Film: 'The Phantom Interlocutor'
Facilitator: Kathryn Smith
Affiliation: PhD Student, Liverpool John Moores University
This film will be playing on a loop throughout the conference on Sunday 26th March. Background to the film will be presented on Friday 24th (Pecha Kucha Session 1), please click here for abstract.
"Not without reason does the word corpus refer both to the body of a dead human or animal and to a collection of writings." -- Barthes 1981: 71
The Studio Familiar is a proposed short film that tells the story of attempts to identify an anatomised skull that resided in the studio of South African artist, medical illustrator and humanist Colin Richards (1954 – 2012). Both Richards and his partner, artist Penny Siopis, played deeply formative roles in my artistic education.
Eighteen months after Richards’ unexpected death, Siopis suggested I employ my forensic visualisation skills to give a face to this object which remained in Richards’ studio long after he had transitioned from medical illustrator at Wits University to visual arts professor, and which featured prominently in his drawing. Accepting Siopis’s request was a way of sustaining what I regarded as my most significant intellectual relationship; a conversation with the dead, by proxy.
The skull is known only by a catalogue number, X0198/1669, which is twice inscribed on its frontal bones, above and below the horizontal incision made to open the cranium and remove the brain. It is presumed X0198/1669 is a 20thC individual who ended up being collected into the famous Raymond Dart collection (Wits University, Johannesburg), it has thus far proved impossible to prove this for certain.
In trying to learn as much as possible about this hybrid subject-object, including using it as sample object to test the imaging capabilities of new microCT scanner at Stellenbosch University, X0198/1669 becomes a way into several stories that represent the intersection of the personal, the creative, the social, the scientific and the political.
The proposed film will be in the style of ‘aesthetic journalism’, using the language and form of documentary in conjunction with the poetics of artistic film-making. Visual reference to past creative work will be placed in relationship to multiple voices drawn from recent scholarship and images sourced online to speak to the politics and ethics of scientific bone collections (legacies of quantifying human ‘difference’), relationships between the optic and the haptic, and how concepts of the anonymous scientific specimen reflect contemporary realities of ‘unidentified’ persons.