Individually and collaboratively scholars associated with the Centre are working on several projects, and some examples are given below.

The Militant City

A two-year project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education led by Dr Mari Paz Balibrea and Dr Isaac Marrero-Guillamón

Looking at/for the militant city: political space and audiovisual art in two postindustrial, Olympic cities – the case of Barcelona and London investigates the role of art in the configuration of an antagonistic space in relation to the Olympic event. The Olympic Games provide the neoliberal backdrop against which the relationship between cultural production and the political will be inquired. The project seeks to find and analyse in-depth works that challenge the Olympic machine, practices that shake up the regulation of what can be seen, said, or thought about the mega-event.

For further details visit Militant City.

Weaving Communities of Practice. Textiles, Culture, and Identity in the Andes: a Semiotic and Ontological Approach

Dr Luciana Martins, Professor Denise Y. Arnold, Dr Sven Helmer and Professor Alex Poulovassilis

This AHRC-funded project investigates the relationship between textiles, culture and identity in the Andes from Tiwanaku times up to the present. In place of writing, textiles in Andean civilizations were developed over millennia by visually literate populations to document and display complex data. Academic studies worldwide are intrigued by this massive cultural use of information display, yet limited in methods of approach. Drawing on new methodologies combining fieldwork, digital documentation, information visualization and ontology, this project develops a common language for understanding Andean cloth to be shared between Visual, Computer and Museum Studies.

An ontology defines a common terminology for an application domain in a formal way, describing fundamental concepts and their relationships. Subjective knowledge that has been ill-defined or used informally can now be stored, systematised, disseminated, and exchanged. The ontology developed in this project connects the social and cultural aspects with the computer sciences aspects, thus making it a crucial part of the project. A Birkbeck informatics team provides the technical infrastructure for pre-processing, storing, retrieving, and analysing the data collected by the archaeologist / ethnographer team in South America. The Birkbeck CILAVS team provides the coordinating function between the informatics team in London and the informatics and archaeological / ethnographic teams in South America, and house the database and resulting educational website.

This project stems from Prof Denise Arnold’s research on Visualizing Textile Routes: A Preliminary Exploration of Andean Textiles Domain Anthology, a collaborative project involving ILCA – Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Aymara in Bolivia and the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London.

The ‘Andean’ in Argentina: A Region in Representation & Cultural Imaginaries

Dr Philip Derbyshire

This research project is funded by a British Academy Post Doctoral Fellowship. By analysing the ways in which ‘the Andean’ comes to be represented in various forms of discursive production within Argentina, I propose to investigate how complex relations between nature, the historical, the fantasmatic, the philosophical and the political have been constructed around a particular geography, and the ways in which a region and its populations become articulated in and through cultural imaginaries, forming part of a nation-in-space with its placing of the indigenous within a settler society.  The research will look at production in a) the philosophical work of Rodolfo Kusch, b) the historical narratives of the foundation of the republic, c) the literary work of Héctor Tizón, d) the 1960s left discourse on the ‘people’, e) the discourse of self-representation of the ‘indigenous’ peoples of the Argentine North West, f) contemporary archaeological and anthropological discourses on pre-Conquest cultures.

Spanish Blood: Religion, Lineage and the Depiction of Black Slaves in Imperial Spain

Dr Carmen Fracchia

The object of my analysis is the iconography of slavery in the context of the Spanish Empire. It is centred on the ways in which the imagined identity of black slaves was conceptualised, narrated and visualised in Imperial Spain. This project tackles the relation between Spanish Empire, Atlantic Slavery and Early Modern Spanish Visual Practices. I explore the visual construction of the subjectivity of the Afro-Hispanic slave-painter Juan de Pareja in his self-portrait  and in his portrait depicted by his own master Diego Velázquez; the visual formulation of the black slave in the European iconography of the Miracle of the Black Leg in metropolitan Spain; the depictions of chained slaves in metropolitan Spain and in topographic views of Spanish cities formulated by the German sculptor Christoph Weiditz and by the Belgian miniaturist Georg Hoefnagel. This project will be published in a book form.

Depicting Women in Early Modern Spain

Dr Carmen Fracchia

I explore the visual formulation of womens’ identity in early modern Spanish visual culture by two female artists at the service of the Habsburg Court in Madrid: the Italian painter Sofonisba Anguissola and the Spanish sculptress Luisa Roldán and by four male painters: El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Murillo, José Ribera. The issues of the representation of the gendered self; the domestic space; strategies of resistance; discipline and the body; the workings of the gaze; the construction of gender and the concept of ‘the unified sex’; the political and biological formulation of ‘eugenics’; and the workings of the imperial policy of purity of blood vis-a-vis the construction of gender are the object of my analysis. This project will be published as a chapter in the Companion to Spanish Womens’ Studies (Tamesis/ Boydell & Brewer) edited by Geraldine Coates and Xon de Ros.

Modernity, Photography, and the Brazilian Visual Archive, 1900-1930

Dr Luciana Martins

This research project focuses on still photography and documentary film produced by Brazilians and foreigners, in order to shed light on the multiple geographies of modern Brazil created by visual technologies. The project examines visual archival material in Brazil, the US and the UK and contributes to the postcolonial theoretical project of providing other, local histories of visual technologies and practices. Part of this research was funded by grants awarded by the British Academy and Birkbeck Faculty of Arts. My research concentrates on three related components:

  • Surveying the transformative potential of Brazil. This part of the research explores the visual archives of two different expeditionary traditions – represented by Alexander Hamilton Rice’s travels in the Amazon (1924-5) and Kenneth Grubb’s missionary work in Brazil in the late 1920s – in order to examine the different modalities of survey during this period, and especially the relationship between scientific, missionary and humanitarian ways of seeing.
  • Brazilian modernist visions. Focusing mainly on the visual record produced by the modernist poet Mário de Andrade in the course of his travels to the Brazilian interior, I consider the complex fields and spatialities within which a more self-consciously aestheticized photography operated to represent self and others.
  • ‘Brazils’ on the screen. Moving from still photography to film, the third strand of the project considers the role of documentary film – including scientific, artistic and commercial – in producing knowledge about Brazil in the first three decades of the twentieth century.

Latin America in Photography and Film

Dr Luciana Martins

The core aim of this project is the compilation of a cross-referenced, searchable register of visual sources in the UK, documenting Britain’s photographic and filmic engagement with Latin America from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of World War II. It seeks to lay the foundation for visual histories of UK-Latin American relations, emphasising the production, circulation and reception of visual representations, and the ways in which these are politically, economically and affectively invested in a context of ‘informal imperialism’.

Latin America in Photography and Film therefore aims to become an authoritative resource for researchers in the UK and abroad, with a view to advance research on the visual archive of Latin America. While recent innovative research has expanded the critical debate about the history of photography and film, questioning its current Euro-American centre of gravity, case studies in this field have tended to focus primarily on areas formerly under British rule, neglecting others such as Latin America, where imperial influence was exerted in more subtle ways. Recovering an extant but neglected archive, Latin America in Photography and Film will thus provide researchers with a useful tool to address this imbalance.

This initiative forms part of CILAVS’ Ibero-American Museum of Visual Culture on the Web.

Plan Rosebud

Dr María L. Ruido and Dr Mari Paz Balibrea

This research project explores the relationship between representation and the politics of memory in Spain during the last few decades, and traces a comparative look at the United Kingdom within the context of European democracies. Taking as a starting point recent debates around the Law of Historical Memory, ‘Plan Rosebud’ proposes a retrospective glance at the Transition and its film production, paying close attention to militant cinema collectives and the different social movements they were linked to. The project’s proposed outcomes, a film and a book, will be presented in December 2008 at the seminar ‘Documentalidades/2’, which will take place at the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporaneo (CGAC) in Santiago de Compostela.

Recoveries of the Real

New Argentine and Brazilian Cinema in the Global Image-World

Para versão em português clique aqui / Haga clic aquí para versión en español.

Project partnersJens Andermann (Birkbeck College, London, UK); Alvaro Fernández Bravo (New York University, Buenos Aires, Argentina); Mauricio Lissovsky (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Denilson Lopes (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Gabriela Nouzeilles (Princeton University, U.S.A.)

In a series of encounters, the network attempts to interconnect debates on the emergence, in contemporary Brazilian and Argentine cinema, of a new concern with the real and with the peculiar indexical qualities of the filmic sound-image. It also attempts to map these concerns into the larger context of current film theory and discussions on world cinema as a potentially counter-hegemonic audiovisual space.

Starting in the mid-1990s, both Brazilian cinema da retomada (‘recovery cinema’) and Argentine nuevo cine have taken part in a wider resurgence of Latin American film following its near-collapse at the height of the debt crisis of the previous two decades. However, this re-emergence of cinema has taken place in markedly different ways between one country and the next, as has the impact of neoliberal adjustment policies on local production structures, audiences, relations between cinema, television and alternative audiovisual media circuits, and so forth. These specific constellations, then, call for a comparative rather than a unifying approach, precisely in order to call attention to shared traits and concerns, and the way these engage and respond to cinematic tendencies beyond the context of the region.

Much of the criticism produced on present-day Brazilian and Argentinian cinema focuses on the ways in which these share a similar concern with the observational capacity of the filmic apparatus. Sometimes marked as a contrast between imaging technologies within the films themselves, the cinematic sound-image is conceived as being traversed in a fundamentally different way by what it records than its televisual counterpart. The relation, then, between film and ‘the real’ is claimed to be, at the same time, more reflexive and more immediate than in other audiovisual media, not so much because of an inherent difference in recording technology (many films are today shot in digital video) as of different spaces and temporalities of production and circulation. In terms of film genres, visual and sound aesthetics, acting techniques, etc., this concern with the real has led to a marked blurring of boundaries between fiction and documentary films, and to the incorporation of the very mode of production as an essential component of cinematic form.

Yet whereas this renewed interest in a cinema capable of observing the social landscapes of neoliberal postdictatorship seems to suggest a return to central aesthetic concerns of 1960s and 1970s ‘Third Cinema’, critics still committed to the latter’s cause have accused the new generation of filmmakers of political complacency or indifference, as evidenced in their works’ lack of explicit moral judgements or prise de partie. However, it has been argued that the new cinema’s concern with the indexicality and (staging of) immediacy of the filmic sound-image responds to an exhaustion of the political as understood by the film-activism of the Sixties and the highly allegorical postdictatorship cinema of the Eighties and early Nineties, a change that also affects the figure of the film-auteur who ceases to be a public intellectual crafting images and narratives of the nation and its destiny.

The network thus attempts to produce a novel understanding of contemporary Latin American film, at once locating it in the particular conditions of its emergence and in relation to an increasingly global space of production and consumption of sound-images. It attempts to understand in what ways the ‘recoveries of the real’ can be understood as, at the same time, a form of insistence (and resistance) of the local and as part of the construction of an alternative, trans-local form of globality that echoes and dialogues with developments in other regions of ‘world cinema’.