September 26, 2015
Walter Benjamin Now
Whitechapel Gallery
September 26, 2015
11.00am - 6.00pm
Whitechapel Gallery
Zilkha Auditorium, 77-82 Whitechapel High St
London, E1 7QX United Kingdom
A symposium to celebrate the life of the literary and cultural critic

A day-long celebration of the life and legacy of the great essayist, thinker and philosopher, Walter Benjamin, 75 years to the day since his death and coinciding with the release of Walter Benjamin's Archive, an absorbing selection of personal manuscripts, images, and documents published by Verso.

The symposium will include screenings, readings and discussion with guests. Full programme below. 

Tickets start from £15 and are available from the Whitechapel Gallery website.

1115    Auditorium doors open

1130    Welcome and reading of a short poem by Stephen Watts

1135    Hannah Arendt on film considering Walter Benjamin (1968)

            The Passage Clock: for Walter Benjamin (2008, 10mins) / Dir. Jem Cohen 

"An homage to Walter Benjamin and other time-travelling artists and expatriates that have inspired me, especially Chris Marker. Benjamin, fleeing from fascism in the 1930s, took refuge in Paris where the Bibliothèque Nationale became his home away from home. In this library, a sanctuary made of books, he eventually left a secret copy of much of what remains of his Arcades Project, Das Passagen-Werk. Much of the narration for the film came from a chance operation or literary cut-up exercise done with Patti Smith, using dictionary definitions of the word 'passage', which I later edited and augmented with text of my own." - Jem Cohen 

11.55   Esther Leslie / Walter Benjamin: Migrant and Refugee

12.30   Flaneur III: Benjamin's Shadow (1998, 40 mins) Dir. Torben Skjodt Jensen 

Swedish director Skjodt Jensen follows Benjamin’s shadow through his beloved, vivacious Paris in a labyrinthine collage of images and words, which is inspired by the form of Benjamin’s philosophical work. Just as Benjamin digs up excerpts from the ‘infinite’ Bibliothèque Nationale, combines them in his philosophy and personally interprets them, the film-maker intermingles black-and-white images of Paris, Benjamin’s thoughts and thoughts by Benjamin adherents. The film is an abstract, veiled stroll through philosophy and the city.

13.15   Ways of Seeing: Part One (extract; 1972, 11 mins) Dir. Mike Dibb 

Ways of Seeing is a BBC four-part television series of 30-minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger and director Mike Dibb. Berger's scripts were adapted into a book of the same name. The first part of the television series drew on ideas from Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, arguing that through reproduction an Old Master's painting's modern context is severed from that which existed at the time of its making. 

13.30   Lunch Break 

14.30   Brian Dillon 

1500    Lost Book Found (1996, 37 mins) / Dir. Jem Cohen

The result of over five years of Super-8 and 16mm filming on New York City streets, Lost Book Found melds documentary and narrative into a complex meditation on city life. The piece revolves around a mysterious notebook filled with obsessive listings of places, objects, and incidents. These listings serve as the key to a hidden city: a city of unconsidered geographies and layered artifacts—the relics of low-level capitalism and the debris of countless forgotten narratives. The project stems from the film-maker's first job in New York—working as a pushcart vendor on Canal Street. As usual, Cohen shot in hundreds of locations using unobtrusive equipment and generally without any crew. Influenced by the work of Walter Benjamin, Cohen created "an archive of undirected shots and sounds, then set out to explore the boundary" between genres. During the process, Cohen said, "I found connections between the street vendor, Benjamin's 'flaneur', and my own work as an observer and collector of ephemeral street life."

"Its beauty is quite ineffable. It's the sort of visual experience that transforms everything seen by the viewer for several hours afterwards. . . What it actually does is capture the subconscious of the city itself, the dream state of the whole past existing in simultaneous disarray." — Luc Sante, from Low Life and Evidence

1540    Sophie Mayer 

1610    Tea and Coffee Break

1700    People Like Us: Citation City (performance; 2015, 40 mins)

A time-travelling voyage through one city, assembled from hundreds of movie clips and inspired by the wanderings of Walter Benjamin. A patchwork of over 300 features either filmed or set in London, Citation City combines multiple narratives to create the story of one city in a period of enormous change. Pieced together by audiovisual artist People Like Us, this beguiling, labyrinthine work takes its cue from Benjamin’s Arcades Project, an ambitious attempt to map out Paris in fragments which was cut short by the author’s death in 1940. - Flatpack Film Festival

1745    ends