A) Kinetic Camera. Image retrieved at: https://www.victorian-cinema.net/kinetic.jpg;
B) Drawing of device embodying Latham Loop patent. Image retrieved at:
The Kinetograph, invented by Thomas Edison, was the very first way films were recorded at the end of the 19th century. At the very beginning, it wasn’t easy to get the camera mechanism to run smoothly; due to the tension between the camera gate and the spool it was highly probable for the film to break, so for this reason, film projections, in the beginning, used to be very short.
Then, a very simple invention came to help define the operating character of film technology: the Latham Loop. Its function was to isolate the film strip from the tensions by placing an additional stripe in the camera mechanism, thus allowing movies to be continuously projected for more extended periods. At first, this simple yet effective invention was seen as a surplus and unnecessary non-functional accessory, but this little piece, like a hint of freedom, brought together a free thought of art along with technology and mechanized labor. In this sense, I feel that the Latham loop symbolically represents the role of art within the context of technology and science. In the realm of cinema, the Latham loop stands for the inseparability of idea and matter, much like artistic practice and theory.
What can we do to enable this hint of freedom that at first glance looks like an unnecessary act?
It helps if one doesn’t look at art from the pure aesthetical aspect of form that artists place on an object itself, but rather to see its expression and state of mind, which manifests through relations while establishing intellectual thinking.
Figure 2: Sans Souci-Four Faces of Omarska, exhibition at the Malta Festival Container Poznań, June 16–25, 2017. Photograph by Maciej Zakrzewski, source Malta Festival Poznań, retrieved at: https://archiwum.malta-festival.pl/artist/milica-tomic/
Education and Research in Art
When artists are teaching, they must be aware that art cannot be taught. The definition of art is in continuous expansion and we never know when and how art will emerge, and from which side it will hit us. Seeking answers to this problem, when I started teaching in an institution, I tried to expose this issue to a wider audience and present teaching-research in art, as a public matter. At first, we started a very simple lecture series hosting many guests from various institutions from different parts of the world. In this context, we articulated the role of the institute and our projects as a crossroads of academics, a window for the university to the public realm, and the missing link between university research and public art institutions. We brought together teaching and exhibiting by organizing research exhibitions as a place of learning and production, and while being in the ‘public realm’ we were expanding the idea and the definition of the student. Who is a student, and who can become a student?
This was a crucial moment. In order to redefine the concept of the student, we left the university’s walls and we were not only giving lectures in public institutions but also dislocating the classroom into the public realm. At the very beginning of my arrival at TU Graz, I was invited to take part in the Steirischer Herbst international festival at Kunsthaus Graz. For my installation I opened a research-learning space for the Master students of my studio, giving them the possibility for random encounters with the exhibition’s visitors, questioning the very definition of student. The title of the Master studio was ‘Sans Souci: four faces of Omarska’. It is about research that investigates the contemporary types of detention and concentration camps, reflecting their socio-political and urban role in the reproduction of contemporary capitalist society. Students were investigating a field that was still unexplored, where specific types and forms of concentration camps were established during the 1990s Yugoslav wars. We were looking at the urban structures that emerged in the post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina environment, and other cities in which war crimes were not recognized, investigating how new forms of urbanism and sociality are informed by these camps. We observed how architecture and the concentration camps are deeply entangled with everyday urban structures. As such, the camps outlive and continue to endure through the new forms of urbanity, economy, and socialization during the period of the post-war transition.
Figure 3: Sans Souci-Four Faces of Omarska, exhibition at the Malta Festival Container Poznań, June 16–25, 2017. Photograph by Maciej Zakrzewski, source Malta Festival Poznań, retrieved at: https://archiwum.malta-festival.pl/artist/milica-tomic/
Taking Trnopolje and Omarska camps as the symbolic loci, the project reflects the crucial social processes conditioning the present state of global societies. In this light, we explored relations between the 1990s Bosnian camps and the refugee camps created in recent years in Jordan, Turkey, and Greece, for Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghani refugees. This soon became an important part of the project, to understand how these types of establishments inform the urban life in the city.
At the Body Luggage exhibition at the Steirischer Herbst festival, I presented several research-document models, intended as objects and learning tools which were the starting point for the Master studio. What I mean by ‘research-document model’ is a multilayered object that contains in itself a certain history. For example, one of these objects was a model of the Omarska concentration camp made for the International Criminal Court in The Hague by Zlata Cikota, a woman engineer who took part in designing and building the mining complex of Omarska, during the socialist times, and was later taken prisoner in the camp.
We then started the lecture series, in which the audience was very much involved. Eyal Weitzman gave a lecture that was related to forensic architecture, in which he analyzes an explosion happening in Gaza, looking at the mushroom cloud as a radical transformation of the city’s architecture. Lidija Radojević and Dubravka Sekulić gave a set of lectures on societal Yugoslav ownership and privatization processes that were happening during the war. Andrew Herscher’s lecture, entitled Black and Blight, was about the housing struggle after the neo-liberal turn, brought in relation to Omarska, where the Bosnian and Muslim population is still subjugated and oppressed.
Figure 4: Sans Souci-Four Faces of Omarska, exhibition at the Malta Festival Container Poznań, June 16–25, 2017. Photograph by Maciej Zakrzewski, source Malta Festival Poznań, retrieved at: https://archiwum.malta-festival.pl/artist/milica-tomic/
Soon after these lectures, we organized a field trip with the students to the Omarska mining site, analyzing, and understanding the everyday struggle of the local population. The turning moment that opened the deep fieldwork research happened during this visit. Here it is important to point out that nothing changed after the war, everything that was in use in the camp hasn’t been replaced. With first-hand experience, during the stay, the students realized that research is not only about doing surveys on a site, looking for documents and findings, and bringing them back to the university, but it is more about the significance of the work they are doing and how the site reacts and responds to it. The field trip was one of the most valuable parts of the research, in which the students learned by experience how uncertainty and impossibilities are incredible sources of knowledge.
Figure 5: Sans Souci-Four Faces of Omarska, exhibition at the Malta Festival Container Poznań, June 16–25, 2017. Photograph by Maciej Zakrzewski, retrieved at: https://archiwum.malta-festival.pl/artist/milica-tomic/
An important part of this Master studio consisted in reading a selection of books connected to the topic.
We developed a certain methodology for this matter. To read a book, different sections of the chapters were assigned to the students, one per person; they had to read it, and ultimately present it to the others. In this way, to understand the whole book, the students had to rely on each other’s knowledge. It was not simply about merely reading the books as much as it was about understanding and capturing what kind of discussions can enable talking about certain topics. After working within the space of my installation, the students also made their exhibitions, not as a part of my work, but coming as their own, as people who really contributed to this project with their own work.
Artistic research, in its full meaning of practice-based research, can only happen outside academia. In this light, I suggest exploiting the space of tension between the impossibility of the only given space that is made for research, namely the university, and the possibility of the ‘public realm’. To make it work, we have to create our ‘Latham loop’, we have to find the stripe that enables the dislocation from the university and gives us that hint of freedom needed to establish proper practice-based artistic research.
- The hereby published text is recordings’ summary of the keynote lecture that took place on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, during the second day of the CA2RE+ Delft conference.