Stickiness (A former shadow of myself)

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The ten short films selected for this program all exhibit a certain element of being stuck between shadow and surface – an entanglement of nature, self, and the digital. I first caught sight of this in What is a Man Without a Shadow, a sweet short in which a digital camouflage effect, similar to that in the 1987 film Predator, is cast over the shape of two figures walking in nature. Camouflage is a tactic used to disguise appearance, location, identity, and movement; in Predator, the ‘predator’ is a technologically advanced alien who uses something like digital camouflage to stalk and hunt humans who are foreign to the environment. While watching What is a Man…, I wondered if the short was saying that the lovers are alien from themselves and from nature, or were they rather becoming the predator that stalks and hunts their own being. They have no shadow: while one normally has the substance (in one axis) to cast a shadow (in another), they appear instead as a presence stuck between two surfaces, two realities, and in neither, in this digital bucolic scene.

The film made me think a lot about the seeming stickiness of surfaces. In poetry on love, or writing on nature and ecology, or audiovisual studies in film, there is always a gap between two realms, and a space between two distances, in which we ‘reach’ to create dimensionality, to find meaning, to add value, or to whiff the divine. Here, on the other hand, it seems there is a sense of stickiness – this one endless plane where there is no gap or space in which you could ‘reach.’ Thus, one is left with the sense of a thinned substance.

Many of the films observe and contend with this condition. It is being grappled with through, and because of, the medium of the digital image that is often in tension with the (real) space of architecture and nature. But what is real space anymore? In this program, we see alienated shadows in an expanding metaverse (March of Death); bodies that become digital surfaces (What is a Man Without a Shadow); an intricate observation of body movements on painted analogue film, as if to learn how to reanimate oneself erotically again (Memories alone are not enough/الذكريات وحدها لا تكفي); a choreography of automaton gestures in what feels like a healing ritual (Shifts 1 نقلات); AI consuming the space of a disarmed singing voice (Tremendous Cream); a green screen of oneself onto a character in a film to find the bonds of affection (How I Choose to Spend the Remainder of my Birthing Years); oppression in real space by digital apartheid (The right to see/الحق في النظر); rehabilitation in nature, where not even an animal knows how to adjust (The Troubled Bear and the Palace); a code from a dead star received in the form of radio signals as a monolith meme that precedes the internet and mutates us through it (Appropriation); and a body in a landscape so bright that we hardly see that its shadow connects dimensions to itself through the sound of each footstep (Frozen Out). The program is cut with intertitles, selected with Islam Shabana and designed by 40MUSTAQEL, that offer a parallel thread to the videos through language, allowing us to encounter and move between different planes and surfaces.

Selection and Program: Malak Helmy