Dead Zones and Degenerate Spaces: Photography, Time and Trans/National Flows

Kirsten Emiko McAllister
Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Simon Fraser University

As a visual technology, photography has been used as a modern apparatus for surveying and surveillance (Tagg 1988, Williams 2003), ordering spaces and populations into territories of biopolitical management and control (de Certeau 1988; Foucault 1990). Folded into these territories, are spaces of exclusion that segregate undesirable and/or threatening bodies, both living and long dead, from the rest of the population through social, legal, and imaginary practices (Agamben 1996; Isin 2008). Temporally located outside the productive time of the nation but inside its body, these spaces are typically visualized as static, dead zones or chaotic spaces of violence and degeneration.

This lecture focuses on the visualization of these spaces. It explores the methodological and theoretical questions that spaces of exclusion raise, especially with the increasing transnational flows of unwanted bodies and memories channeled through these zones (Huyssen 2003; Bauman 2004; Pratt 2005). If modern space is produced through visual strategies of occupation and control, what visual practices are used to produce dead zones and spaces of degeneration? To investigate this question, the lecture turns to photographs of Second World War internment camps (dead zones) and visual documentations of asocial housing estates in Britain (degenerate zones). At a methodological level, the focus is on visualizations that open up the static and/or violent temporality of these spaces. Photography as a medium is well suited to this task since it disturbs time and its passage and can invoke embodied experience (Kracauer 1927; Barthes 1981; Kuhn 1995; Langford, 2001, 2005, 2007; Batchen 2004). The final section turns to Lefebvre (1991) to examine more closely how to analyze artistic visualizations of spaces of exclusion as they are reconfigured through contradictory trans/national flows. What types of spatial absences are captured by Iseult Timmerman’s digital documentation of the incoming flows of asylum seekers in tower blocks on the asocial margins of Glasgow? What types of spatial disturbances emerge when artist Jin-me Yoon re-performs accumulating colonial and global psychic waste?

Kirsten Emiko McAllister is an associate professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. Her publications include Locating Memory: Photographic Acts (2006), which she co-edited with Annette Kuhn and Terrain of Memory: A Japanese Canadian Memory Project (2010) along with a range of articles, interviews, and book chapters on memory, displacement, and political violence that focus on photography, film, and visual art, including a forthcoming article in Space and Culture on transnational spaces in the film Gypo, a piece on the racialized memoryscapes of British Columbia for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s third volume, and two interviews with poet Roy Miki on his recent work on photography and visual collages. She is currently finishing a project on art, asylum, and transnational public space in Glasgow and starting a project on Asian Canadian art and transpacific memories.