures — these are structures that are repeated over and over and over again — and they are structures that have previously been invented, employed and elaborated by the 19th century literary giants, Dickens, Balzac, Zola, Tolstoy.

When we are brought to realize that most cinema is illustrated text, we then have a further demoralization, to discover that of all these texts illustrated by cinema, few, if any, have advanced to even the early years of literary excitements of the 20th century. None, for example appear to have approached James Joyce.

The distances of language change and development traveled in cinema are slight compared to what has happened in the other media in the same 1895 to 1995 period. Consider the changes that have occurred from 1895 to 1995 in music — Strauss to Stockhausen via Schoenberg, or Debussy to Reich via John Cage; in literature — from Hardy and Mann to Borges and Perec. And getting closer and closer to cinema, consider that, in the theater, Chekov is alive in 1895, and by 1995, we have experienced Osborne and Pinter, Brecht and Beckett. And closer still to the ideals of a pictorial cinema, in painting, van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne, Malevich and Klee are all alive and well and kicking in 1895, and we have now have traveled to Warhol and Keifer via Matisse and Duchamp, Picasso, Rothko and Jasper Johns. It is difficult to imagine such changes in characteristics, language, attitude, perspective and immense plurality, in the march of cinema from 1895 to 1995.

Is this such an unfair comparison?

Consider the huge energies, the vast sums of money, the one-time large public audiences, the huge crowds of manufacturers and the sheer number of movies made throughout this century of years — with these factors doesn’t it seem we could have expected greater developmental thrust and pull and range of practice?

However, it is now too late. The game is over. We have lost our opportunity. We must roll over and start again. And we can.

I believe the last time we saw radical cinema-language change and novel cinematic invention was with the German cinema in the mid and late seventies — Herzog, Straub, Fassbinder and the early Wenders. After that, there has been little radical experiment and radical invention. Maybe there could not have been anymore, because by 1980, television had finally won the battle for the moving image experience.

After 1980 there is little evidence of investigative finances being put into the cinema media. The money, and the energy that always follows money, was being placed elsewhere, and the really interesting inventive minds of the moving image went to places where life was more stimulating — video experiments, Web-mastering, multimedia investigations, video clips, animation — the feature film was no longer the vehicle for major synthesis and change, the all-embracing symphonic form that encapsulated the total vocabulary. We can easily believe that Bill Viola is worth 10 Scorseses.

However important the factors are of social, political, economic and cultural pressure — the absolute strength of the medium is in its aesthetic, its relationship of language to content, its relevance to now, the ability to stimulate and entrance, provide stimulus to dream, legitimize imagination, set fire to possibilities, indicate what happens next, encourage wholehearted participation — and I would say — encourage wholehearted participation to the point of the panic of overexcitement. I believe cinema as we know it now, simply fails to do this. And I believe this, in some good measure, is due to four tyrannies.

The four tyrannies

In association with the cinema celebrations of 1995, with some considerable anxiety and some deep disenchantment about contemporary cinema, I planned an investigation into film language to see what about it was investigative, useful, autonomous and worthy of preservation, and, primarily, unique. What could cinema do, after a century, that no other media could do?

I constantly saw cinema as being easily deconstructed back into other media forms where what it had to say, could be said as easily and probably more forcefully and more efficiently in other ways.

We considered ten characteristics that seemed especial to cinema — light, the text, the frame, projection, props, music, scale, time, actors and the camera, and embarked on a series of citywide exhibitions, under the generic title the Stairs. We succeeded in placing a large exhibition in the streets and squares, parks and buildings of Geneva focused on the frame — erecting 100 wooden staircases across the city where a viewer was invited to climb a short flight of stairs to an eyepiece to examine a framing of the city, a wide-shot or a medium-shot or a close-up. The staircases remained in the city for 100 days, and the framings were available to all for 24 hours a day in sunshine and rain, moonlight and fog.

The scenarios of this living cinema-film of 100 viewpoints for 100 days were anything that might happen. You could watch a man take a dog for a walk. You could, if you were lucky, watch a dog bite a man. If you were exceptionally fortunate, you could watch a man bite a dog — the ordinary, the unusual and the extraordinary.

The first motive was to consider why cinema, along with all the other plastic arts, views the world within the confines of a rectangle, a parallelogram, within the boundaries of four right-angles? And when we do so indeed, what might that mean? And do we need to continue to do this, and how was the act of framing relevant to the act of filmmaking itself? And which single frame is the most relevant and is it possible to get the timing of the framing right? Was the single frame necessary, could we break it, explode it, could we re-invent it? What were the advantages and what were the disadvantages? And the most important question — was action, event and activity within the single frame separable from the single frame itself?

In 1995 we were privileged to place a second exhibition in the series in the city of Munich, and the subject was the act of projection. On the cathedral, the town hall, the opera-house, shops and shopping malls, offices, the police station, gasometers, churches and theaters, we made screen projections to simulate the essence of the cinema experience — 100 illuminated screens — pursuing a chronology of cinema history from simple black and white 1895 Lumiere projection through to color and the experimental ratios of the 1950s and ’60s, to the advent of the television ratios — 100 cinema screens alive with projected light all the hours of darkness.

This time the motive was to demonstrate the central cinema experience, the projection of light across a distance onto a framed space to be viewable simultaneously to a mass audience.

The exhibition in the series of the Stairs dedicated to props, the significance of the inanimate object in cinema — can you imagine a gangster movie without a gun, a telephone and a car, a Shakespearian feature without a skull, a dagger and a crown, Othello without Desdemona’s handkerchief — was eventually turned into an exhibition in Vienna called One Hundred Objects to Represent the World, and then into an opera of the same name that traveled the world.

No single characteristic of cinema is entirely separable from all the others, and I was beginning to see the characteristics as tyrannies, which were confining, straight-jacketing, even abusing the cinema, tyrannies that were perhaps destroying any further emancipation of the idea of the moving image in cinema. I finally saw those major tyrannies as the tyrannies of the frame, the text, the actor and the camera.

The tyranny of the text

Every film director, with precious few exceptions, has to have a text before he or she can have an image. From Spielberg to Godard, Lynch to Tarantino, Kubrick to Fassbinder. With the cinema that we have developed — though of course, it need not have happened that way — it is impossible to approach a studio or a producer with three paintings, four prints and a sketch-book of drawings, and expect to be rewarded with support to make a movie. The cinema is supposed to be an art and an industry of the image, yet we have a text-based cinema. Every film you have watched you can see the director following the text, and if you are lucky, making pictures as an after-thought. No surprise of course. We are all very sophisticated, even across all the language barriers, at making and using and receiving texts, written and spoken. Our educational systems are based on forcefully feeding the letters of the alphabet to reluctant children, and then to press home a necessity to amassing an understanding of words. As adolescents the reading procedures become more sophisticated, and as adults, continually persuaded practice, hones and refines and focuses our abilities — a systematic universal act of education in the word. You have a tongue. It will not speak comprehensively on its own, it needs training. Few, in proportion to the mass attendance at the textual altar, attend art school, design school, receive architectural training. You have an eye — can it truly see without being trained? Just because you have eyes, does that mean you can see? And if you can see, can you project and communicate your meaning indeed to those who also have had no extensive training of the eye?

Would you, could you, presume to write a sensible comprehensible letter, leave alone a novel, without undergoing intensive training in text?

It could be said that most of us suffer from considerable visual illiteracy, persuaded upon us by a text-obsessive educational insistence. Hence the reliance on the word, not the image. Derrida famously and wittily suggested that “the image always has the last word” — it is of course a false statement, the word always has the last word, and anyway isn’t a word an image?

In England and America, there is great and vigourous support for a writer’s cinema. We do not need or want or desire a writer’s cinema. We need a cinema-maker’s cinema. The cinema should not be an adjunct to the bookshop, servicing, illustrating literature.

The last three dominant significant cinema events have been “The Lord of the Rings,” a book — three books — “Harry Potter,” a book, probably eventually, four books, and “Spider-Man,” at least that is supposed to spring from a semi-visual source, a comic, but essentially an illustrated book.

In pessimistic moments, I would argue that you have never seen any cinema, all you have witnessed is 108 years of illustrated text.

The tyranny of the frame

We view all the plastic arts through a rigid frame. Since painting separated itself from architecture at the end of the Medieval period, it regulated its parameters, with very little exception, to fit four right-angles. And theater, with a proscenium arch, copied painting; opera and ballet arranged its scenarios and choreography to be seen in association with theatre’s proscenium arch stage-space, and cinema copied the theatre, and television copied the cinema, and then there are photographs squared up for painting-picture-frames and to fit the right angles of a book. This wholesale practice has become so traditional and orthodox, it is not questioned.

Retrospectively, it is the view through a window, though we are thinking now from a contemporary window point-of-view, since the major horizontal aspect window ratio of a cinema screen could not have been matched architecturally by a window much before the middle of the nineteenth century. But the analogy is important because traditional cinema insists on creating an illusionistic space to give audiences a window experience — a surveillance through a window frame out into a parallel universe connected to that which the audience physically experiences as it sits in the cinema.

There is no such thing as a frame in the natural world — it is a man-made, man-created device, a diagrammatically sharpened and regulated reaction to his own irregular horizontal view of the world bordered by the brow and the cheek-bones when the face is held rigid and the eyes kept steady. It is an ironic curiosity that the Japanese have tried to reverse the game by forcing man-devised frames into landscape design using the sea horizon as the absolute horizontal, and planting tall straight-trunked trees to make the vertical frame-lines — ironic and curious, since Oriental picture-making has steadfastly, until it came in contact with Western practices of seeing, eschewed the frame, not finding it at all necessary to use a frame to contain and shape the world.

And the frame in the cinema has ever restrictingly tightened. There used to be several aspect ratios open to a cinematographer, especially in the years of pre-standardization, and again when cinema tried to fight the effects of television with a rash of experimental ratios in the ’60s and ’70s, but now we have been steadily reduced to that most convenient of aspect ratio frames, the television frame of the ratio 1 to 1.33. And all professional film practitioners know the contortions and humiliations that cinema has had to experience to get its non-television ratio demands onto the television screen with letter-boxing, cropping, reducing, panning and scanning. Such has been this so dominant industrial practice that few television viewers are even remotely aware that they are not watching the real thing, but some particular television-convenienced version.

If the frame is a man-made device, then just as it has been created, so it can be un-created. The parallelogram can go.

The tyranny of the actor

To acknowledge and overcome the third tyranny, the tyranny of the actor, is perhaps not going to be so popular. It could be said that we delight in being tyrannised by actors. And I am going to have some difficulty in following through the premise that the cinema is not, and should not be a playground for Sharon Stone or a Sylvester Stallone or even a Nicole Kidman or a Robert de Niro, though in 108 years we have allowed and permitted it to be so. So many films are set up to create a space for an actor to perform, that it would seem sometimes that the cinema is a vehicle for their appearance alone.

There are many genres of painting in which the actor is absent, or reduced to the concept of a figure in a landscape. I am not advocating a cinema where there are no actors, where the human figure is not by inference the centre of our interest, but I will argue that the actor has to seriously share the cinematic space with other evidences of the world, has to be, in essence a figure in a landscape which is likely to give attention to space, ideas, inanimacy, architecture, light and colour and texture itself.

The legitimate supremacy of the actor in the viewing space is a characteristic of theatre, where the demands on his dominant visibility are essential to give credence to the suspension of disbelief in a patently symbolic world, but like it or not, the cinema should not be a species of recorded theatre, and the actor has to relinquish any supremacy he rightly might believe is his for the taking in the theatre.

It is of course not so familiar a condition to the actor who is led to believe by his profession that the camera should persistently centre his contribution, especially since we have created off-screens systems to excessively promote the actor and surround him with agents and managers, a sympathetic production system and a Press and publicity organisation who appear to need his public relations power. I have had actors complain that they are too much subject to the insistence of the frame, that their movements are too bounded by the demands of the composition, that they have to arrange their contribution to be subservient to a tree, a still life, a lighting space, shadows, darkness, various devices of invisibility, that I am more interested in their legs, feet, body, their given physical anatomy, the way they wear and shape their clothes, the physical space they occupy, the gestures they make, the pose they take, their weight on the floor, their relationship to a wall or a ceiling, rather than their face or their interpretation of a psychological role, or their skill at interpreting a narrative imperative. It is true I take many of my cues and precedences from painting where there are other considerations than human performance, but I believe the actor should take his contribution in association with a sense of ensemble with the world and certainly ensemble with the cinematic language. We have developed a cinema where the identification of an actor’s emotional and psychological performance is considered to be the key to an audience’s response. This is limiting, reductive and undersells the visual potential of cinematic language.

The tyranny of the camera

If the tyranny of the actor is difficult to accept, then the fourth and last tyranny is perhaps even more of a blasphemy — for it is the tyranny of the camera. We have to get rid of the camera.

The camera is a recording device. It gives us an image of the world that is mimetic, it reproduces what we put in front of it. The camera is not a painter. It has entered the cinema equation too high up the Richter scale — say at Richter six, where it would have been better to have entered at Richter zero — which of course is contradictory because there would have been nothing there, which of course is what my proposition is all about.

Two quotations. One from Picasso: “I do not paint what I see, but what I think.” The second from Eisenstein, certainly the greatest maker of cinema, a figure you can compare with Beethoven or Michelangelo, and not be embarrassed by the comparison, and there are few cinema-makers you can elevate to such heights. On his way to Mexico, Eisenstein, traveling through California, met Walt Disney, and suggested that Walt Disney was the only filmmaker because he started at ground zero, a blank screen.

The connection between the two quotations is suggestive. There is a necessity in a curious way to bypass the lazy, mimetic, passive recording eye — human or mechanical — and jump straight to the brain, the imagination, the seat of creation. And it is suggested that we have now the tools, and we can easily imagine the tools we shall have tomorrow, to make this happen. We should not want a cinema of appropriation, of mimesis, or reproduction of the known world, not even a cinema of virtual reality, but a cinema of virtual unreality.

The Renaissance contribution to the modern world in visual terms is usually couched in terms of forever and forever successfully reproducing reality. From Giotto to Masaccio, from Masaccio to Uccello, from Uccello to Raphael, from Raphael to Giorgione — you can choose your own chain of ever-rising realism.

It has been an upward success story in getting painted images to look more and more like the natural world — the gradual controlling of the technologies of chiaroscuro and scale, sculptural modelling, linear perspective, aerial perspective, anatomy, in order in the end, to reproduce what we already have around us. Is that such a success story? Should not the energies have been spent in more worthwhile, investigative pursuits, to pursue the possibilities of the inventive human imagination, probably the most complex and self-regarding phenomenon in the universe?

The real world is always going to be more real, more exciting, more terrifying, more dangerous, more appealing than the world that can be reproduced by the camera.

Should therefore cinema eschew ambitions of illusionistic recreation of the known world — its major pursuit — and attempt to manufacture the imaginative world alone?

My militant response then to the current circumstances of a dying aesthetic technology called cinema, jolted into the necessity of accepting the novelties of inter-activity and the revitalised possibilities of multimedia, is to shake out these tyrannies of the frame, text, the actor and the camera, and try to place product in the firing line of these polemics.

Cinematic benchmarks

It is an arrogant assumption to think we can make cultural benchmarks, significant artefacts with which to measure the state of a total practice. Benchmarks, I suspect, are made only after the event. Did Dante know that he was making profound significance with “The Divine Comedy,” a work that self-confessedly suggests an attempt to unite the angels in their heavens with the stones on the road? Did the van Eyck brothers in Ghent with their triptych of the “Adoration of the Lamb,” or Michelangelo, with his view of known beliefs on the Sistine ceiling, know that they were both manufacturing works that would attempt to put everything in one place, ordered, systematic and comprehensible? Would Shakespeare and Cervantes have known that their cultural contributions would occupy the same sort of significance. And did Joyce in writing “Ulysses,” the most influential but least read of the 20th century’s novels, know that, by gathering together every known trope of narrative and storytelling and exposition of experience in words, and thereby having to invent a new sort of word exposition to realise it — did he have consciousness of the bench-mark he was making?

It maybe that the first total cinema masterpiece benchmark was Eisenstein’s “Strike,” made in 1924. From the start of cinema on the 20th December 1895 to Eisenstein’s “Strike” in 1924 is very nearly 28 years — the length of a generation. If the new post-cinema-cinema began on 31st September 1983 — until now — that is 20 years somewhere between next Tuesday and next Wednesday — we have 8 years to go to make the first masterpiece bench-mark of the new visual technologies.

The Tulse Luper Suitcases project hopes to address and answer and find, in a deeply investigative way, some answers to some of these concerns and anxieties. It certainly revolves around, and desires to exploit, interactivity and multi-media. The project is manufactured for exploitation in the cinema, on television, on one or more websites, as a serious collection of DVDs and in association with a library of books, with links to the making of theatre and opera, exhibitions and installations in museums and galleries.

To date, after 13 months of manufacture, there are three hours of highly wrought cinema material shot, edited, and hopefully to be projected on HD television, though as you will see tonight, two hours exist — because the industry is slow to take advantage of the revolution around us — on 35mm film. There are two published books, a play performed in German at the Frankfort National Theatre, and soon to be rehearsed and performed in 12 cities in Holland, and two exhibitions, one in Milan and one currently in Ghent. In the next thirteen months, there will be three new exhibitions – in England, Leipzig and Berlin, two theatre productions in Lille and Bremen, and three more hours of HD material, bringing us up to seven episodes in the 16-episode Tulse Luper saga.

The ambition is to make an integrated product viable and comprehensible in different forms for the first decade of the 21st century, that centres, as its cement and superstructure, around the life and times of its central character Tulse Luper, whose activities are multifarious, though perhaps like us all, he is a professional prisoner. Matching the atomic number of uranium, his life-history covers 92 years. He is 92 tomorrow, the 29th September.

The whole project is an attempt to make a gathering together of today’s languages, to place them alongside one another and get them to converse, and as far as cinematic language is concerned, to find ways out of the above stated tyrannies.

Considering the tyranny of the text

In the first place, though it still begs my anxious questioning of the creation of a visual medium through text, the substance of “The Tulse Luper Suitcases” was written out indeed in words, albeit with a text of some complexity that makes it looks more perhaps like a vertical and horizontal musical score than a conventional film-script.

It is not an adaptation of a book, or a play, or any phenomenon that saw light first as literature of any description. On the argument of “If it itches, scratch it” — the text therefore is much in evidence. I give you frequent doses of the text on screen.

There is a very necessary content reason for this, since it soon becomes evident that the film is happening, so to speak, as it is written, and is, in essence, the deliberate product of a writer, though quite how that shapes up, I do not want to reveal just yet, for that would give away the whole containing conceit of the thing.

Text usually shapes the cinema narrative and certainly provides the cinema dialogue. Conventional cinema seeks to conceal that written textual origin. In the Tulse Luper Suitcases there is no hiding of these origins, and the film is so full of narratives that narrative is often negated by excess, and certainly narrative is constantly interrupted and fragmented by side-bars and listings and sub-narratives, as to make conventional narrative continuity problematic.

Since it would seem text and image are a pair, often of unequal status, and there is much evidence to suggest they have co-existed in painting for much of its history – do not try to break up the unequal, uneasy marriage but seek to exploit it. Acknowledge that most of the images seen in cinema began as textual descriptions, deliberately use text as image, employ calligraphy and typography to define text as that very thing. Contemporary advertising has made of the combination of text and image, an art of its own, and cinema might do well to imitate and develop its exploits.

Considering the tyranny of the frame

Abel Gance with his film “Napoleon” in 1927 developed a three-screen projection, and intimated possible ways to use it. Wide shot, medium shot, close-up; back, front and side; landscape, portrait, still-life. To synchronise three 35mm projections in 1927 was not so easy and the technological experiment essentially stopped with Gance.

There was a wait of some forty years before the technology and thus the possibilities of the language could be resurrected. There was a spate of films in the 1980s where it became not uncommon, more than once associated with movies featuring Steve McQueen, but noticeably the device was a decoration to the narrative not substantial to it, and rarely added more than retinal excitement. Special feature events like the Tokyo Olympic Games with large sums of money to exhibitionistically flaunt, engendered essentially non-narrative multi-screen experiments, by offering only more sheer retinal stimulus and pattern-making, and such language is now the stable diet in pop concerts and video-walls, though rarely structured in other than illustrative and decorative ways.

The conventional cinema cinema still cannot perform multi-screen projection, and until such time it can and will, the single screen can suffice to be spliced, split and fragmented. Multiple screens imply a sense of choice. It is not easy to look at all screens with equal attention simultaneously, choice for major attention has to made, though those choices can be conducted and orchestrated by the director. New digital technology minimises Gance’s difficulties, though as suggested with a single screen agenda.

The Tulse Luper Suitcases” endeavours to utilise and develop a multi-screen language in the various ways Abel Gance anticipated and certainly to take it beyond. Superb steadiness, immaculate framed edges are digitally edited on High Definition tape at increasing near real-time editing speeds. Before, during, after; past present future; fast, slow, slowest, repetitions, reprises, across screen devices of innumerable continuities, developing a language that equates more with human experience in its interactions between reality, memory and imagination.

One of the greatest potential excitements is the ability and freedom now to fashion the frame to suit the content. Very crudely, a snake travelling across the grass suggests a long horizontal frame, a giraffe, a tall vertical one. And morphing such a snake into such a giraffe can be accomplished with hands-on ease. The frame can be cut and cropped with various layers of density, overlap and metamorphosis.

Pre-Renaissance painting, having no imperatives to depict the real, played with subjective scale, and with condensed and simultaneous time, both considerations being relevant to the dictates of theological ideals.

Christ, at the Last Supper, being the most important figure at the table, was depicted physically larger than his disciples. Adam and Eve were tempted, ate the apple, plucked the fig leaves and were expelled from the Garden of Eden all in the same interconnected single space. These are expressionistic devices long explored by painting, and to a certain extent by flourishing comic-book arts, and certainly with renewed interest in the last 150 years after the long years spent pursuing the chimera of reproducing the apparent reality of the eye, real time and true scale.

The digital revolution technologies can re-explore these issues to make — to use a convenience concept-word — an animated cubism. Making for a God-like ubiquity, you can see both sides of the wall, insides and outsides, downstairs and upstairs, macrocosm and microcosm, all at the same time. The historical key markers to a philosophy of the moving image can be profitably revisited and revitalised – Muybridge sequential photography, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, and Marey’s multiple-image fencers, dancers and athletes can resume significance.

The frame has come alive.

It is no longer a passive jail of four right angles.

Considering the tyranny of the actor

The tyranny or conventional dominant contribution of the actor has been considered for some time in the feature films I have made over then past twelve years within bounds of what could be described as a cinema of passionate detachment. It can be characterised by being sparing of close-ups, a desire not to cut the body unless absolutely necessary, and to be aware of the human figure as a strong compositional element within a self-conscious frame, any gestures or actions that are not sympathetic to the visual composition within a frame, will probably be rejected or simply not seen, or if considered a valuable contribution, re-shot, or reformatted to give them visual compositional significance. The camera views I normally employ would rarely be person orientated. For example I would never use an over-shoulder shot in a two-way conversation and viewpoints are constructed from the ideal position of the camera not the eye-line or viewpoint of the character.

In “The Tulse Luper Suitcases,” the use of the actor has been taken further in such directions, which I believe, and certainly many of the actors believe, gives greater scope to their contribution, whilst still holding them firmly within a space that denies orthodox actor dominance.

One of the major metaphors of the project is the saying that there is no such thing as history, there are only historians, that history, in effect, is a highly subjective business recorded with vested interests. Napoleon could have behaved like this, or like this, or like this. That this conversation could have been delivered like this or this or this. That this interpretation of the event could have been melodramatic or sentimental, melancholic or yet again pathetic. Consequently we have tried to give a cinema audience alternatives, certainly in keeping with the interactivity choices laid down in our ambitions, but also to demonstrate that there is no singular verity. We have often given these interpretations simultaneously or overlaid them with one another in a cubist-like phenomenon, editing and layering techniques which could probably only be achieved with the help of the new technologies.

Conventional cinema editing in true cut-and-paste chronology style, gives you one event at a time sequentially. The cinema has never been good, unlike the theatre for example, at simultaneity. The narratives as a consequence often behave like musical scores, deliberately full of repeats and reprises, variations on a theme, returns to explore thematic areas further and in greater detail, often using different actors to play the same role, to interpret the same material. So much is this a characteristic that, within the dramas themselves, the actors are often viewed as actors, though staying inside the film and not outside of it. We see their auditions. We often show different takes of the same action, a characteristic of cinema rarely seen by viewers but extremely commonplace to actors themselves and certainly to all those involved in the making of a film. So although the conventional virtuosity of the actor on screen is denied or at least abrogated to eradicate the tyranny of his contribution, a respect and an acknowledgement for the actor’s essential presence is certainly championed, even extravagantly championed.

Considering the tyranny of the camera

The spectrum of visual possibilities in the manufacture of the moving image is large, and traditionally the feature film only uses a small section of that spectrum, sufficient to realise an illusionist drama. Mixed visual genres in the cinema are not common. I suppose the combination of live action and the cartoon, noticeably celebrated in a film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an example, though it was an experiment not over-enthusiastically copied, and it was a drama that afterall pursued illusionist conceptions, another window-on the world construction, and any Tex Avery self-conscious anarchies, any breaking of the frame techniques, stayed within those conventions.

The days of strict adherence to the Platonic verities, observing singular time, singular place, singular treatment and singular subject, are long gone, and eclecticism is legitimate and honourable. It would be difficult to see how it could be otherwise in an information age with encouraged encyclopaedic thinking.

The supermarket of visual and dramatic possibilities is huge. I believe cinema should seize the opportunity to shop vigourously in the supermarket.

Watching virtually any four minutes of CNN News demonstrates what television has been doing for a long time, using a whole range of communication languages simultaneously. The introduction of more and yet more multiple pictures, lines of moving text, titles, sub-titles, inter-titles, animated diagrams, animated maps, insert talking heads, split screen conversations, has not noticeably created apoplexy in viewers, and though curiously I suspect consciously unaware of the gesture, it is becoming common now for the screen itself to be self referenced with fixed company logos — which really do demonstrate to the viewer that he is watching a screen, and not merely what is conveyed through it.

We have developed habits of visual selection. Largely we take what we want. We can ignore English-language moving text of stock market reports in Tokyo, whilst we focus our attention to watch animated diagrams of hurricanes in Florida, though peripherally we are aware that communications of the world are coming at us fast and furiously. Whilst feature films, Hollywood-style and art-house style, have been pursing the straight and narrow, television has been revelling in communication skills for a long time. Godard suggested that “We look up at cinema, but down at television”, a pointed reference at anatomical reality, but also at snobbish sloth. It is curious that cinema so long regarded as a vulgar medium by the traditional arts has adopted its own snobbisms in the face of competition.

It is a commonplace now that post-production is extremely sophisticated and permeates practically everything we see on screens — not just the ubiquitous dinosaur that is so believable, children are convinced they exist somewhere outside Jurassic Park and demand to see them at the zoo, but clandestinely, polishing up politicians, sexing-up entertainers, erasing mistakes, changing colours, brightening gloomy days, and of course the opposite, adding blood and smoke, transposing grief and pain from one location to another to suit public relations and political expediency. Many years ago, although admiring the technique, we were shocked at the way unwanted politicians disappeared from official Soviet Politburo photographs, such technical manipulations now are commonplace. The ethics are decidedly problematical. But the language, almost what we could call an anti-camera language, is extraordinary.

My fascination and inclination, being interested in process and wishing to demonstrate that process, as well as to give you end-results, solutions and closures, is to use it. If I am making a project whose central metaphor is “there is no such thing as history, there are only historians”, I need to use it. And indeed every possibility of communication by visual image is used. Drama elaborated, Chekovian, kitchen-sink, vaudeville, pantomime, cinema-verite, surveillance, operatic, melodrama, soap-opera, stripped down to a black box, worked up to a David Lean exuberance, pastiche amateur theatricals, talking heads, stand-up comic. And such uses of the actor’s trade are interspliced and elaborated with animated maps and diagrams, cartoon simplicities and cartoon complexities, static and animated texts, multiple typographies and multiple calligraphies. This is an anti-Dogme film. It exuberates and celebrates new cinema language.


Cinema died on the 31st September 1983 when the zapper or the remote control was introduced into the living-rooms of the world. Cinema as our fathers and forefathers knew it was a passive elitist medium, made expensively for the patronised many by the condescending few, with a distribution system that has made its own product virtually unviewable. Now we can break the monopolies, really start with an art of the moving image with viewer participation that can truly empower the imagination, diversify interminably, cater for all, and not patronise audiences. What was cinema? Rows and rows of people sitting still (and who in any other human occupation sits still for 120 minutes?), all looking in one direction (the world is all around you – not just in front of us), in the dark (man is not a nocturnal animal). With a cinema with characteristics like this, perhaps the sooner dead, the better.

Let us rid cinema of the four tyrannies of text, the frame, actors and the camera. But what are we talking about anyway? You haven’t seen any cinema yet, all we have seen is 108 years of illustrated text, and, if you have been lucky, perhaps a little recorded theatre.

Now a cinema of what you think and not what you lazily see is truly possible. Let us seize that nettle and begin the art of the moving image all over again. Every medium needs constant re-invention.

Let us now re-invent that cinema. We can. We now have the most amazing new tools to do so. Now we need the desire and the courage. And this new medium of the moving image will almost certainly not be experienced in those strange high-street pieces of architecture called cinemas.

So-called cinema was invented in 1895. It took 29 years, with Eisenstein’s “Strike” in 1924, to make the first benchmark masterpiece of this new aesthetic-technology of film. If a New Moving Image aesthetic-technology was baptised on 31st September 1983, then we still have a few year’s grace to invent its first benchmark masterpiece.

Well-aware of the dangers of the discrepancies of what I say matching with what I make, I offer you the first toe in the water of an ocean of possibilities in the multi-media, interactive project of “The Tulse Luper Suitcases” — cinema, television, Web site, DVD, library — as a candidate for that benchmark position.

Narrating War: Performance excerpt, Pispala, Tampere, Finland, 2016

This reading from the book took place at The Memorial of the Red Guards, who died during the Finnish Civil War in Pispala, Tampere. The inscription in the stone says, ‘On this Pispala ridge, the Red Guard in Tampere last stood with weopans in hand defending their cause in 1918’.

The project is ongoing and a copy of the book in its current state is donated to the Pispala Library on the occasion of the exhibition, ‘Where does poetry nest?’, on 6th September, 2016 in memory of the over 5000 year old Civil War that the world, it seems, has not seen enough of.

Ali Akbar Mehta


  Missä runous pesii? | Where does poetry nest?
Poetry—an everlasting inquiry of art, drives language outside its
borders. Poetry sets into play every possible moment of
signification by placing the exercise of imagination at the center
of all contradictions. Poetry as an aesthetic praxis outlines our
possibilities to challenge the everyday, locating potential
transformation at the centre of our political enunciations. Poetry
contradicts and slips between the cracks of meaning, propagating
evidence that something else is there. In its intimacy, it draws
complex figures from our emotions, just to blur them into new and
old unreachable impossibles, to keep us moving, desiring.

If we listen to poetry carefully, we realise that it is something social. Its sociality is voiced as a constant transgression to the de politicised forms of enunciation; these poetic echoes keep on challenging every space of retreat. Poetry captures tautology and pushes it to the edges. Since there is no purity in poetry, it confronts general assumptions with a subtle whistle that triggers a dance of our subjectivities, nude and broken out in sweat. There is nothing too radical for poetry; even if something has already been said before, it can always be said differently.

Poetry is looking back at us from the other end laughing,
flirting, fugitive.

Poetry grounds utopia not as something reachable, but as a practice for keeping the unreachable present. Inhabiting between sentences, it bears testimony that other histories have always been present, through gluing their words together. Within it, art becomes our interlocutor for these other histories, always rebelling, always demanding justice and dignity, driven by the air which feeds change. Another history which finds in every wall not a border, but a place for public denouncement and mobilisation.

Where does poetry nest? It is not a question asking for an answer,
but a question mark waiting to be followed.
[*] The Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros recalled this question during his
time in Lecumberri prison: “Where does poetry nest? I can’t say how long ago this
question emerged within me. But it reemerged when I listened to Macario Huízar. And
the first time I followed it through to interrogation was in prison among a group
of dopers.”