Experimental Cinema and Speculative Approaches to the Archive and Media Histories
In Fall 2022, filmmaker Christopher Harris and University of Chicago scholar Allyson Nadia Field begin a collaborative and creative engagement with issues of film materiality, loss, fragmentation, opacity, erasure, silencing, and survival within African American film and media history.
Recent years have seen the flourishing of work by experimental filmmakers that imaginatively engages with absences in the historical record, especially around the visual history of African Americans. How might scholarship adapt methodologies from these creative practices? How can scholarly methods, in turn, inform art making (as the formation of another kind of history)? Through this Mellon Fellowship, filmmaker Christopher Harris and University of Chicago scholar Allyson Nadia Field will investigate these questions through—and against—African American media history’s precarious archival condition.
Both Harris and Field, in different forms, have long been engaged with the archive—both present and overwhelmingly absent—of African American film and media history. Field’s Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity (Duke University Press, 2015) concerns entirely nonextant film and includes a “manifesto” for finding presence in absence. She is currently working on a project on the “speculative archive,” an extension of the manifesto that aims to explore experimental methodologies for approaching archival absence in Black film history. Harris’s filmmaking practice has been invested with the medium’s materiality, zones of display and opacity, and racialized regimes of the gaze. His work engages an expansive conception of the archive, where objects, artifacts and images are placed into new temporal and spatial relations to one another. Currently, he’s investigating the dialectical relationship between the cinematic apparatus and the carceral apparatus in a project on carcerality and archival audio and moving images.
Through their Fellowship, they will explore these ideas and generate work that comes from a collaborative and creative engagement with issues of film materiality, loss, fragmentation, opacity, erasure, silencing, and survival.
Christopher Harris, M.F.A., is the F. Wendell Miller Associate Professor and Head of Film and Video Production, Department of Cinematic Arts, University of Iowa.
Allyson Nadia Field, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies and the College, University of Chicago.