BIMI-PITT Research Workshop: “Displacement In Film And Visual Culture”

London, 15.-17. May 2019

 Dear colleagues,

Please come and join us for this free workshop at Birkbeck, with panels on "Displacement" in relation to Animation Studies, Digital Technologies, Cultural Translation, Queer Theory, Urban Change, and so much more!


The third edition of the biennial research workshop organised by Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) and the University of Pittsburgh Film Programme will take place Wednesday 15 May to Friday 17 May 2019 in Birkbeck Cinema.
The idea of the workshop is to bring together faculty and postgraduate students from Birkbeck and Pittsburgh to share their ongoing research, to get to know each other in person, and to develop collaborative research projects together.
Previous editions – “Cinema and the City” (2015) and “Urban Change” (2017) – have been both productive and enjoyable occasions, generating several joint research initiatives, including journal publications, student and staff exchanges, public lectures, curatorial projects, and study days.

The forthcoming edition is entitled “Displacement”, a theme that for the purposes of the workshop can be interpreted from any angle or approach, as long as there is some connection to film, moving image, or visual culture.

The workshop is free and open to all, regardless of institutional affiliation.

If you would like to attend the workshop, please register here, as this will help us to know who is coming:

DAY ONE, Wednesday 15 May:

DAY TWO, Thursday 16 May:

DAY THREE, Friday 17 May:

Alternatively, you can let us know by email ( We look forward to seeing you there, as it is the quality of discussion and conversation that has made the previous workshops such memorable events.

Below and attached, you will find the timetable for this year’s workshop…

Best wishes, Michael Temple, Catherine Grant, Matthew Barrington, on behalf of Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image



DAY ONE: Wednesday 15 May, Birkbeck Cinema

Morning session 10:30-12:30

Panel #1: Displacing Animation

1.A. Unmoored Realism in Irish Animation: the Multiple Migrations of Cartoon Saloon

Speaker: Alison Patterson (in collaboration with Dana Och)

Abstract: Irish cinema has inhabited an intermediate position since its institutionalization. Before then “Irish Cinema” existed only in between, in the glimpses of people and spaces in location shooting of foreign productions.  Irish animation’s history runs parallel to that of live action film. We examine the work – labour and products – of the Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, as it moves between national identity and the pressures and opportunities in animation that is both boundary-crossing and highly local. Stylistically, their films have been described as between institutional styles of realism and transnationalization of the superflat for their specifically Irish features (Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea) and the third of the “Irish Trilogy” (Wolf Walkers, in production). Additionally, Cartoon Saloon has produced full features and segments set outside of Ireland exploring alterity in body, dress, and religion, and streaming service shows with transnational production, distribution and reception. Two contemporaneous works – the studio’s contribution to the adaptation of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet (2014), and the “Storyteller’s Cavern” in both Song of the Sea (2014) and VR (2017) – exemplify movement across national borders and migration between media forms. Cartoon Saloon articulates an identity both Irish and transnational, in its subjects, techniques for perspective, and material form. 

1.B. Technological Displacement in Animation: Imagery in the Intermedial Space

Speaker: Olga Blackledge

Abstract: This presentation is concerned with the questions of displacement in animation along the lines of technology and aesthetics. Here, displacement is interpreted as a powerful force that increases the potential of animation to create new imagery while integrating imagery from other media. I argue that historically, technological shifts in animation production – such as the shift to celluloid and the shift to the digital – provoke several simultaneous processes, including the following: the previous animation techniques, even though they were displaced, did not disappear; they were integrated into the new technology through style and aesthetics; displacement of older technologies opened up a space for migration of other media into the space of animation, thus increasing its intermediality.
The presentation will focus on the technological shift that took place in Soviet animation in the 1930s, when animation production moved from a variety of animation techniques, such as drawing on paper, cut-outs, flat marionettes, and others, to the celluloid or cel technology. By examining the animated film, The Humpbacked Horse (Soiuzmul’tfil’m, dir. Ivan Ivanov-Vano, 1947), the presentation invites to discuss the question of aesthetic consequences of this shift and its intermedial potential.

Lunch 12:30-13:30

Afternoon session 13:30-15:30

Panel #2: Technological Displacements

2.A. The Virtual Walls: Metaphor, Mediation, and Making the Experimental VR Film 47 KM (2017)

Speaker: Jinying Li

Abstract: In China, the rapid economic development has displaced much of the rural population from farmlands to factories. What is also displaced is China’s socialist past, when walls were extensively used for painting Maoist slogans and images. These socialist legacies are largely gone in cities, but remain in rural villages. Filmmaker Zhang Mengqi recorded the images of these abandoned walls in the latest instalment of her documentary series 47km. Combining theory with practice, this talk critically contemplates the project that I participated in collaboration with Zhang to remediate her documentary 47km into a VR film. I consider how the virtual walls can critically engage with the history and politics of space-as-media, as well as the ways in which this mediating space can be displaced and retrieved. Drawing upon the “window” metaphor, I argue that it is the wall rather than the window that fundamentally defines what VR really is. Shifting the metaphor from “window” to “wall” is a theoretical reconsideration of media not simply as systems of visual representation but as spatial organization. The VR space in 47km is such a mediating environment, through which China’s forgotten socialist past that is displaced in the rural wasteland is recorded, resurrected, and repurposed.

2.B. Displacement and Compression

Speaker: Jesse Anderson-Lehman

Abstract: Compression is what allows for media objects to be displaced, to move from one place to another more readily and with less friction. Easily distributed and shared file formats lend the contemporary moving image a sense of both spatial and temporal displacement, where a video uploaded to YouTube in 2015 can then pop up again and go viral on Instagram in 2019. As platforms and technologies are rapidly displaced, the images are constantly downloaded, decoded, converted, encoded, and uploaded, whether on servers, in the cloud, or on our phones or tablets. Compression algorithms are thus pivotal sites of corporate manoeuvring, with standards agreed upon by the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) now facing competition from the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), in which Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix are all governing members. The presence of so many contemporary media heavy-hitters in one consortium illustrates the degree to which the “free” flow of “open” media makes for good business; the displaced cultural condition that results only heightens the ease with which corporate interests can exert an ever-greater influence on our media consumption habits.

Tea 15:30-16:15

Late afternoon session 16:15-17:30

Art at the Frontier of Film Theory: Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

Session led by Oliver Fuke and Nicolas Helm-Grovas

Group visit to the BIMI/Essay Film Festival produced exhibition “Art at the Frontier of Film Theory: Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen”, Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck; including presentation/discussion with curators, Oliver Fuke and Nicolas Helm-Grovas, and with Laura Mulvey.


DAY TWO: Thursday 16 May, Birkbeck Cinema

Morning session 10:30-12:30

Panel #3: Displacing Cultures

3.A. Displacing the “Last Western”: Remaking Eastwood and Rethinking Japan

Speaker: Charles Exley

Abstract: I propose to consider the theme of displacement in the western through a reading of Lee Sang-il’s 2013 film Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru mono). Because it draws closely on Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), the work has been recognized as a faithful remake of Eastwood’s iconic late western. At the same time, Lee reframes the western to focus on displacement, calling particular attention to the repression of political and ethnic ‘others’ in the acquisition of frontier territory (Hokkaidō) in the 1860s. This cinematic reworking of Eastwood is notable also for its transmedia sensibility because it draws significantly from manga artist Tezuka Osamu’s Shumari, a work which explores the imperial origins of the frontier in Hokkaidō set at the same formative moment.  In light of recent European interest in the transnational western Lee’s complex film offers a useful starting point for a larger discussion of how the transposition of the western to East Asian soil adjusts our expectations of what is overemphasized as being the most American of genres, and indeed how displacement examined in this film might connect to other examples of the transnational evolution of the western around the globe.

3.B. The Visual Ecstasy of 1980s Bombay: The Disco, and Disco Films as Contraband

Speaker: Silpa Mukherjee

Abstract: My presentation will showcase an aggregation of ephemera, photographs, flyers and gossip columns from English language Indian film magazines. These will resonate in the flicker of the images from the “disco films” made in 1980s Bombay. The presentation will be moored to clips from disco song sequences from these films. I am keen on mapping this lost decade of underground media culture. I refer to this affective visual infrastructure of disco as contraband. The precarious quality of disco life becomes the contraband object. The scale of desire, risk and guilt associated with this displaced and displacing alien culture is significant for the project. Using the conceptual anchor of disco as contraband the project engages with chance encounters with rapidly morphing new media cultures which forged an alternative sensorium with a new range of tastes. Displacement here is a tangible event locatable in the newness of disco films, and in the transgressive charge and materiality of the discotheque; in its actual hosting of contraband bodies and events, and allowing the exchange of physical contraband. The presentation will generate a visual sleazeography linked to the contradictory impulses of desire and paranoia.

Lunch 12:30-13:30

Afternoon session 13:30-15:30

Panel #4: Queer Displacements

4.A. What makes Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together a Queer Film? The Border, Diaspora, and Disorientation

Speaker: Carlos Rivera

Abstract: The 1997 queer melodrama Happy Together relates the journey two gay men, Lai Yiu-fai and Ho Po-wing, make from Hong Kong to Argentina. Inspired by a lampshade depicting a waterfall procured by Po-wing, the pair embark on a South American trip to the Iguaçu Falls in an attempt to salvage their relationship. This natural border constitutes the queer protagonists’ object of contemplation and desire. As I will argue, we encounter recurring images – namely, the passport, the lampshade, and the waterfalls – comprising a Deleuzian amalgam of affection-images. In turn, these affection-images exude a common quality: a highly fluid, polysemic border that, at once, enables and restricts the movement of queer desires. The film, via its canny employment of close-ups, transmutes the border into an aggregate of affection-images susceptible to differing interpretative interventions. Considering the effects of cinematographic techniques like the close-up, this sense of disorientation is what renders the film queer. The film’s queerness lies in how the border ends up having different, conflicting meanings and sensations for the protagonists that vacillate from hope to anger and from despair to perplexity.

4.B. Becoming Trans: Moving the Still and Queering the Archive

Speaker: Jonathan Devine

Abstract: My presentation mobilizes the theme of “Displacement” by looking at the representation of trans* (transgender, transsexual, nonbinary, and so on) subjecthood in Trans (Chris Arnold, 2012), a nonlinear documentary that exhibits a kaleidoscope of different and varied trans* experiences. I respond to Jay Prosser’s claim in Second Skins that still photography can be at odds with the trans* experience, a queer transformation that indicates movement, while photography as a medium ostensibly portrays something that is in stasis. Such displacement is thus not only bodily, but also temporal. In Trans, it stems from how the movement of still, photographic images evinces a temporality where past, present (and sometimes future) are presented concurrently, owing to zooms, dissolves, and fades (in and out). This style of documentary plays an important role when looking at different representational forms in trans* history, such as the case study, the clinic, pictures, and oral history. Rather than being reduced to a form of “irregularity” or “mental illness,” queer/trans* subjects have a voice, and are presented as trustworthy in contributing to their archive via a first-person narrative. By allowing his interview subjects to openly express their queer, nonlinear entanglement of past, present, and future, Arnold rather moves towards a sort of sympathetic voyeurism.

Tea 15:30-16:15

Late afternoon session 16:15-17:30

Displacement and the Compass Project

Session led by Michael Darko and Leslie Topp

This special session, chaired by Leslie Topp (chair of the Compass Project steering group), will present an ongoing artistic collaboration between Anna Konik, a video installation artist from Warsaw, and a group of Compass Project students, all studying at Birkbeck while in the asylum process. Students from the Compass Project are currently undertaking a collaboration with Anna Konik, a Warsaw-based video artist whose work includes the video installation In the Same City Under the Same Sky, which focused on the narratives of women migrants in Europe and explored empathy and its limits. Compass Project students are working with Anna to produce an art documentary or video installation, titled Eight Days a Week, inspired by Krzysztof Kieślowski's Seven Days a Week, which will show each day a fragment of the life of a different person looking at the complexity of their journey in different cultural, political, social contexts as well the reality of displacement. With another Compass student (to be confirmed), Michael Darko will present the group’s work in progress on the project, alongside a screening of selections from Anna Konik's previous project.


DAY THREE: Friday 17 May, Birkbeck Cinema

Morning session 10:30-12:30

Panel #5: Displacing Pittsburgh

5.A. Displacements of Horror: Romero’s Braddock, Economic Trauma, and Martin

Speaker: Adam Lowenstein

Abstract: In George A. Romero’s Martin (1978), the gradual economic and social decline of Braddock, Pennsylvania in the wake of its collapsing steel industry is central to the film’s horror. The young, mentally ill Martin, who believes himself to be a vampire, arrives in Braddock to find a community already vampirized economically. This form of social catastrophe is closer to Cathy Caruth’s definition of individual trauma (slower, quieter unfoldings) rather than collective trauma (distinct, violent happenings), so it fits less easily with previous studies of trauma and the horror film that have tended to focus on events rather than processes. Romero’s approach in Martin demonstrates a counter-intuitive relation between the horror film and trauma: one might suppose that a genre often perceived as being built on shock and spectacle would not be well-suited to engage the subtleties of individual trauma. Martin teaches us just the opposite, and alerts us to the significant but under-recognized role that individual trauma plays in Romero’s cinema. By remapping Romero’s work in this way, this paper ultimately attempts to recast our assumptions about the horror film’s relation to collective and individual trauma.

5.B. Black Space Matters: Contested Community Activism in Processes of Urban Renewal in Pittsburgh

Speaker: William Ackah

Abstract: One of the most prominent historical neighbourhoods in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania is the Hill District. At its heyday in the post Second World War period it was home to over 80,000 African Americans and was a dynamic multi-cultural urban space known as the second Harlem. Nine of the ten plays by Pulitzer Prize winning Playwright August Wilson based on each decade of the 20th Century were set in the Hill. Today the Hill District is home to less than 20,000 African-Americans the majority of whom earn less than $20,000 dollars per annum. This paper explores the changing dynamics of the neighbourhood since the Second World War and assesses the impact that urban policy making has had on fortunes of the community. In particular the paper focuses on the role played by African American church leaders and community activists in trying to preserve the unique historical black cultural legacy of the Hill whilst trying to navigate a policy environment concerned with regenerating the area and changing its class and racial make-up.

Lunch 12:30-13:30

Afternoon session 13:30-15:00

Young Voices: London on Film

Session led by Lily Ford, Sarah Joshi, and Janet McCabe

Presentation and screening of essay films made for Young Voices: London on Film, a collaboration between BIMI/Essay Film Festival, Pittsburgh-London Film Program, the Derek Jarman Lab, and alumni from the Making Images course at the Phoenix Cinema, with contributions from Birkbeck’s MA Film Programming and Curating students.

Tea 15:00-15:45

Evening session 18:00-21:00, Birkbeck Cinema

BIMI screening of Robinson in Space with Patrick Keiller

Filmmaker Patrick Keiller will present a 35mm screening of Robinson in Space (1997, UK, 81 minutes), as part of a BIMI event in collaboration with the Architectural Association.