Marking the 120-year anniversary of the first screening of Lumière Brothers' Workers Leaving the Factory at the University of Westminster’s Regent Street campus, the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies hosts an evening featuring short films by Harun Farocki and comments by two distinguished experts.
In 1896, the Royal Polytechnic Institution – today the University of Westminster – hosted the first ever screening of moving images to a British audience: A set of ten short films by the Lumière Brothers. One of these was Workers Leaving the Factory.
In 1995, German filmmaker Harun Farocki produced a film of the same title, exploring the relation between the cinema and the factory. Farocki asked: Why have the factory and industrial labour been systematically hidden and disregarded in the history of cinema? Through the montage of similar scenes from the history of film, Farocki depicts the factory gate as a site of social struggle. The gate functions as a metaphor for the gradual eviction of the industrial worker from the factory and the emergence of new forms of cognitive labour. In other words, Workers Leaving the Factory marks the exit of the mass worker from industrial capitalism and into what is called the social factory in Italian autonomous theory.
Farocki’s films prompt us to ask pressing questions in relation to what today is called cognitive/informational/cultural labour. The event aims to show how contemporary theories of labour allow us to read and interpret the work of one of the key figures in contemporary German cinema and how cinema can inform critical social theory.
On this evening, Dr Claudio Celis Bueno (Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies) and Dr Michael Cowan (University of St Andrews) will be exploring the internal relation between the audio-visual work of Farocki and new theoretical reflections on labour in contemporary society.
Drawing lines backwards into film history, the event takes place in the historical building where the Lumière Brothers’ film was first shown to a British public. We will be just next door to the Regent Street Cinema, which was re-opened by University of Westminster in 2015.
by Professor Christian Fuchs
Director of Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies
Movie screening (59 min.)
Workers Leaving the Factory (1995) 36 min
Counter-Music (2004) 23 min
Labour, Value and Technology in the films of Harun Farocki
by Dr Claudio Celis Bueno
International Research Fellow, Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies
Labour in the Era of the Smart City
by Dr Michael Cowan
Head of Film Studies, University of St Andrews
Dr Claudio Celis Bueno is an International Research Fellow at Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Westminster. He holds a PhD in Critical and Cultural Theory from Cardiff University. He is the author of the book The Attention Economy: Labour, Time, and Power in Cognitive Capitalism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). His current research focuses on the problem of labour in the films of German artist Harun Farocki.
Dr Michael Cowan is Head of Film Studies at the University of St Andrews. He is author of several books and collections on cinema, including The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory 1907-1933, co-edited with Anton Kaes and Nicholas Baer (University of California Press, 2016). His main interests are German and European modernity, with emphases on film and media history, visual culture, film theory, experimental film and non-theatrical cinema.