On Passion: Towards a Response to the Moving Images of Gariné Torossian
I don’t work by planning, I follow a feeling – the film only means something if you feel something, and this has to do with the experience you’re able to bring to the images.
- Gariné Torossian1
Upon considering Gariné Torossian’s impressive body of work, I feel compelled to admit that I am at somewhat of a loss for words – not that I have nothing to say, but rather, in fact, that there may be too much to say, and so, in this sense, nothing to say. It seems to me that to attempt to say something definitive, or to even attempt to say something, anything, is in some way to betray the very thing I find so compelling about Torossian’s work – call it, tentatively, its mystery, its enigma, its promise. Of course there are things to say about her techniques and formal strategies, readings of symbols and metaphorical operations, contexts to explore and elaborate on, among other things. And in what follows I write on some of these very things. But this, it must be understood, is really the effect of something else, something that I am only approaching and that is ongoing. What I am getting at has something to do with affect, with how Torossian’s films affect me; yet I think, I feel, there is also something else. This something else, I believe, has to do with a certain feeling necessarily connected to a call to action, an appropriate response to her work. This feeling, this response, is necessarily tentative and unsure, that is, not given in advance. In this way, my words, as a response, are necessarily in question, and should be posed as such.
In what follows I discuss Gariné Torossian’s moving images, broadly speaking, in relation to what philosopher Stanley Cavell calls a “passionate utterance,” a powerful expression of feeling and desire in, that is, through, a medium. Cavell explains that a passionate utterance is a perlocutionary speechact that does something, that produces an effect-affect, without that effect necessarily taking place in the performative dimension of the language in which it expressed. Passionate utterances are necessarily uncertain in the effects they produce: exclamations of love, for example, can as easily inspire fear, anger and disgust as much as love in kind. As Cavell puts it, “A performative utterance is an offer of participation in the order of law. And perhaps we can say: A passionate utterance is an invitation to improvisation in the disorders of desire.”2 In this light, my response is provisional: it is as uncertain and open, that is, as improvised and inviting, as I take Torossian’s work to be.
In the wake of the Armenian Diaspora, Gariné Torossian is moved by images, affected by images of, and in, the world: they evoke and answer to desire. In turn, her images – her images of movement, her movement of images – respond to our desires. Torossian’s films speak to her present desire for a lost time and place, an Armenia, as much imagined as real; her films also ignite a hope for the future. Torossian’s Armenia is absolute in its call to her, in its demand; it is also ever in question. Torossian’s Armenia is the stuff of memory and responsibility; it is equally the stuff of myth. It seems to me that Torossian’s films are at once intensely personal and passionately public. The desire her films express and the public they speak to, however, are not given but found(ed): Torossion is (re)invented in, and the public are invited to, the shared encounter we call cinema.
Torossian’s second film, Girl from Moush (1993), can be taken as a response to the passionate call to not only remember, but to re-potentiate (the idea of, the actuality of, the passion for), Armenia. In the film, Torossian uses calendar photographs of churches in Armenia from fellow Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s Calendar (1993) as moving images of desire. Torossian invests the still photographs – as she puts it, “very conventional shots you could buy anywhere”3 – with a dynamic energy, making them erratically dance with new life in the medium of film. In the same passionified gesture, these image fragments moved by Torossian’s hands traverse the frontiers between abstraction, extraction, and (un)intelligibility, on the one hand, and representation, integration, and symbolism, on the other. As prosthetic memory images revitalized in the hands of Torossian, the church photographs, no longer integrated into the “law” of the calendar, are indeed an “ecstatic attestation to existence,”4 an “invitation to improvisation in the disorders of desire.”5 Moreover, if “the only real moving image in the film shows me [Gariné Torossian] walking across the street,”6 then perhaps we, viewers sharing in the experience, will accept the invitation to move and to be moved as well.7
Something to do with Song
Torossian’s practice is not only intercultural, somewhere between the image-topographies and identity co-ordinates of Armenia and Canada; it is also intermedial. Indeed, a number of her films are responses to other artists’ work. Shadowy Encounters (2002), for example, is Torossian’s imaginative and mystical homage to the Brothers Quay: it undeniably captures the strange, ethereal quality of their work and yet leaves the mystery intact. In this way, the film is a felicitous response to the call of the Quays.
Needless to say, Torossian is also deeply inspired by music. For example, she has absorbed into her filmic imaginarium the music of indie musicians Sparklehorse (Sparklehorse  and Babies on the Sun ) and Bonnie Prince Billy (Death to Everyone )8. Torossian has also significantly collaborated with the Armenian-American rock group System of a Down, to my knowledge producing at least two films: Sandias Eustacy (2004) and Hypnotize/Mezmerize (2005). With these artists, Torossian participates in song as a passionate encounter with the world.
New Old World
In her films, Gariné Torossian puts her own identity, as much as the past, at stake in her effort to find and open a space for experience and communication. Is her cinema not, then, about the “new world” as much as the “old?” Does she not look to, and (de)construct, a past – and make it new – so as to inhabit the present and build a future? Are her moving images not a passionate utterance for the future, that is, an invitation? Does she not stake her present self so as to speak to another as herself and herself alone (hence her own avowed difficulty with words)? Following Cavell, Gariné Torossian’s moving images are something out of the ordinary – something, in spite of, or even because of my seeming difficulty in finding the words, worthy of praise.
1 Gariné Torossian in interview with Mike Hoolboom, “Gariné Torossian: Girl From Moush (an interview) (1997),” originally published in: Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada,ed. Mike Hoolboom, 2nd edition (Coach House Press, 2001). http://www.mikehoolboom.com/r2/ section_item.php?artist=6 (accessed March 18, 2010).
2 Stanley Cavell, “Something Out of the Ordinary,” in Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Harvard University Press, 2005), 19.
3 Hoolboom, “Gariné Torossian: Girl From Moush (an interview) (1997).”
4 Cavell, “Something Out of the Ordinary,” 26.
5 Ibid., 19.
6 Hoolboom, “Gariné Torossian: Girl From Moush (an interview) (1997).” In the interview Torossian goes on to say that the use of her own image in the film shows her “thinking of Armenia, wanting to be a part of it. After making the film I realized this is just a dream, a fantasy about a country I could never visit. No one could.” In 2007, however, Torossian would release Stone Time Touch, an answer to the promise of her fantasy visit to Armenia.
7 On the importance of walking to his philosophical concern with the everyday, Cavell remarks: “That the ordinariness in experience is figured in the image of walking is something I have on several occasions found especially worth taking into account.” See Cavell, “Something Out of the Ordinary,” 25.
8 Sadly, Mark Linknous, the driving force of Sparklehorse, took his own life earlier this year.