October 11, 2023-Kartik Nair

Assistant Professor of Film Studies, Temple University
“Crowds of Dust: Atmospheric Assemblage and the Contemporary Blockbuster”
ABSTRACT: Crowds are everywhere in contemporary blockbusters. This talk will explore why these assembled masses appear so often on screen, and how they do so. Crowds may be depicted onscreen as emerging spontaneously in response to spectacular story events; of course, they themselves are spectacular emblems for moviegoers to gawk at. This paper will focus on the Telugu blockbuster RRR (S.S. Rajamouli, 2022), and its evocation of the “dusty crowd”: an Indian public protesting British colonial rule, kicking up dust in agitation. While films like Gandhi (1982) assembled thousands of extras to simulate the dusty crowd on-screen, the dust and the mob are the same in RRR: they are both products of VFX interventions that simulate collective movements of particulate and people. Visual effects (VFX) create swarms by algorithmically multiplying digital figures (known as agents) and by blending these digital figures with real performers (in profilmic space). Comparing historical practices of “crowd work” in filmmaking to their regeneration in digital pipelines provides a unique opportunity to see how latent and long-lasting ideas about unruly publics become images: in this case, how a visual and imperial ideology of the crowd is shared, and shaped, between a film’s director, VFX supervisors, cinematographers, extras, and digital effects artists.

November 1, 2023-Shiamin Kwa

Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Bryn Mawr College
“Blood from a Stone: Memory and Material in Some Works by Leela Corman”
American cartoonist and illustrator, Leela Corman (b.1972), is the author of the award winning graphic novel Unterzakhn (2012). In two recent collections of short stories, We All Wish for Deadly Force (2016) and You Are Not a Guest (2023), Corman has been using watercolors and India Ink to illustrate stories that reflect on personal loss and her family’s inherited trauma. This talk explores the way that Corman uses comics to address her ambivalence about the relationship between objects and history in the context of how she identifies herself as an artist and storyteller. Looking to the material characteristics of her medium as interpretive model, I consider how stories in her recent collection You Are Not a Guest form and echo her examination of the liquid nature of memory.

November 8, 2023-Dr. Brittany Webb

Evelyn and Will Kaplan Curator of Twentieth Century Art and the John Rhoden Collection
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

“Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden”
Abstract: Opening October 5 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden presents the work of 20th century Black American sculptor John Rhoden. This exhibition presents the rediscovery of this award-winning, world traveling artist though new archival materials and 65 of his sculptures. In a focus on the labor and politics of stewarding an artist’s legacy, Dr. Webb will provide a glimpse into the story behind this story.

November 29, 2023-Jennifer Hirsh CANCELLED

Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art
Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

“Over My Dead Body: Puppets, Performance, and Paralysis in Cardiff and Miller’s The Marionette Maker (2014)”

Best known for their interactive sound and video “walks,” interdisciplinary media artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller use musical, vocal, and mechanical sounds to complicate viewers’ perception of subjectivity, time, and place. In addition, the artists have designed a number of complex, multi-sensory installations, and tableaux vivants that include unexpectedly mechanized components. Commissioned and produced by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, The Marionette Maker (2014), the focus of this paper, is one such example. It consists of a modified caravan that incorporates multiple staged performances within its compartmentalized, dimly lit interior, wherein images of Cardiff and Miller appear, respectively: she as a life-sized reclining figure and he as diminutive marionette maker who is moved by a set of puppet strings. As this chapter argues, The Marionette Maker is thus ventriloquial not only in its forms, but also in its logic and themes, serving as the artists’ most overt engagement with a phenomenon (ventriloquism) that arguably underwrites, in admittedly more conceptual ways, their work as a whole.

Image: Detail of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Marionette Maker (2014)