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The Lottery of the Sea

Photo by Allan Sekula

Voluptuous folds of inky oil slop from a truck like cake batter in the opening shot of Allan Sekula’s ambitious new film, The Lottery of the Sea, a dense rumination on globalization and seafaring. Sekula, a photographer and theorist who teaches at CalArts, then asks a difficult question in voice-over: Is there a relationship between Adam Smith’s idea of risk, the most frightening concept in economics, and the category of the sublime? The ensuing three hours are spent pondering that question in a series of achronological sequences shot in disparate locales between 2001 and 2006. We visit Panama, Spain, New York City and Japan; observe discussions about pollution, real estate, shipping laws and the ramifications for workers of shifting economic agendas; and pick up all sorts of interesting seafaring arcana — that Ronald Reagan was an amateur builder of model ships, for example. While his project connects with other great essayistic efforts, such as Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, Sekula is far less interested in personal reflection and more determined to render a politicized image of transnational economic hegemony. In one gut-wrenching sequence, Sekula shows the gallant efforts of a cleanup crew scooping fistfuls of gloppy muck from the waves off the coast of Spain after the tanker Prestige split in two, disgorging 20 tons of fuel oil. Sekula shoots these images mainly in medium close-ups, isolating the figures clad in white protective suits against the dirty waves in a precise emblem of individual struggle against massive capitalism. Sekula’s skill rests in making us see what’s right in front of us, whether it’s the homogeneity of the towering stacks of shipping containers or the flags that wave from ships, neatly eliding true national origins. Writing about the sublime, philosopher Jean-François Lyotard argued that its goal was to present the unrepresentable. Sekula, conscious of the concrete realities of power, shows us how to interpret that power in the world around us. (REDCAT at Disney Hall; Mon., April 17, 8 p.m. 213-237-2800; www. redcat.org)

—Holly Willis


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