Kelly,

This is an interesting question, and it demands a complicated answer.  First, I 
think it's important to note that abstraction is not an absolute but that 
there's a large gray area between abstraction and representation.  I'd argue 
that many if not most experimental films inhabit that gray area.  I'd say these 
films "tend toward abstraction" but I wouldn't simply say they "are abstract."  
So a videotape like Jackie Goss's "There There Square" plays with forms of 
abstraction (in the morphing, sometimes roughly drawn outlines of states and 
the U.S.) and her intro and outro sequences are fully abstract (colored squares 
that float around in relationship to one another).  "There There Square" is 
also (obviously?) political, in the way it wants to think about cartography and 
our imagination of boundaries.

But then there are fully abstract works, like some of Brakhage's hand-painted 
films.  There is certainly a politics to the making of abstract works--a 
refusal of normative visual codes, a challenge to the viewer to reimagine her 
or his relationship to cinema, etc.  And these politics are surely different in 
different historical moments, depending on what the aims of that abstract 
gesture are (refusal of Hollywood's codes,  a representation of closed-eye 
vision, etc.)

But since you've used a very specific language ("films/videos that use 
abstraction TO ADDRESS political, social, or cultural histories"), I assume you 
mean a more direct and specific engagement with specific political issues.  In 
that case, I think we'd have to be in the realm of films that tend toward 
abstraction rather than the fully abstract.  Many found footage films do this 
kind of work (abstracting from a representational original)--Chris Harris's 
"Reckless Eyeballing" comes immediately to mind, but there are dozens and 
dozens more in this mode.  

And then there are films that are shot or processed using techniques that 
abstract the image (shooting through glass, shooting reflections, 
hand-processing, pushing film to increase grain, using macrophotography to 
isolate textures, etc.).  Lawrence Brose's De Profundis, especially important 
at this moment due to his current legal travails, uses a number of these 
techniques to abstract both found and original footage, but again, that's just 
one example of hundreds.

Hope this helps as a starting point for what's potentially a very big 
conversation.  (For those with long histories on Frameworks, I know we've been 
on this merry-go-round before.  I don't propose to rekindle the fires of those 
old flame wars, so hopefully it'll be possible to lay this out without having 
to "choose sides.")

...
Roger

On Oct 6, 2013, at 10:59 PM, Kelly Sears wrote:

> Dear frameworkers,
> 
> I would love to pick your collective brain about some film/videos that use 
> abstraction to address political, social, or cultural histories.   I would 
> double love it if anyone had any suggestions of writings on this topic as 
> well.  I'm interested in learning more about how this visual strategy and 
> lack of the figurative or representational could be used in a 
> political/critical way.
> 
> Many thank yous.
> 
> Kelly
> 
> 
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