Fictions ethnographiques

Practise-based PhD publication (266 pages)
Beaux-Arts de Paris, ENS rue d'Ulm
PSL University (SACRe program)

Shards and disappearances. Ethnographic fictions develops a survey around ethnographic representation, giving birth to a series of films in which anthropology and fiction intertwine.

A first series of films created between 2009 and 2012 around the notion of exoticism constitues the theoretical and iconographic beginnings of this research. On the one hand, this first movement analyses the construction of the "native" in the "New World", paying special attention to the moments of the "first contact" between travellers and indigenous people. This moment of mutual discovery is referred by the term "flashes" - moments of light, fulgurant traces of a possible encounter which turn out to be the preamble of a conquest through violence. This first series features in vivo and in vitro "jungles" in Europe and America, linking botanical gardens and tropical greenhouses with the archives of colonisation. In the films Journey to a land otherwise known (2009) and Aequador (2012), part of this series, fiction gradually emerges as a narrative strategy to counteract a story mostly told from the point of view of the conquerors.

A second series of films develops between 2012 and 2017: the "ethnographic fictions". This series establishes a dialogue with visual anthropology: it involves a displacement in Jean Rouch´s "ethnofiction", while including the practices preceding and those subsequent to him, with an intrinsic ambiguity between ethnographic immersion and fiction. A constellation of practices emerges, from Edward Curtis to Chick Strandt, from Mapa Teatro to Juan Downey, including Aby Warburg, Robert Flaherty and Maya Deren. This constellation gives rise to an abundant cartography of authors who, in the succession of their travels, put into perspective the fusions and the frictions proper to an encounter. This series is also enriched by one year passed at Harvard University´s the Sensory Ethnography Lab, where modes of expression other than discursive language are experimented to address intercultural relations.

Thus, if this doctoral research takes its source in the analysis of the cinematographic representations of the "native", it evolves over the years towards auto-ethnography and autofiction, self-reflexive approaches to build a singular space of enunciation through fiction. Over this research, it is no longer a question of "talking about/for ..." a community (a specific approach of the television documentary), but rather of "speaking by" (following the words of the director Trinh T. Min-ha ) or to "speak with" it (echoing the formulation of the anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro) - to speak within. To create this shared space, the films belonging to this series of "ethnographic fictions" use actor´s play and narrative tools specific to fiction. By creating situations of mimesis, allegories, simulations, and by building a space of shared chimera, the films in this series put into perspective political questions around representation. This series is indeed built with some communities politically marginalised; each of the films constituting the series puts into perspective the themes of exclusion and marginality. The "ethnographic fictions", combining anthropological approach and narrative creation, are constructed like political laboratories to think about individual and collective emancipation. Sol Negro (2016) and La Libertad (2017) are the key pieces of this new film series.

"Ethnographic Fictions" is mainly constituted of cinematographic works, but the research around the creation of these works also gave birth to a number of writings, published articulations, interventions, performances and a public exhibition, "Disappearing operations". This exhibition had a nomadic form, material and immaterial, and took place between November the 30th and December the 15th 2016, at the Cinéma Le Méliès, Les Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers and the Beaux-Arts in Paris.