Substrates of Cinema: Infrastructure, Media, Logistics (Spring 2018)
This seminar explores what anthropologist and media historian Brian Larkin calls the “poetics and politics of infrastructure” through a range of films, videos, and art practices, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Both omnipresent and unseen, infrastructure has a way of receding from view until it fails, often catastrophically. Think of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, the Dakota Access Pipeline stand-off, or even closer to home, the ongoing Flint water crisis. Globally, contemporary debates about the Anthropocene have brought into geological visibility the vast infrastructural project of modernity, one whose disastrous ecological implications, one would think, can no longer be refuted. But we now live in the Trump Era, where anything can be denied, and in the early days of an administration that came to power on the promise of linking a restrictive nationalist vision to promises of infrastructural renewal. Infrastructure, for ever-more-urgent reasons, continues to structure and demand our attention, our energies, and our resources, in every sense.
Infrastructure’s current return to visibility in political and civic life has produced a discernible infrastructural turn in arts and humanities scholarship over the last decade. “To be modern,” as historian of technology Paul Edwards once insisted, “is to live by means of infrastructures”—systems that link the various scales of time, space, and social organization, and thus form the socio-technical foundations of modernity itself. This renewed attention to the substrates of modernities past and present is apparent in a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary formations, from film and media studies and theory, to art and architectural history, cultural studies, literary studies, urban studies, environmental studies, postcolonial studies, science and technology studies, the digital humanities, and their various intersections and overlaps.
This seminar aims to provide a broad introduction to the infrastructural turn in film and media studies, making visible the buried networks and systems that bring modern communities into being, inspire political activity and imagination, and organize bodies, labor, and commodities. Infrastructure has long been at the heart of debates about citizenship, democracy, and visions of a just public life. In this course, then, we will pay particular attention to the infrastructural dimensions of modern media, which function not just to transmit messages, but as what John Durham Peters calls “the fundamental constituents for organization.” This is what Peters and others have identified as the logistical dimension of media. World-enabling infrastructures,” media track and orient us in time and space, manage data and world, distribute and manage bodies and populations, and shift the basic conditions of culture and being.
Our goal will be to discuss how and why infrastructure has returned as a crucial critical problem in film and media studies, as well as for humanities scholars, for a range of artistic practices, and for contemporary civic and political life. We will pursue the substrates of cinema on two levels at once: we will explore infrastructure’s visibility in film and video (as representation, as documentation, as a formal and aesthetic matter); and we will think about film’s own infrastructures—the materialities, ontologies, resources, and modes of distribution that lay beneath film, and constitute the medium’s conditions of possibility. We will attempt to foster an infrastructural attentiveness to how and where media come from, what resources they consume and distribute, and how, elementally, they came to be what they are. Films and videos have been chosen for the range of infrastructural imaginaries and objects they take up.
- Dr. Brian R. Jacobson, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, author of Studios before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space
- Dr. Julia Yezbick, filmmaker and founder of Mothlight Microcinema
- Dr. Joseph Jonghyun Jeon, Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine, author of Vicious Circuits: Korea’s IMF Cinema and the End of the American Century
- Dr. Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor, The New School, author of Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: 10,000 Years of Urban Media
- Dr. Jennifer Fay, Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University, author of Inhospitable World: Cinema and the Time of the Anthropocene
Film and Architecture: Seminar in Film History (Fall 2015)
This course explores various crossings between the arts of film and architecture to illuminate episodes in media history and theory. We will consider cinema’s architectural qualities: the specific capacity of film to construct, organize, and sequence space, and to move spectators dynamically through space in time—what Elie Faure once called “the art of cineplastics.” We will examine the work of directors whose films are strongly interested in architecture, design, and transformations of the built environment, as well as the work of architects and designers who have worked in and with film, and have embedded their architecture and design practice in various cultures of the moving image. We will explore the relationship between directors, art directors, and production designers in the construction of cinematic architecture, as well as the history of the architecture of the film studio itself. We will study films that foreground important works of architecture. We will consider the role of film and multimedia in the artistic construction of immersive “environments.” And we will examine the role of film architecture in a poetics and politics of infrastructure. Methodologically, we will compare strategies and concepts for understanding film’s relationship to the built environment across a variety of disciplines and fields, including film and media theory and history, urban history and planning, architectural and design history and theory, sociology, art history, and materialist ecocriticism.