Of Dogs and Sheeps
How does the world breathe now?
Session N°16 15.02.2017 19:00
With Julieta Aranda
film When the Dogs Talked 2014 34 minutes
by Karrabing Film Collective and Elizabeth A. Povinelli
film Killer of Sheep 1978 83 minutes
by Charles Burnett
This week we have two rare gems for you: Killer of Sheep examines the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse. Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a coffee cup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife in the living room, holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life – sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.
Killer of Sheep was shot as a thesis film on location in Watts by Charles Burnett, then a 33-year-old graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. The movie was never meant to be shown in public and thus the permission to use the musical passages were never obtained. Finished in 1977 and shown sporadically, its reputation grew and grew until it won a prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival. Only in 2007 were the rights were purchased, the film was restored and transferred from a 16mm to a 35mm print and it received a limited release 30 years after it was completed.
Thematically the film is a reaction against the “blaxploitation” films that were filling downtown theaters in the early ’70s. Killer of Sheep is widely acknowledged as one of the most insightful and authentic dramas about African-American life on film, as well as one of the earliest examples of the politically aware black independent cinema that was taking shape in the 1970s.
Fast forward 36 years to the second movie of the night When the Dogs Talked by the grassroots Indigenous based media group Karrabing Film Collective in Australia: As a group of Indigenous adults argue about whether to save their government housing or their sacred landscape, their children struggle to decide how the ancestral Dreaming makes sense in their contemporary lives. Listening to music on their ipods, walking through bush lands, and boating across seas, they follow their parents on a journey to reenact the travel of the Dog Dreaming. Along the way individuals run out of stamina and boats out of gas, and the children press their parents and each other about why these stories matter and how they make sense in the context of Western understandings of evolution, the soundscapes of hip hop, and the technologies of land development. When the Dogs Talked mixes documentary and fiction to produce a thoughtful yet humorous drama about the everyday obstacles of structural and racialized poverty and the dissonance of cultural narratives and social forms.
The artist Julieta Aranda selected these two movies for our series. Central to her artistic practice are her involvement with circulation mechanisms and the idea of a “poetics of circulation”; her interest on science-fiction, space travel and zones of friction; the possibility of a politicized subjectivity through the perception and use of time, and the notion of power over the imaginary. Julieta Aranda’s work spans installation, video, and print media, with a special interest in the creation and manipulation of artistic exchange and the subversion of traditional notions of commerce through art making. As a co-director of the online platform e-flux together with Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda has developed the projects Time/Bank, Pawnshop, and e-flux video rental, all of which started in the e-flux storefront in New York, and have travelled to many venues worldwide. Aranda’s work has been exhibited internationally, in venues such as the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), Guggenheim Museum (2015, 2009), Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel (2015), Espace Verney – Carron, Lyon (2015), Mana Contemporary, Jersey City (2015), 8th Berlin Biennale (2014), Berardo Museum, Lisbon (2014), Witte de With (2013 and 2010), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce, Genova (2013), MACRO Roma (2012) Documenta 13 (2012), N.B.K. (2012), Gwangju Biennial (2012), 54th Venice Biennial (2011), Istanbul Biennial (2011), Portikus, Frankfurt (2011), New Museum NY (2010), Kunstverein Arnsberg (2010), MOCA Miami (2009), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2007), 2nd Moscow Biennial (2007) MUSAC, Spain (2010 and 2006), and VII Havana Biennial; amongst many others.