Intermedial Poetics

Inside the Image. Immersion, Theatricality and Narrative in Performance and Media Art

Research project
Fellow: Wynants Nele
Principal investigator: Vanhoutte Kurt
Tag: Intermedial Poetics
Duration: 01/10/2008 - 20/10/2012
This project investigates the artistic strategies in immersive performance and installation art. The central aim is to survey in what particular ways spectators are drawn into both the narrative and visual environment of the work and how this amounts to a heightened sense of being present in the fictional world created by the performance.
By the same token this study wishes to ascertain to what extend immersive theatre and performance correspond to an age-old wish to evoke an immediate or authentic experience beyond the limits of representation. Today, this wish seems to have reached a point of culmination, as the fast development of digital technology enables a rupture of the theatrical frame and brings the depicted world within reach of the beholder.
Key term in the discourse surrounding immersive theatre and performance is (tele)presence, commonly referred to as a cognitive sense of ‘being there’ in a virtual environment. As the spectator is transferred into the alleged inside of the image, new paths of dramatic action as well as novel approaches to participative audience engagement are explored. Staging the beholder into the performance not only amounts to her cognitive sense of engagement; her role moreover shifts from spectator to participant.
Through some detailed historical case studies, ranging from theatrical roman frescos, magic lantern performances to digital theatre, this project aims to survey the visceral power and the particular ways of address inherent in immersive performance, which amounts to a heightened sense of being present in the diegetic world.
This contains the analysis of the actual means – the strategies and techniques – by which a performance builds into its structure and anticipates a certain type of immersive reception and invitation to participate, navigate, negotiate and change the thread of a story.
By focusing on the artistic strategies that always already implicate the presence of a viewer, the aim is to develop a cognitive framework that furthers the insights into these changing conditions of interactive spectatorship and participatory theatre.

Performing Temporalities: Research on the Aesthetic and Discursive Status of Delay and Slow Motion

Research project
Fellow: Geerts Katja
Principal investigator: Paulus Tom
Tag: Intermedial Poetics
Duration: 1/10/2011-30/9/2013
This project investigates the use of cinematic delay from two perspectives. It analyzes the use of slow motion within the realm of the historiography of film style on the one hand and as a hermeneutic question on the other hand. Starting from the French impressionist cinema and theory of for example Jean Epstein, Germaine Dulac and Abel Gance and the historical avant-garde of Dziga Vertov, Jean Vigo and René Clair, this project proposes that slow motion can not only be understood as a film technical phenomenon.
It therefore identifies the different theoretical facets of the slow motion in a historiographical framework and theorizes deceleration as for example revelation, attraction, (mechanical) melancholy and drift.
This research flirts with a hauntology of what emerges between movement and standstill, cinema and photography, present and past, memory and vision, and presence and absence to trace the parallels between the early French film theory of a.o. Epstein and a.o. Barthes' theorization of the still image and the 'punctum' as research method.
In this way, the project aspires to offer a different way to approach the stylistic phenomenon of slow motion against a historiographical background, by connecting its theoretical motifs to critical theory.

Restoring Gestures: Exploring Aby Warburg's Method for Theater Studies

Research project
Fellow: Tuypens Esther
Principal investigator: Vanhoutte Kurt
Tag: Intermedial Poetics
Duration: 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2014
This study aims at exploring the work of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) for theater studies. Warburg sought to uncover the survival of Antiquity in a plethora of images from different origins (examples of ‘high art’, advertisement, astrological drawings etc.), the most striking example of which is the image-atlas Mnemosyne.
The body in motion is the central motif in Warburg’s investigations, and the returning pathos formulas, or gestures, the threads that run through his cross-historical image montage. The notion of a survival or Nachleben of the image is anti-historicist in nature and affects the image’s status as historical artifact. Gesture, more specifically, can be understood as an embodiment of historical memory, which grants the image an autonomous presence. This project proposes that Warburg’s pathos formulas exhibit a tension between (pictorial) representation and presence that seems to mark a parallel between the ‘body in the image’ as he investigates it, and the ‘body on stage’.
Inspired by Warburg’s own research method and by recent critical and philosophical readings of his work (Georges Didi-Huberman, Giorgio Agamben, Philippe Alain-Michaud) the project will first investigate and theorize this double status of the pathos formulas and then implement it to connect the historical case study of early modern Italian pageantry, which was of a significant methodological interest for Warburg, to contemporary examples (gesture in postdramatic theater, the sculptural body, slow motion, etc.) where the body externalizes a similar tension.
In doing so, the study aims to find a methodological ground for theater studies in Warburg’s work that is not only relevant for theater historiographical purposes, but that opens the possibility for the analysis of contemporary theater practice.

Staging the Silents: Theatrical and Pictorial Strategies at the Gaumont and Nordisk Film Companies (1908-1914)

Research project
Fellow: Adriaensens Vito
Principal investigator: Paulus Tom
Tag: Intermedial Poetics
Duration: 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2014
This project investigates how specific visual strategies related to lighting, framing and staging adopted from 19th century European bourgeois theater and narrative painting, shaped the visual rhetoric of feature length films produced by the Gaumont (France) and Nordisk (Denmark) film companies between 1908 and 1914, when the European film industry ground to a halt with the start of WWI.
1908 marked the birth of the “art film,” the culmination of the European film industry’s attempts to attract middle-class patrons and legitimize their product as an art form by linking it to the prestige of other media such as literature, theater and the fine arts.
At the same time the marked increase in narrative ambition at the advent of the feature film caused filmmakers to adopt visual schemas that were able to bring across increasingly complex narrative situations to the audience.
The key hypothesis of this project is that European filmmakers, exemplified by the two leading companies of the time, turned to a visual rhetoric that would at once appeal and be highly recognizable and decodable to the middle-class audiences that they were courting, and that this rhetoric can be located in the properties of popular 19th century bourgeois theater and narrative painting.
This study will identify, clarify and survey the strategies with which these films worked and in which context they did so.