Media Archaeology & Sans Soleil (1983)

“The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black. ”

—— Opening of Sans Soleil

Interpretations or approaches of ‘media archaeology’ vary from different scholars from different perspectives. For Jussi Parikka, this concept helps us to take a historical look at the ‘material media cultures’ and also includes expanding analyses on the existence of ‘media cultural objects, processes and phenomena’ (Parikka, 2012). For Erkki Huhtamo, it might work as a crucial topic of media culture for bringing in the ‘media’s pasts’ which are seldom considered by contemporary media culture. It is, to some extent, ‘amending’ the conditions between old and new media by using interdisciplinary methods (Huhtamo & Parikka, 2011). Siegfried Zielinski deems media archaeology as a poetic exploration from audio-vision to ‘deep time’ and focuses on the margins of dominant assemblages such as ‘cinematic and televisual apparatuses’. All these theories put media historical inquiry at the central place and highlights the existence of ‘cultural memory’ and ‘archives’ as links to contemporary media contexts.


A good example of ‘archive film’ as media archaeology is Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (France, 1982) which had been discussed in our class. Rather than a ‘conventional’ documentary, it works as mediation on past memories, still images, moving image clips, emotional diaries, and different cultures. It is hard to digest all the messages at once because both audio and visual information embody a lot to tell. In this film, we can see Marker’s sophisticated modification of archival footage, especially on Yamaneko’s ‘Zone’. A sequence of ‘electronic graffiti’ is displayed with poetic letters as voiceover. These archive moving images are selected from the First World War and the Russian Revolution and rearranged by Yamaneko, an image synthesiser. As Lupton argues, ‘their representational content drained away in favour of shifting coloured fields that just retained the outlines of recognisable figures and objects as a solarised flair’ (2006, p.148). In this sense, the structure of this film becomes interactive and associative other than finished ‘linear narrative’. This image practice enables the filmmaker to ‘drift’ between objectivity and subjectivity, and underlines that how the ‘discourse’ of one image might alter by putting it into different contexts.

Written by Bingjie ZHAI (Lee)


Huhtamo, E. & Parikka, J., 2011. “Introduction: An Archaeology of Media Archaeology”. In Huhtamo, E. & Parikka, J. Media archaeology: Approaches, applications, and implications, University of California Press.

Lupton, C., 2006. Chris Marker: Memories of the Future. Reaktion Books: London.

Parikka, J., 2012. What is Media Archaeology? — out now. Available at: <; [Accessed: March 23, 2017].

Zielinski, S., 1999. Audiovisions: cinema and television as entr’actes in history. Amsterdam University Press: Amsterdam.

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