For this issue of Non-Fiction, I invited artists and filmmakers to contribute and respond to how the political is enacted through form. Each contributor’s approach to form in their respective moving image practices stimulated my thinking around how the shape of one’s expression is inextricable from one’s ideological positions. The uniqueness of their form is a result of the specific choices artists make during their process, and the political is expressed in the incremental accumulation of these decisions, resulting in new propositions.
In the previous issue, “The Living Journal,” editors Ana Vaz and Olivier Marboeuf’s articulation of how we make and live cinema resonated with my own inquiries into the political stakes of form. I want to quote a moment from Parler l’ombre (“speak shadow”), their ongoing exchange, which, for them, has become “a way of being and making”:
“If we consider cinema to be an art of sight, an art dependent on light, then a cinema that refutes the Lights (and its “Enlightenment”), must reconsider what the cinematic machine is capable of doing beyond casting of light as the privileged form of representation. Unlike what is traditionally believed, I like to think that cinema is not only an art of sight but rather that other dimensions of our sensorial apparatus are in motion alongside its engines.”
Cinema can propose many more ways for us to experience beyond the visible, through gestures that reorient us toward these “other dimensions.” After spending time with the contributions to “Peculiar Forms,” I found that rather than “casting light” on a certain precision and clarity around the political, the political emerges from their respective emphasis on the peculiar, in the myriad senses of the word — hyper-specificity, intimacy, and situatedness as it intersects with the non-normative, the strange, the eccentric. You will not locate in the following texts explicit formulations for how to make political cinema, illuminations of a contemporary issue and a prescription for a way forward, and not all the contributions are about cinema, per se. Rather, you are invited into other, murkier dimensions: the disorder of experiments, the foggy space of inspirations, manifestations of anxieties, erotic homages, radicalizing encounters, critical methods, and, as Diane Severin Nguyen states in her interview, “the melancholy of these acts of translation and exchange.”
I found the contributors’ politics expressed through their investments in the peculiar, in alterity; an emphasis on that which is weird. For me, the prioritization of the aberrant, the queer, the unaccepted is where these thinkers opened up the possibility of an otherwise. This is where the politics of attention are enacted, modes of questioning legitimacy are formulated, asking what is worthy of our gaze, and our sentience. This power of art to point to potentials, to novel ways to see and to make, to invest in unexplored experiences and relations — this is where the political lies. A context for creation that allows for experiments with form to take place, for strange shapes to be made, and heterogenous objects to be brought into unexpected proximities. Centering a peripheral position, a peripheral desire, proposes that we reorient, deviate, and invent new forms.
For the launch event of this issue, we’ve organized a screening and conversation in London entitled “Teen Spirits,” during which Morgan Quaintance and Diane Severin Nguyen will speak to the formative years of teenage life as the burgeoning moment of artistic and political awakening. Teenagehood is fundamentally peculiar. In their contributions, both artists mined the awkwardness and alienation inherent in that period which lead them to seek radical and lasting inspirations, and aspire for transcendental experiences which informed their notions of what is possible in both life and through aesthetics.
I’d never specifically thought about form as a personal concern, yet these contributions have taught me that form outlines ideology. It is the shape of our stories and desires, often of our own lives. The shape itself expresses our politics, the way one moves through the world, creates relationships through it, collaborates, and molds it through image and sound. I am grateful to all of the contributing artists who have generously offered us their very personal and very peculiar experiences of seeing, thinking, being, and making.
Aily Tanaka Nash
Aily Nash is a curator and educator based in New York. She is a programmer at the New York Film Festival, serving on the selection committee for the Currents section, and is head of short films. She co-curated the Projections section of the festival from 2014–2019. She was a program advisor to the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s short film section from 2015-2022. She served as a Biennial advisor and co-curator of the film program for the 2017 Whitney Biennial and was head of programming for the 2018 Images Festival in Toronto. She has curated programs and exhibitions for MoMA PS1, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Anthology Film Archives, SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries, REDCAT, Institute of Contemporary Art (London), Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Tabakalera Centre for Contemporary Culture, Doc’s Kingdom, FACT Liverpool, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Ghost:256, and others. She currently teaches at Bard College and Bard Prison Initiative.