This film is the product of a series of explorations that I conducted in my dissertation that resulted in attempts to find a new language to speak into social repositories of subaltern history. Here, I have extracted a part of a conversation-style interview with a gong fu student Fanja, who recalls some of the ambiguous narratives that she has been exposed to about the history of gong fu in Madagascar. The following is an extract from the introduction to my dissertation:
“but., uhm, the greatest thing that I always remembered was the fact that he mastered dédoubler: he could duplicate himself. And I heard the story of his maid who saw him reading a newspaper on a chair and then discovered him in another room sleeping, and she collapsed (laughs). I remember that story” Fanja, 2017.
Upon relaying this story to me in a recoded interview, Fanja’s voice oscillated between bold excitement and trepid concern. How could this be true? Could this be true? This is the crux of the ambiguity that resides surrounding the history of gong fu in Madagascar, wherein multiple narratives such as this one exist. This dissertation fully embraces the uncertainty surrounding this history and treats it as a cue to look deeper into the social repositories that house such narratives, so as to understand more. The theoretical and practical relevance of this research thus opens toward social repositories, whilst exploring ways through which a new languages to speak into them can emerge.
The tones that then begin to exist within this film between the real and the imagined are what emerges from my experimenting with ways to represent both the physicalness of the human element of the narrator who is talking as well as their imagined space that is drawn upon whilst recalling incidents that make up her particular narrative, including points of hearsay and ambiguity. In the film you see the face of a woman looking at the elements that animate around her as if she is also noticing them as she speaks. Her eyes both follow these elements, indicating that she is ‘reading’ them as she talks, as well as at times flicker across the screen indicating that she is overwhelmed by the amount of information being displayed. This positing of both the human element within the multiple bits of animated influencing factors that dance on screen, demonstrates a mood of being somewhat lost within the bits and pieces of information, knowledge and imagination at play within narratives about this history, both personal and general.
However, Fanja declared that she wished to remain physically anonymous (i.e. did not want to be filmed) but was ok to have her voice recorded for the animated film. Animation has a powerful role to play within choices of anonymity, disguising the presence of the testimony giver. By viewing a drawing instead of her real face, the viewers imagination is able to rise up in a way much like it does when confronted by several narratives about the ’truth’, and yet the presence of the testimony giver remains intact throughout via her voice, linking these narratives to that of a real person. Further, for the viewer, a closer consideration of what types of knowledge are being displayed and consumed on the screen occurs.
This approach then enables me to speak into the knowledge surrounding 'bodily-knowing', as well as the 'connected histories' to that body and their narrative; my hope is that the audience will both be exposed to parts of the research as well as be taken on a journey of what moods those elements of research have for a student of gong fu such as Fanja. By centering the human and yet staying within a space of knowledge, emotions (and thus knowledge locked within those emotions) associated with the narrator are extended whilst she is relaying her testimony; it is possible to dig deeper into the emotional landscape surrounding the narrator whilst she is talking:
Sound, a non-seen component, is the base for this film; the audio recording of the interview as well as sonic clips taken from places of historical importance to the narrative itself, such as recordings of the general sounds of the busy market place, build the landscape through which the visuals exist. On top of the background sounds, Fanja’s voice takes center stage. The animation is worked into and around both the content of what she is talking about, as well as the textures of what has not been said.
Thus, this exploration into the sonic and how it manifests an animated film begins to shape a new language through which to speak about this history.
In this sonic clip, a crucial connection has been made with myself and the history of gong fu that I am researching. Through the creation of this track I have found an authentic experience for myself by being present at historical sites of importance in relation to this history. This site is the Analakely market in Antananarivo. Analakely was the first site I visited in 2009 when I began to explore anecdotal accounts from people within the market about the mystery and history of who Master Pierre Be was (the founder of WISA gong fu). It was also within the old version of this market (now demolished) that much conflict between gong fu members and the private security force of President Ratsiraka erupted in the 1980s.
I followed a sonic approach to finding meaning wherein I have been able to express myself through sonic documentation of the market experiences. The clip is thus linked to, on the one hand, the people all around me in the market and the memories of my initial experience in Analakely where I was first attempting to locate knowledge about the history of gong fu; on the other hand, the clip is also linked to the sound recording of the interview with Fanja about her recalling of this history.
I have created a blog www.tellingtones.tumblr.com where I store sketches and experiments of both the animated and sonic attempts that result from an attempt to tell this history in a different language. One of the key values emerging from my research into social repositories with regards to the history of gong fu in Madagascar has been ‘ambiguity’, and so, in an attempt to stick within this theme, I have made use of ‘open work’, a deliberate and systemic approach that keeps the theme of ambiguity ever present in the blog so as to encourage a higher degree of participatory experiences for the viewer. I have attempted to duplicate that ambiguity whilst re-presenting the blog below.
The blog contains extracts from the short documentary-style animation above, except that in the blog they are displayed looping in time, demonstrating their own existence within the narrative; mimicking the multiple narratives at play.
The elements, all playing at the same time telling different parts of the narratives, enhance the feeling of ambiguity that is felt when researching this history; multiple narratives surround you as you attempt to navigate your way through them and make meaning from them. These loops contain knowledge, relaying multiple levels of meaning. The loops are offset by the insertion of sonic recordings, which are much slower in pace and take much longer to listen through, allowing for the viewer to let their eyes roam to the surrounding looped moving-images that link in to the sonic clips that they are listening to. Thus the viewer can rest on them, contemplating them for longer.
All work on this website belongs to Meghan Judge and exists as apart of the practical component of her dissertation titled Gong Fu and the Art of Duplication: Toward Social Repositories in Subaltern History