The thesis puts forward close readings of Amar Kanwar’s essay film A Season Outside (1997) and the multiscreen installation The Lightning Testimonies (2007) to explore how an ethical-political spectatorial mode is produced in the two documentary-based artworks. The applied understanding of an ethical-political mode is derived from what Okwui Enwezor claims is a new articulation of the ethical-political in contemporary art, located in the encounter between the artwork and the spectator as an increased sensitivity to the other, related to human rights, biopolitics and the consequences of globalization.
The readings of the two artworks suggest that a particular “community of sense” is produced by means of an allegorical layering of polysemic narrative structures that interlace different texts of communalism, colonialism and nationalism from the Indian subcontinent. As evoked by Jacques Rancière, a “community of sense” designates the sensory fabric that binds human beings together, thinking politics as a sharing of the sensible. The narrative techniques also draw on features of Indian narrative traditions incorporated into new art history in India, and aspects of storytelling, as viewed by Walter Benjamin. The readings propose that the image-word operations at play and a heterogeneous exchange of media approaches the allegorical qualities and paratactic logics in what Rancière terms “the great parataxis” as an organizing principle with renewed political force within the aesthetical regime. The result is a kind of community of sense where the spectator as a site of meaning-making is woven into the composition of the work to create emancipation and a politics of plurals.
The textual perspective offers a different approach than previous research history regarding the artist, suggesting that a narrative approach opens the image-word relations onto another political function. The textual optics enables an understanding of how the sense community of the artwork is construed, but does not access questions of embodied perception and affect in screen spectatorship.
The thesis was a part of the master’s program of the research program CULCOM (Cultural complexity in the new Norway), University of Oslo.