Finding the Telepathic Cinema of Manchuria by Emily McMehen


'Finding the Telepathic Cinema of Manchuria raises an interesting question about the resonant impact of nostalgia on information.'


On first viewing, David Blair’s new film resembles the fever dream of an archivist - a delirious assimilation corrupting fact and fantasy into a sort of conceptual hybrid. On subsequent viewings, a subversive narrative begins to reveal suspended anatomical systems. A dromological state that exists not as a fixed location, but instead as a geographical movement, dependent on industry and seemingly unfixed from a linear movement through time, arranges itself on tracks that are constantly being disassembled and reassembled by its citizens. The boundaries of this state-of-motion are variable, and project themselves around its dynamic core – the locomotive that moves through an otherwise pastoral territory, equally unfixed in time, with notions of place and political boundary appearing only in passing as they are traversed by the state and succeeded in time. The state moves through the assemblage of territory as a sequence of images through a projector, alluding to another kind of aesthetic truth. Actual events and half-formed ideas merge to create a cinematic pantheon of political ideologies that integrate freely in the landscape on a non-linear timeline.

There is a deliberate analogue feel to the film, which offers a pastiche of historical photographs and maps set against assertive but incongruous passages of text. The disparity is amplified by the voice of the narrator, reminiscent of those who read educational messages over regional television programmes in North America in the seventies and eighties. To a particular generation, this is the voice of authority, but in the context of a digital animation project it is the calm voice of a dispossessed epoch – an echo of the recent past that is more profoundly separated from the present by technology than by time. The lingering feeling that the narrator is accessing some tragically corrupt vault of data in order to generate his monologue blends comfortably with the score, like the film, composed of original and reconstituted material. The soundtrack makes allusions to military cadences and warbly old records, here and there a crescendo of revolutionary propaganda emerges from amidst the strings and tinny transitions for a triumphant moment of disconnect with the images on
the screen.

Finding the Telepathic Cinema of Manchuria raises an interesting question about the resonant impact of nostalgia on information, and if its affective melancholy might effectively corrode our notions of history, dissolving boundaries between situation and place. As the 21st Century promises an impending environmental catastrophe of some kind, as well as a political imperviousness to territories as they have conventionally been established in the past, our tools for interpreting political climates are in fact tragically corrupt and outdated. In David Blair’s film, the chaotic result of the retroactive fusion of anatomy, history and state through the cinematic image seems less primordial than emancipatory, freeing these concepts from their conventional moorings, despite consigning them to an impossible past.


Emily McMehen is a Canadian artist and writer living and working in London.

She is currently pursuing a PhD in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and works primarily in video and textiles.