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  • Edited Time:The Temporal Investigations of Scott Billings and Raqs Media Collective
  • Ariane Noël de Tilly (bio)

Two distinct and nonrelated events that were recorded in the first half of the twentieth century by a filmmaker and a photographer, respectively, have prompted new works by contemporary artists based in Vancouver and New Delhi. In 1918, Russian filmmaker DZIGA VERTOV performed a risky jump, which he described in his own writings as either a leap across rooftops or a one-and-a-half-story-high jump from the balcony of a summer house.1 VERTOV's cameraman recorded the action with a high-speed camera and followed a specific instruction: he had to film the jump in such a way that the filmmaker's facial expressions and his different thoughts could eventually be scrutinized when the take was projected in slow motion.2 Years later, VERTOV wrote in his notebook that when he saw the footage of that risky jump projected onto a screen, he did not recognize his own face, but he was able to read the thoughts from the expressions it appeared to register: "irresolution, vacillation, and firmness (a struggle within myself), and, again, the joy of victory."3 This ability of the camera to record what the naked eye cannot see in lived, phenomenological time, which VERTOV called the "Kino-Eye," is essential to his cinema. Not quite a century later, inspired by both theoretical texts on slow motion and [End Page 533] different written recollections of the 1918 experiment conducted by the Russian filmmaker, Vancouver-based artist SCOTT BILLINGS set out to make his own risky jump in his studio on September 28, 2014. The resulting video loop is not a reprise of Vertov's own jump; rather, it is a work that seeks to further investigate the scientific and artistic process that is cinema.

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Figure 1.

Scott Billings, A Risky Jump (2015). Video installation, 7:29 minutes, 13 feet. Exhibition view at Wil Aballe Art Projects (WAAP), Vancouver, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.

Whereas Billings's A Risky Jump was inspired by written texts reflecting on a cinematic technique and the results of an experiment, Raqs Media Collective's Re-Run was created in an entirely different geopolitical context, and was prompted by a photograph taken in the mid-twentieth century. In late November 1948, after a year spent taking photographs in India (a nation that had gained sovereignty in 1947), French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson received an urgent cable from the Magnum New York office, the agency he [End Page 534] had co-founded the previous year. The agency pressed him to travel to China to report visually on the arrival of the People's Liberation Army in various cities across the country. At the beginning of December 1948, Cartier-Bresson spent ten days in Beijing and took the last plane out as the People's Liberation Army started occupying the city.4 One of the best-known photographs that Cartier-Bresson took during his subsequent visit to Shanghai depicts a run on the national bank.

Seeing that the value of paper money was sinking, the Kuomintang government resolved to distribute forty grams of gold per person, which resulted in a financial panic. The official title of Cartier-Bresson's photograph is quite long, yet it offers an important contextualization of the political climate to which the image bears witness:

CHINA. Shanghai. December 1948–January 1949. As the value of the paper money sank, the Kuomintang decided to distribute 40 grams of gold per person. With the gold rush, in December, thousands came out and waited in line for hours. The police, equipped with the remnants of the armies of the International Concession, made only a gesture toward maintaining order. Ten people were crushed to death.5

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Figure 2.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, China, Shanghai. Kuomintang Gold Distribution Line (1948). Image courtesy of Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.

[End Page 535]

The photograph Cartier-Bresson took of this bank run shows a dense crowd composed of men and women of different generations, in a complete state of panic, pressing against...


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