(In occasion of the anniversary of Neda Agha Soltan’s death, on June 20 2009, killed during the demonstrations following the questioned re-election of M. Ahmadinejad – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbdEf0QRsLM
The image of Neda’s death appears compulsively in our brain. The eye, cannibal and hungry partner, looks at death through the satellite decongesting awareness that had to be deactivated like it happened to the building in our surroundings. CNN kept broadcasting the images of Neda’s face. The big cathode eye feels the smell of blood, knows its bulimic, vampirized adepts, and uses them until the burning red becomes invisible and the moment of death becomes dream. Like in the chocking game, a ritual for wealthy American teenagers, in which they choke each others until they faint and gasp for few seconds, convulsing, and then wake up again, laughing with their friends without understanding where, or why or when it happened.
think that what choking and Neda have in common is the act of shooting, of recording death (also present in the game). I wonder if the experience of chocking would have the same impact on American young people if they were not filmed, reproduced infinite times and then shared online, giving to the victims the opportunity to see when they were absent, or at least absent for themselves.
I wonder how much cynical and incomprehensible comedy there is in the attempt of telling episodes like this one, and trying to historicize, analyze and section them like cadavers at the morgue, even if the immersive format of street journalism suggests a different approach. Maybe autopsies start from here, from the Tv screen.
However, something in this images’ blabbing is missing. In the collective unconscious of a population, these images work like a detonator of an unexpected series of micro events ready to emerge, to clang in shrill and inscrutable glossolalias of unintentional and shared gestures, in an rash action that absorbs the concept, amplifies and question it, bringing it to its limits of being well-defined, certain more than dubious, suspicious, a noble waste of action.
Neda is already a symbol, and an icon, a computer thumbnails, a Facebook profile picture of those Iranian involved in the revolt. The shock of the image has already been rationalized in the conscience that everyone could be Neda. This conscience takes away visibility and reality to the image and make it an icon. I wonder if CNN is not already suggesting this perceptive approach to justify the compulsory repetition of the image through voice counterpoints, that suggest Neda as symbol of the revolt.
She was very beautiful when she died, more beautiful than she appears in the pictures that portrait her alive, or better, dead. Like in the school filing pictures, she was so still she looked like she was not breathing. How strange it is to see her in that artificial pose, right after the movement of the images of her death, so paradoxically alive, eager of life during the sudden and silent suction of the end, among the screams surrounding it. Neda was more beautiful when she died, but no one says it for respect. Is it maybe this element, that televisions do not say, to feed our morbid projective desire?
But there is something else in this convulse, baroque death. There is something more in the animal porcelain of her face, melted with something inexpressible. This pointillist and wide open death realizes that it has been seen. And in turn, she also looks. Neda enters the camera, she smashes it, she breaks it. Neda sees us. Neda realizes that she is filmed, in the context of her death. Death enters the image and not viceversa, at least for one time. Reproduction and death scream the same iconic scream, of the pure symbol, of the image that overcomes itself, of the vision that becomes language and word. In that look, probably not exchanged by who was shooting (if not through the filter of the camera), Neda finds herself as an icon. Her death, her glance at the camera, is the sublime example of the mystery of body exhibition. In that moment, in that look, death is forever in stand-by, like a shroud updated to a digital icon that looses its aura but gains repetition. Neda’s eyes hold steady for one-thousandth of a second in the electronic glance of the phone that films her, in which the eye that looks at her is probably absorbed. In that moment, the climax of reversibility of the glance is in action for ever, and never again at the same time. In the digital eye that starts the iconic process Neda’s look is both seeing and (in)visible.
I wonder what happened to Neda when she dies. She was dying but she was also aware she was being filmed. The icy extraneousness of the medium meets Neda’s eye, which experiences a double intrusion, the one from the suction of death and the other from the awareness of being present in other looks. The funeral as a public event maybe started from the channelling of this forced exhibition of the body, which would like to be subtracted by looks during death but that, nevertheless it is exposed to them again, one by one, in order, like at the mortuary chapel. It’s like to postpone the recess of the principle of the vision for one more moment, until the last one, starting in this way the distorted and narrative photographic process of memory.
The apparently neutral digital, that fixes the extreme vitality of death, the divesting implacable and the definitive intrusion, does not take the eroticism of the look away. Death crystallizes, or better, becomes pixels in Neda’s look. In that look Neda lives together with life, she screws life. And Neda accidentally discovers a presence, and casts this convulsive orgy in the fire of one look, which lights on and last for one more flame. She does not look at the person that is filming. She looks at the camera, the phone tries to film her. The unconscious of death is exposed and bounds to repeat itself infinitely, cooled down by potential reiteration, penetrated by the eye of Neda, recorded by the one of the camera. Death is in that look at its own limit: invincible, unspeakable, invisible. Now it looks at us, proud, it comes out from itself and from who experiences it. What does Neda think of that look (if she really realizes she is filmed)?
Death exceeds the image, and in that look the intrusion of death reflects itself. The camera films the death without any continuity between the “internity” of death and the “externity” of its becoming infinitely and mediatically sharable. Neda’s look pass through the digital eye and stands on the side of who’s looking, in the place where it ends, and then continues the look of who is filming. I wonder how much the medium is able to absorb the person who films in the filmed image, making him/her forgetting about the fact that it is the real world and not a simple shot. But, who does suggest the framing in these extreme moments of reality? What does move the body of the person that films in a way that the look of Neda falls precisely into the one of the camera?
The tool is unaware, even though it placed itself and has a sort of conscience, or unconscious, and asks how it has to be used and tells us the way. The way we can check is already a way of its sensual independence. The image is the relation between the eye and the hand: paradoxically, even in the digital, it is still through the hand that the image is created, like in painting. Image is gesture, performance, especially when technologies are reduced in size and the constant impact-positioning of the gesture emerges clearer, like a form of linguistic-perceptive tuned between my living-the-world and the ways of telling it, suggested by the tool which, in the case of Neda, was a cellphone with a camera.
From a choreographic point of view, the convulsion of death is tuned with Neda’s body and with the body of who filmed: there is someone looking, off-screen, at a short but overwhelming and cold distance. There is someone behind the digital armour of an act that is appropriation and hypertrophic will of the glance on world, in this case on death. I have the impression that in these moments a common principle of belonging to the world makes a series of unreflective movements, part of a common tissue, result of the emergency of reality. The reality, on these occasions, shapes the positions of our bodies and the images of our tools. In these moments it becomes difficult to think of this kind of media as extensions. They suck us and absorb the real world in the tracing of the reproducible eye, of a unique gesture. The reality outside the framing, similar to the internal one, looses its emphatic qualities and benefits the involuntary principle of shape and composition that pushes the body of who is filming to intervene. The reality guides him/her to the choice of the framing, trying to bring the body and the medium back to control themselves. The eye of who is looking seems to experience a cooling, a distancing. The world is reduced to a frame that amplifies the aesthetic-formal qualities, depriving them, for a moment, of the empathic qualities within the paradox that, in that searching of image’s forms and balance, who films would really like to tell the empathy that he/she has been unable to feel in the act of shooting.
There is an Enlightenment violence in the attempt to reduce reality to a controllable frame, in the attempt to possess it and make it reproducible, stealing it from the time of the moment and make it eternal through the filter of the binary image. The act of filming is then a form of re-memorial catching that has the illusion to control time, and confirms the nostalgic-symbolic nature of memory and its need to exteriorize itself. However, the act of filming becomes an involuntary reflex in our time, and always more eludes the conscious analysis of the subject that performs it, transforming the recorded images in involuntary memories.
The taking over of reality is something deeply politic in Iran and digitalizing the surrounding world becomes the only way to communicate, to the world outside, what is happening inside the country. In this context of violent repression, low price new technologies seem to give back to the image the witnessing value of the past, proof of a collective event, like in family pictures. But not even in this case images limit themselves only to reproduction. On the contrary, in a context in which no official images seem to exit the country, the few pictures able to do it can generate an independent beginning of reality, establish themselves as world-images, independent from the referent to which they would like to be linked.
The image revenges the presence of the thing, it’s not limited to its imitation. It revenges the presence of death, but it doesn’t represent it, even if death is always present (and not only metaphorically) like a sign of itself, an internal dysfunction, consumption and ageing. The bottom of the image is the death as its internal turn, a process of objectification stuck in the glance of the camera, like Narcissus’s glance is stuck in the water. We live the society of screamed death like a negative of the look, beyond the taboo of Icarus, beyond Narcissus, who was killed by the nihilism of being seen without seeing, besides when reflected. Death opens to presence/absence, in the moment of a vision, like in the one of a memory. The camera is a digital mirror, projector and recorder, able to stop the image when the original is missing, showing in this way the arrogance, always exceeding in competing with the original, always unsatisfied of the derived status of reproduction. The image shamelessly shows in the digital its own nature, which is the place of its own infinite reproducibility and its own genesis as autonomous referent, in addition to be sign of itself.
I am thinking about the notion of parallax and trying to apply it to the death of Neda to observe closer the links between its elements. I have the impression that between the singular and incarnate death of Neda and its becoming im(media)tely public and reproducible something more than a simple shift of condition happened. On the contrary, it seems that the elements involved are not aligned anymore but they slightly moved from their original place, breaking the one-to-one relation and adding a factor of derived variation, or waste. The parallax, for who lives it in a way that can never be completely experienced, was already in act between the subject and the moment of its death, and moved slightly but infinitely. It similarly moved from the axis between the glance of Neda’s death and the one of the camera, as if an agent of distortion acted on it. In the passage between singular death and reproducible death there is the passage between a singular, incarnated and potential infinite (never real for those who lives it) and an existing infinite (from the point of view of who films and looks at it). In the conquest of repetition, the infinite exteriorize and disincarnate itself.
The fictional centre of these relationships is the camera, in which the eyes of the involved characters converge, in which the race of life and death, and in microscale the vision of total destruction in synchronous immortality, happen. Two infinites fight a duel, and the tool conveys the distortion, the angle of parallax between the single and reproducible death. What makes the eye of Neda that experienced death so different from the one that is filmed, if not the passage from one infinite to the other? Neda’s eye becomes immortal in the camera and faces the eye of those who look at her. This absolute singularity that can be found in the primitive gesture on Neda’s face, revenges the moment of tuning as derived singularity, immediately trapped in the mechanism of a subsequent infinite. The eye of the hand that is filming is looking for the punctum in progress of the image in front of it, and not around it anymore, like in the images out of the frame. It alienates itself, gaining immortality and losing singularity, transforming the incarnated singularity in a reproducible infinite. Death in the camera pays the price of the flesh, and becomes tissue and icon”.
The text is an adapted fragment of “Iran vs Iran”. Elections and revolt in Teheran, Mitra Azar 2011, pp. 135 (http://www.mimesisedizioni.it/archives/001787.html).