Visiting Hours (Mike Hoolboom, 2018) is an audio-visual appropriation consisting of archival images of a Palestinian woman initially disseminated by the humanitarian organization The American Red Cross. The audio-visual texture of the video aligns itself with found footage filmmaking by slowing down and disturbing black and white images, accompanied by the slow flow of an inscribed text on the surface of the screen as well as a female voice-over performance stammering out words through tightly wound sonic booms. Through the manipulation of the found material, the video, in a manner reminiscent of Catherine Russell’s notion of “archiveology,” interrupts and muddles the representation of the woman grounded in the ‘official’ archive of the humanitarian organization while at the same time creating an aesthetics of refusal through reediting and revoicing.[i]
Superimposed on one another, a series of low-resolution images feature the Palestinian woman visiting her imprisoned husband and moving slowly from one place to another. The woman is seen sitting inside a house, waiting on a bus, and passing through the security gate at the prison. The grainy images, however, remain opaque in such a way that they picture the woman as a liminal figure whose unmappable presence and slow appearance hesitates on the threshold of sight. Not only does “the deferred presence” of the figure, along with the accompanying text that oscillates between inscription and erasure on the skin of the video, reveal what Jacques Derrida would describe as “the archival violence,” but it also “destroys its own archive.”[ii] The video works within and against the archive, rendering the impossible picture of a recalcitrant figure whose fleeing images and muteness can be indexed to neither a stable image nor to an authentic voice. Borrowing from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the grainy imagery of “the native informant” marks the limit of an ethical framework engendered by the humanitarian organization. Here, the “grain” serves as “indelible marks crossing out the impossibility of the ethical relation.”[iii] In other words, the manipulated found material, further deepened by a female voice-over whose American-English accent stammers out a sentence, complicates the ways in which the ‘non-profit organization’ has mobilized and justified the humanitarian action while simultaneously taking advantage of suffering images of the woman.
The repetitive pattern of the stuttering speech, in conjunction with the muteness of the “native informant,” emphasizes the way in which the recalcitrant figure refuses to be subordinated to a narrative rationale. This refusal manifests itself as a visual and sonic materiality that challenges what Pooja Rangan would call “humanitarian documentary impulse,” i.e., an audio-visual mode of the mediated discourse according to which “the dehumanized subject” is summoned to “perform humanity” in the service of documentary’s truth claim to reality.[iv] Together with the hesitant images, the stammering voice remains testament to a failure of (re)presenting “the native informant” under the coded protocols of humanitarian discourse.
[i] Catherine Russell, Archiveology: Walter Benjamin and Archival Film Practices (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018), 1-34.
[ii] Jacques Derrida, “Différance,” In Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), 3-27. Also, Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 7-10.
[iii] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward A History of The Vanishing Present (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 6.
[iv] Pooja Rangan, Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 1-22.