Pad.ma 2009: Lawrence Liang and Following Discussion
Duration: 00:40:42; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 26.719; Saturation: 0.170; Lightness: 0.238; Volume: 0.182; Cuts per Minute: 1.278; Words per Minute: 142.551
Lawrence Liang, active member of the Alternate Law Forum
and one of the founders of Pad.ma, made a presentation on the relationship between the image, politics and the distribution of the sensible. Drawing form Jacques Ranciere, Lawrence argued that politics was already aesthetics, in that ideas of the political often draw from sensorial metaphors such as visibility and invisibility, and politics may consist of interruptions/interventions in the distribution of the sensible, which modify the aesthetico-political field.
He tried to link this to an understanding of the political which is not dependent on a pre-determined political field, but which is open to redefinition through a reversal of assumptions of social roles. In the case of pad.ma, the blurring of the lines between image makers and image "readers" would constitute such an aesthetic-political interruption.
For Liang's contributions to Pad.ma, see:
For a report on the event, see http://camputer.org/event.php?id=75
Lawrence Liang: ...there's a phone over here...
SB: My phone...!
LL: Friends, the public launch of Pad.ma is a rather appropriate ending to what has been a rather strange 10 days. Because in many ways we've already seen what a strange object in open space Pad.ma is. Around the first half of the last 10 days I spent in a workshop and in an interview and in conversations with a French philosopher called Jacques Ranciere, who was down in Delhi. And the second half of the 10 days was spent in the protection of the Pink Chaddies Campaign. And there's something very interesting about this culmination of Ranciere, pink panties and Pad.ma which I think is really what I want to talk about. Because Ranciere spoke about the heavy burden of being the French intellectual and being the inheritor after Foucault's death and Derrida's death, etc, the French thought which I completely share as the Indian-Chinese thinker(?) its a heavy burden that one bears.
But Ranciere's work in many ways, is interesting because its really about looking afresh at the question of the political. And in many ways ...mine is a really short presentation where I just want to kind of raise a couple of questions. Because all the lot here while we were talking to the film makers, one of the persistent questions that kept coming up was the nature of the image and its relation to something called the Political. Particularly while talking to documentary film makers, the idea of making films which are subconsciously political in a particular way and hence, the question of the publicness of these images, as well as the question of their kind of life, as it were, in an archive like Pad.ma, has been a ground of rather contentious debate.
Who are We hall, Nehru Centre, Worli
LL: And I will just open out a couple of questions, because in many ways movement from Ranciere to pink chaddies was rather interesting. The Pink Chaddies campaign, which despite its rather kind of you know...flippant, almost mocking status was a really interesting experience over the last 4 days, when exactly a lot of the anxieties, a lot of questions about what constitutes the domain of the political were really opened out for us.
You know who would have thought that one day one would be rallying around something like Valentine's Day, right, as an act of political protest.
But given what has happened in Karnataka over the last many years, with the BJP coming into power and the kind of absolute communalising of every life in Mangalore, there is some emergence of this poster and the book...or page on Facebook which is a consortium of loose pub-going and forward women with an image of a pink panty and a request for these panties to be sent to Mumbai and to the Sri Ram Sena. It was this kind of massive thing that happened.
LL: So all of a sudden...I felt it was as much a challenge to the older social movements and kind of political mobilisation as it was to the Sri Ram Sena. Because one of the responses of course to this was that how can one even engage in a campaign called 'The Pink Chaddi' campaign?! Its absolutely flippant! Because of the idea that this is somehow not political. Its created by elite pub-going women and do not actually articulate the concerns of the real women, struggling masses, etc.
So the usual kind of response is that this is not worth supporting. There was a meeting that had happened in our office where there were around 12 organisations involved, and all of them responded to the idea that somehow we are talking about serious issues here. We are not talking about pink chaddies.
LL: And the last 3 days, its not just the success of the campaign, but the very idea that an opened out space in which all these various kinds of connotations and debates were actually taking place, is to me, in many ways an interesting link between Ranciere, Pad.ma and Pink panties. So I just want to kind of open out and think through.
Ranciere's rethinking of the idea of the political is really located in many ways in his understanding of experiments. And its really this kind of convergence, for Ranciere, political and the aesthetic where he argues that the political has always been aesthetic. And how does he make this argument?
He makes this argument when he looks at the sphere of the political as that which he describes as a certain kind of a distribution of the sensible, or of sensibilities. There's a lot that I picked up from Kaushik's presentation, what I've been thinking about..
LL: Because he says that if you take ...what is that core, and certain kind of ideas of the freedom of political, whether equality, participation, democracy are certain economies of visibility and invisisbility, audibility and inaudibility, that there are a lot of these political metaphors which are extremely related to the senses, or to the sense (?) at work. So the idea of a certain kind of giving of voice or an articulation of that which is repressed or maybe that which is invisible, etc. is essential to the heart of the idea of politics. But what is very often ignored is precisely their sense of reality. That is an essential nature.
LL: So Ranciere's argument of the political had somehow already been constituted, ...which is constituted by this idea of the distribution of the senses and of sensibilities across time, across space and across positions that one occupies in time-space, is a rather kind of intriguing view. I mean its not there for (?) but I want to pick it up for a couple of things.
So his argument that politics is already aethetic and in many ways if one could think of what constitutes a political act or a political action. For Ranciere it consists of creation of interruptions or interventions in this realm of the distribution of the sensible.
LL: A certain kind of an act that errupts or creates a mode where there is a redistribution of the aesthetic political field, which for him is actually the domain of what political action is about. So the sudden appearance of a pink panty and a call for a pink panty to be sent creates a realm of action which is not only in relation to a progressive versus right-wing or progressive versus regressive, etc. But the very idea of progressive itself opens out immediately, in some senses. And what's interesting here I think is the idea that the pink panty here is an evocative symbol which does not actually have any fixed referent or meaning. Its a whole range. For some people it is of course the articulation of a certain kind of, you know, elite sense of activism, or middle class sense of activism. While for others, it was an extremely important kind of rejection of the forms in which certain kinds of left politics etc are always in favour of. But the idea of the political is therefore not...or does not refer to any kind of A priori political field, but is actually constantly going through various acts, some of which are dependant on the transformation of the well known aesthetic co-ordinates of political life.
LL: Now that's what I wanted to draw out from Ranciere. And I want to look at this in relation to the world that a lot of us in this room are concerned with. Which is the entire world of media, and of images, and of image production. And how does this link to an initiative like Pad.ma? And in this in some sense my kind of reading of Pad.ma itself.
The distribution of sensibilities and of the senses in the hyper-mediatised world has kind of been theorised about. Everyone knows this- the entire idea of images assaulting us, from the situationals to the world at large etc., a whole range of theories around what this hyper-visualised (?) etc is. I'm not going into that.
I'm interested in a certain kind of manner in which there is a paradox which constantly faces us. And the paradox is also one of a certain idea of the political. And the paradox is about this question of the democratisation of the media. Because on the one hand there is this entire rhetoric around how there is a certain democratisation of the media. And this is particularly an account that takes place in terms of lowering of the cost of technology, greater number of people who are able to participate in the making of media whether through the internet, blogs, mobile phones, you know, whole range of micro-content which was not otherwise available.
LL: So there is this kind of rhetoric that happens on the certain idea of democratisation. At the same time, there is great anxiety or concern articulated about a certain kind of monopolisation / stricter hierarchies which are created as a result of certain kinds of media monopolisation or a certain kind of political economy logic in which global corporate media plays itself out. And this paradox is interesting because in some senses one of the questions of course is, how does this relate to something like the distribution of the sensible or of the senses. What are the ways in which one can actually relate this idea of an alleged democratisation on the one hand, and at the same time the equal rhetoric of the fact that no one is able to participate, or no one has a say within the world of the media.
And I think there is a certain kind of a zone of indeterminacy which people are occupying. And its not completely settled at the moment. We are indeed occupying a space which is slightly open to the possibilities that there is no clear political solution, or a fixed idea of politics that can determine what an engagement with this kind of intermediate space is about.
LL: You know there are all kinds of anxieties, for example which are created, not in terms of ownership and control etc, but on the idea of the authority of knowledge. How can one trust Wikipedia? Wikipedia can be edited by anyone else. So there is this entire idea of authority. And there has been an equal number of concerns over the last year articulated on the idea of what does it mean to think about the distribution of images in terms of their political content, the ethical relationship the film maker may have had to the subject of the film in terms of confidentiality, privacy etc, as well as to the aesthet question.
There is something interesting this moment which we are occupying. Pad.ma in a sense also symbolises a lot of these anxieties. There is an interesting idea within Japanese political thought, there's a word called 'Kougai' which refers to that what you can roughly translate as the public sphere.
LL: ...zone or entering of a new space where the eye has not yet settled into fixed positions. As a result of which there are a range of possibilties that open out. So people could on one hand play out roles which are not normally assigned to them or play out or act out in ways which are not their normal kind of roles. And at the same time it also takes the eye some amount of time to fix itself without a guarantee or stability of the visual that it sees on what it determines to be the relation to the field of vision that it occupies.
I think this idea of 'Kougai' is an interesting way for us to think about this new space that we seem to be in, which is also about equally rethinking of the idea of what does the distribution of the sensible in this particular sense mean?
When the senses itself are kind of the site of conflict, whether on the one hand by the eyeball(?) logic of large global corporate media or on the other hand this alleged democratisation that's happened.
LL: And its also about redefining them, sense and sensibilities.
The third thing I kind of want to look at then, is how does Pad.ma relate to these ideas? How does it relate for example to the Ranciere idea of rethinking the political, but also then equally to this idea of the sensibilities and the redistribution.
I like to think very often of Pad.ma, as an experiment or a political intervention that occupies this space called the 'Kugai', where there are a range of possibilities which are open, but they are also dependent on redefinition of what are the known rules. Known rules in terms of rules of participation, but equally rules of the ideas of the political, etc. One of the things that Pad.ma for example relies on, is the redrawing of this kind of line that has always existed between the maker of the image, the interpreter of the image, and the passive consumer of the image. And this kind of manner in which a particular form which has emerged in the Pad.ma interface where there is a kind of blurring, and its not an easy blurring. There are difficulties involved in the translation of these social rules. But there is undoubtedly an attempt to kind of blur what some of these lines are.
LL: ...As also a challenge to rethink the idea of who is allowed to do what, because that is at the heart of the distribution of the sensible. Ranciere's entire idea that there is something called the aesthetic that already predefines the political, is built on the idea of who has access to forms of sensibilities. The worker was always supposed to work, and not write bad verses, and the thinker was always supposed to think. So this kind of distribution of the sensible already precedes a certain logic of the political. And I think Pad.ma's intervention in actually trying to redefine a certain logic of who is allowed to do what, and what then, is created as a result of this transgression of one's known roles.
When Priya looks at her own work 6 years later and weaves it with an account from a journal, with an account from (?) as well as the poem that inspired it. There is a kind of reflexive, or a kind of very meditative relation to a certain material in which social text and personal biography get blurred. And this opening out of a particular space can also be a space of vulnerability. Its a space of vulnerability that allows for us ways in which we can redefine our relationship between the idea of the political and the idea of the image.
LL: So this kind of redrawing of the lines, social roles have always informed the ideas of what constitutes image making etc, is also in Pad.ma defined through a certain kind of relation to temporality. I mean people have already spoken about it, Nida spoke about a kind of process of slowing down of the image. A slowing down of the image which is then layered or slowed either through a process of information overload: this particular image has projects that is layered. Its not the annotations which are layered, the image itself is layered. And hence it opens out an entire world of information.
Or it could be just about one particular comment of an experiential kind about a relationship that the maker of an image has to a particular moment. Or it could really be about a certain kind of interpretation brought in. For example, while reading this, it reminded me of Foucault's 'This is not a Pipe', and I'm reading that in particular ways.
LL: What seems to be interesting about the indeterminate space that Pad.ma occupies is that there is a relationship to that which is not easily classifiable yet. Whether it is the idea of politics, or what does one do with residual images. And we've thought a bit about how does one think about the idea of residual images, especially with Pad.ma.
LL: We think of residual images in film either in terms of footage, that which is not used in the final film. We can think about it in relation to the fact that the images will always exceed a certain kind of authorial intent. Or we could look at it in relation to the fact that an image that is captured will always capture more than what was intended. Even if I intended to shoot a film, the fact that I shot it in the street then makes the image into an archive of the city which is then subsequently used by social historians, by researchers, or by film makers when they are actively remaking or remixing.
LL: But this idea of the ability to take certain kinds of social forms which have not yet found an absolute expression in kind of refined political relevance, is for me, the exciting space that Pad.ma opens out.
So rather than looking at it, in terms of the anxieties that Pad.ma has produced, I tend to start redefining this idea of the 'Kougai' or space in which a certain indeterminacy is opened out as the realm of our future conversations. But the terms of this conversation have to slightly different. The only terms in which the conversation is so far(?) placed is our anxiety. Now I'm interested in opening it out as a discussion where look at it in terms of when you talk about an intervention which is about a redefinition of the distribution of the sensible, one of the ways in which we can do it, beyond the anxiety kind of question.
Finally I think there is an interesting way when Shaina began this day, she talked about how all the things that are done in Pad.ma are exactly what film makers always do. This idea that film has always been about a certain kind of relation with sensible, with sensibility etc, but it is also an engagement which has always brought together the realm of the political, the ethical, and the aesthetic. There is no getting out of this kind of holy triad of the 3, even the making of the film.
LL: And one of the ways then that I'm interested in is that beyond the realm of the political, the ethical and the aesthetic, where all of them come together in the making of the film, what does it mean to also deal with this other question, which is the realm of the demoratic, or the realm of democratisation as well. And I think that this is a thought(?) which is important when thinking about the act of image production and circulation etc. And if it is framed, if all of them come together to be framed in a certain idea of a redistribution of the sensible, then what are the possibilities of conversations we can start taking Pad.ma towards?
So these are some of the questions I just wanted to open out as a way of thinking about the conversations we've had over the last year, but also equally about the ways in which Pad.ma as an interface itself has lurked on the web over the last year as a response to some of these questions.
So I leave it at that and open it out to maybe some kind of a larger debate that everyone can take place in.
Raheema Begum: ..I'm not sure...
AS: Well, they are relatively familiar questions that we ..(?) to communities of image producers around for example the publication of certain images, where (?)the film maker and subject have a certain relationship, you know things like this which keep coming up in relation to property question, in relation to how...whether this is something that is my livelihood, even more questions that are by now familiar to us. We even have a section on them somewhere. ....
This is not to say that they are not real or that they do not exist, but we've gotten a bit tired of trying to address them and the question is how do we get out of this loop. Making proposals, having anxious people, trying to justify their position and so on. How to take it in a certain sense out of that vicious circle and become vulnerable as well ourselves.
LL: The thing is that one of the terms in which you encountered this is that they are political film makers. Now this is a very strange kind of thing. Art is supposed to be an attempt to understand what the idea of what how a political gets constituted as well as bracketed beyond or before the image. And one of the attempts is really to try and rethink this. I mean we are completely sensitive to concerns of film makers, we are completely aware. Because they say that after a certain filtering, there is still maybe something which is of political value.
AA: What I found odd about today is that this sort of holding on to a particular form of documentary and not assuming that that form can and will transform, become something else. Because it is such an old form to begin with.
Madhushree: Ayisha, I just wanted to add, the anxieties also, I think more than the material it is our...it is in the public space. This anxiety when trying to face this warning... is not the question of material, its the question of space. Is Pad.ma the space? And that's predigital, the image is predigital. The kind of social anxiety that political activists or creative people have with regards to public space, this space which is open. Which is open to any kind of individual reusing, recycling whatever. There is a political anxiety in this, much before digitising and this anxiety over the space.
AA: No I'm just thinking there must have been anxiety before activists started making films or using the technology to begin with.
Madhushree: All in art practices, this anxiety, this distrust about public access, whether it is in digital form, or analog. Digital only makes it more dense. I mean this is my thing.
LL: We can also ask question which are not related to this anxiety so that Kaushik can....
SL: Its more an observation, I've already told you before, so this is a bit staged. But its an observation that we can share. Kaushik's annotation, especially after having talked about the relation of the image and the text. And after having brought up the question if adding text to images or extracting text from images making the image searchable, indexable, findable, etc etc which seems to be a larger topic, a motive that is larger than Pad.ma. What your annotation did was something that I had not before ..(?)first time in this form, but what annotation did was detach from the one single instance of video, but with one line through 7 or 8 of these video events. And at that point there is something different going on, there is a different relation between the image making, the archive footage and then the writing. Because it indicates and it was also present in Priya's presentation I mean even though it was all put in a box titled 'Description', it was not actually, it was text looking for a better box actually, than description. These kind of lines of writing that point out of these boxes and schemas, like here is a keyword, etc, that are pre-designed...one of the things that Pad.ma has to think about is how to always allow these kind of abuses. Because that's where it gets interesting. We could go on and imagine writing that is writing in itself, to not just look for images, and then for someone to write over it. But for actual text, the primary medium, and with Pad.ma growing, attach to this text the images. You could even reverse this. To keep this in play. Its a relatively minor point, because its just about form. I found this interesting because it points to somewhere we don't know yet. At least I don't.
Kaushik: That is precisely what was exciting for me. I mean for example I could have written a very historical annotation called the 'Voice..(?)' I could have given a history of what kind of films have been shown over the centuries,... the past century or so. It was a choice that I made. As a historian one can always deal with facts and all of these Khalnayak, etc ...I'm ready to do that, I'm ready to put in that labour as well for Pad.ma, I'm willing to annotate. And that's interesting, I'm willing to do that but what I was interested in at this moment was to take exciting images from all kinds of media and yet having some kind of a dialogue inside my head. Now it might not work, actually its just fantasy of mine. But its completely in agreement with what Lawrence was saying, you know, its a distribution of senses and sensibilities. That's what cinema is all about. Its a politics. I referred to this ....I said its like some risky points ...I know there's whole consumerist economies ..is exploding...and then I could say that,...(?) risky points, the logic is an explosion and flower power, and in India that's an explosion of bar dancers. We can make these kinds of extrapolations. And somewhere they do work, at the end of the day. They might be very difficult to trace in terms of... but that's a political statement and its about what the politics of the distribution of the sensibilities is all about. To read the image poetically for the distribution of a colour, or a certain scheme, and read social positions, and positions of power and the ways in which we are forced to look at reality. And that to me is what cinema, readings, images, any kind of images, is all about.
So I agree with Sebastian, for me that was the exciting thing to read across images and see these dimensions. And to treat them as the same categorical images, whether its activists image, the film makers image, the bar dancer, etc could be related, at some point, by a unified vote appeal(?) ...but of course its open up to debate. That's the whole point of...
SL: Just one last thing...these types of writing or viewing have to be defended against what we view as Attention Deficit Disorder or multi-tasking or so. There are these kinds of trajectories in these kinds of media situations that actually escape these modes of just deconcentration. Its about trust.
SK: Just that, I'm just wondering, Pad.ma itself, is in some ways like a pure machine, for (?) sake. And what you end up using it for- you could use it the way Kaushik has. But perhaps you could also do what Kaushik had done without using it, quite simply. And the reverse is also true- someone else could use a lot of the image, the mashing of images and so on. So there are an infinite range of...we could use this for anything. I was thinking perhaps a university teacher could say, 'I'd give you a 100 dollars, could you load these 5 films, and I would pay a student to annotate them, and that makes my teaching load for next semester easier, because I just zip through this incredible interface.
So in that sense, it can be seen as a kind of value-neutral machine, to which you can use it any way you want. But there are certain intrinsic, the machine has certain intrinsic capabilities which can be used very powerfully in that sense. Just a thought that its possible to use this in all kinds of ways and all of them are valid. I don't have a quarrel with any of those. But yet it is, it runs...its more a question...does it run the risk of becoming a machine and ...you know..?
(inaudible comment and laughter)
Mrigank: Actually one thing we have to say is that we have really not used the whole annotation thing like that because of various reasons, but I still ...the last session what you were doing, relations made with text and going into other areas...but I still believe that going back to our presentation, its some kind of prohibition which you cannot put together. I cannot ...we had a great discussion with people who write and the whole idea of political economy of things. But the whole idea of accessing those things, how you access it...when I make a film ...I end up showing this film to all my friends all around India. So in a way, my idea is also that, going back to Godard when he says he doesn't make films, he makes essays, film essays. So in a way this whole relation between various things, it could have ended up in a documentary film. But also exploring the new relationship between informations and the new emerging forms, which I personally see as a very interesting emerging of things and a lot of democratisation and things. The whole idea of borders, how do we cross it? How do we negotiate, because even a film...because these are things which can be questioned, which can go through severe negotiation. That's the only thing, from our point of view, which gets negotiated.
Kaushik: Coming back to Sanjay, what are the intrinsic uses you had thought about?
SK: I'm not saying intrinsic uses, I'm saying it has certain strengths.
Kaushik: Could you give us an example?
SK: Essentially that you can transform a set of images into text. That text is therefore searchable, since images, as yet, we don't have ways of searching them. And therefore it allows certain kinds of connections to be made. For example, if I have an archive of Kashmir, then the word 'ISI', whether it came up in speech, or it came up in another way...the fact that I can literally in nanoseconds have 50 images with the word 'ISI', it allows me to think in certain ways. It allows me to make certain connections. Not just in a sort of crdue databse way, but a complexity of connections. We're not only analysing spoken speech, we're looking at images, we're looking at text,- its a whole range of things that we are able to look at. So, to me that is, I shouldn't use the word 'intrinsic', but what I meant to say is that those are what I see as being...you know you can make a software like FinalCutPro and use it as a presentation software. Of course you can. But that's not what its best or most interestingly used for, most powerfully used for. And I actually see it as a fantastic performance too, around which you can take text, you can take images, and put on a performance such as what Kaushik did. That's a performance. You are using it in order to perform something.
Ashok: Just...going back to...earlier you said for example that it wouldn't be just all of Kashmir's images which are... In essence, do you also think of it as an archive? Is that part of the imagination or not and if not, I'm getting a sense that...
SK: I think if he because what an archive is so relevant of power. In some sense when you say 'archive', I ...if I ever had resistance to the idea of Pad.ma, its because without having thought about it, anybody who says they are setting up an archive immediately I get anxiety to bring that word in. "Oh God this is a power centre! 'Archive'." Whereas this is much more of a place a lot of people are bringing their goods and saying 'Here's mine, and let's collaboratively play around with them.' So of course its also an archive, but if I stopped thinking about it intrinsically as an archive, I would feel I'm really much easier. I would feel its a place like a clearing house.
AA: It could be an artistic practice. There is an archive embedded in it.
Madhushree: No..but...Sanjay...I'm afraid to come on that side...Ashok and me we have different practices(?) but we are also trying to articulate- quote unquote- anxieties that we have been going through. What I think ...what Lawrence calls 'residuals', you can take it that the archiving and the residuals are contesting, or are they documenting, etc- that can be a lifelong cultural practices for all of us. But I think that residual, because its unedited ..(?) so 'residual' is a word you can ...(?) over...archiving...
LL: You have a last question..
NM: I was just thinking that if one has to move beyond the anxiety entirely, then what Pad.ma does interestingly is to look at remixing practices where you are taking material from different sources, putting it together to make a whole different kind of film. And possibly the way Pad.ma could work would be very interesting. And I was just thinking about this film called 24 Hour Psycho, which is entirely about slowing down a film to like..it moves at a snail's pace. And what that does, because its so slowed down, is in some sense when I think about it in terms of Pad.ma is to produce a series of blanks on this side. Because its forcing you to think, because its so completely slowed down. But its not providing you with any information the way Pad.ma is.
And the other thing that I was thinking about is that I would not disagree, but I would think that my relation with the way Pad.ma works is actually more personal than performative. I find that it often doesn't work when I think of it as performance. It works when I think of myself working on a machine and annotating on a personal, not necessarily only in the way Priya has done, in the sense of personal reflections, but just on your own, in an individual relation, rather than actually in relation to a presentation or a performance.
SA: Both, the writing and the material.
Madhushree: Well I have a confession to make here, in terms of performance, that as usual, Pad.ma always (?) upper class (?)..So many times when you are annotating, I take (?)...me and my other colleagues- we take different names. As if we are that person. Like now I'm a 16 year old girl going out to make some pocket money, annotating footage from Dharavi. And its great fun. There is a performance. Its actually great fun. That's why I said- Let's put who is the person, not their name, who is the person actually annotating. And we can actually have a performance, it could be a very interesting creative and political activity..
LL: I think in the interest of time we have to stop now, at a nice juncture. Is it a bird? Is it a plane?