Sensory Ethnography Lab: Experiments with Cinema


Sunday, August 7, 2016, 1:00pm


Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy St

Presented by: Harvard Art Museums
Admission: Free

Screenings in Menschel Hall: The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees (2014); Lampedusa (2015); and Songhua (2007).

This series highlights contemporary work produced at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) exploring the intersection of cinema and anthropology. Directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and managed by Ernst Karel, the lab provides an academic context for the development of creative works that test and respond to the traditions of documentary film. Anthropologists and artists who conduct research at the SEL investigate processes of realism and representation, expanding the potential of visual and acoustic media to represent indigeneity and alterity, lived experience and cultural difference, around the world.
The depictions of landscape and time presented in this series resonate with those found in the Harvard Art Museums’ special exhibition Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia (February 5–September 18, 2016) and in Ben Rivers’s nine-channel installation The Shape of Things (July 1–October 25, 2016), commissioned as a project for the museums’ Lightbox Gallery, on Level 5. Each of these projects challenges our relationship to the past, revealing new strategies for encountering ancestral and natural worlds.

Join us for weekly Sunday programs during the run of the series.

About today’s films:
The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees (2014)
17 min; color; Portuguese
Lampedusa (2015)
14 min.; color/black and white; Italian, English, and French
Songhua (2007)
28 min.; color; Mandarin with English subtitles

The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees
With its indelible images and an air of mystery, Joana Pimenta’s The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees mines an archive of correspondence between the island of Madeira and the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique. Because Pimenta’s source material is supplemented by fictive memories, imagination comes to fill in the lacunae of a long-suppressed history. Part postcard, part landscape film, part auto-fiction, The Figures Carved is both a sensual and sensory experience.

Combining high-definition and Super 8 footage, Philip Cartelli and Mariangela Ciccarello’s Lampedusa is composed of interwoven narratives based on a series of real events. In 1831, off the southern coast of Sicily, a volcanic island suddenly erupted from the sea. An international dispute ensued, as a number of European powers laid claim to this newfound “land.” The island receded below sea level six months later, leaving only a rocky ledge under the sea.

In northeastern China, the Songhua River flows west from the border of Russia to the city of Harbin, where four million people rely on it as a source of water. Songhua is a portrait of the people that gather where the river meets the city, and an ethnographic study of the intimate ways in which they play and work.

Through a series of interchanging and overlapping vignettes, filmmaker J. P. Sniadecki presents a full range of the river’s value: from couples who fly kites or play cards by its shoreline, to fishermen who drag nets through its waters, to a vendor who relies on its attraction as a popular destination to sell his pinwheels. The river is a place containing multitudes, where a woman cleans up every single piece of trash along the bank, and a boy plays in the sand and drinks from a stagnant river pool littered with debris.

Filmed only one year after a major chemical spill (one of the largest river spills in recent years), Songhua is at once a tender record of interactions with the natural waterway, and a subtle, but dark, consideration of the societal and environmental implications of the river’s condition.

The screenings will be held in Menschel Hall, Lower Level.

Free admission

Support for this program is provided by the Richard L. Menschel Endowment Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.

Lead support for Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia and related research has been provided by the Harvard Committee on Australian Studies. The exhibition is supported by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Consulate-General, New York.