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Silvia Bahl

Dissertation Project

Aesthetics of Mental Space. Practices of Artistic Knowledge in Transitional Justice Processes

The restitution of civil society after tyranny and mass violence have come to an end correlates with a period of transition that requires comprehensive political reforms and especially a legal addressing of the crimes.

Over the past decades scholars of jurisprudence have coined the term „Transitional Justice“ for this whole complex. Besides legal proceedings and special forms of jurisdiction like tribunals and truth commissions, what plays a decisive role in working through violent pasts are forms of cultural symbolization understood as aesthetic practices. They can be described as figurative and scenic condensations of experience that are communicable and nevertheless exceed discourse as they enable social relations in the first place.

A fundamental consideration of this research points out that forms of social and political violence correlate with a lasting impairment of mental space and with the destruction of symbolization. Mental space is understood as a result of social and cultural practices that allow intersubjective exchange going along with recognition and the situating of historical experiences. This concept is based on the theory of mental space by Robert Young and especially on the psychoanalytic theory of mentalization by Peter Fonagy. The contribution of psychoanalytical approaches are twofold: They allow an analysis of sensory-symbolic, prediscursive mental processes (Susanne K. Langer) and they understand them in the sense of an extended mind (Andy Clark) as ecological and relational.

Against this theoretical backdrop my research discusses a set of recent films in the context of Transitional Justice. The following aesthetics and political functions can be brought in relation: Films set in on a discursive level and accompany political processes by documenting and intervening; films and documented reenactments that shift discourses into an aesthetic realm and bring difference into play like in scenic readings or holding up fictional trials; films that focus on imagination and scenic operating modes, for example logics of the dream and the surreal, to address the latent and denied dimensions of violence; and finally films that develop aesthetic strategies to speak through the vacancy and to figurate images of the dead in the sense of prosopopoeia.

The following films will be discussed in this line of argument: „El silencio de otros“ (Almudena Carracedo & Robert Bahar), „Unas preguntas“ (Kristina Konrad), „El pacto de Adriana“ (Lissette Orozco), „Teatro de guerra“ (Lola Arias), the process trilogy of Milo Rau, „The Act of Killing“ and „The Look of Silence“ (Joshua Oppenheimer), „Nostalgia de la luz“ and „El botón de nácar“ (Patricio Guzmán), „L’image manquant“ and „Les tombeaux sans noms“ (Rithy Panh)


Silvia Bahl studied Media and Culture Studies (BA) and Media Culture Analysis (MA) at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf from 2009-2014. She subsequently worked as research fellow in the interdisciplinary research project “Wiederkehr der Folter?/Return of Torture?” where she realized an autonomous empirical study on affective modes of film reception in a media related sub-project. From 2014-2018 she was a research fellow and lecturer at the Institute of Media and Culture Studies in Düsseldorf and held BA and MA seminars in the fields of Film Studies, Aesthetics, Conflict and Violence Research, Interculturality, Culture of Memory, Media Ecology and Psychoanalysis. Besides her academic work she is a film curator at Filmkunstkinos Düsseldorf since 2010 and participated as a jury member for the International Confederation of Art Cinemas in the official Berlinale competition, the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival and the Sarajevo Film Festival. Since 2018 she also works as a film critic for Filmdienst.


Please note that these listings appear in the language they were originally published.


Das Obszöne als politisches Performativ. Politische Strategien der Provokation und Indienstnahme von Affekten, hg. von Silvia Bahl und Reinhold Görling, Bielefeld: Transkript, 2019.

Zur Wiederaufführung der Serie „Holocaust“ und dem NS-Drama „Schindlers Liste“, Filmdienst Januar 2019.

Landschaften des Krieges. Zur Filmtrilogie des georgischen Filmemachers George Ovashvili, Filmdienst, März 2018.



SS 2014 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Koloniale Heimsuchungen – Ethnographischer Dokumentarismus als filmische Intervention

WS 2014/15 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Das Denken des Films

SS 2015 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Reenactment and Transitional Justice – Film Aesthetics of Dealing with Violent Pasts

WS 2015/16 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Das Denken des Films
Voices. Ein Ton-/Filmprojekt mit Geflüchteten

SS 2016 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Aesthetics of Working Through
Voices. Ein Ton-/Filmprojekt mit Geflüchteten

WS 2016/17 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Das Denken des Films
Das Obszöne als politisches Performativ

SS 2017 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Szenen des (Post-)Kolonialen

WS 2017/18 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Das Denken des Films
Mediale Ökologien: Gefüge der Individuation, der Sozialität und der Geschichte(n)

SS 2018 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Psychoanalyse und Film

WS 2018 (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Mental Space – Film als Erfahrungsraum