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Alia Syed
The relationship between space and identity has informed Syed's earliest films but since the mid 1980s she has moved away from a focus on power relations and representation of class and gender differences towards a concern with the trans-cultural.

This shift is the result of the impact of globalisation on modernity and identity politics and is evident in a comparison between Unfolding 1987 and Eating Grass 2003.

Unfolding, set in a launderette, depicts the site of women's domestic labour in an earlier moment of capitalism in which social relations were determined by the industrialisation of labour power. By contrast the later film focuses on markets and streets as spaces of encounter: contact zones of symbolic and economic exchange, alluding to a service industry that has influenced social relations by transforming identity through a notion of citizenship marked by consumption.

Unfolding is influenced by an earlier generation of feminist filmmakers' concern to deconstruct the phallo-centric language of film and create a gendered vision. There are three levels of representation.

A realist subject matter frequently found in the work of 19th Century European painters and the first wave of feminist artists in the 1970s. Techniques of double exposure and repetition undermine the naturalism of the image. The overlapped forms introduce a gap that separates the signifier, the form of the image, from its signified, the object, person or action it is intended to convey, exposing the mimetic nature of the image. The third level is narrative: the mythical register of fairy tales creates a symbolic level of meaning placed over the first two.

In this early film they are brought together by Syed's ability to transform the visual field the camera lens becomes a concave glass mirror that resembles the speculum, a medical instrument used to examine the womb and used as a metaphor by Luce Irigaray. As her work has developed Syed has made more overt references to themes of cultural difference and her techniques have changed accordingly.

In Eating Grass these same strategies of avant-garde film processes and a spoken narrative are deployed to create a film-essay that is closer to the style of Chris Marker's Sans Soleil 1983, in its exploration of experimental ethnography. The viewer is taken on a metaphorical and actual journey to Karachi, Lahore, Delhi and London, as she moves from one country and culture to another a voice-over in English and Urdu imposes on her a self-reflexivity that offers a series of narratives of belonging.

In contrast to her earlier film Eating Grass is not shot at twenty-four frames per second but in time-lapse at one frame per second. It is then optically printed which alters this time-lapse again to resemble the conventions of filmic speed and more closely resemble a natural illusion of movement.

Consequently, objects in the foreground appear to be static whilst those in the distance are seen at a higher velocity conveying the impression of different moments of time occurring in one and the same moment. Capitalist time recorded by clock and calendar is brought into correspondence and collision with the Islamic times of prayer through the tracking of shadows that evoke the passage of the sun.

Both films are linked by the use of an averted gaze so that the camera moves restlessly between people, objects and things. In Unfolding it recodes film to destabilise the gendered power relations between centre and margin but in Eating Grass the conditions of the filmic gaze are developed through the influence of experimental black cinema.

Still from Eating Grass by Alia Syed, 2003
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