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The interval and the instant: Inscribing death and dying

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Non-fiction filming involving death and dying has taboo status in terms of what western society can and cannot sanction – the image of dying is not something we should see, or even want to see. As a consequence, there is very little film-making done with the consent and collaboration of the dying person and there are few moving images of natural or good deaths. The documentary film-makers and artists who have navigated this difficult ethical territory, engendering a space where dying and death can be given images, have done so by adopting a way of seeing, and being with, the terminally ill person that has some confederacy with the practices of the palliative care professional. Drawing upon the writing of Vivian Sobchack and Ernest Becker, as well as Giorgio Agamben’s theory of bare life, and particularly Emmanuel Levinas and his concept of alterity, the article concentrates on art and film that turns to face death and dying. Moving through narrative cinema, observational documentary and artists’ film, and examining specific film works by Stan Brakhage, Sophie Calle, Kirby Dick, Allan King and Bill Viola, among others, the complex area between ethics and aesthetics is explored, suggesting that in the context of film and death there can be an ethics of aesthetics.
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Keywords: alterity; artists’ moving image; bare life; death and dying; documentary; fiction; immanence; palliative care ethics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Queen Mary University

Publication date: 01 December 2016

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  • The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) is the first international peer-reviewed scholarly publication devoted to artists' film and video, and its contexts. It offers a forum for debates surrounding all forms of artists' moving image and media artworks: films, video installations, expanded cinema, video performance, experimental documentaries, animations, and other screen-based works made by artists. MIRAJ aims to consolidate artists' moving image as a distinct area of study that bridges a number of disciplines, not limited to, but including art, film, and media.
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