WP2 will focus on public lectures and performances and their locations. PhD 2 will use GIS (geographic information system) technology to map the lantern infrastructure for the three cities of Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi. The PhD will propose an in-depth comparative analysis of the three cities that questions urban cultures and the infrastructure of venues. For this analysis, the PhD will make use of original historical data about the three cities involved. PhD 3 and Postdoc 5 will analyse the role of the lantern in popular science performances and, more broadly, the ways in which their content was negotiated through shows in popular entertainment, both also making use of the findings produced by the analysis of the GIS infrastructure. Again, the results of the subprojects will feed into one another. The general goal is to deepen the understanding of the cultural value of lantern shows in relation to changing ideas of performativity, the adaptation of the lantern and its users to suit a certain venue, occasion and audience, and the complex struggle between didactic and theatrical particularities.
The magic lantern was part of the modernizing landscapes of cultural consumption in nineteenth-century Belgian cities. Initially a trans-border cultural commodity with mass appeal, the lantern became rapidly appropriated and adopted for a wide range of uses and performance contexts. However, nobody has yet researched the local contexts in which lanternists performed. This PhD project will put the rise of the lantern as the first visual mass medium in Belgium in its historical spatial context by looking at 1) spaces of exhibition, 2) organization and distribution and 3) consumption. The PhD will investigate the urban screening facilities and their role in mediating socio-cultural exchange in modernizing cities. The lantern-related infrastructure of Brussels (capital), Antwerp (trade) and Charleroi (industry) will be mapped using GIS. Comparable to the approach used by Klenotic, GIS technology is used as a research tool to reveal the social, cultural and economic contexts that were connected to magic lantern performances, how they compared between the three cities, and how the contexts changed over time.
The central aim of this research is to investigate relevant actors and their motives to make use of lantern projectors within the broader context of social, cultural and urban change between roughly 1870 and 1920. A first project focuses on speakers who gave public lectures in Antwerp and Brussels, both individually and as a group. By exploring newspapers, civil status records and writings by contemporaries, this project will provide more insights into the profiles, social and geographical backgrounds, and professional networks of lecturers. A second project shifts the focus to seamen’s institutions in the Atlantic region. Strong in religious motivation and social philanthropy, these organizations considered the lantern projector an important tool in response to social issues that were associated with the seafarer’s urban world, such as alcoholism, prostitution, and exploitation. Based on evidence in seamen’s journals, newspapers, and reports, this project will examine the actual operation of seamen’s institutions during a period of transformation. In sum, both projects will provide a better understanding of broader social and cultural trends that marked the turn of the twentieth century.
The picture below embodies a very popular topic during public lectures in the period under review, in particular, exploratory and scientific expeditions. It was photographed by the Jesuit and prominent botanist François Dierckx (1863-1937) during his voyages to Java (Indonesia) and Ceylon (present-day Sri-Lanka) in 1900. Subsequently, Dierckx published a book on his experiences and gave several lectures in which the lantern projector and his photographs played a prominent role. Moreover, the fact that Dierckx belonged to the upper class of society was no coincidence since the vast majority of lecturers were academics, clergymen, senior officials and politicians.
Source: François Dierckx, Six semaines à Ceylan (Brussels, 1904), 55.
Alongside theatre venues and lecture halls, magic lantern projections were also often integrated into spectacular attractions at different kinds of popular culture. Large crowds gathered in these popular places to experience the thrill of spectacle but also to test out codes of conduct and behaviour. Based on lantern manuals, newspaper reports, posters and program booklets, Evelien Jonckheere demonstrates that the ‘hidden lantern' has different spectacular derivatives in theatre, the fairground, music hall, artistic cabaret and international exhibitions. With her analyses concerning luminous fountains, serpentine dance, métempsychose and shadow play, she illustrates how the development in lantern techniques such as dissolving views and colour projections result in late-nineteenth century innovative shows or ‘attractions’. Similarly, she analyses lantern shows in occupied Belgium during the First World War, to identify how distractive shows were employed to disseminate subtle messages of activism.
As a technology and art form, magic lantern projections played a role in various artistic disciplines and contexts: opera, ballet, poetry, music, exhibitions… In contrast to lantern illustrated lectures, where the lecturer was the key person who also selected and/or manufactured the slides, their role in other cultural productions was often a minor one. More often than not the lanternists were but one cog in the wheel of the production. They had to negotiate their role, the application of their artistic vision and the use of their technology with several others engaged in the production. Not only with performing artists from different disciplines – opera, theatre, dance, music – but also with scenographers, electricians and (light) technicians. A case in point - and a first case study in this project – is the Belgian born painter and lanternist Eugène Frey (1864-1942) whose “décors lumineux” toured music-hall, opera and theatre stages around Europe between roughly 1900 and 1938. After a long engagement at the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, where he created “décors lumineux” for dozens of opera productions, including Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust and Mozart’s The Magic Flute, he returned to Belgium in the late 1920s where he was engaged at several theatres and opera houses. Throughout his career, Frey held on to (his self-furbished) lantern technology to make scenographic contributions. The media archaeological precedents of his technology as well as the continuous use and re-use of his décors lumineux in different artistic contexts will be the focus of this study.
A second project will focus on the stereoscopic diorama / panorama (Welt-Panorama or Kaiser Panorama) as a visual medium and technology that was used as a form of stand-alone entertainment as well as in the (world) exhibition context in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. Again, the focus will be on the uses of this specific dispositif in different contexts as well as on its media archaeological relatives.
In collaboration with the Photo Museum of Antwerp (FoMu) a study will be made of the history and many uses of the stereoscopic panorama (1905) in their collection in preparation of a historical restauration project and future exhibition plan.