The Monstrosity of Ars Colonia


The soldier

First published in La Furia Umana (Paper Issue) 8, 2015.[1]

In answering the question: ‘What is Cinema Becoming?,’ I return to Raya Martin’s Ars colonia (2011). What I am after really is to find a line of critique – what is becoming in cinema – and to insist that there are no ‘beings’ in cinema, only ‘becomings.’ Consider this a ‘monstrous’ writing, a writing emerging from the back alleys of rhetorical writing, a polemical miscarriage, a vomit of words, an ejaculation of death… While the conventional road of linear discourse can acquaint me with nursed and dolled-up concepts about cinema, I insist on slippages of anything onto everything: netherworlds and farmworlds folding into the thickness of the vegetation; the thinness of the earth folding into rhizomes of the universe – an adieu au langage. One must open the language to let ‘becoming’ take place.

I return to Ars colonia to pay it a visit, to reconcile myself with its images. One night, I was half-awake in bed knotting thoughts upon thoughts: thinking, nursing a monster in my head, creating a dwelling place, a scary place, a decentered place, lingering and looming in the darkest corner of the mind – and it was there, the film becoming a nightmare, a monstrosity.

I return to Ars colonia not to write about it as a subject, but more of elaborating an encounter, a dream, a feeling, a memory of coming back, of coming into sense. I have been haunted again and again by the image of soldier walking at sea in Ars Colonia. I wonder why such a walk would involve a vast sea accompanied by islands. I wonder through and through, in sleeping and waking up, in lying in my bed, in my friend’s bed, in my lover’s bed with his arms wrap around me. I wonder about the soldier and sea and the islands and the explosions and the marching on and on and on… The film, although only one-minute in length, lengthened inside me to hours, days, weeks. It folded the past into my present. Its images distorted my thoughts like how all memories became – a forgetting. The gesture of walking, the feeling of the water brushing through the myriad spaces of the trousers, the weight of the metallic gear on the head – all form an assemblage of an Ars colonial soldier – a haunting, a ghost from the netherworld – I, myself, beginning and becoming the soldier in my dreams.

Ars colonia is a parcel of Martin’s labyrinth. As part of a labyrinth, one does not simply arrive in Ars colonia. One wakes up inside it, trapped and punctured by the lines and forces it bequeaths, for to experience is not to ‘be’ but to ‘become’. To see Ars colonia in its full state, one must ‘become’ the eye of a dreamer sleepwalking along its intersecting planes of virtualities. Ars colonia is an ‘and’ between Independencia (2009) and Buenas Noches, Espana (2011), two other labyrinths in Martin’s career. Ars colonia says goodbye to Independencia by walking out of it, carrying within its body remnants of colors from the last shot of Independencia: a sky etched with sanguine blood seemingly bridging and continuing towards the colored skies of Ars colonia; whereas Ars colonia’s hues and saturations continues towards Buenas Noches, Espana. In effect, Ars colonia becomes a short conduit between the two feature films. It is not, however, a bridge but a passageway, an underground tunnel buried beneath the surface of the earth. It is not a canal but a rhizome, a segment that transforms as it transports liquid. The color effect in the two films Independencia and Ars colonia achieves a tectonic state in Buenas Noches, Espana: as the latter film among the three, Buenas Noches, Espana settles the destiny of its colors by transforming it into an earthquake, a catastrophe of saturations, a chaos aimed to break the retina of the eye more than what Godard’s two films Film Socialisme (2010) and Adieu au Langage (2014) can do.

The Ars colonial landscape is choleric born from Martin’s etching of the celluloid with colored felt-tip pens. Martin suspends, via this process, the portraiture of the ‘old’ in the film, disturbing its supposed historical body with evasive coloring of the sky and the sea. In effect, the whole figurative landscape achieves a vibrational state, heaving and breathing, life-like but animated. The colors’ coarseness, its disruptive energy, leaves a trace of the past in the present. It is as if the artist’s manipulation of the color takes the shape of penetrative pulses of the present intervening the past.


A silhouette of an island

In the film, a solitary figure of a soldier walks on shallow waters. Beyond him is an open sea; above, an open sky. Silhouettes of islands lay from afar. Like other figures in cinema, the figure of the soldier is a plateau – a bricolage of intensity, a force field, a scintillating disk of energies. The whole film gyrates and circumspect around and within this gesture: a man – a ‘soldier’ – walking towards the open sea. The walk, the act of walking, the pure walk – the walk of courage, the walk of death – the imprisoned soldier returning to the sea, to freedom – a conquistador looking and scanning for islands, islands he can call his own – Bloom walking around Dublin, Clarissa Dalloway walking on Bond Street carrying her flowers, the walk of a million Chileans for Salvador Allende – the walk – a revolutionary act, an aesthetic gesture, a form of departure, a non-sedentary act, an act of modernity (while flying is a postmodern condition), always mobile, always nomadic – the walking body as always in a state of becoming – the body walking, the body becoming-vector.

We assume that his body is gendered – a ‘his,’ a man – but such an assumption is a trick, to make us believe that the figure of soldier has always been a semblance of a man and not a woman. Language failed us here. The linguistic regime promises nothing but boxes like the words man, woman, homosexual, heterosexual… Any chance of slippage involves inventing new words to neologisize in-betweens. One can suspend meanings of words by enclosing them in ‘quotations marks’ or using hyphens to conjunct, conjugate or, perhaps, subjugate a word as a process: the soldier is becoming-woman and becoming-man at the same time. A becoming – always open, always transforming, never a ‘being’, always a ‘becoming’. Becomings shoot out from a rhizome, a zone of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. A filmic rhizome is the world folding into the image and the image folding into the world. The image deterritorializes the world – a becoming-world – disturbing the peacefulness of its sedentary structures promoting an asignifying rupture. While on an aparallel movement, the world reterritorializes the image – a becoming-figure – capturing its radiance and simplifying it into a machinic visibility for our eyes to see – an image becoming sensible, virtual and, most of the time, a reasonable actuality. A reterritorialization, for a moment, solidifies images into representations, momentary enclosures. For representations are always there, always already at work in our cultural landscape: the stereotypes, the archetypes, the mythic figures, the hero/heroine, the State apparatus, the mimicry of capitalist goods, the gendered subjects, the cultured spaces, all captured and transformed, all products of reterritorialization. To deterritorialize these enclosures, one must let each one explode, to let each one fly out in space in different lines of flight, (re)visibilities, multiplicities…

Fields of signs are now open. We must insist in welcoming, in this very sentence, the idea of Martin as an instrument of becoming. Martin participates in creating and inscribing open images. In giving birth to open images, that ‘which lines of connections and communications are not foreclosed… transmuting… in the process so that they becomes lines of production: Nothing is true once and for all, everything is rendered mobile’[2], one must be magician – a George Melies flippantly wielding his wand in the air to break open the once-foreclosed and once-imprisoned condition of the film image. For what is a film image, if nothing but always already a crisis in itself? An open sea, an open sky, an open gesture – always a line, always a force and never a point – always already in movement… Martin creates irreducible movements in Ars colonia – open images – images that cannot be forcibly reconciled with regimes of signs regulated by institutions and the capital. In Ars colonia, the images are continuously morphing – in the diagonal plane, horizontal plane, vertical plane, circular plane, radial plane, in surfaces and temporal spheres – always already there but always already late. It is late in a sense that, in the nervous quivering of Ars colonia’s images, our minds have already formed each of its pieces prior to their supposedly figurative formations. The mind is always ahead, always anticipating the future, always trying to think of how one will become, always at risk of being so engrossed with the future of the image. The image of the future lingers in the image of the present – in Ars colonia – as a fixture, an overdetermination, a calculated effect, an expectational value.

We label it ‘soldier’ out of habit, born from our habits of seeing and looking. When the looming figure trespasses our eyes, our immediate response would be to wrap it, within language, an identity: ‘a soldier walking at sea.’ But there is a sense of incompleteness in this subjectivity. We are not sure, save for reading its short description in a festival booklet, if the black silhouette completely yields to one identifiable body. This incompleteness in the soldier is a double, a split. On one hand, we see a ‘Filipino soldier of war’ walking free towards the sea; on the other hand, the soldier bear the signifying marks of the usurper, the colonizer, who, coming down from the ship, spotted silhouettes of islands from afar. It animates him: ‘This is the island that I will take. This island is mine.’ Ars colonia might be this: a possible dream of a conquistador, nightmarish, hallucinatory. Or it can be an illusory image of a Filipino soldier walking free towards the open sea. We are never sure. Our eyes can lead us to different ways of seeing. Martin’s images, open as they are, achieves a stately death. This double identity, forming an enclosure, solidifies into a figure – a figure take can ‘root’ in culture, in history, in the law of life, deterred in becoming something else other than a Filipino soldier or a Spanish conquistador. Once language wrest the figure at bay, the figurative process stops. The man’s identity is now a being. But Martin ceases its full-formation. He opens it so that the figure becomes a neither, an outside: neither a ‘Filipino’ nor a conquistador, reworking the identity of the faceless soldier as a site of conflict, a suspended animal shifting and changing into various forms depending on the rules of seeing.

What we get in Ars colonia is a false image – we cannot deny that. Its falseness produces the doubling effect, the Janus face, the multiplicity in the figuration – a result of Martin’s play, of manipulation, of the governing forces of time and space, the forces of creation in any experimental work. The falseness restores its becoming and openness, stitching a supplementary force that lets the figure of the soldier fold against the cracks of its body, aiding for its imminent transformation, for good or bad, for all its worth, for the sake of the future. The soldier is a rhizome in itself, deterritorializing in one stratum – the conquistador stratum – and reterritorializing to another – the Filipino stratum and, from there, it deterritorializes to other planes – a never-ending journey.

But it is possible that what we are seeing is a ghost – a haunting – neither a ‘Filipino soldier’ nor a ‘Spanish conquistador’ but a strange entity from the past slipping through the cracks of the present – the crack of time called ‘cinema.’ All hauntings are cinematic. Cinema is the conduit of hauntings, ghosts, spirits, phantasms, nameless and faceless becomings, ruptures, earthquakes, the void, the netherworld – all breaking apart, all withering away, all monstrous, all disappearing in the ether, fragmented and dissolving like a moment in time, as if a body of the soldier was once there and, now, only its image, crafted by the agile hands of Martin, remains, paying us a visit as a phantom, as a monstrous specie of a shadow, undecipherable, like all monsters Borges created, all in one body. Are we scared that neither identities (Filipino soldier or Spanish conquistador) can take place? Are we ready to confront that the history of the dead was never ‘dead’, that Ars colonia lets us inhabit the dead? Are we ready to face the past that we have forgotten or the present that we continuously forget? Martin reminds us of this – the allegory of forgetting – and through Ars colonia, he forces us to confront again the lost image of ‘war’ and the despicable founding of a ‘new land’ by the colonizers. This is where Ars colonia stands: as a fragment, as a fleeting (after)image of the history, as a doubling, as a foreign body devised to taunt us, to question again the forces of image construction, be it historical or mediated, that form our imagined nation, our imagined bodies, that, through thinking, through looking, through ‘becoming-soldier’, we embody the wounds, the miscarriage, the catastrophe of our nation’s history in our minds, in our hearts, in our bodies and organs. Martin disentangles the historical body of the ‘soldier’ and transposes it into a ‘beyond’ – an alien ‘beyond’ – faceless, nameless but, at the same time, its ‘faceless face’ becomes a mirror to us. It let us look into it, and it stares back at us like Athena’s shield. We nourish these thoughts, through and through, on and on, to the future, to tell our friends that the image is somewhat this and that, until we forgo such thinking, until such a memory slips at the back of our minds, into nothingness, forgotten and miscarried.


The horizon

But beyond all these – the color, the lines, the figure of the man, the stateless movement of the water – lays a horizon: seemingly flat and intractable, almost indistinguishable and ambiguously formed. It modestly sits beyond the surface of the images. The horizon speaks for itself. It is the zone of becoming. The question begs for horizontality, because becoming lies within and beyond the organic Whole. The horizon, in Martin’s Ars colonia, is a fold between the sea and the sky, a zone of indiscernibility. We cannot ‘know’ what lies beyond, but we can imagine it. It is an imagined geography. But the thing about horizons is that, folded within it, is a space of becoming, a zone of creation. We have to ‘create’ and ‘invent’ new ways of imagining what lies beyond – a possible future. The mind nourishes the contours of such an imagined geography. Like the soldier walking towards the sea, we march though life, towards the open horizon – the plane of genesis – seemingly aloof yet haunted by the past, but never there, never within the horizon, but going there, exploding into fragments, floating in the wind, walking…


[1] The essay was previously published as “The Monstrosity of Ars Colonia” in La Furia Umana (Paper Issue) 8 (2015): pp. 90–96, with permission for republication from Toni D’Angela, La Furia Umana editor-in-chief.

[2] Pearson, K. A. (1997). Deleuze Outside/Outside Deleuze: On the Difference Engineer. In Pearson, K. A. (Ed.) Deleuze and Philosophy: A Difference Engineers. London and New York: Routledge.


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