2016, 16mm film transferred to HD, 4:3, colour, sound, 7'46''
Fome Animal [Animal Hunger] is a fable about those who feast and those that are invited to eat. At the dining table rumination mobilizes humans in a reversed continuum while animality and narration are intertwined in a particular cinematic depiction of digestion.
Sofia Lemos: As a preface to this dialogue, could you tell us how your experiences with nourishment—in particular referring to the central perspective of the stomach—redefine the social consciousness of the meal?
Musa paradisiaca: Your question is a kind of palate preparation for this conversation. From the early stage of our practice we have been drawn on the concept of ‘stomach-thought’. It is an unfamiliar concept for a very common experience—the moment of knowing something for the first time. While the stomach digests, the thought obtains a transformed product: an image, a word, an object. Both can be executed individually but when united they recall a method and, maybe, an opportunity for collective sharing.
This is where the meal—as a collective way of treating everyday subjects—appears as the natural environment for this way of knowing. To share food, even if with a stranger or an enemy, can be an act of bravery or, simply an act of suspension, as if hunger and knowledge coincide, making the latter edible. This idea led to a series of performative events—Canteens (started in 2015)—where an object, doubled into bread and ceramic, would be offered and consumed by a group of people gathered around a table. Ultimately, this way of consuming, transforming, and offering defines how Musa paradisiaca works as a whole.
SL: Cinema, in parallel to the zoo, is a privileged space to encounter the animated look of animals. As John Berger notes in his seminal Why to Look at Animals? (1977) in the zoo, “the animal’s gaze flickers and passes on.” He affirms animals “look blindly beyond” because they have been ‘immunized’ by confinement and thus nothing can specifically occupy their attention. This places a significant onus on our scattered modes of reception, especially when confronted by a scene where a cow unequivocally stares at your camera?
MP: “I had a dream where I was a strange dealer, a dealer on looks and appearances. I collected them and distributed them and, in the dream, I had just discovered a secret. I discovered it on my own, no help. The secret was to get inside whatever I was looking at. Get inside it. When I woke up from that dream, I couldn't remember how it was done. And I now no longer know how to get inside things.” This passage from John Berger’s The Shape of a Pocket (2001) sharply describes what we are trying to do. This whole idea of trying to know things, intimately, directly, in an unmediated relationship with things, is one of the most exciting things about Berger’s work. We try to do the same in ours. Could it be that the immunized gaze of animals is an overall problem common to the human gaze too? There is a kind of empty gaze that we try to short-circuit in this film. Or to put it differently, we would like our films to function as a kind of re-sensitizing lotion. Maybe this is why the films tend to be more psychological than narrative?
SL: With the widely pensive and reiterative editing, which is also at work in your other non-narrative films such as O Êxtase e o Éden [Ecstasy and Eden] (2014), not only do you position yourselves in relation to certain tropes of modernist film, but simultaneously address its demise by enunciating several voices and processes of signification, which includes the syntax of animals. Could you share more on this approach and also to your commitment to dialogic practices?
MP: We have always had a tendency to forget the boundaries of propriety, which have proved to be useless to us. We believe that thought is made not only with others but through others, reciprocally. That is why we frequently go back and forth with shapes, objects, and words, in a continuous movement of rediscovery that shares Musa paradisiaca’s biography. This practice of collecting, moulding, and paying tributes has been achieved in various ways such as public meetings, recorded private sessions, production partnerships, exchanges of knowledge, and through the opening of this space for others with little constraints.
For us, Fome Animal [Animal Hunger] is a landmark within this process of iterative reconfiguration. While the film has no expectations of stoppage, it renders a vacant point in human and animal relations around the binary systems of consumption and nourishment which stand in for an unfinished procedure of commonness.
SL: As a melancholic requiem and incantation to modern industrial societies, the sound brings in an added semiosis between ‘humanity’ and ‘animality’...
MP: The sound for our films is usually born out of a specific relationship and is usually produced in collaboration. In our last films we have been producing a specific kind of sound work that relates to plastic or mimetic qualities of sound itself. For Fome Animal we knew we wanted to work with a philharmonic band, especially due to the specific instruments they use. The score arises from a short musical excerpt by António Poppe, a Portuguese poet with whom we have been recording and exploring some of the musical ideas behind his poetry. We had the chance to work with the philharmonic band of the Sociedade Musical de Pevidém and to record live the theme for this film. This type of acoustic recording allows us to synchronize step-by-step sound and images, letting free range for the musicians’ improvisation within the score. In this film the musicality tends to create a sort of ventriloquism, giving a particular voice to the filmed subjects through a metonymic approach to sound as a kind of language.
SL: The category of the human was separated from animals by a series of discursive schisms and institutional scissions that Agamben defines as the “anthropological machine.” What does it mean to historically read ‘humanity’ through the lenses of rumination?
MP: Ultimately, rumination is a perpetuating digestive process so it is difficult to grasp its beginning or end. It is also a sophisticated system designed to make the most out of matter, slowly decomposing it until the very last. What we try to do here is to use rumination as a methodological force where the act of knowing can be long lasting and where uncertainty about limits can be less blurred by the urgency of definition.
SL: In your film animals are not subtracted from the human milieu (not at least from the economic relations that have produced cattle as human sustenance and projective ritual). Where does the human presently stand in making kin with animal species?
MP: In the film, the process of cohabitation is attached to a displacement of the supposedly familiar or vernacular relations between humans and cattle. Fome Animal [Animal Hunger] shifts the places of apparently disconnected forces. The film is made from the point of view of familiarity, as if things were already acquainted to one another; as if the things we believe to be opposite or distinct could share a ground of commonness. It is an appeal to an encounter that doesn’t need an introduction.