Watching the Detectives

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Ah, the ways of seeing. Wittgenstein wasn’t alone when he tried taping his window as to recreate a screen into which he would locate a particular element of the landscape before him. Piece of tape after piece of tape slowly framed correctly what the philosopher’s wanted to see, as if creating his own proto-cinema. Tsai would reconvene with these images (knowingly or not) in Visage (2009), when Laetitia Casta, in an attempt to deny her view and obscure her room, would also tape her whole window in a painstakingly slow shot, which attempted to drain one’s spirit, the mere exercise of blacking out, the loss of sight as a declaration of impossibility.While watching Chris Kennedy’s outstanding program at (S8) Mostra de Cinema Periférico, I came upon his Tape Film (2007), a simple exercise on stock material and the labour of the filmmaker, and immediately I recalled these early images. This would be a proper start to the discovery of this Canadian author and his particular obsession with the human gaze, the ways of perception, the image collages of nature and the edification of stories from different perspectives.

This “grid” (a symbol, a literalness) which Kennedy places upon his images, serves as a deconstructive apparatus with immense implications deriving from the splitting and collaging of images. The grid is even literally present in 4x8x3 (2006) (a an unsplit 8mm reel), Simultaneous Contrast (2008) (as the author mentions: the striped pattern of the municipal bus shelters in San Francisco) and Tamalpais (2009) (Albrecht Dürer’s “veil of threads”), thus reinventing, reconstructing and deconstructing the image as an exercise in perception. The dimensional issues of the image are put on question here, artificially and naturally: if the eye, and the image imprinted in our retina changes constantly with every movement of the ocular globe, and our brain dismisses the blurry transition from movement to movement, how are we really aware of the true dimensions of what we’re seeing? This biological process is recreated here, as images that reconstitutes itself, as a mere manifestation of artistic intentions, as a way of regarding what we perceive when it’s chopped apart, even as a tribute for a lost stock (Kodachrome) and its unique perception of color, a feat that is portrayed in the three minutes of Genesee (2011), a companion piece for any Autumn.

But these dimensions of reconstruction and reconstituting of images doesn’t end in our particular way of glancing. The political dimensions of a discourse built up from different pieces, a “collage-d manifestation”, is well documented in two of Kennedy’s best films, The Acrobat (2007), and Watching the Detectives (2017). The gravitas of political discourse and its influence on life is seen as a parallel from the activity of gravity in men, using a poem from Ryan Kamstra’s as a starting point. Again, the weight of the politically charged images and the further watching of the construction of a big building, ties up this perception of the shadow, the dark reflection of men against the gravel: are politics, in their inevitable repression of antagonist discourses akin to the power shed by gravity? are we dancing shadows against the wall, dragged down by our own bureaucracies? The Acrobat questions without preaching, achieving a remarkable level of precision and conjunction between the written word and the audiovisual.

Watching the Detectives was an experience on its own. Reconstructed from posts in reddit, 4 chan and other websites after the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, the manifestation of the underlying precepts and hindered ideologies in America is stripped bare, shown in a particularly disturbing way. This ethos of mob mentality, of a group devoted to “uncover the criminals” behind the terrorist attack, is packed with prejudices, clownish attempts to detective, disinformation, fake truth, overall, the consequences of what the “availability or democratization of information” of this internet era has brought to us.  Kennedy’s last work is outstanding in its way of showing how, even in a decade where all sources of information are readily available for us, we fall more than ever to the weight of our own presumptions and underlying ideologies. In this shared information, the cracks of America show in an ugly way, the pin pointing and the easy accusation, the racism, the conjecture.

Today, we would be right in not taping our windows and blackout our perception. Understanding the ways of watching serves us well, and that’s precisely what Chris Kennedy is trying to do with his work, as early in his career as he is.