The film is screened on 23 and 24 May, in the koepelzaal in Huis a/d Werf, with an introduction by Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun.
The Otolith Group was founded in 2002 by artist Anjalika Sagar and cultural theoretician Kodwo Eshun, together with artist Richard Couzins. Their collaboration resulted in 2003 in Otolith I, a film essay which explores the potential value of archive footage and the poetry of mediated memory. The film was strongly influenced by Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1992) and by the work of the Black Audio Film Collective, such as Handsworth Songs (1986). The name of the collective comes from ‘otolith’, the small particle of the middle ear which helps us keep our balance and move in space.
The film attempts to question our sense of orientation in the same way, to redirect our perception of the world by weaving together private and public histories in a reflection on deep-rooted utopian projects. “Earth is out of bounds for us now; it remains a planet accessible only through media”, the viewer is told at the start of Otolith, suggesting a post-nuclear future in which man is condemned to live in outer space. Because of all this space travel, so we are told, ‘otoliths’ have lost their purpose and as a result, Homo sapiens can no longer walk on earth. Instead, these new mutants explore images “sifting aging history from the tense present in order to identify the critical points of the twentieth century”.
The film’s narrator is Dr Usha Adelbaran Sagar, a fictional descendant of Anjalika Sagar, who is living in space in the year 2103. It is from this viewpoint that the narrator looks back on several generations of women in the Sagar family, and links her own experiences with those of Sagar’s grandmother during the 1960s, when she met Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to orbit the earth. “For us”, the narrator tells us, “there is no memory without image and no image without memory. Image is the matter of memory”. In an attempt to grasp the complex aspects of history, evolution and life on earth, she gathers existing images of variable quality and from different registers: 35mm images of the nuclear mushroom clouds which permanently marked the collective memory; digital video footage of the London peace marches prior to the Iraq war; private memories shot on Standard 8-film in 1970s London and Haridwar.
The Otolith Group filmed Sagar floating in microgravity at Star City outside Moscow, where cosmonauts are still trained. Sagar’s physical and temporal disorientation is mirrored in the contrasting types of film which discreetly colour the world in different hues, while recalling and redefining the past. By confronting different moments in history with the difficult present, when India and Pakistan are both embracing nuclear armament, The Otolith Group is projecting a ‘past-potential-future’, offering several perspectives from which to view the present.