Function/Fiction examines artistic practices which, by making new use of functional images produced by statistical systems of surveillance, identification, scientific documentation, ultimately give rise to forms of fiction. Whether the medium is photography or one of its various technological extensions, Function/Fiction brings to light this troubling approach to reality, where everything that is visible is first manipulated and filtered by a system for recording data. The present publication, a continuation of the ideas raised by the exhibition presented at Dazibao in January 2008, offers a re-evaluation of the history of the gaze, inviting us to rethink our interaction with an environment that is largely mediatised beforehand.
The publication presents five essays by theorists from Canada and the United States. Some of the questions taken up in these texts include the source of images, the modus operandi of a new kind of document, of what might be seen as a reiteration of the documentary tradition, the reception of systematically recycled and reconfigured images, the influence of an aesthetic of the functional image and the rise of creative processes which upset our narrative or fictional expectations by simulating systems of data recording.
The publication opens with Blake Stimson’s essay The Beauty of Documentary, which goes to the very root of image production to examine how documentary photography carries with it an inherent ambivalence: its utopian promise of rising above a mere index of reality while at the same time preserving part of photography’s utilitarian function of reflecting a world in which knowledge is power.
Clint Burnham, in his essay Postmodern Aesthetics as Obscene Super-ego: Anxieties of Photography, calls into question the very status of photography as a medium able to create fiction. He examines photography’s various functions — as a torture instrument tacitly approved by the state, as kitsch, performance and pornography — in an attempt to determine how, in contemporary artistic practices, photography negotiates its existence.
In his essay Five Tapes, Four Halls, Two Dreams: Vicissitudes of Surveillant Narration in Michael Haneke’s Caché, Thomas Levin presents an in-depth reading of a few key scenes from the film and demonstrates how its references to surveillance techniques — static shots of excessive length — can be the vehicle of unexpected narrative dénouements. Levin examines how narrative is created through these panoptic techniques by creating a sense of expectation in the viewer.
Viva Paci veers the discussion towards the workings of human memory and consciousness in her inquiry into the question of the relation between image and memory as it is played out in the work of Chris Marker. In her essay entitled This Is (Not) the End: Notes on the work of Chris Marker and on the words and images which remain, and return, like memories, Paci attempts to unravel the filmmaker’s strategies and analyses his use of recycled images.
The final text is Charles Stankievech’s essay Cinema Remembers Through Subtraction. Emphasising a limitation of the formal and mechanical aspect of the camera itself, Stankievech demonstrates the need to short-circuit the cinematic device and apparatus in order to create and think about cinema differently.