Ethnofiction and Performed Identity


Af Katrine Holmgren


Film still from The Muse of San Francisco, 2016


Katrine Holmgren b. 1984 Aarhus, Denmark, is a visual artist living and working in London. She graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London (MA Visual Anthropology), Glasgow School of Art (BA Fine Art Photography) and San Francisco Art Institute (BA New Genres). Some of her recent exhibitions include Young Danish Photography ’16, Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen; AnlOther Representation, Royal Anthropological Institute, London and (Un)Doing, (Un)Making, Hardwick Gallery, Cheltenham


Film still from The Muse of San Francisco, 2016


Many films from the history of experimental cinema have come about through an intersection between visual art and anthropological approaches.

Filmmaker and Anthropologist Jean Rouch’s pioneering approach to filmmaking, came across through his idea of ethnofiction, which blurred the lines between fiction and documentary. Similar to Rouch, my work is particularly concerned with using different strategies to question to what extent identity is performed.

Allowing his subjects to re-enact events in his films, as well as using voice over in unique ‘pseudo-documentary’ style, Rouch was inspired by surrealism and the notion of performance as a way into the unconscious mind. Rouch doesn’t feel obliged as an anthropologist to portray the world as ‘accurately’ as possible, because to him it is already an act and so it makes more sense to embrace this performative aspect of life and expose it, rather than making fake claims of objectivity.

I work mostly with video (installations), but also photography, sound and text. My combined background in fine art and visual anthropology is reflected in my artistic practice, which is concerned with the overlap between the two fields.

I recently finished a 22 minute long documentary called The Muse of San Francisco, which portrays Linda Martinez – a 79 year old life drawing/pin up model and actress in low-budget underground art films.


Film still from The Muse of San Francisco, 2016


Many anthropological films have been said to romanticize or cover up the process of how visual research has been captured or meaning has changed in the editing process – instead I made a deliberate choice of including the performed aspects underlying the film and making this a part of the film’s form. Through this decision, the film resultantly tries to uncover how the documentary genre often masks performed, staged, reenacted content.

The Muse of San Francisco ultimately investigates to what extent Linda’s identity is performed, or reinforced and shaped through the act of performing. This is a recurring theme throughout my work.


Film still from The Muse of San Francisco, 2016


In another recent project The Feast Depends on Their Success (2016) I have also taken an anthropological approach by deconstructing archival family/found footage and rebuilding it into a quasi-ethnographic film or with voice over and text.


Film still from The Feast Depends on Their Success, 2016


Film stills from The Feast Depends on Their Success, 2016


Western society and more specifically anthropology has throughout history provided us with a problematic interpretation of colonized peoples as ‘other’. My work takes on the responsibility of reflecting and deconstructing such problematic constructs that structure various kinds of filmic representation. The Feast Depends on Their Success aims to expose how certain kinds of representation (particularly ethnographic film) are constructed, by re-interfacing image, text and sound from different sources. In combining re-enacted fragments and pseudo-documentary elements, the nature of representation as politically neutral comes into question. The film is a playful mediation on what happens when we re-contextualize and exoticise our own culture, in order to show how absurd and politically loaded traditional forms of (ethnographic) representation can be.


Film stills from The Feast Depends on Their Success, 2016


Film stills from The Feast Depends on Their Success, 2016


In terms of genre or form The Muse of San Francisco is more connected to the traditions of documentary filmmaking as opposed to The Feast Depends on Their Success, which relates more to the aesthetics of experimental or art film. However in terms of concept, both projects are investigations of the role of performance in shaping individual and cultural identities. Both projects also aim to communicate these issues by attempting to reveal performed or staged elements within the work, at the same time as conveying an overriding narrative.


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