Home movies are matter that has already been written, ideas that have been already thought, a different syntactic vocabulary transmitted through a specific medium, which lies open to everyone. Each scene is a language in itself. Dealing with this footage means we are not able to write down things on a blank page, but we necessarily perform a delicate juggling with thoughts and feelings. In contrast to images that we shoot ourselves, reused home movies undergo another operation, which cannot make ‘tabula rasa’ of what is already present. This quality of the home movie might appear as a limitation, a constraint for whoever deals with it. I believe this is the contrary. I believe it offers more possibilities to make decisions, the freedom to attune and fine-tune our own sensitivity to a superior level of sensitivity. By superior I do not refer to the collective memory of a community, as home movies are highly personal materials that lack the social imprint rendering them collective testimonies. I refer instead to the voicing of an imaginary that is in a process of becoming and therefore able to attune not to a specific physical community but to its projection as a virtual idea, a sort of u-topos (a place that cannot be). It is this power of the u-topos or the impersonal in the home movie – which is the only one we can put our finger on, as the rest represents pure subjectivity – which renders it a valuable instrument for novel creation, a treasure box for the artist and for the everyday audience. In conclusion, perceiving home movies means attuning to this sensitivity. These are works that do not impose a personal perspective but guide the audience, encourage them to reflect as they open new paths of cognition and sensation; they are able to enrich and enlarge an already existing way of seeing. Such a reading of the home movie becomes a mathematic process of addition, where the perceptual operation does not consist in stripping off the images of their original meaning, but in performing a gesture that creates a fissure in their surface and leaves spaces for new possibilities to rise to the fore. On the other hand, this gesture of addition needs to remain imperceptible, in order not to disturb the primordial order of things. We can therefore refer to this addition as an adherence, where contact is possible to form a unitary whole, but where sensitivities remain inseparable from each other. Thus, in dealing with this material, one needs to possess this capacity, this sensitivity and openness to be able to undertake a delicate operation of adherence to the material that opens it up to towards the present. It is as if each layered meaning of the home movie possessed a membrane, a microscopic surface that is pervaded by personal sensitivities, becoming highly receptive to external influences. This surface can be easily influenced and at the same time becomes contagious. Its surface is composed of ideas, ways of seeing, feelings and beliefs that are able to interact with other sensitivities, in such a way as to form a primordial understanding. This is the ultimate freedom offered by the home movie – to wander across boundless imaginaries.
This glossary of terms contributes to a proper reading of the thesis.
Actualization refers to perception as a constant movement and formation of reality that takes place through difference and creation. Henri Bergson develops actualization as a theory of perception that relies on the mechanism which progresses from the appearance of an idea in pure perception, similar to a mental picture or an impression (referred to as ‘dynamic scheme’) to a synthesis and concretization of the idea on the plain of consciousness (referred to as ‘the image’). Through actualization – the passage from ‘scheme’ to ‘image’, i.e. from the virtual state of the dynamic scheme to the actual image -, we perform a gesture of selection from the indefinite possibilities of perception that we have available.
I deploy this concept as a mode of engagement with the corpus of Sicilian home movies that conceives of the footage as a process of becoming rather than one of being, insofar it keeps interpretation open to multiple expressive possibilities. As a mechanism of constant creation of meaning, actualization opens the reading of the home movie to multiple registers of visual experience, bodily expressions and affective impressions.
Affective, embodied and tacit knowledge
These are three knowledge registers explored through arts-based practice, which open up the reading of the Sicilian home movie to interpretations that go beyond the expressive form such as spoken language. These ways of knowing operate through intuition, imagination and sensuousness rather than through pure reasoning.
Affect is hard to define insofar it is not a state, a feeling or a condition. Its understanding varies across scholarly research. I deploy the concept of affect as an embodied way to engage with the home movie; for Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari it represents the capacity to affect and be affected. Affect is a pre-personal and therefore unconscious experience of intensity that corresponds to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another, modifying its capacity to act. To this scope affect denotes the always-already present in all forms of life, becoming one of the most important concepts in non-representational theory. From affect derives also the affection-image, which I deploy in my co-creative workshops with communities to foster an encounter between the affecting entity (home movie) and the affected entity (participant), that opens towards imaginative and collaborative forms of reading of the Sicilian home movie archive.
Embodied knowledge refers to a type of knowledge where the body ‘knows’ how to act. As such embodied knowledge is concerned with motor skills and habitual actions, with the perception of the environment (spatial behaviour), sense of self and nonverbal behaviour. According to Merleau-Ponty, embodied knowledge is not confined to motor skills, but regards the variety of human experiences that arise from a pre-reflective correspondence between the body and the world. Insofar the body knows how to act, these experiences share the quality of ‘doing without representing’. In contrast to affective knowledge that is unconscious, the ‘just-lived’ that accompanies each bodily movement throughout experience transforms embodied knowledge into a conscious act, even if positioned outside the sphere of awareness. Embodiment becomes a way of experiencing the home movie through and with the body. In my project I use imaginative ethnography (see the definition below) to guide me through the places in which the corpus of Sicilian footage was filmed, where I got immersed into the space and captured my experience using different methods (recording sound, writing and drawing). My walks in these places contributed to an embodied way of knowing the Sicilian home movie archive that is original and primary. Emplacement becomes thus a primary form of engaging with and gaining knowledge about this footage, insofar it is driven by a return to their origins, to the world in which these films were born.
Standing at the core of cognitive research about human knowledge, pre-linguistic or direct knowledge is that form of knowledge that is not necessarily associated with any form of linguistic expression. As a result of immediate experience, pre-linguistic knowledge presents things as they are, without having to name them. As a predominantly visual object, the home movie triggers an aesthetic experience and thus works through aesthetic data registers. This way of knowing refers to a direct unmediated engagement with the sensual properties of the home movie, while representing at the same time a tacit form of knowing. Steven Taylor defined the concept of aesthetic muteness as the difficulty to translate aesthetic experience and judgements into verbal, analytical language.
In my project I use drawing as a tool that is able to explore our aesthetic experience of the home movie by resorting to colours, lines and shapes, as we would use words, sentences and verbal expressions to represent our understanding thereof. By printing out entire scenes of Sicilian home movies, re-drawing them and then scanning the results and repositioning them in the original location, I engage with the aesthetic experience as a primordial and unconscious drive of representation of the tacit. The gesture of drawing becomes essential insofar only through these aesthetic registers that cannot be translated entirely into intellectual-linguistic forms, we can uncover the knowledge residing in our sensitive-aesthetic judgement of the home movie which remains hidden to traditional forms of enquiry.
Affection-image – In his theory of cinema Deleuze differentiates between the affection-image, the movement image and the action-image, each operating through temporal, narrative and affective registers of knowledge. The affection-image occupies the gap between the other two and enables the subject to experience itself from the inside. From this position, the ‘image’ is understood as a potential intuitive form through which we experience the world and ‘affection’ as the ability to affect and be affected by this experience.
I deploy the notion of affection-image as a supporting tool in my workshops in order to open up the affective registers of the Sicilian home movie to reflexive and collaborative practices that experiment with alternative forms of presentation and representation of the archive. Workshop participants are introduced to the concept and encouraged to use it as a frame for engagement with selected home movie scenes. Through a series of creative exercises participants develop affection-images corresponding to their own engagement with and experience of these movies. The aim is not to re-interpret home movies using a creative lens, but to draw on the intuitive and the sensuous to shape the experience of the Sicilian home movie archive.
Imaginative ethnography is defined as a field of research exploring social and cultural systems through emerging and experimental methodologies that integrate and fuse creative arts, digital media and sensory ethnography. In this sense ‘imaginative’ refers to the recognition of creativity and imagination as core components of human relations. The experimental methodology deployed by imaginative ethnography makes room for open-ended enquiry that takes up risks and unforeseen outcomes.
Through its more-than-representational power of inquiry, imaginative ethnography assists me with eliciting and communicating unarticulated experiences and concealed understandings of the Sicilian corpus of home movies by stepping in the footsteps of their creator, i.e. the place where these films have been shot. Returning to these places and recording the experience using different media such as writing, sound recording and drawing I use imagination not as the mere replica of perception, but as a process for eliciting and doing justice to the complexity of human experience in relation to the Sicilian home movie.
Arts-based action research refers to a methodological framework that deploys arts as a basis for investigation and knowledge production. As such, action research relies on hands-on approaches to solving real problems rather than undertaking experimental analysis. Arts-based action research goes further and merges more traditional qualitative methodologies with those of the arts, allowing for a deeper research insight, interpretation, meaning making and alternative ways of knowing. To this purpose, the use of arts methods contributes to engaging communities in action research processes.
My PhD project falls under the methodological umbrella of arts-based action research insofar it aims to open up the meaning of the Sicilian home movie to the public by deploying (co)creative practice as a main instrument for stimulating alternative readings of these archives. As a process that brings out the eventfulness of practice, art-based methods avoid limiting the reading of the archive to pure representations of the visual, but aim to capture meaning-making as a holistic process involving embodied, affective and tacit registers of knowledge. To this end, the investigation progresses from interviews conducted with artists and filmmakers who reuse home movies, to specific arts-based actions surrounding my own practice with selected home movie scenes that use drawing, imaginative writing and imaginative ethnography as main research tools, and finally to co-creative workshops that open my own practice to the public.
Productive imagination – The origins of the concept of productive imagination go back in time as far as Aristotle. Its rich history led to a variety of methodological approaches trying to frame the term and makes it difficult to offer a precise definition. To the aims of my PhD project I conceive of productive imagination as the specific cognitive capacity through which the absent becomes present. More than being located in logical or emotional reasoning, productive imagination occupies a third position that is external to these two cognitive poles. From this position of mediator, imagination connects different faculties, facilitating herewith an otherwise interrupted communication in their striving for knowledge, even if this knowledge remains in the sphere of appearance (representation).
In the context of my PhD project productive imagination facilitates the adoption of a position for framing alternative readings of the Sicilian home movie archive that connects and mediates between logical and emotional knowledge registers. In doing so it opens the footage to an exploratory perceptual field that is marked by the freedom and the playfulness of the gaze and senses. This is specific of the way in which artists and filmmakers approach home movie footage with the intent of reusing this material. Creative practice with home movies is framed by a freedom of experimentation with the materiality of the archive and its visual registers, leading to a formulation of original creative universes. More concretely, productive imagination defines the artists’ approach of the home movie and becomes therefore instrumental in assessing how these creative and imaginative universes come about. I thus deploy productive imagination as a guiding concept to decoding the eleven interviews conducted with Italian artists and filmmakers in the frame of the project.