The Workshop: Day by Day

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Day 1

Introduction

After all the people in the class introduced themselves, Nayra began the class with a brief summary of the present state of cultural and artistic production. She explained how in the world of the image, we are facing a culture of consumption as well as rapid and violent change. In this context, it is important to her to ask, “how can art be recovered as a possibility of critical thinking?”

She proposed that we think about the idea from an exploration of three verbs that have to do with the work of people who create: to view, to select, and to represent. Within this presentation, she shared her ideas on the audiovisual medium and introduced some authors and artists who have been very influential in her life and throughout her work.

The first verb was “view”

Nayra explained that one’s view is constructed culturally through the influences of one’s environment, family, historical moment, and psychology. Nayra illustrated this idea through the example of the Eurocentric origin of cinema itself; the cinematographic gaze in a quadrangular form is, for example, an inheritance of the shape of the canvas from the European painting tradition.

Since one’s view is a cultural construction, it is important to ask oneself, «Why do I view things this way?» Being a spectator should not be reduced to a passive role but should be active, contemplative, and reflective. Nayra used a quote from Abbas Kiarostami as an example of this idea. The Iranian filmmaker said that a film should be a dialogue that opens the mind and raises questions, and that the viewer should have an active and curious attitude. To think of art as a dialogue and not as a closed meaning, the creative process of the production of a work is a symbiosis between creator, spectator, and work.

Andrei Tarkovsky, a Russian filmmaker, is another influential thinker in this conversation. Tarkovski rejected the cinema of entertainment/ consumption and reflected on the cathartic function of art in life. According to him, art has the potential to bring about a personal change in the artist and in the viewer through a reflection with the work.

The second verb was “select”

After reflecting on the subject of one’s view, a second question appears: «What do I want to tell?» With another quote from Tarkovski, Nayra explained that this question has to do with sincerity; one has to remain true to oneself. This sincerity comes from creating and speaking from one’s own experience. An artist asks themselves, «is this what I have to express? Or would it be better to let another artist with more familiarity and personal experience with the subject express it?”

The third verb was “represent”

Finally, an artist has to ask themselves, «How should this story be told? How is the reality understood from my own experience (the content) and how do I convey it (the form)?” For example, fiction films are better suited to certain topics, while non-fiction films suit others.

In the conversation about the form of representation, Nayra included the ideas of the French critic Alexandre Astruc on the «caméra-stylo,» or «camera-pen.» With new advances in technology, new forms of representation are made possible.

Day 2

On the second day of the workshop with Nayra Sanz Fuentes, we talked about the connections between what we learned the first day of the workshop and the movie that we saw the night before, As Old as the World (2012). Nayra wanted to hear our reactions and reflections. The conversation followed the thread of questions and comments from students. The themes from the film that we discussed included terrestrial spirituality and the sacredness of nature, facets of spirituality other than religion, and the need for active viewers who react to images with curiosity. We also discussed the tension between the artistic intentionality and the spectator’s interpretation and turned to Anton Lamazares’ work as an example.

We also talked more about the active viewer. Being the seventh and youngest art form, cinema poses new challenges for creators and spectators. For example, the fact that cinema is reliant on technology also raises new questions that we must think about.

Nayra finished the class with a reflection on the cultural industry, starting in the 1940’s, with the German philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. She talked about the changes they perceived in their historical moment – mass production and the commercialization of art as an object of consumption. She also told us about this moment of historical change by retrieving this quote from the Italian artist Pier Paolo Pasolini:

«When consumption has been established as a form of power in our lives, it will be practically impossible to return to the conception of man that we previously had.»

Within this cultural struggle that began with these thinkers in the mid-twentieth century, Nayra asks, «What escapes can we create from this culture of consumption?»

Day 3

We started the class by discussing the idea that we should not be deterred from making films by financial or any other kinds of obstacles. Nayra told us the anecdote of how the filmmaker Werner Herzog bet that he would eat his shoes if one of his students could make a movie. To start our last day of the workshop, we saw the famous video of Werner Herzog eating his shoe: (https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xl61of_werner-herzog-eats-his-shoe_shortfilms).

We opened the class to a discussion about some of the ideas that were raised in her more recent short film, «Un Día Cualquiera (Any Other Day),» and her feature film, As Old As the World. We thought about the images’ symbolism. As Nayra said, the images are chosen with a purpose, but what was the purpose of this director? We were thinking about all this and then afterwards, some people in the class asked questions about the syntax of audiovisual language to think more clearly about it.

Finally, Nayra talked about the process of creating fiction short films and how they are compared to the creation of an essay-film such as Old As the World. With these works, she explained that does not pretend to give answers but leaves people wondering and questioning, “how can we read this image?”

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