Passing Through: The Politics of the Jazz Ensemble

About | Interview with Larry Clark | Dossier | Exhibition Map | InMediaRes week | LB5 Call for Papers

Brief history of the project:

liquid blackness was immediately drawn to the aesthetic fluidity of Passing Through for how it renders the multiple ways in which blackness exists in space and time, simultaneously indexing rootedness and displacement, originarity and alienation. By presenting as adjacent incongruous aspects of human life—the seemingly unbound creativity of the musicians on the one hand, and the worthlessness of their lives within oppressive labor conditions, on the other; the conditions of Los Angeles black artists’ communities and the pervasive domestic and international anti-black violence—the film explores in the same breath both the confinement and the expansiveness of black artistic and political radicalism.

 The research on Larry Clark’s film has been ongoing since the Fall of 2013 when liquid blackness co-hosted with Emory’s Department of Film and Media Studies the “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema Tour” curated by Jacqueline Stewart, Allyson Field, Christopher Horak, and Shannon Kelley for the UCLA archive. The Tour was partially funded by the Department of Communication at Georgia State University, and, as a result of liquid blackness’ outreach program, it also drew the support of several artists’ communities in the Atlanta area.


Research as Study

liquid blackness is undertaking a long term research project on the legendary yet seldom seen film: Larry Clark’s 1977 Passing Through. Studying the potential of the arts and politics of the jazz ensemble, we are developing an experimental project of collective research that will unfold throughout the year, and culminate in a public screening and symposium in Fall 2015.

Considered part of the “L.A. Rebellion,” i.e. the independent cinema made at UCLA by students of color in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Passing Through follows a jazz musician’s struggle against the recording industry while in search of a “sound” that would reconcile his personal artistic vision with the sensibility of his community and the political urgencies of his highly repressive historical moment. It is a film that reflects on the political potential of the forms of sociality that coalesce around the jazz ensemble and on free jazz as a form of political praxis.

liquid blackness is interested in leading a study of the film. Study, in the sense defined by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, is a non-institutional way of “thinking with others,” where “thinking” offers the possibility to experiment with different forms of sociality. This is what we call an “object oriented research” in the sense that liquid blackness is interested in letting the form of existence of the object dictate the appropriate modes of access to it. This way, we believe, we’ll be able to uncover and amplify some of the cultural and critical work that the film performed throughout its exhibition history.

Want to be involved? Email us at for details on our next study session or contribute to the tumblr Passing Through Art. Initiated by the artists working in collaboration with lb, the tumblr is a space to grow visual resources around the themes of Passing Through.

First, the film is directly and intensely about “study”, i.e. about the forms collective actions that might be engendered by the socialities that forms in and around the jazz ensemble, but also about the “study” that it (i.e. the jazz ensemble) is capable of producing. This is true at all levels of the film, which was made by leveraging already existing artists communities and especially by featuring jazz musicians who were already deliberately experimenting with alternative forms of collective political action through their community presence and through their musical practice.

Second, the film renders the inextricability of artistic experimentation and radical political praxis unambiguously. It does so by deploying newsreel footage of national and international episodes of police brutality and repression in a way that is organically connected into the ‘fictional’ story of the film: we are calling these fluid transitions “passages” and we want to study them closely. These “passages” (and the overall idea of “passing through”) are key to the film’s political work.

The third particularity has to do with the filmmaker’s decision to never seek a wide release of the film. Larry Clark said that he was inspired by Sekou Toure’s views about art: the idea that “art has to be demanded,” that “the people have to ask for it.” The important point here is that this restricted circulation – and exclusively on film—has historically demanded a collective audience. We think this is an important way for the film to perform its critical and political work and we want to honor this mode of access and in fact, magnify it, by using it as the blueprint for the “study” we are doing on and around the film.

Therefore our project is twofold: on the one hand, we propose to study the film in the way in which it demands to be “studied”; on the other hand, we intend to “study” this very process of “study” and reflect on what it means to collectively gather around this film and collectively pursue a set of research questions prompted by it.

To draw connections between the film and our contemporary moment, we ask the questions:

Is the potential of the 1970s entirely exhausted and by now inaccessible? Or does the notion of “passing through” present us with a concept of space that links to contemporary struggles in everyday life? What kind of artistic vision does politics “pass through” in the digital age to produce spaces of communal vision and praxis?

As an object of study we are considering the following methodological concerns:

  • What questions does this project pose for current ideas and practices in the digital humanities?
  • Object Oriented Research: how does this project relate to the tenets of OOO? How does it engage with forms of praxis? How does it conceptualize a deliberately withdrawing object?
  • What is the critical potential of fetishism? What are the implications of maintaining the aura of the object as a vehicle through which the film performs political work?


To view a working bibliography developing from our research visit the Bibliography tab at the top of the page, or click here.


Here is an interview with the filmmaker Larry Clark conducted by Dr. Alessandra Raengo at San Francisco State University in March 2014.

We want to acknowledge Russ Kiel and Juhee So who shot the interview and Joey Molina who edited this cut.

Exhibition Map

Please click here for an exhibition map showing where the film has been screened throughout the world. This map is still being updated.

In Media Res

To coincide with the release of liquid blackness volume 2, issue 1, liquid blackness is partnering with the online collaborative scholarship project, InMediaRes, to curate a theme week and dialogue about Passing Through, black cinema, and the politics of the jazz ensemble starting September 14.

LB 5 CFP Released

We’ve issued a call for proposals to coincide with the September 2015 symposium and film screening of Passing Through.

Click here to read the call.

Some of the paintings that the filmmaker has made between 2011 and 2014 which continue his reflection on sound/image relations, jazz, art, and politics.

Titles of paintings:

  1. Drummer,  22″x 30″, Larry Clark, 2012
  2. Green Guitar, 22″x 30″, Larry Clark 2012
  3. Jamming The Blues, 40″x 30″, Larry Clark, 2014
  4. Nyatiti Before Blues, 22″x 30″, Larry Clark, 2012
  5. Willie The Lion, 22″x 30″, Larry Clark, 2011