Images at Work: Labour and the Moving Image

International Conference at King’s College London, 22-23 June 2023

We are thrilled to announce the final programme of our conference on labour and film organised by Laura Lux (KCL) and Georgina Le Breuilly (KCL) in collaboration with the GSSN.

The Images at Work conference takes its inspiration from this juncture of old and new. It builds on the long-established political history and theory around labour – especially that associated with German critical thought, such as the work of Karl Marx, Max Weber, Rosa Luxemburg, and the Frankfurt School – and seeks to reassess the subject of labour and the moving image from diverse contexts and perspectives, looking beyond the prevalence of the Global North and the white, male working class in these debates. This international event, incorporating film screenings and artists’ talks, aims to bring together practitioners and professionals with researchers working across film studies, cultural studies, media studies, critical race studies, history, sociology, economics, politics, philosophy, and anthropology. It intends to foster new, interdisciplinary conversations on labour and the moving image that address the breadth of representations of labour in non-narrative film – particularly in artists’ film practices, such as video installation, experimental film, essay film, and activist, or radical documentary practices – and the global histories and evolutions of labour practices, providing a long overdue reassessment of this perennial yet often overlooked subject.

In the nearly 130 years since the Lumière brothers filmed their employees in La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon [Workers Leaving the Factory] (1895), artists and filmmakers have explored the capacities of the moving image to examine labour as a crucial facet of everyday life and modern society. The Lumières’ iconic La Sortie – shot multiple times over several days (including a Sunday) – is emblematic of film’s history in witnessing both the evolution of work and the challenges and complexities of capturing those social and political realities of labour often abstracted or concealed from vision (Brecht, 1932; Comolli, 1996). In more recent times, renewed interest in La Sortie, through its re-appropriation by artists such as Harun Farocki, Kevin Jerome Everson, Sharon Lockhart, and Andrew Norman Wilson has coincided with a growing exploration of the status of labour in film (Gorfinkel, 2012; Mazierska, 2013; Pinkus and Rhodes, 2018; Skvirsky, 2020). Meanwhile, the discussion around work has evolved, incorporating new voices and other immaterial, affective, digital and globalised forms of labour affected by changing economic models, technologies, media and means of production.

Register for the conference here via eventbride.

Thursday 22 June 2023

09.00-09.30 Registration and welcome (coffee)

09.30-11.05 Panel 1 – Obsolescence, Extractivism, Remediation: Labour and Experimental Documentary

Lorenz Hegel (PhD Candidate, Yale University): Coal, Metal, Labor: Means and Ends of Production in Marx and Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks (2002)

Lawrence Alexander (Visiting Researcher, Free University of Berlin): Workers Leaving the Chapel: “Cross-Influence”, Extractivism, and the Labours of Moving Image Excavation in Harun Farocki’s The Silver and the Cross (2010)

Palita Chunsaengchan (Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota): Surveying Deaths of Single-Screen Theatres, Media Obsolence and Labor Disposal in Bangkok through Phantom of Illumination (2017)

Jörg Markowitsch (Independent Researcher): Dystopias of the working world: Katharina Gruzei’s reinterpretation of ‘Workers Leaving the Factory’ [online]

11.10-12.25 Panel 2 – Working Bodies: Maternal labour, Caretaking and Nursing in Documentary

Alice Bardan (Assistant Professor, Mount St. Mary’s University): Maternal Labor, Anxiety, and Precarity in Audre Pepin’s Observational Documentary A la vie/Sheroes (2019)

Wiebe Copman (Graduate Teaching Assistant, Ghent University): “… which is also work.”: Caretaking and the Lyrical Mode in Ute Aurand and Maria Lang’s Der Schmetterling im Winter (2006)

Laura Lux (PhD Candidate, King’s College London): The Body as a Factory: Surgical Images and the Labour of Nursing in Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica (2022)

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.05 Panel 3 – Revolution and its Challenges: Unrest and Activism on Screen

David Wilt (Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University): The Proletariat and the Mexican Revolution in Mexican Cinema

Harrison Whitaker (PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge): The End of Hollywood’s Union Man

Sarah Hamblin (Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston:) The Crisis of Comfort: Post-Fordist Labour and Radical Politics in Satayjit Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy

Sarah Ann Wells (Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison): The International Women’s Strike Film [online]

15.10-16.10 Panel 4 – Hidden Labour and Means of Production in Cinema

Theodor Frisorger (PhD Candidate, University of Cologne) and Dennis Göttel (Junior professor, University of Cologne): Televised Filmmaking: Early Making-of Films at the WDR

Joshua Schulze (PhD Candidate, University of Michigan: Painted Sandals and Blistered Feet: The Production of Sundown (1941) and the Racialized Labor of Hollywood Extras [online]

16.10-16.30 Coffee Break

16.30-18.00 Keynote – Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky (Associate Professor, University of Chicago)

20:00-21:30 Screening – Harun Farocki / Labour through the Decades at Close-Up Film Centre (Free screening, sister event to the conference. Separate registration required. Limited number of tickets distributed on a first-come-first-served basis. Conference registration does not guarantee admission.

Friday 23 June 2023

09.30-10.00 Late Registration (coffee)

10.00-11.00 Panel 5 – Precarity and Unrest in Contemporary French Cinema

Temenuga Trifonova (Associate Professor, University College London): L’emploi du temps: The New Landscape of Work and Struggle in Contemporary French Cinema

Francesco Sticchi (Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University): Brizé-Lindon’s Trilogy of Work

11.05-12.20 Panel 6 – From Early Automation to Globalisation: German Histories of Labour in Film

Alex Fletcher (Associate Lecturer, University of the Arts London): Representing Global Labour in Late Farocki

Stephan Hilpert (Macromedia University, Cologne): Leaving the Factory: Christian Petzold’s Wolfsburg (2003)

Nick Hodgin (Senior Lecturer, Cardiff University): East German Documentaries: Love of Labour and Labour of Love

12.20-13.30 Lunch

13.30-14.45 Panel 7 – Digital Labour and Film: Breakdowns, Simulation, and Absence

Nick Jones (Senior Lecturer, University of York): Digital Work Rendered Visible: VFX Breakdowns and the Absent Artist

Carleigh Morgan (PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge): Crowd Work: Animation and Automation in the Production of Simulated Crowds

Matthias Kispert (Research Assistant, University of Westminster): Representing Digital Platform Work through Delegate Performance

14.50-16.05 Panel 8 – The Ethics of Participation: Film Collectives and Participatory Filmmaking

Yung-Hang Bruce Lai (Research Associate, King’s College London) and Fredie Chan Ho Lun (independent documentary filmmaker): Empowering Precarious Workers through Participatory Filmmaking: A Case Study of Fredie Chan’s Independent Cinema in Hong Kong

Lorenzo Lazzari (PhD Candidate, University of Udine): After Work: The Experience of Video-Nou in Can Serra, 1978

Liesje Baltussen (PhD Candidate, University of Antwerp): Fugitive Cinema and the Working Class: Two Ways of Engaging

16.05-16.30 Coffee Break

16.30-17.45 Panel 9 – Theory and Method: Critical Approaches to Work on Screen

Angelika Seppi (Visiting Professor, Bauhaus-University Weimar): “Tout va bien”: Class Struggle and the Limits of Cinematic Representation

Elisabeth Korn (Lecturer, University of Film and Television Munich): The Dialectic of Image and Labour: An Impulse for Rethinking the Culture Industry after 1968

Joshua Harold Wiebe (PhD Candidate, University of Toronto): The Screen is Black: Labour and Negation [online]

17.45-18.00 Closing Remarks

Organised by Laura Lux (KCL) and Georgina Le Breuilly (KCL), this conference is part of the German Screen Studies Network’s DAAD-funded Promoting German Studies Project, “German Screen Studies Network (GSSN): Media, Cultures, Histories” led by Dora Osborne and Paul Flaig (German and Film Studies, University of St Andrews) in partnership with the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (DLLC) at King’s College London.

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