Forum, July 2023

Other Realities


  • Dara Waldron

Having attended the “other realities” workshop at Visible Evidence in Gdansk, I went away thinking about the rich source of possibilities that had evolved in bringing two concepts together that traverse the discourses of philosophy, critical theory, and documentary: “other” and “reality.” The workshop was precisely that, a workshop. Documentarians, philosophers, artists and historians convened on a practice of pluralisation without a conclusive end in sight, thinking “reality” into “realities,” self as others. At the same time, I had just met the Polish, UK-based artist, Kamila Kuc, whose first feature-length film, What We Shared, screened as part of the conference. What We Shared is a multi-layered experimental exploration of the legacy of war and displacement in the small, disputed territory of Abkhazia in the South Caucasus, a state partially recognised as independent, and partially seen as an extension of the state of Georgia. The “country” lies on the Eastern Coast of the Black Sea. Taken as a documentary motivated by a logic of deconstruction as much as representation, the film engages dreams and anxieties of seven subject-participants (from the city of Sukhumi), all of whom are scarred by the machination of “history” as a story told by others. “How can a reality be approached through filmic and conceptual means without imposing ideas in order to make it fit our (dominant/orientalist/paternalistic/“western”) worldview?” Stefanie Baumann and Giovanbattista Tusa ask with regard to questions of authorship in documentary. Kuc’s answer to is evolve a form of authorship which includes the “subject” as fictive and evolving in time.

Kuc is a child of post-communist Poland, where the still visible scars of the Soviet years have passed on through generations (she focuses on post-memory in the second part of What We Shared). As an artist versed in psychoanalytic critique, her focus is mainly the fissures and gaps of articulated speech that manifest in the form of dreams. It is a practice devoted to processing history as a monolithic pressure that weighs upon subjects, turning to the visual resource of dream to escape its inveterate clutches. Some of the subjects interviewed are content to be themselves, others escape into fictional alter-egos in collaboration with Kuc. Attention to the subject as divided marks off the exploratory nature of Kuc’s practice as a documentarian sensitive to the other as other and the Lacanian credo that desire resides in the gaps between words. Fourteen minutes into the film, after a beautiful Tarkovsky-esque recital of a poem by the inhabitant Manana Bigvava, an English teacher, set against reflection of trees on water, the narrator speaks in English about her imaginings. However, the subtitle on screen distorts the spoken word into its opposite (the subtitles are not the direct citation or the diction heard as per usual. They declare the opposite configuration to what is stated in the film by the narrator). What is the purpose of this distortion, in aesthetic and ethical terms? On one level, the distortion forges a connection between artist-filmmaker and subject, as both of their speech is subject to alteration. It is not just the subjects who experience the distortions and injustices of an historical pressure, but Kuc also. Speech, for both, cannot be relied upon to get at the real.

What We Shared_Deep Dream Generations Clip (Visible Evidence) from Kamila Kuc on Vimeo.


The second purpose, however, is closer to the aspirations of the filmmaker as visual artist. Speech cannot be relied upon, but the building of images parsed in the form of dreams melds the desires of the inhabitants of Abkhazia into the shared reality of the film. The filmmaking process reads here as an exploration of desire built on mutual trust. Kuc’s treatment of the subjects is not typical documentary exploration, mining the truth of experience. On the contrary, the focus is on deconstructing the machination of a documentary capture that conflates desire with truth. Perhaps this is why the final third of the film turns upon Kuc herself, focusing on her own experience growing up in post-communist Poland. Kuc is not content to focus on the desires of others in Abkhazia. Her autobiographical turn helps build a “desiring-machine.” The filmmaker is not outside, immune to the tribulations of history. “Desire is a machine,” Deleuze and Guattari note, “and the object of desire is another machine connected to it.” Taken in this light, What We Shared should be viewed not as a representation of other realities but a melding together of desires into something shared. The film acts as a vehicle of solidarity between an artist and the subjects who collaborate in the shared process of film.

The “other realities” workshop is premised on bringing scholars and practitioners together in a manner that is not unlike the working philosophy of What is Shared. It is a testament to the workshop’s productive vitality that it lives on as something more than a trace; that it is used as a space of reflection and generative thinking about what is other and what is real.

Kuc, Kamila (dir. 2021). What We Shared. UK: Dark Spring Studio.


Dara Waldron is a Lecturer in the Department of Art, Design and Media in the Technological University of the Shannon, Ireland.

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