This evening’s screening brings together two films – Vincent Meessen’s ‘Vita Nova’ [be 2009] and Miranda Pennell’s ‘Why Colonel Bunny Was Killed’ [uk 2010] - that confront us with phantoms from suppressed histories and colonial pasts. Family secrets, frontier photo albums, Paris-Match meet Roland Barthes and the memoirs of a medical missionary on the Afghan borderlands. Historical fact, reality, artistic interpretation, and imagination are conflated, and the spectator is invited to piece together the fragments of the story, creating pertinent and distinctive ‘factual fictions’.
Following the films, Sophie Berrebi - lecturer in the history and theory of photography at the University of Amsterdam - will lead discussion with Vincent Meessen.
Presented in collaboration with the Master of Fine Art program, Piet Zwart Institute.
Why Colonel Bunny Was Killed is a reflection on British self-representation. Triggered by the writings of a medical missionary on the Afghan borderlands, a distant relation of the filmmaker, the film is constructed from still photographs of colonial life on the North West frontier of British India at the turn of the 20th century. Searching for clues to the realities behind images framed during a time of colonial conflict, the film plays sound against image to find contemporary parallels in Western portrayals of a distant place and people.
Vita Nova takes as its point of departure a mythic cover of the French magazine Paris- Match, from 1955. On this cover, a child soldier is depicted in the act of making a military salute. Taking this cover as his cue, the artist weaves together phantoms from the colonial past, the writings of Roland Barthes –who wrote about this particular image in his famous Mythologies – historical facts, reality, and artistic interpretation.
The film raises issues that centre on the representation and re-writing of history, its repressed narratives as well as the spectral nature of photography. From Paris to Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), passing by Bingerville (the old capital of the Ivory Coast), the spectator is invited to piece together the fragments of this layered unfolding of events and accounts, as temporalities are dislocated and chronologically disconnected. Drawing on a variety of media and archives, Vincent Meessen creates a parallel and updated story in which a new character is born (Vita Nova) and with him a new narrative.
The film gives life to the autobiographical story of a character: Roland Barthes, revisited by the phantom of the colonial. With his new film, Meessen not only brings to the fore repressed or marginalised narratives but also reflects on the artifice that forms part of historiographical discourse, using the fiction of ‘realism’ and the experience of the archive to elaborate his own personal, ‘factual fiction.’