Social Documents: The Ethics of Encounter Part 1 (4 stars)

Film documents artist’s two-year journey across the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Social Documents: The Ethics of Encounter Part 1

Screened as part of Stills’ The Ethics of Encounter programme, which comprises exhibitions, screenings and workshops exploring artists’ use of documentary processes, Renzo Martens’ feature-length filmwork Episode III Enjoy Poverty (run ended) is a work of undeniable significance.

Documenting excerpts from the artist’s two-year journey across the politically torrid Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martens alternates his onscreen persona between activist, journalist and entrepreneur, in a performance that draws an uncanny likeness to Klaus Kinski’s Fitzcarraldo. In effect, by de-positioning himself, Martens allows for an unbridled engagement with the well-worn documentary mode, empowering the artist to seemingly map the exploitation of third world poverty by news agencies and aid organisations. However, as with other contemporary works of alleged influence, what Martens actually interrogates is the devastating importance of the viewer’s response to these images of malnourishment, profiteering and abuse. Tellingly, the crippling subtext to Martens’ central conceit ‘enjoy poverty please’ remains ‘it is your greatest resource’.

Martens’ form is subversive. It stretches genres of film, documentary process and artistic practice. His work is effective for it infuriates, rallies and repulses, and perhaps most significantly, his work is productive. For the material of this implicit critique is the unthinking, guttural stuff of the viewer’s reaction to the images on screen – the root of change, he suggests, lies in this personal position.

The Ethics of Encounter continues with screenings of Polish filmmaker and photographer Artur Zmijewski’s Repetition (until Fri 18 Nov) and American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s Primate (Sat 20 Nov–Fri 26 Nov).

Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, until Fri 26 Nov

The Ethics of Encounter

  • 4 stars

Social documentary series of portraits examining the nature of photographic documentation as a form of research and cultural analysis.

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