SIMON DUFF: The 22 minute film Otolith 1 is set in the year 2103 when human beings are confined to outer space. Lost to a world they can no longer physically balance or walk on. Juxtaposed are a series of subjects looking back at the twentieth century. Fractured themes and images linked through personal history and archived footage. India and Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions from the 1960s, scenes filmed in microgravity at Star City, the Russian astronaut training centre, news footage from the London peace march prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the war on terror. Scientific exchange missions between newly independent socialist countries, family gatherings, and mushroom clouds from atomic bombs. Digital and analogue mediums collide as a narrator looks back with deep melancholy and longing for an ideal of past generations on earth. At the core is a bold and successful attempt to engage the uncertain intervals between aesthetic and political commitments.
Between 2003-9 The Otolith Group, a cross cultural collaboration founded by London based artists, theorists, and curators Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar, created the Otolith Trilogy. Taking its name from part of the inner ear that establishes our sense of gravity and orientation, Otolith 1 was the first film. Ambitious in both scale, theory and form in the same intense way that Matthew Barney took the art world by the scruff of the neck with his Cremaster series, The
Group create its films from disparate visual sources, including those from archives of Sagar’s own family in India. The creative use of abstract sound and music is used to heighten atmospheres and illuminate the voice over narration.
“Earth is out of bounds for us now; it remains a planet accessible only through media,” the fictional narrator, anthropologist Dr Usha Adebaran Sagar, explains at the start. Dr Sagar’s character is presented as a descendant of Anjalika Sagar, who looks back at the lives of several generations of women in her family. Linking her own experiences with those of Anjalika’s real life grandfather from the 1960s, she encounters the first woman to enter space, the Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, and real life Anjalika’s contemporary observations “For us,” the narrator declares, “there is no memory without image and no image without memory. Image is the matter of memory.” The film stays long in the mind as a kind of off centre science fiction political work, a ghostly reflection on the global past present and of a haunted corporate future, reminding us of a fading utopian hope. The dreamlike apocalyptic images come not only from mass media political issues, but also from the deep personal perspective of the archive. Otolith 11 is set in the near future and juxtaposes different conditions of modern India, again using montage to negotiate the difficulty of portraying urban conditions that have been filmed repeatedly. Otolith 111 possesses a different atmosphere from the
preceding works. A young boy, industrialist, journalist and an engineer explore attempts to make a film and find a director. It reveals the Groups fascination with unfinished or unmade projects buried within film history.
The Otolith Group opens a route to challenge the current unfolding of globalization, particularly its outcome presumed to be the result of historical inevitability.
Revisiting the aspirations of socialist collectivism, feminism and post Colonial struggles during the 1960s and 1970s, they deepen the significance of its early twenty first century political engagement by establishing lines of continuity with, and perhaps equally important, significant differences from, those inspiring but now often forgotten historical episodes. On the basis of the Group’s filmic destabilising notion of time, our present emerges as far less certain than it might
seem. In 2010 they were nominated for the Turner Prize.
“A Long Time Between Suns” has been edited as an archival book assemblage that explores the Otolith trilogy and a selection of exhibitions put on by the group. Using essays and conversations with members and key contributors along with the original film scripts, it provides a fascinating insight into methods, working practice and concepts. Including their relationships to other filmmakers such as Black Audio Film Collective, Jean-Luc Godard and Chris Marker,
reflections on the methodology of the essay as form, the political implications of montage, the legacies of collective cinema in relation to the discourse of liberation struggles and their engagement with histories of futurity. This is an important book documenting the dynamic of a new and exciting force in art.
The Otolith Group. A Long Time Between Suns.
Edited by Anna Colin and Emily Pethick
Contributions by Diana McCarty, Jean Matthee, and TJ Demos