Material Resistance: Allan Sekula’s Forgotten Space
Published June 24, 2011
“The film-makers’ decision to orient The Forgotten Space’s otherwise discontinuous narrative around the image of a horizon-bound ship seems to be not only strategic but also highly symbolic in that it brings the representational iconography of the cargo box to the centre of the film’s structure. In the concluding section of his essay ‘Dismal Science’, Sekula describes the container as the ‘single object that can be said to embody the disavowal implicit in the transnational bourgeoisie’s fantasy of a world of wealth without workers […] the very coffin of remote labour-power’. By comparing the formal characteristics of these metal structures with such Pop age emblems as Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (1964), Dan Graham’s Homes for America (1966–67), and Robert Smithson’s A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic (1967), he effectively reintroduces the submerged concept of labour to a formalist language of high Modernism. The art world’s embrace of perfected geometries and minimalist abstractions, which often results in the exclusion of ideology or politics, is positioned in parallel to the segregation of the uncontrollable ‘messiness’ of labour from post-industrial fantasies of standardisation and instantaneity – what Sekula calls ‘the illusory uniformity imposed by packaging, a uniformity that hides the chaotic restlessness and indifference of the profit motive’. By making a film that exposes the dominant beliefs of post-industrialism as pure myth, Burch and Sekula not only reintroduce the material intractability of global trade to the story of international capitalism, they also make visible the integral importance of labour within a discourse of artistic modernism and the filmic avant-garde.”
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