Distancing Effect(s) / 2020 / 4:3 / 14:44 | a huit-clos auto-desktop-portrait by Joshua Olsthoorn | New Forms of Presence

Filmmaker, typographic designer and founder of Typical Organization, Joshua Olsthoorn, guest of MDFF Greece—Athens 2020 (Nov 6—8) with his short film The 5th School (Το 5ο Λύκειο), has been invited to participate in the New Forms of Presence

The concept revolved around threading an intimate narration, by capturing a self-portrait in one or a combination of the following ways:  

1. A video montage that pieces together present recordings with ones from the past, such as excerpts from personal films, director’s cuts from past projects, excerpts of films made by others that somehow resonate with, and narrate one’s point of view.

2. A visual assemblage and/or a collection of sounds that consists of sound recordings from the ambiances of one’s interest, recordings of one’s own voice, or ones that are abstract but still reflect one’s daily world, summing up the prevalent senses (internal and external/cognitive and digital) within this Presence of Absence. 

The frame provided was based on the notion of “On how to observe”: A lookout as a place from which to keep watch; A place where one takes a moment to stand still – physically, mentally, and emotionally being fully present on taking in a view. A place where one distances oneself, in order to reflect, recollect, re-evaluate, recharge, regroup. The work of a director innately evolves around observing, monitoring, keeping records, documenting, imprinting, capturing, and consequently reflecting upon given matters. A director distances himself, assuming the role of the observer with a closeup attitude, in order to get the bigger picture, but at the same tell the story with as much truth possible. In which ways, in being distant, does one make himself/herself present? In which ways does this new paradoxical reality of distancing and pausing – Absence of Presence – relates to a director’s way of seeing, understanding, reflecting upon things in his/her work? How this current contemporaneity enhances one’s ability to shift his/her attention internally and externally, differently from what he/she is used to? How can our perception shift from the objective to the subjective? How do the mediated mechanisms of observing that we rely on, relay meaning and emotion behind given points of interest? Where does our social aptitude reside at a time when we are absent physically but seeking physical presence through our senses, our thoughts, our emotions, our memories, within ourselves and with one another? Within the digital social sphere that we are forced to inhabit exclusively, how does one’s sense of interpersonal connection evolves?


Distancing Effect(s) / 2020 / 4:3 / 14:44
a huit-clos auto-desktop-portrait
by Joshua Olsthoorn

“Thinking of ‘New Forms of Presence’ we could ask a very old question: What is our body? While thinking of the large collection of determinations, thoughts, and body-related observations, we could consider that the experience of our physical presence is very attached to the concepts we have of it and by consequence nothing stable. Pure physicality remains a fiction, or we could also say: everything is physical including our fictions. Therefore, we have to accept that all ‘spiritual’ categories are also other forms of bodies or the speak with Spinoza’ Substance, its attributes, and modes.’ As we know, Spinoza famously proclaimed somewhere in his Ethics: ‘No one yet has determined what the body can do.’ (1) Within our times of social distance and confinement, the limits of our body become under reconsideration.

Within this auto-portrait ‘Distancing Effect(s),’ I try to draw on a possible history of distancing seen from the limitations of my desktop. It appears to me that this is not a new term but much more a device that we have been using in both ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ applications throughout history. Obviously, cinema itself has always been a tool for distancing. Moreover, cinema has been involved in the question of our relationship with the presence, the self, and reality. This auto-portrait could be seen as a browsing history through a cinematic landscape that matters to me and this particular moment of collective confinement.

Against the backdrop of today’s pandemic, Edgar Morin stated in a tweet that ‘the virus is a philosopher: it obliges us to interrogate ourselves.’ Our forced physical withdrawal from the world imposes already a new relationship with the self, others, and our world. Remarkably, distancing today does have, after all, a ‘positive’ meaning. Our self-isolation, avoiding public space and bodily encounters, becomes a semi-heroic-ascetic act of freedom, protecting oneself and others. Despite all, it is hard to avoid thinking that this self-isolation is like becoming what we were already. Our post-internet-social-media-screen-societies seem more than ever embodying their real meaning and function. It is as if we have been part of a science-fiction plot written by an invisible man that we find out to be our selves. 

Distancing, as noticed by many, generates a discontinuity that could mean or prologued dystopia or a catharsis and a new jet to be imagined future. Without entering in many speculations, we could observe that under the estranging angle of today’s ongoing viral apocalypse, a blank space is formed. It is merely confirming that once forced in the distance from whatever we call normality, one can imagine a possible redefinition of norms. It again takes us back to Spinoza and his ‘Sub specie aeternitatis’ inviting us to see things from the perspective of the eternal — knowing how fragile things are, we could act with more care and attention. Social distancing or perhaps our romanticized self-quarantine could be seen as a class privilege but, on the other hand, could humble us towards the awareness of our limited existence in the world, reflecting on the disappearance of the self within a broader continuum that created us. Or in the words of Franco Berardi’ The human is losing its centrality in this chaotic process, and we should not despair over this…”(3)__Joshua Olsthoorn

1. P2, part III. Of the Affects, Ethics, 1677

2. Edgar Morin / Twitter / Mar 27 / ‘le virus est philosophe: il nous oblige à nous interroger’

3. https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/beyond-the-breakdown-three-meditations-on-a-possible-aftermath-by-franco-bifo-berardi/9727?fbclid=IwAR0-T_MwurkFKSudA884oFbNFepVawA3l7inWch0Hzo8DZ3A3oVjxttoVQ8


Joshua Olsthoorn (1981, Amsterdam, Holland) is a filmmaker, typographic designer, and founder of Typical Organization. His films aim to question the act of making images itself. Having lived and worked in several different countries, he lives since 2011 in Greece, where he directed between 2012 and 2017 Athens, for Example, a counter city-portrait within austerity measures. He has been involved in other collective film projects such as The Girl From Exarcheia and continues Fragments, a youtube based database cinema homage to Dziga Vertov. His latest feature, Interlude, was selected at Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

Selective filmography

2007 — 2020 / Fragments 01 — 118 / YouTube

2017 / Athens, for Example / Short / Visions du Réel

2017 / Interlude / Short / International Thessaloniki Film Festival

2018 / The Girl From Exarcheia / Short / Festival Côté Court 2018

2020 / The 5th School / Short/(Worldwide Premiere during MDFF Greece—Athens)