Spaces of Spectatorship: Architectures of the Projected Image

Moving-image installations and media architecture have recently given renewed currency to established notions of dispositif, apparatus, and spectatorship. These concepts have allowed for new inquiries into the relationships among screens, viewers, and space in the urban context. In this Polished Panel, the participants use close analyses of peripheral practices of projection to illuminate the centrality of architecture to spectatorial experience.

This panel contributes to the growing scholarly conversation around cinema and architecture, focusing on the architectural configurations of the moving and projected image. Moving-image installations and media architecture have recently given renewed currency to established notions of dispositif, apparatus, and spectatorship. Scholars have tried to recover these concepts from beneath the weight of seventies-era film theory (Thomas Elsaesser, François Albera, and Maria Tortajada), advance alternative theoretical interventions (Francesco Casetti), or emphasize cinema’s historical debt to architecture (Brian Jacobson). By considering the affinities between architecture and the projected image across the history of cinema, this panel works outward, using close analyses of peripheral practices of projection to illuminate the centrality of architecture to spectatorial experience. It thus speaks across fields: pre-cinema and moving-image historiography, new media theory, and the relations between the “black box” and the “white cube.”

Swagato Chakravorty’s paper explores the failure of art and film historians to account for recent screen-based installation art. Criticizing a common tendency to invoke either post-Minimalist art history or the rhetoric of immersion and spectacle, his paper considers the spatial logic of such works, developing an alternate genealogy of screen practices which identifies the eighteenth-century Phantasmagoria—rather than the magic lantern—as the crucial precursor to the (expanded) cinematic dispositif. The spatial logic of projection is also a key issue for Katerina Korola, who investigates works of 3D projection mapping over the previous decade. Contesting prevailing accounts, her paper emphasizes relations between the projected image and its architectural supports. She focuses particularly on the forms of spatial experience such works make possible through the animation of architectural surfaces with projected light. Grazia Ingravalle provides a third angle, examining the film museum as a dispositif in which exhibition settings and curatorial narratives frame moving-image history. She considers the George Eastman House in Rochester (NY) and its recent “Nitrate Picture Show” to offer an account of how architecture, film projection, and curatorial discourses become entwined with historiography. All three papers ultimately mine the peripheries of cinema to probe the relations among space, projection, and spectatorship.


Swagato Chakravorty – Screen Architectures and (Expanded) Screen Practices: Space, Movement, Spectatorship

The proliferation of screen-based installation art and media architecture around the turn of the twentieth century has all but obscured the historical specificities of expanded cinema and installation art. Recent efforts by film and media scholars as well as art historians have done much to restore these specificities, but the question remains: how do we account for such artworks? Two prominent tendencies across film and media studies and art history has been to either seek recourse to a discourse indebted to Minimalism’s radicalization of the relations between artwork and beholder, or else to recycle a rhetoric of immersion and spectacle. I contend that neither proves adequate, and my paper attends instead to the architectures and spatial dispositifs of these works.

Considering recent reappraisals of the notion of dispositif by (among others) Thomas Elsaesser, Francesco Casetti, François Albera, and Maria Tortajada, I argue for an alternate genealogy of projection and spectatorship: one that resists the magic lantern’s replication of Renaissance perspective and the stilled spectator. Exploring the recent screen practices of Philippe Parreno, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Douglas Gordon, I argue that the architected spaces they create (re-)activate a concept of spectatorial experience once crucial to medieval art and spectatorship: ductus, or a traversal through the space of an artwork. Adapting this concept to the context of expanded screen practices and screen architectures, I suggest that the eighteenth-century Phantasmagoria, with its installation sensibility and ambient space of spectatorial experience, inaugurates a different tradition of projection and mobile spectatorship. Finally, I trace this tradition at work by re-reading the scene of Plato’s cave, and examining transparent projection practices around 1900–1920 as well as contemporary expanded screen practices and screen architectures.

Katerina Korola – Probing Light: Projection Mapping, Architectural Surface, and the Politics of Luminous Abstraction

Over the last decade, 3D projection mapping has flourished around the world under the auspices of corporate publicity firms, arts organizations, and urban-branding initiatives. Amongst the popular press, this work has been hailed as at once fulfilling the ambitions of expanded cinema (to free the moving image from the screen) and performative architecture (to liberate architecture from stasis). However, this emphasis on the freedom of the moving image on the one hand, and movement itself on the other, has caused neglect towards the way such projections interact with their architectural support.

A survey of such work demonstrates that, already in its short history, projection mapping has already developed favored idioms whose repetition across the globe draws into question such work’s claim to site-specificity. Whereas unapologetically commercial projects have tended towards figurative motifs, projects aspiring towards the artistic have tended to systematically favor the language of abstraction. This latter group is the concern of this paper, which, drawing the insights of inter-war debates on architectural illumination into contemporary discourse on media architecture, aims to investigate the potential and limitations of such luminous abstractions in engendering new forms of spatial experience. Do these high-tech projections encourage the spectator to engage with architecture in a new way, or do they instead efface their architectural setting beneath an ornamental visual spectacle?

Grazia Ingravalle – Projecting Works of Art: The George Eastman Museum as Museological Dispositif

Several scholars have recently reformulated the concept of dispositif in the context of historical and pragmatic analyses of film viewing. Frank Kessler foregrounds the historical interrelationship between technology, films, and spectators’ positioning. Both Erika Balsom and Giovanna Fossati employ the concept of apparatus/dispositif to conceptualize the multi-faceted work of, respectively, the contemporary art gallery and the film archive. While the concept has been re-interpreted in a historiographical perspective (Elsaesser) and utilized in the analysis of art and heritage institutions, the connection between film historical narratives and film museums’ work remains unexplored. By looking at the George Eastman Museum (GEM) in Rochester, NY as a case of study, this paper understands the museum as an exhibition dispositif that shows films within a particular architectural and technological setting, addressing spectators with specific curatorial and historiographic discourses.

The Dryden Theatre’s neoclassical architecture signals the museum’s institutional authority, defining the cinematic space of auratic encounters with its film collection. GEM’s “Nitrate Picture Show” (the first international festival of nitrate films), epitomize what curator Cherchi Usai defines as “fine art” curatorship. As the festival’s titles remain secret until the opening, films’ textuality becomes secondary to their unique aesthetic qualities and the now rare opportunity to see them projected at all. Within this museological dispositif, architecture and nitrate film projection are intertwined with curatorial discourses that metonymically emphasize film’s formal qualities and artistic value over other historically defining functions. This paper aims to foreground the tragic historical narrative that ties together the different elements – architecture, films, and technology – of the museum dispositif.


Respondent and Panelist Biographies

Respondent Andrew Uroskie is Associate Professor and Graduate Director for Art History and Criticism at Stony Brook University. His work focuses on how durational media have helped to reframe our understanding of aesthetic production, exhibition, spectatorship, and objecthood in the contemporary era and has appeared in OctoberGrey Room, and Journal of Visual Culture. He is the author of Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema in Postwar Art.

Swagato Chakravorty is a PhD student in the History of Art and Film and Media Studies (combined) at Yale University. He works at the interstices of screen practices, screen architectures, and embodied spectatorial experience. Related interests include aesthetics and the philosophy of art, histories of film theory, visuality in the long 19th century, and contemporary media theory. For 2015–2016, he will be a Mellon Fellow in the Department of Media and Performance Art at the Museum of Modern Art.

Katerina Korola is currently a PhD student in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, funded by les Fonds de recherche sur la société et la culture (FRQSC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Her research centers on moving image exhibition practices, visionary architecture, and cinematic landscapes.

Grazia Ingravalle is a Ph.D. student at the University of St Andrews (UK). Her research examines the way institutional contexts (film archives, museums, and institutional web platforms) frame viewers’ understanding of early and silent cinema, with a focus on the exhibition practices of film museums in Europe and the United States. Her article “Remixing Early Cinema: Historical Explorations at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands” has recently appeared in the 2015 fall issue of The Moving Image.


Panel and Panelist Bibliographies

spaces of spectatorship bibliographies

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