Dr. Pallavi Paul

From Ideology to the Fragment: Documentary Reimagined

1 August 2022 to 28 February 2023

Research Description:

During my term as a fellow at ICAS:MP I seek to look at the ways in which the link between medical discourse, documentary and visual culture is being rearticulated with a pressing urgency in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This work builds on my doctoral thesis titled ‘From Ideology to the Fragment: Documentary Reimagined’ which interrogates the relationship between documentary and public truth in India. I argue that the contract between documentary, authenticity and truth has had to renew itself across various decades under the critical pressures exerted by film technologies, censorship regimes, changing political scenarios and channels of circulation. Further, in each recension, the documentary can be located as an aesthetic response to the time of its production. Through this project I closely track the material and philosophical termini across which this renewal is enacted. The sites where these transformations are played out and sensed include activist film, observational documentary, contemporary art and social media.

With a view to produce a book manuscript, my ongoing research as a TM 7 fellow is focussed on the ways in which notions of ‘expert’ driven authenticity are being interrogated in the post COVID-19 media sphere. I venture that the intensification of pathogenic virality has instantiated a generative ‘contamination’ of scientific disciplines like immunology and virology with the networked openness of digital image cultures. It is through this contamination that we are able to see media forms as central to viral matter and not merely as repositories of its causes and effects. It is in the actions of a growing community of networked-media user- producers and amateur scientists, that a new lexicon of authenticity and truth can be imagined for our post-pandemic world.

Visualization of medical data and immunological research, post-photographic images of the virus, hard hitting journalistic coverage of the human tragedy precipitated by the pandemic, citizen videos aimed at countering censorship, archival images from previous pandemics such as the Spanish Flu, 3D animated renderings of droplet transmission, video consultations with biomedical experts, display screens of medical devices like pulse oximeters, ventilators and thermometer guns, dubious and unverified materials circulating on social media – all texture the current moment and produce it as a cross-shared, thickly annotated field of documentary acts. I propose to apprehend these claims on life and their aesthetic power, by navigating these different kinds of documentary materials generated by this moment.


Pallavi Paul is a visual artist, filmmaker and film scholar living between New Delhi and Berlin. Her practice interrogates how the idea of “truth” is produced and argued in public life. She has received her PhD in Film Studies from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. As an artist she has shown at venues including the Berlinische Galerie (2022), International Film Festival of Rotterdam (2020), Berlinale Forum Expanded (2022), Tate Modern, London (2013); HKW Berlin (2020, 2022); The Rubin Museum, New York (2019). She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the ICAS:MP fellowship programme in New Delhi.

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