So far, the year 20ii has produced many angry crowds. From the 'Arab spring' to the UK student movement, the relationships between the common, community and communication are shifting. In recent years, new terminology has found its way into the English language: 'crowd funding' financed the Obama election and The Yes Men's artwork, 'astroturfing' describes the appropriation of grassroot strategies by right-wing organisations like the Tea Party, and 'kettling' relates human crowds to the animal world through the herding of livestock.
In London a number of experimental film screenings responded to these issues. Raphael Grisey's The Indians, which was presented at no.w.here in May, is an inspiring meditation on the heterotopic space of protest. Based on the 2009 student occupation of Rennes University and including brief scenes of a lecture by the late Edouard Glissant, this poetic film invites the viewer into a surreal maze of anarchic knowledge. In his latest work Cooperation, Grisey collaborated with Malian filmmaker and photographer Bouba Toure and the agricultural Somankidi Coura Cooperative, which was cofounded by Toure in the 1970s. The two-screen film is a sensitive analysis of the relationship between the architectural, social, psychological and political spaces of a co-operative.
The question of what constitutes a community is the subject of Charlotte Ginsborg's new film Melior Street, which premiered at the Whitechapel Gallery. The main characters, local residents of Melior Street in east London, discuss their relationship to the city in individual monologues and personally performed songs, which gives this film a phantastical element. Melior Street shows that the pressure of survival in the 'capital of capital' makes it almost impossible to establish a local network, and therefore challenges the government's 'Big Society' scheme.
A different, but equally complex community is at the centre of Louis Henderson's work-in-progress Capital, which was presented at Practice Exchange, a student film screening at the BFI Southbank. Studying under William Raban, Henderson's work seeks to contextualise the recent student demonstrations in the UK in a wider history of protest, particularly the Paris Commune of 1871. Inspired by Raban's reflexive filmmaking as well as the essayist films of the Otolith Group, this work is an interesting example of the way in which a younger generation of filmmakers is currently fusing different film histories.
In contrast, Teboho Edkins CGI-based film Kinshasa 2.0, which was part of the Contemporary Africa on screen series at South London Gallery, deals with spaces where crowds cannot gather. Kinshasa 2.0 focuses on Marie-Therese Nlandu, a human rights lawyer and former presidential candidate in the Congo who was arrested, imprisoned and fled to the UK in 2006. The film follows her young niece who lives in Kinshasa, where she regularly enters the virtual space of Second Life to communicate with her aunt's fictional character.
Recent history has confirmed the political importance of online communities. As an immediate response to the Egyptian revolution artists, Celine Condorelli and Uriel Orlow presented Daniele Straub & Jean-Marie Huillet's seminal Too Early, Too Late, 1981, at Tate Modern in early February. Tate also introduced Mapping Subjectivity: Experimentation in Arab Cinema from the 1960s to Now (Reviews AM346), which included classics such as Ghassan Salhab's Phantom Beirut, 1998, and more recent works such as Akram Zaatari's split-screen video In this House from 2005. The extensive programme also showed The Mummy/Night of Counting the Years, 1973, Shadi Abdel Salam's meticulously photographed, eerie two-hour film about the looting of an ancient mummy cache in late 19th-century Egypt, has a durational quality that slows down one's heartbeat. …