European Travellers in Palestine: The Issue of Trust and “Political Correctness” in the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum and Ursula Biemann’s X-Mission

Talk by Gil Pasternak
19 November 2012
ICS Cinema, the University of Leeds, in collaboration with Pavilion

Video still: Ursula Biemann, “X-Mission”, 2008

In this talk I will peruse the visual traditions utilised in Nervus Rerum (2008) and X-Mission (2008) with a view to investigating what support they offer to the informative and political values these two video essays diffuse. Both the Otolith Group and Biemann’s work focus on the perceived physical, political and existential conditions shared by Palestinian refugees. Nervus Rerum is explicitly preoccupied with the challenge of representing people who have no formal political representation. Likewise, X-Mission employs pseudo-scientific informative conventions to portray an incoherent Palestinian reality, isolated from the realities of any other refugees. I will suggest that in both of these cases, the Palestinian people paradoxically emerge as “modern heroes”, engaged with political thought and in global politics while recognising a necessity to obliterate these if they wish to earn political emancipation. Yet, as the Palestinian people have been internationally deprived of any formal representative political agency, the Otolith Group as well as Biemann’s video essays cannot be perceived as loyal to the Palestinian cause or experience. Instead, I will propose to think of them in line with the nineteenth-century representational conventions used in colonialist travellers’ diaries. As such, Nervus Rerum and X-Mission are understood as audio-visual documents that give expression to European post-colonialist desires in the era of “political correctness”.

Video still: The Otolith Group, “Nervus Rerum”, 2008

I will be giving this talk as part of A Thing Like You and Me, a four-part screening and talks programme supported by the Arts Council England, PVAC and Pavilion arts organisation. The screening programme explores the relationship of the documentary ‘real’ and essayistic ‘fiction’ in contemporary artists’ video works, in both their analogue and digital form. The series re-examines the politics of representation, and the question of looking ‘at’ and ‘to’ one another in the twenty-first century. A Thing Like You and Me has been conceived and organised by Amy Charlesworth (a doctoral student at the University of Leeds) in collaboration with Director of Pavilion, Gill Park.

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