Allan Sekula. Collective Sisyphus
Lottery of the Sea, 2006
2006 | 180 minutes, colour, sound | English, Spanish, Galician, with Spanish subtitles | Direction, camera, narration: Allan Sekula | Editing: Elizabeth Hesik
Lottery of the Sea takes its title from Adam Smith, who, in his famous Wealth of Nations (1776), compared the life of the sailor to a lottery. Thus Smith introduces the notion of risk by means of an allegory of the dangers of the sea, especially for those who perform the hardest tasks, although also, to a lesser extent, for those who invest in ships and goods.
The film inquires ‘is there a relation between the most dreadful and fearful concept in economics—that of risk—and the category of the sublime in aesthetics?’ We know that the sea is a primordial source of the sublime, especially in the eighteenth century.
The film is an unusual diary that ranges from the presumed innocent summer of 2001 to the current ‘war on terror,’ through a meandering essayistic journey from port to port, shore to shore, and coast to coast.
What does it mean to be a maritime nation? To govern the waves? Or to harvest the sea?
An American submarine collides with a Japanese trawler. What does this suggest about the division of labour in the Pacific?
How do we remember the old emperor? As a general mounted on his horse? Or as a marine biologist looking through his microscope?
Panama decides whether to increase the width of its canal, over which it now exerts a moderate degree of sovereignty. How come a diver is better prepared to question this huge swath cutting through the jungle?
Galicia receives an unwanted gift of crude oil, which provokes subsequent and important questions about the monomania of governments incapable of conceptualising danger in more than one dimension. What can we learn from people’s ability to self-organise in the face of disaster and government indifference? What can the fishermen of Bueu,- smeared in oil, tell us about it?
Once again, Barcelona returns to its seafront, creating a pseudo-public sphere: in the north, property prices rise, while in the south even greater maritime logistics efficiency is achieved. What do the invisible port workers of the city have to say about democracy from their self-defined position as a ‘ghetto’?
And in the middle of it all we visit blizzards and demonstrations in New York, prehistoric mastodons drifting in Los Angeles, militant percussionists and bewildered construction workers in Lisbon, millionaires or millionaire clones (who can tell them apart?) in Amsterdam and street dogs in Athens, all with the idea of considering in detail an image of the sea, the market and democracy.