2016, HD video, sound, 36 minutes
In TEETH GUMS MACHINES FUTURE SOCIETY the grill—a removable metallic jewellery worn over the teeth, first popularised in the 1980s hip-hop culture—is the starting point to dwell into identity politics, from race to gender and class, and to investigate the role of such theoretical contributes for the definition of the technological self as Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto within these individual and collective attachments and representations.
Good morning Lili,
it was so good to watch your film again, one year after GB11. It remains rich and thought-provoking. And pleasurable to watch, it is visually interesting.
Now, rather than asking questions I would like to ask you to elaborate on the four “hooks” which make up the title, to use each of them as a skipping board, taking into consideration that one year has passed since the making of the film, i.e.
All the best,
These are notes, I hope it is suitable. I could write more, but I don’t want it to be too overwhelming for you!! But feel free to ask me more questions, I am sure I am forgetting some things.
My interest into teeth: they are at the border between the inside and the outside of the body, attached to the skeleton, but clearly a visible part of our bodies, of our face. Between flesh and bones. A part of the body that remains long after our flesh has disintegrated.
Our skeleton, our bones, and our teeth are white regardless of our skin color; I feel that this non-discriminating sameness is a key part of the contemporary body, of a futuristic body, emancipated from racial divides. It was important for me for this project, where I wanted to bring together people wearing the grill, with no consideration of what community they belong to, what racial identity they identify with. There was some utopian drive there, which goes through “a crisis” over the course of the film’s discussions, because the performers cannot (and it is good that they can’t) conceptualize this object (the grill) outside of its root identity: that of rap music and the black community.
Also “the smile,” the teeth can be highly processed, reconstructed, worked upon, modified, whitened. There is a great deal of technology there, a technology for the body.
Machines & Future
Recently I was reading this about August Sander's “People of the Twentieth Century”: “In the necessary incompleteness of Sander’s project lies, perversely, its great promise of enlightenment—a realization that modern society is grounded in accumulation without end. (...) To put such an idea on display—and to depict it, moreover through portraiture of the citizenry—forces a rupture with the equally bourgeois ideals of closure, separation, control. In Sander himself, and in fact in each of us today—one could say that ‘technology had in fact migrated inward, into the interior of the human body.’ To practice photography while accepting this indwelling image technology was to live as a middle class montage of man and machine. It was also to cease believing in realism as a manageable artistic project, or in capitalism as a manageable social order.”
So maybe we could see these six performers, four of them are comedians, one is a musician, the other a visual artist, as “my” Twenty First Century People. And the grill is typically a product of capitalist culture in that it testifies of a certain wealth that is directly applied to the body. The body becomes a bearer of wealth in the most direct sense. Gold.
It was important for me to use Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1985) in a somewhat illustrative manner: to discuss it while these performers are wearing metal teeth... like if they become a graphic illustration of this “becoming cyborg” process. To also get the text read in a somewhat emphatic way was a technique (quite Brechtian, I suppose) to get away with the obviousness of using such a renowned essay.
I was fascinated while reading it for the first time in 2006. Using it ten years later, for the film, I could also reflect on what had changed in terms of identity politics. Now we tend to essentialize identities a lot more, because of a number of social and political tensions. It was important for me to not only pay homage to the text but also to testify a number of failures, to see where it may not apply or function anymore. Like all great futuristic utopian projects, this one (that of the cyborg) has some cracks and damages and dead ends here and there. I wanted to put that in practice.
And in practice it has been put, since this film has created a lot of discussions, not only during the filming itself but also afterwards. Some saw the fact that a white European woman is using an object that essentially belongs to black culture as a form of capitalist appropriation that should not be supported any longer.
By gathering these people who generally don’t meet or spend time together (although these comedians know of one another they belong to different crowds, relate to different techniques and images to speak to their audiences, there is something quite “communitarian” there) I wanted to make way for a mini experimental society. The Levitt Shell, the amphitheater, in Memphis, Tennessee, that hosts the performance at the end of the film, is a sort of arena for all these discordant voices in today's society.
There is this great film by Akira Kurosawa that depicts a couple in Post war Japan, One Wonderful Sunday Un Merveilleux Dimanche (1947), the final scene takes place in a very similar “shell”: in this case these two lovers, poor and disenfranchised, are alone and the theater is empty due to the lack of money in post-war Japan. They therefore “enact” the concert they want to see only by mimicking the moves of the musicians and the conductor; there is no audience, just them and their imagination...
I wanted to reach out for something similar. There was no audience for this performance, only the people who worked with me on the film. It was melancholic for sure. Similarly the club in which you see the performers talking is a micro society in itself: it is a comedy club that plays a great role of social bonding within the black community in Memphis. Filming there, in this mini theater, was of great importance to me. The club belongs to Darius Clayton, one of the performers.
TEETH GUMS MACHINES FUTURE SOCIETY is presented in collaboration with the 2017 edition of LIAF—Lofoten International Art Festival, curated by Heidi Ballet and Milena Høgsberg.
Credits With: Jada Brisentine, Darius Clayton, Henry Coleman, Ashley Cook, Hendrik Hegray, Brandon SamsOriginal soundtrack: MACONImage: Victor ZéboSound: Nicolas MazetSound editing & mastering: Krikor KouchianEditing: Nicolas BacouSpecial effects: Lise FischerColor grading: François Miens, MedialabTranslation & subtitles: Karl Hoffmann, Lizard STLogistics: Ben SillerProduction management: Pascaline MorincômeProduction Support: Nina Kennel, Anaïs GoudalProduction: Olga Rozenblum for RedshoesWith the support of: Fondation d’Enterprise Hermès within the framework of the “New Settings” programThis project was selected and supported by the patronage committee of:
Fondation Nationale des Arts Plastiques et Graphiques (FNAGP)With the participation of: Dicréam, CNCWith the support of: PROCIREP/ANGOA