Fora de Campo/Off-screen Project. Mozambique Film Archive: research through mimetic rivalry. Catarina Simão


African Independence movements of the 60s had already demonstrated that after the visible symbols of colonialism were removed —settlers and military— a lot remained to be done in order to gain a sustainable freedom. This struggle would imply the rise of radical theory and a political practice that would refuse to follow methods and models inherited from the past.

The experience of the armed struggle and Liberated Zones in Mozambique were a “scientific laboratory” for the future of independent Mozambique. Political awareness had generated a specific culture, demonstrating that it could also be used as weapon for combat and political education. This notion developed within the dynamics of the struggle to the idea that the fight itself was a cultural act. A kind of performative materialization of a new ideology is stated when future is described as an enterprise to be acknowledged in the process of its own collective experience – a trend in favour of praxis more than into Marxist theoretical accession. The propaganda line, procedures that operate in time, the theory based on everyday experience were not just specific instruments of governance for the struggle. Frelimo party, the Liberation Front of Mozambique that took political leadership in Mozambique after independence in 75, followed these same thought-patterns. Land rights, history making, military, housing or education would all be associated under a same revolutionary project.

A fundamental relationship is shaped at this point, between knowledge production of the new reality for the country – one that is invented – and a political action. And it’s within the historical trend of this relationship that a heroic national film production was situated. Mozambique government founds the National Cinema Institute in 76. It starts cinema education and attracts filmmakers, intellectuals and technicians from several countries to Mozambique, including the three foremost representatives of the avant-gardes, from Cinema Novo to Cinéma Vérité, across the Nouvelle Vague: Ruy Guerra, Jean Rouch and Jean-Luc Godard.

A cinema that records social transformation at the same level that operates on it was able to predict the organization of artefacts for a unique national narrative and the constitution of an archive of power. How to work today with the operative evidence of this film archive?

Fora de Campo/Off-screen Project
Since 2009 that Off screen project is working on the reconstitution of the remains of this collection of films, kept in a State Archive located in Maputo. The oldest film on the archive is from 1921 and the more recent if from 1991, the year when a fire destroyed part of the building and part of the collection. Having no clear definition of this archive, because its organization is not consensual, because it’s crumbling and inaccessible, became the proposal of not defining this archive in any situation. “Reconstitution” has been understood as an expanded practice, rather than a task aiming a specific goal – as it would be the case of a technical or historiographical reconstruction. What these revolutionary films are and, consequently, how they should be organized and shown, is not something just to be fixed and preserved, but mainly something to be enacted. With this proposal comes also the refusal to separate, tactically, the image from its procedure, in the same way that it refuses to separate documentation from production, cognition notions from knowledge, narrative descriptions from the ability to learn from these narratives.

By taking an approach based on experience and procedure – and reckoning of this procedure – the Off screen project mimics the form of its own subject. Through a clash of mimetic rivalry it allows participants to read a specific work methodology where the task of reassembling, screening and exhibiting a genealogy of films weaves itself as an experience in confrontation with history and Western epistemology – and not necessarily in a relation to the past.

Since 2009, Catarina Simão develops an “in flux” format project to work on the nature of perception and of encoded memory build up through images, documents and Archive. The project is centred around an on-going dialogue with a specific archive, the Frelimo’s film collection, kept in a State Archive in Maputo, Mozambique.

Public presentations of the Fora de Campo/Off-screen Project are modelled along the idea of a “documentation room” as a reflection of its cumulative and dialogical character. It proposes to reveal documents, images, testimonies, texts and films as narratives of different forms of a post-colonial condition: from the context of the Liberation movements that produced a revolutionary film collection in Mozambique, to global capitalism that is now prospecting its preservation, to the present moment where it appears as fragments of a personal research. A montage-like effect allows viewers to read a specific work methodology, where the task of reassembling an archive genealogy weaves itself as an experience in relation to history and Western epistemology – and not necessarily in relation to the past.

This on-going project has been presented in its different stages in art contexts in Lisbon, Porto, Maputo, Vienna, London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Seville. It was also part of the Manifesta 8 biennial in Murcia in 2010, and Africa.cont art program in 2011, in Lisbon. Off screen Project has developed connections with radios, libraries, university and historical archives. During 2012, the project collaborated in Berlin with the Centre of Modern Oriental Studies and the Living Archive program of Arsenal Cinema. Recently, the project was presented at the Sweet Sixties Conference in cooperation with Ashkal Alwan, in Beirut. Catarina Simão is co-founder of the PIE group – Performance & Image Exploration (2011) and was part of the curators’ board for GHOST art residencies, at Atelier Real, Lisbon, in 2011.

Catarina Simão
Catarina Simão (*Lisbon, 1972) is a Lisbon-based artist and independent researcher. Her practice is built upon research and collaboration. It encompasses art installation, video, film screening, radio shows and participatory workshops. She is the author of essays associated to the subject of her project, such as political theory, propaganda image, archive and artwork based on primacy of process. Fora de Campo/Off-screen Project – Mozambique Film Archive is an on-going art project, initiated by Catarina Simão in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2009.