Making Sense of Affective Knowledge in Home Movies through Collaborative Methods
DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2020.15 | Issue 4 | June 2020
University of Leeds
This work deals with the topic of home movies, usually defined as a form of naïve cinema. Attempting to broaden the scope of analysis possible for the home movie, itself consisting of a form characterised by a lack of rules that render it naïve, my research pays particular attention to characteristics of difference and creativity in the home movie, rather than those aspects rendering it a hard-to-define style. To this aim, I deploy participatory approaches as forms of collaborative ideas-making, and this research statement outlines a workshop held at De Montfort University as part of the Cracking the Established Order conference that explored ways to establish a dialogue with the archive of home movies that at the same time presented new ways to speak about this archive. A core component of this process is the use of creative and imaginative methods such as writing or drawing in combination with philosophical concepts. The knowledge gained through this workshop takes the shape of a multimedia video, representing a sort of artistic statement of the entire working process and its outcome. The multimedia video becomes ultimately an expression of what the home movie means and how it comes about.
As personal or domestic records capturing and preserving fragments of private memory, usually filmed by an amateur (FIAF, 2016), home movies are defined as a form of naïve cinema (Chalfen, 1987). They reveal a peculiar way of looking at the world that is neither filtered by the technical mastery of the medium, nor subject to a linear narrative structure. Its freedom consists in the same lack of rules that render it naïve. In this light, its characteristic film style defies categorical notion, generating the need to move away from a definition of film style as technical knowledge, to a definition that foregrounds the relationship of the moviemaker with the camera, itself typical of non-formalised film practices  (Cavallotti, 2019). In doing so, we shift the attention from a problem – that of analysing something devoid of rules or structure – to an opportunity, one that looks at the uniqueness of the movie through its style.
This shift in thinking broadens the scope of analysis possible for the home movie, paying particular attention to characteristics of difference and creativity, rather than those aspects rendering it a hard-to-define style. Yet with the broadening of the home movie’s sphere of analysis emerges a new challenge in terms of the suitability of contemporary methods to deal with new forms of knowledge. Arts-based research can offer an interesting alternative to more traditional methods such as interviews or film analysis, insofar as it tends to resist categorical or binary thinking, pays more attention to contexts, and is therefore able to reflect a multiplicity of visions. Adopting creative methods to analyse the engagement with the archive creates space for the manifestation of the evocative, personal and expressive elements that are hard to capture by traditional methods. According to Eisner, ‘the arts in research promote a form of understanding that is derived or evoked through emphatic experience’ (2008: 7). Creative methods therefore go beyond linguistic knowledge and provide a deep insight into what others are experiencing while engaging with the home movie.
My personal interest in home movies originates in their liminal nature that envisions the use of creative practice as an original investigation method, exploring the archive from ‘within’ and not ‘in relation to’ something else. To this aim, I deploy participatory approaches as forms of collaborative ideas-making that are part of the participatory turn (Milevska, 2018) and enable the creation of ‘new ways to see, think and communicate’ (Leavy, 2019: 3) that ‘lifts inquiry above its narrow personal confines’ (Goethe, 1988: 12). In the frame of my PhD project I experiment with collaborative methods that promote an affective, embodied and tacit reading of the Sicilian home movie archive. Workshops have been organised as a way of reflecting on broader social challenges, using the archive as a mediator of knowledge. But the broader aim of my project’s workshops is to experiment with formats, attempting to use these archives more imaginatively. The aim here is to critically reflect on a reading of these archives as opuses in ‘becoming’ that we perceive each time anew, as we open them.
One of these workshops was conducted in the frame of the Cracking the Established Order (CtEO) conference, taking place at De Montfort University in June 2019. It explored ways to develop experimental participatory practices that establish a dialogue with the archive and are at the same time able to speak about the archive. A core component of this process is the use of creative and imaginative methods such as writing or drawing in combination with philosophical concepts. The scope is to explore how we can construct a theoretically sound yet at the same time looser approach to reading the archive, which is not confined by interpretational frames or builds on easy assumptions.
The workshop deploys the specific notion of affection-images to go beyond linguistic representation. Affection-images are forms of resonance between objects of our perceptions and ourselves. They are neither the sole reflection of our emotions, nor responses to perceptual stimuli but an intertwining of both, modulations of the same matter (Deleuze, 1992), giving rise to the imaginary texture of the real (Merleau-Ponty, 1964). It is through this that we gain a holistic experience of the world, as a layered structure of affective, experiential and embodied knowledge. At the same time, the affection-image enables us to step into other forms of sensible intuition, by acknowledging the fact that there is more in the home movie than that, something which can be represented and expressed through words. Drawing, writing and other forms of creative expression enable us to tap deeper into the home movie as an object of the ‘more-than-sensible realm’. These forms of expression encourage a loosening of conventional meaning-making structures of the archival image that makes space for new intuitions and associations that do not pertain to the field of semiotics.
The eight workshop participants at the De Montfort conference were introduced to this concept and encouraged to engage with a pre-selected home movie scene drawing inspiration from the concept of affection-images. The creative and imaginative methods used to engage with the home movie scene provided a deeper and more holistic insight into perceptual experience. This process resulted in different outputs: visual memes, mood boards, performances, posters, audio pieces, collages and imaginative writing. Although associated with difficulties in terms of accommodating findings within academic conventions (Dunn and Mellor, 2017), these creative and art-based approaches offered an alternative to models of interpretation that rely on film or discursive analysis. They conveyed a concrete form to knowledge that falls outside of the sphere of many concepts by stepping into the pre-linguistic domain , operating through introspection as a self-reflexive process that is shaped by the sense of knowing together (Ingold, 2013).
In fact, the emerging engagement models show that while the creative process is predominantly an individual one – participants have chosen to work independently rather than in teams – sharing these formats with the group are not only important in terms of ‘articulating’ experience, but they also form an integral part of the experience itself. For example, the performance required the active participation of the group; the sound-piece called for participants attention; the meme had to be read out aloud for others to grasp its meaning, and so on. Together, these creative formats generated an orchestration of emotions, impressions and thoughts as a perpetual movement of experience and embodied performance that sets the foundations of an archive of the present. Such an archive does not only bring people together around these digitalised materials, but also disrupts categories and easy assumptions concerning the home movie, paving the way for new affinities (Deger, 2017).
Images of the different projects developed in the frame of the CtEO workshop.
The knowledge gained through these projects now takes the shape of a multimedia video, representing a sort of artistic statement of the entire working process and its outcome. As a single-piece element, viewable in full at the start of this Research Statement, it traces the creative journey of the event by assembling participants’ creative outputs, video and audio elements recorded during the working process and elements of post-workshop conversations. Yet the piece is neither a film essay, nor a collage or montage. Instead, it represents the modulation of the co-creative experience of its eight participants and aims to formulate new ways of generating and presenting knowledge surrounding the home movie. I deployed modulation as a way to respond in an embodied and affectionate way to the subtle shifts in the context surrounding the workshop activity, departing from the Deleuzian concept but expanding it into the field of more than sensible intuitions. Through modulation, I am able to capture the entire process in a holistic manner, which gives space to the emergence of affect, associated sensations and moods as key elements that cannot be attributed either to the audience or to the material, but to an intertwining of both. This vision is foregrounded in new materialist theories and in the observation that feelings, emotions and moods are not already present in subjects, but evolve as a flow of energy that is continuously being co-created and negotiated (Barad, 2007). Also relating participants’ projects to further impressions collected during and after the workshop, the piece deploys digital software as a panaesthetic tool, which refers in medicine to the sum of all of a person’s perceptions at a given moment in time. Using Final Cut, layers and effects similar to how a surgeon deploy their instruments, I aimed to reconstruct the skin of the film through which its tacit and affective knowledge emerges through the aesthetic and material registers of the event. The multimedia piece becomes ultimately an expression of what the home movie means and how it comes about.
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 Non-formalised practices are, according to Diego Cavallotti, idiosyncratic practices connected to a non-regulated use of technical objects. In contrast to formalised practices, they are not following the rules and technical indications of professional filming, but follow a looser style belonging to the personal practice of the filmmaker.
 Standing at the core of cognitive research about human knowledge, pre-linguistic or direct knowledge is that form of knowledge that is not necessarily associated with any form of linguistic expression. As a result of immediate experience, pre-linguistic knowledge presents things as they are, without having to name them. As a predominantly visual object, the home movie triggers an aesthetic experience and thus works through aesthetic data registers. This way of knowing refers to a direct unmediated engagement with the sensual properties of the home movie, while representing at the same time a tacit form of knowing. Steven Taylor defined the concept of aesthetic muteness as the difficulty to translate aesthetic experience and judgements into verbal, analytical language.
 Panaesthesia refers in medicine to the sum of all of a person’s perceptions at a given moment in time.