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Filipa César and Louis Henderson, Refracted Spaces, 2017. Co-commissioned by Gasworks and Contour Biennale 8. Courtesy of the artists.

Gasworks presents Refracted Spaces, a research seminar convened by Filipa César and Louis Henderson. Developed as a way to expand on their ongoing research for their current exhibition at Gasworks, Op Film: An Archaeology of Optics, the event situates their collaborative work in a wider context by incorporating the critical perspectives and practices of various other thinkers, researchers and artists.

Together with Zach Blas, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Ana Naomi de Sousa, Olivier Marboeuf, Margarida Mendes, Rachel O'Reilly, Lorenzo Pezzani and Roque Pina, the artists will discuss the themes of their exhibition in relation to topics ranging from indigenous sea-navigation methods and cartographic law to forensic research of the Mediterranean refugee crisis; from aesthetic strategies of nonlocality, opacity and obscurity that interrupt optical surveillance to systemic racism embedded within technological developments; and from the materiality and ontology of blackness and black light to afrofuturist narratives of submarine resistance.

Friday 2 June, offsite at Close-Up Film Centre

7pm: Introduction

7.15pm: Reading by Filipa César and Louis Henderson

7.45—9.15pm: Margarida Mendes presents Theatre of Optics, a ritual projection of moving image works that dwell on the electrical grid and its spells, exploring how the rhythms and anxieties produced by the infrastructural properties of light elicit expanded sensorial perception. Please note that this screening programme contains flashing images and is therefore not recommended for people with photosensitive epilepsy. The programme includes the following works:

Walter Ruttman
Opus I, 1921, 11’10”, 35mm
Opus II, 1921, 3’20”, 16mm
Opus III, 1924, 3’20”, 16mm
Opus IV, 1925, 4’, 16mm

Premiered in 1921, Ruttmann’s Opus 1 is the first abstract or “absolute” work in film history. Rather than depicting reality, it consists entirely of the colours and shapes already formulated in Ruttmann’s 1919 Painting With Light manifesto. In this text he writes that one has to “work with film as though using a paintbrush and paint”. Protecting his work with a patent in 1920, he continued to focus on producing abstract and painterly image sequences. Following the neglected Opus 1 come three other abstract films, Opus II, III, IV, also coloured by hand, with original scores. – edited from an original text available on Media Kunst Net

Mary Ellen Bute
Rhythm in Light, 1935, 4’, B&W, 16mm

Screen titles introduce the film as a modern artist’s impressions of what goes on in the mind while listening to music. Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite accompanies images of common objects and abstract forms photographed in soft focus and through prisms: rings, pyramids, a staff of musical notes and floating lights are all seen in multiple images, sometimes as if through a kaleidoscope, other times as if in animation. Images appear and patterns move across the screen. Sparklers celebrate at the film's end. – J Hailey

James Whitney
YANTRA, 1950-1957, 8’, Colour w/ sound, 16mm

The repeated and accelerating flicker between black and white or solid colour frames photo-kinetically induces an alpha meditative state. Into the climax of these generative alternations of spectral opposites, the dots enter and enact movements which are as carefully choreographed in the sense of purely visual music as had been the imagery in the Whitney brothers’ Film Exercises, including variations, inversions, harmonic and contrapuntal balances and imbalances, etc. The screen is scrupulously sustained as a flat expository surface, and a reflexive consciousness of the film material process is maintained by the use of flickers, transparent/white backgrounds, scratches, and solarised, step-printed episodes, in which the hand-wrought, irregular textures also recall both James' expertise as a raku potter and the alchemical processes of transmuting elements, in this case the coloured chemicals of the film emulsion by the solar fire. – edited from an original text by William Moritz, available on Lightcone’s website

Laleh Khorramian
Water Panics in the Sea, 2011, 14’, Colour w/ sound, digital stop-frame animation

Water Panics in the Sea seeks to question habituated perception through an intricate use of scaling effects. The film is constructed through a process of iterative magnification and the manipulation of minute details derived from mono-type prints and drawings by artist Laleh Khorramian. Reflecting on human themes of odyssey and conquest, the film follows the voyage of a ghost ship as it traverses the ocean waters through accelerated, infinitesimal worlds. Soundtrack composed by Shahzad Ismaily. – Margarida Mendes

Tony Conrad
The Flicker, 1966, 30’, B&W, 16mm

An expanded dream machine, Tony Conrad's The Flicker is a light odyssey that explores the impact of light on the viewer’s retina, producing hallucinatory patterns as afterimages. Releasing film from the constraints of the frame, its structure expands from intervals of black and white frames of uneven duration that intervene directly in the alpha wave production and scanning mechanisms of the brain, stressing the effects of strobe on the generation of colour and visual patterns. – Margarida Mendes

Distribution: LUX, London; Arsenal, Berlin; and Cinédoc Paris Films Coop


Saturday 3 June at Gasworks

10.30am: Introduction

10.45am: Rachel O'Reilly, Notes on the Persistence of the Mercantile

These notes connecting property, comportment and neocolonial mercantile operations, including in culture, take off from the North-South formatting of the land/sea border in Enlightenment laws of conquest, and the title-by-registration system of British colonial land law, both design-products of mercantilism, to comprehend the persistence of ethnocidal and ecocidal logics in ‘Aid-to-trade’ masquerades threatening ocean ecologies and littoral-zoned livelihoods in the South (Australia and Indonesia being the most familiar contested port and ocean industrializations studied here). While art and curatorial practices – instituted or not – can never read-to-meet the destructiveness of capital in this under-figured contemporary at any comparable scale, what, still, are our options for production, research and exchange outside of eliminative ideals of propertitised earth and free liquid seas? How to work against an ordinary of necropolitical navigation in our own practices? Who keeps the sea – and its metaphors of operationality – for a white/Northern minority?

11.30am: Filipa César and Louis Henderson in conversation with Roque Pina, the protagonist of their film Sunstone and the keeper of the lighthouse at Cabo da Roca, Portugal – the westernmost point of continental Europe.

12.15pm: Lorenzo Pezzani

An ambivalent aesthetic regime is at play at the EU’s maritime frontier, one which creates particular conditions of (dis)appearance, (in)audibility, (in)visibility. To the selective spectacularisation of border enforcement corresponds the “silent” death of thousands of migrants at sea. In his presentation, Lorenzo Pezzani will talk about how various projects in which he has been involved have tried to challenge this partition of the sensible by mobilising surveillance technologies against the grain – not for the purpose of policing illegalised migration, but rather to expose the violence it produces.

1pm: Lunch

2pm: Ana Naomi de Sousa

Ana Naomi de Sousa’s presentation draws on her recent work on institutionalised racism in Portugal. It links the organisation of space in the Portuguese colonies to the exclusion from full citizenship of principally Afro-descendent immigrants and residents in Portugal via the ghettoization of the communities over several decades, and the failures of a national urbanization programme that begun in the 1990s. She will also discuss the resurgence of a Luso-tropicalist mythology that has made it possible for the Portuguese State and society to deny the possibility of racism at all, thus silencing the claims of various communities whose experiences tell a very different story.  

2.45pm: Zach Blas, “People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque.”

In her seminal 1988 essay Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective, Donna Haraway critiques visualization technologies that permit an infinite, disembodied vision from nowhere, what she terms “the god-trick.” Against the god-trick, Haraway develops a theory of vision that is situated, embodied, and objective. This talk will advance the god-trick and situated vision into the realm of security and surveillance today, by considering how machinic visualizations, such as biometric analysis or airport body scanners, utilize reductive and disembodied algorithmic processes to capture the objective truth of people. Such a constriction of embodiment will also be considered as a violation of opacity. Thus, the question will be posed: how can the material, opaque, and embodied dimensions of existence be mobilized against reductive algorithmic visualities that are marshalled to police and criminalise populations around the world.

3.30pm: Olivier Marboeuf, An Ecology of Shadow (Speak Low)

In the age of hyper-mediatization and the capitalization of knowledge, Olivier Marboeuf is interested in the specific conditions of transmission of minority practices, strategies and forms of life. By speaking of an ecology of shadow, he tries to define a space for secrecy, a retreat from light that is necessary for the sharing of experiences and situations of knowledge that exist underneath the speakable and visible and that engage the body as cure. Situations of presence and goodwill that create an ephemeral space that counters the reification of culture in the form of institutions. How can we welcome that which has not yet been named and emerges unexpectedly? How do we take stock of it? Perhaps by utilising the forces of speculative narration, which translate an experience without overtly telling it, by remaining in its peripheries with neither map nor light, and permitting it to be felt.

4.15pm: Tea break

4.30pm: Denise Ferreira da Silva (via Skype)

In this talk Denise Ferreira da Silva will take Otobong Nkanga’s distinction between 'spaces of obscurity' and 'places of shine’ to explore and dissolve the scene of economic value. More specifically, she will read in Nkanga’s reflections on the production of such spaces an invitation to explore visibility’s work, to attend to what it does both in regards to what shines/has value and to that which does not, in what is just thing.


Zach Blas is an artist and writer whose practice engages technics and minoritarian politics. He is currently a Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. Blas has exhibited and lectured internationally, recently at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; eflux, New York; and Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City. Blas’s artist monograph Escaping the Face will be published by Sternberg Press and Rhizome in 2017. His work has been written about and featured in Artforum, Frieze, Art Papers, Mousse Magazine, and Art Review.

Filipa César is an artist and filmmaker interested in the fictional aspects of the documentary, the porous borders between cinema and its reception, and the politics and poetics inherent to moving image. Since 2011, César has been looking into the origins of cinema of the African Liberation Movement in Guinea Bissau as a laboratory of resistance to ruling epistemologies. Selected exhibitions and screenings have taken place at: 29th São Paulo Biennial, 2010; Manifesta 8, Cartagena, 2010; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2011–15; Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2012; Kunstwerke, Berlin, 2013; SAAVY Contemporary, Berlin 2014–15; Futura, Prague 2015; Tensta konsthall, Spånga, 2015; and Mumok, Vienna, 2016. César premiered her first feature length essay-film Spell Reel at the Forum section of the 67. Berlinale, 2017.

Denise Ferreira da Silva, PhD is the Director of The Social Justice Institute (GRSJ) at the University of British Columbia, Visiting Professor of Law at Birkbeck-University of London (UK), and Adjunct Professor of Curatorial Practice at MADA-Monash University (Australia). Her academic writings and artistic practice address the ethical questions of the global present and target the metaphysical and onto-epistemological dimensions of modern thought. Academic publications include Toward a Global Idea of Race (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and the edited volume Race, Empire, and The Crisis of the Subprime (with Paula Chakravartty, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). She has written for publications of the 2016 Liverpool and Sao Paulo Biennials as well as for the 2017 Documenta 14 – Reader and Venice Biennale. Her artistic work includes collaborations, such as the films Serpent Rain (with Arjuna Neuman, 2016) and the 2014 play Return of the Vanished Peasant (with Rosalind Martin) as well as events and texts which are part of her Poethical Readings and the Sensing Salon practices (with Valentina Desideri). She was an advisor to Natasha Ginwala, curator of the Contour 8 Biennale (Mechelen, 2017).

Ana Naomi de Sousa is an independent documentary filmmaker and journalist who is interested in spatial politics, race, historical memory, popular culture and political activism. She is the director of the films The Architecture of Violence; Angola - Birth of a Movement; Guerrilla Architect; and Hacking Madrid; and film co-director on the project Saydnaya: Inside a Syrian Torture Prison. She collaborates with the Forensic Architecture agency, and writes for Al Jazeera English and the Guardian, among others. She is currently developing her first feature-length film. 

Louis Henderson is an artist and filmmaker whose works investigate connections between colonialism, technology, capitalism and history. Henderson has shown his work at places such as: Rotterdam International Film Festival, Doc Lisboa, CPH:DOX, New York Film Festival, The Contour Biennial, The Kiev Biennial, The Centre Pompidou, SAVVY Contemporary, The Gene Siskell Film Centre and Tate Britain. In 2015 he was the recipient of the Barbara Aronofsky Latham Award for Emerging Video Artist at the 53rd Ann Arbor Film Festival, USA, and a European Short Film Award—New Horizons International Film Festival, Wroclaw, Poland. His work is distributed by LUX (UK) and Video Data Bank (USA).

Olivier Marboeuf is an author, performer, independent curator and the founder of the art centre Espace Khiasma, which he has directed since 2004 in Les Lilas, on the outskirts of Paris. He has developed a programme centred around social realities and contemporary politics, which associates performances, debates and exhibitions, and questions the place of discourse and oral expression in the arts. Interested by the dynamics of narrative speculations as tools for critical theory, his research has progressively led him to explore contemporary cinematographic practices (collaborating on exhibitions with Vincent Meessen, Alexander Schelow, Sandy Amerio, Matthieu K. Abonnenc, Brad Butler and Karen Mirza). Since 2010 he has produced films for exhibitions, which are subsequently presented in diverse festivals in France and abroad. In 2013 he participated in the creation of a production company Spectre, whose objective is to offer a structure of support for ambitious projects of artists and filmmakers. Among them: Louis Henderson, Filipa César, Ana Vaz, Eric Baudelaire, Ismaïl Bahri, Jean-Charles Hue and Dorothée Smith.

Margarida Mendes is a researcher, curator, activist, and co-director of escuelita at Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo Madrid - CA2M. In 2016 she was part of the curatorial team of the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, and between 2009 and 2015 directed the project space The Barber Shop in Lisbon, where she hosted a programme of seminars and residencies dedicated to artistic and philosophical research. Exploring the overlap between cybernetics, the history of science, extractivism, cosmology and experimental film, her personal research investigates the dynamic transformations of the environment and their impact on social structures and cultural production. Some of these concerns have been further explored telephone-based project The World in Which We Occur, co-directed with Jennifer Teets. Margarida holds an MA in Aural and Visual Culture from Goldsmiths College, London, and in 2013 she was part of the Synapse Curatorial Research Group included in the Anthropocene Project at Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, publishing in the volume Textures of the Anthropocene: Grain Vapor Ray, edited by MIT Press (Cambridge, MA)

Rachel O’Reilly is an Australian-born writer/artist/poet, independent researcher, curator and educator, whose work bridges art and situated cultural politics, media philosophy and political economy. She trained as a curator of international and Asia Pacific film, video and new media (Gallery of Modern Art and Australian Cinematheque 2004-08, Asia Pacific Triennial 2008), and has an MA (Cum Laude) in Media and Culture from the University of Amsterdam (2012). From 2013-14 she was a researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academie, NL where she incepted the artistic research project, The Gas Imaginary, exploring the aesthetic politics of 'unconventional extraction' (esp. fracking) investments in settler colonial space. Her artistic work has been presented at Tate Livepool, David Roberts Art Foundation, London, Museum of Yugloslav History, Belgrade, BAK, Utrecht, Jakarta Biennale, Qalandiya International, Jerusalem; her academic writing published by Cambridge Scholars Press, MIT Press, and Postcolonial Studies journal among others. She writes with Danny Butt on artistic autonomy in settler colonial space and with Jelena Vesic and Vlidi Jeri on the legacies of Non-Aligned Movement, and teaches the seminar 'At the Limits of the Writerly' as part of the ‘How to Do Things with Theory’ program at the Dutch Art Institute, NL.

Lorenzo Pezzani is Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he leads the Forensic Architecture MA studio. His work deals with the spatial politics and visual cultures of migration, with a particular focus on the geography of the ocean. Since 2011, he has been working on Forensic Oceanography, a collaborative project that critically investigates the militarized border regime in the Mediterranean Sea. Together with a wide network of NGOs, scientists, journalists and activist groups, he has produced maps, visualizations and human right reports that attempt to document the violence perpetrated against migrants at sea and challenge the regime of visibility imposed by surveillance means on this contested area.

Roque Pina (1968, Praia, Cape Verde) has lived and worked on the Portuguese Coast since 1998, due to the demands of his profession as lighthouse keeper. He was trained as electrical technical engineer at ISEL (Lisbon), has a post-graduate degree in Electronic Marine Systems and currently attends a Master’s programme in Information Security and Law in Cyberspace at the University of Lisbon. Pina develops computer programs and gives IT support to the Direction of Lighthouses (Portuguese Marines). Pina has worked at the lighthouses of Aveiro and Leça and is currently Head Lighthouse Keeper at Cabo da Roca.