By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
I find myself wondering the exact meaning of “archaeology of the image” (not in the usual sense of archival restore), if as this term could encompass the mental route I’m trying to follow when watching the latest films of Sandro Aguilar and Jessica Sarah Rinland. If by archaeology we understand the recovery or analysis of material culture, how can the image in its materiality be unearthed from its underlying presence to re-signify the use of its moments, to put in context a different narrative linked with the deleuzean idea of the time-image?
This is indeed an easy link to make, since Rinland’s film Sol de Campinas (2021) deals directly with the process of archaeology itself, the unearthing of memory as a process of the material -which is a path the Argentinian filmmaker has followed before, in works/installations like We Account the Whale Inmortal (2012 – 2016) or her previous film those that, at a distance, resemble another (2019) . But it goes beyond that. Aguilar’s film Armour (2021) , follows the path of a traditional narrative from a construction of instants, title cards and spaces, building a story from the mere act of re-contextualizing fragments. The story behind Armour (and I will dare to say that the “story” itself comes after the structure) is an unearthing of periodical durations of time, which very well could be the essence of cinema, but in this case, the fragments, paths or possibility of routes are concatenated with one another to reconstruct a puzzle which moves forward, such as an archaeology excavation, an exercise to find cohesion from fragmentation, unity from disconnection. The atmosphere of the film plays a crucial role: we only see the “armour” part of the story peek out for brief moments, and it would seem that we’re in the path of clarity, but, as a process of recovery, it works slowly, it takes its time to build its fragments, like an incomplete skeleton. It becomes archaeology.
Sandro Aguilar, to me, appears as quite an underrated filmmaker (in opposite to his role as a producer, working with people like Eugene Green, Salome Lamas, Manoel de Oliveira, etc.). Jewels, his 2013 film, remains in memory as an absolute masterpiece of fiction-meets-entomology-meets-cybernetics-meets-drama-meets-horror. The ease in which Aguilar moves in such a hybrid environment of genres speaks milestones of his career as a director, and Armour isn’t an exception. Perhaps this innate curiosity of his to choose subject matters open to exploration an even dissection, leads to an avenue of pure discovery, which is the essence of any good experimental film (or of any good film, in any case). The drama behind the story of the inebriated, armor wearing character of Armour, lies beneath an pure exploration of the possibilities of narratives and atmosphere.
Jessica Sarah Rinland follows her own route of exploration in a more literal sense of the ritual of archaeology and memory. However, one must consider her path as a very particular one, where the tactile, or the exploration has taken a pivotal presence throughout all her filmography. The hands, for example, play a role of infinite discovery, but also are tools of empathy, of connection, of the intrinsic ways of the recovery of something which retains a hidden mystery, recurring themes (a coincidence): entomology (Black Pond, 2018), or dissection (Necropsy of a Harbour Porpoise (Seeing From our Eyes into Theirs, 2015)), or mere sensuality, (Expression of the Sightless, 2016)). Sol de Campinas could be an accompanying piece on those that, at a distance, resemble another, in certain way: both films are devoted to the process, and the potentiality of the tactile as a method for reflecting about ecology and memory.
But then again, Rinland’s eyes are keen to observe the process as an element of unveiling, and this is shown in her various live performances, his keen efforts to become part of the events she’s trying to shed light on. Her camera (and this is one of the main qualities of her cinema) wonders through the shots like a curious eye, as a biolgical extension of the arm that wants to be a part of the unearthing, of dust, of hands-on approach and of going through the complicated palimpsests of memory. It isn’t always completely revelatory, it doesn’t always provide answers, but it comes as close as it can, as much as an empathy for a discipline can get, to recover those untold truths, or diffuse answers that dwell between the aesthetics of the moving image. Two intriguing films for a first delivery from Cinéma du Réel.