Allan Sekula & Noël Burch, The Forgotten Space

Allan Sekula & Noël Burch, The Forgotten Space

Still from The Forgotten Space, 2010, a film essay by Allan Sekula & Noël Burch.
Allan Sekula & Noël Burch, The Forgotten Space
August 28, 2013


In light of Allan Sekula’s recent passing, e-flux invites you to a screening of his film essay The Forgotten Space, co-directed by Noël Burch.

The Forgotten Space is an epic work, tackling the oceananic complexity of global capital—its workings and its toll on human dignity and on the environment—in the form of a film essay, a critical approach that Allan Sekula mastered through a lifetime of work in photography, research, writing and teaching.

The construction of this panoramic portrait of the prevailing global economy brought Sekula to displaced farmers and villagers in Holland and Belgium, underpaid truck drivers in Los Angeles, seafarers aboard mega-ships shuttling between Asia and Europe, and factory workers in Hong Kong and mainland China. In the film, as the camera follows container cargo aboard ships, barges, trains and trucks, we listen to workers, engineers, planners, politicians, people on the margins of global trade, and to the voice of Allan Sekula, who—with the help of his long time collaborator Noël Burch—took it upon himself to tell their story.

Based on Sekula’s earlier work Fish Story (1989–1995), the film seeks to understand and describe global capital in relation to the complex symbolic legacy of the sea. As the directors state: “Our premise is that the sea remains the crucial space of globalization. Nowhere else is the disorientation, violence, and alienation of contemporary capitalism more manifest, but this truth is not self-evident, and must be approached as a puzzle, or mystery, a problem to be solved.”

At the heart of this film is Sekula’s insistence on the hard work of research and remembering—of true storytelling, which rarely involves a happy ending. This screening of The Forgotten Space will be introduced by Monika Szewczyk, and followed by a discussion.

Allan Sekula is an American photographer, writer, critic and filmmaker. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1951, Sekula died in Los Angeles on August 10, 2013. Since the early 1970s his work has bridged the gap between conceptual art and documentary practices, focusing on economic and social themes ranging from family life, work and unemployment, to schooling and the military industrial complex. While calling many of the conventions of documentary into question, his work saw photography as a social practice, answerable to the world and its problems. He taught on the faculty at CalArts since 1985.

Sekula’s books include: Photography against the Grain (1984), Fish Story (1995), Dismal Science (1999), Performance under Working Conditions (2003), TITANIC’s wake (2003), and Polonia and Other Fables (2009). Sekula’s most recent exhibition and book project, The Dockers’ Museum, is due to be published by Leuven University Press at the end of this year. His films include: The Forgotten Space (co-directed with Nöel Burch, 2010), Short Film for Laos (2006), The Lottery of the Sea (2006), Gala (2005), Tsukiji (2001), Reagan Tape (co-directed with Nöel Burch, 1984), Talk Given by Mr. Fred Lux at the Lux Clock Company Manufacturing Plant in Lebanon, Tennessee, on Wednesday, September 15, 1954 (1974), and Performance under Working Conditions (1973).

Selected exhibitions include: Sao Paulo Biennial (2010), La Virreina, Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona (2011, 2010), Taipei Biennial (2010), M HKA, Antwerp (2010), Documenta Kassel (2007, 2002), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2006, 1996), Whitney Museum, New York (2006, 2002, 1993, 1976), Generali Foundation, Vienna (2010, 2007, 2006, 2003), MACBA, Barcelona (2012, 2004, 2001), Winterthur Foto Museum (2001), Foto Institute Rotterdam (2001, 1997).

An obituary written by Sally Stein can be read here.

Noël Burch is a film theorist and a filmmaker. Publications include, Theory of Film Practice (1973) and To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in Japanese Cinema (1979). Burch has directed over 20 films, including Voyage sentimental, (Sentimental Journey, 1993–94), Reagan Tape (co-directed with Allan Sekula, 1984), The Impersonation or A Propos the Disappearance of Reginald Pepper (co-directed with Christopher Mason, 1983), The Year of the Bodyguard (1981), and Correction, Please or How We Got into Pictures (1979), and Noviciat (1964). He is the co-founder and director of the Institut de Formation Cinèmatographique, an alternative film school connecting theory and practice.

Monika Szewczyk is a writer, editor, curator and teacher. Currently the Visual Arts Program Curator at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, Szewczyk was previously head of publications at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2008–2012). Prior to this she was part of the curatorial team of the Vancouver Art Gallery and coordinated programming at the Belkin Satellite, a downtown space of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia. She has written essays for catalogues and journals including Afterall, A Prior, Mousse, and e-flux journal. In 2010, she curated Allan Sekula: This Ain’t China at e-flux. The exhibition featured the eponymous 1974 photo-essay as well a photograph that Allan Sekula took while researching The Forgotten Space in China’s Guangdong Province, which became the backlit transparency, Eyes Closed Assembly Line (2010).

Please contact laura [​at​] for more information.

Film, Economy

Noël Burch (b. 1932 in the US) has been living in France since 1951. He graduated from the Institut Des Hautes Etudes Cinèmatographiques in 1954. While primarily known for his theoretical writings, he has always positioned himself as a filmmaker and has directed over twenty titles, mostly documentaries. Burch has been publishing since the 1960s. Among his numerous publications are his first and best known book Theory of Film Practice (New York: Praeger, 1973), and To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in Japanese Cinema (Berkeley, 1979).

Allan Sekula (1951-2013) was an American photographer, writer, filmmaker, theorist and critic. From 1985 until his death in 2013, he taught at California Institute of the Arts. His work frequently focused on large economic systems, or “the imaginary and material geographies of the advanced capitalist world.” He received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Getty Research Institute, Deutsche Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), Atelier Calder and was named a 2007 USA Broad Fellow.

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