Panel 3

Museum Mediations: Life according to Star Wars

Beatriz Bartolomé Herrera
Concordia University

Science fiction as a genre often relies on narratives of self-discovery that aim to explore the meaning of life and humanity not only at the personal level but also as a species. Taking the film franchise as its cue the traveling exhibition Star Wars: Identites (Montreal Science Centre, 2012) relies precisely on those generic conventions, offering visitors an experiential tour of self-discovery mediated through the characters and the props of the films. Moreover, by moving sequentially between a set of interactive stations that present film objects along with gaming interfaces and screens with didactic videos, the exhibit invites visitors to learn about the biological and social forces that influence subject-formation while consuming yet another iteration of the multimedia franchise. Consequently expanding the films’ narrative universe into the territory of science, and as such contributing to justify the presence of the franchise in the museum as well as legitimize its cultural value in the face of museum curators as something more than commercial entertainment.

Departing thus from the encounter between museum and Star Wars, this paper aims to interrogate the historical, political, and economic significance of this hybrid form of exhibition to propose that it functions simultaneously as a transmedia marketing tool, a disciplinary apparatus, and a symptom of biopolitical techniques of control. In order to do so I will rely on museum studies’ critique of the disciplinary regime that examines the institution as a site of knowledge and citizen formation (Bennett), to move on to discuss the exhibition in light of its use of visual databases and biometrics, which altogether present the organizational principles of the biological life of the exhibit’s fictional populations. In any case this paper intends to argue that visitors are subjected to these forms of power, but rather to explore the frictions and pleasures of navigating through such an ideologically charged space. Thus, the premise for writing this paper is to discuss how the museological institution shapes the presentation of the media franchise into this particular form, and ultimately understand: how is life according to Star Wars?

The Cry of the Animal: Sound and the Sublime in Blackfish (2013)

Tess McClernon
Concordia University

The human desire to gain mastery over the environment, natural space, and wildlife, results in relentless attempts to render what is essentially elusive into as digestible and domesticated a form as possible. A marker of capitalist logic and psychology, we commoditize in order to equalize or anaesthetize our response to things outside our control and realm of knowledge. My essay focuses specifically on the documentary Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013), as it depicts the horrors of whale-capture, the greater destruction of majestic Orca populations, and an encounter with sublime terror through its effect on SeaWorld trainers and audiences.

Blackfish argues that though we may ironically “close” the spatial gap between urban spaces and the ocean – we can, after all, go see representations of sea life in zoos and aquariums within minutes of many major metropolises – these “amusement” places merely reinforce our inability to control or mechanize oceanic life, and assert the unbridgeable distance between us and the natural environment of Orca whales. Through close textual analysis I draw out how the film conveys the trauma and subsequent abuse of captured whales; the discrepancy between comprehension and shock both for animals and for humans; SeaWorld’s false mastery of the ineffable oceanic habitat; and how the media sanitizes the affect of the problem, bracketing it off to minimize it as an “issue” for animal rights activists alone. Drawing on the theories of Freud, Benjamin, and Derrida and the more recent work of Cary Wolfe, Akira Lippit, and Jane Desmond, my paper connects the significance of the documentary to a wider consideration of animal rights, human and animal encounter, and medial representation. While making visible the gravity of the problem, Blackfish exposes our incessant desire to contain the uncontainable, and is ultimately a powerful critique of corporate logic.


The Matter of Life and Death: Filmic Mediation in The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes

Stephan Boman
University of California, Santa Barbara

In its rhetoric and in its aesthetics, North American experimental cinema has often invoked the commingled influence of art and science. Its techniques, iconography, and personnel are as often borrowed from the laboratory as from the gallery, thereby giving some sense to the appellation – “experimental” as opposed to “avant-garde” or even “art.” But in experimental film’s habitual blurring of craft and technics, it has developed means for troubling other kinds of boundaries and experiences: the normal vs. the perverse; the personal and the political; the banal and the aesthetic; theory and praxis. Indeed, experimental film’s very identity seems to be staked on its ability to find aesthetic solutions to various lines of social, cultural, and conceptual contradiction.

Working through a close reading of Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971), this presentation will explore how the film stages and mediates an encounter between life and death. The Act of Seeing is a somewhat notorious case within the canon of experimental film. Its imagery – highly gruesome – consists entirely of footage gathered from a Pittsburgh morgue, in which a number of human autopsies are performed. While the film is, for Brakahge, stylistically restrained, it is exemplary in its exploration of a highly taboo space, compelling us to bear witness to our modern, scientific, and (disturbingly) systematic death rites. But, I will argue, it is also exemplary of a deeper vocation within the tradition of experimental film. Brakhage’s camera seeks out resonances between the behavior of medically trained pathologists and the techniques of (film) artists; between the bodies of the living and the cadavers they work upon. What we find, though, in this confrontation with human life’s inevitable boundary, is a form of mediation. I would even like to suggest that the existential encounter doubles as an inquiry into the nature and meaning of filmic mediation as such: in exposing how the living try to know the dead, the film hazards its own attempt to know its status as a particular kind of medium. In opening a dialogue between experimental cinema and film theory, this paper joins the work of scholars like Jonathan Walley and Tess Takahashi; and in speculatively bridging the concerns of philosophical aesthetics and medium theory, I will likewise draw on the work of Hans Belting and Stanley Cavell.