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Iris Fraueneder

Absent Images. Filmic, Curatorial and Institutional Engagement with the Unavailability of Audiovisual Heritage in the Middle East

This project deals with image-political and film-theoretical notions along various forms of absence of images. These include cinematographic images and photographs that are lost or destroyed, images that are unavailable due to denied access, or film projects that could not be realized for various reasons.
In the conflict-laden region of Lebanon and Palestine, image production and audiovisual heritage have been exposed to political oppression, seizure, and destruction throughout the past decades. In light of this as well as the (neglected) official engagement with past and present (armed) conflict, filmmakers, visual artists, curators, researchers, and institutional initiatives keep intervening and developing counter-strategies to point out gaps, to respond to the missing, or to give space to absent as well as to reappropriated or reconquered images (within new films, installations, web projects, digital archives, etc.). The aesthetic approaches by filmmakers and video artists raise the following questions i.a.: How can film as an audiovisual medium that usually pursues strategies of making something visible through depicting and displaying deal with the unavailability of images, i.e. with lost footage? Which transformations take place when audio/visual material returns after a period of absence and is reused as found footage (e.g. the militant/”third” cinema of the ’70s)? Former absence or oppression remain inscribed in recirculating images, and archival fragments, remnants, and scattered memories or imaginations of missing images instigate new narratives of the unredeemed, stolen, and reclaimed. In their absence as well as return the images demand responsibility and challenge the present, as when (absent) moving images keep resonating and witness those formerly border-crossing alliances, which they had performed in supporting the Palestinian revolution around the ’70s.
The project thus not only aims to interrogate film historiography regarding mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, but enters film history through its gaps, traces, blank spaces, and echoes. In dealing with artistic historiographical image practices that are confronted with a broken thread of history, it explores dissonant narratives and contested amnesia in Lebanon and Palestine from the perspective of transdisciplinary film studies. To investigate diverse aesthetics of absence it intertwines concepts of political philosophy, postcolonial theory, theory of visual culture, and film analysis with the investigation of concrete circumstances of the lack or loss of audiovisual heritage. Thus, it contributes to the cultural analytical discourse on the relation of image and violence within a sociopolitical context, and in conjunction with the political and ethical notion of in/visibility.


Iris Fraueneder is a PhD candidate at the University of Zurich. She is working as a research assistant with the SNSF project Contested Amnesia and Dissonant Narratives in the Global South: Post-conflict in Literature, Art, and Emergent Archives. Her PhD Project “Absent Images” deals with the unavailability of audiovisual heritage in Palestine and Lebanon (lost, scattered, destroyed, unrealized films), and investigates film, curatorial, and institutional strategies which confront this absence. She studied Theatre, Film and Media Studies and Philosophy at the University of Vienna, where she graduated in 2015 with a thesis on the transformations of Masao Adachi’s militant cinema-aesthetics being reflected by Eric Baudelaire’s essayistic documentary film The Anabasis… (F 2011). Since 2013 she has been working at Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society, Vienna and at the Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies, University of Vienna, where she has also been teaching. In addition to this, she is active as a film curator and co-founder of the curating collective Diskollektiv.