Submission Deadline: January 15th
Performing Bodies: Gesture, Affect, and Embodiment On Screen
The 11th University of Chicago Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Student Conference
April 17th and 18th, 2015
Abstracts due January 15th
Keynote Speaker: Elena Gorfinkel, Assistant Professor of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, co-editor of Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), currently working on a book on American sexploitation cinema of the 1960s. Her articles on the role of the body in cinema include “Weariness, Waiting: On Art Cinema’s Tired Bodies” and “The Body’s Failed Labor: Performance Work in Sexploitation Cinema.”
Closing Roundtable including University of Chicago Faculty Lauren Berlant (George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor, Department of English) and Yuri Tsivian (William Colvin Professor, Department of Cinema & Media Studies)
“The cinema story starts with the human body, or an action. We always have, and we still love to watch human bodies in action. We also love to watch landscapes or things we have created, buildings or cigarettes, guns and cars… but above all, we love to watch human bodies, whether they’re walking, running, fucking, or anything.”
Since the beginnings of cinema, the human body has been a privileged object of attention and desire, eliciting the fascinated regard of motion picture cameras and spectators. Capturing the body in movement, cinema transformed those bodies by making them visible in new and disorienting ways even as it registered and created an archive of vanishing gestures and comportments. And yet, despite the central place of the body in film, cinema and media scholars have often found it difficult to address the question of performance – that is, to ask “What do bodies do on screen?” This conference looks to open up that question by situating screen performance in an expanded field of bodily practices and critical discourses. Starting from histories and theories of screen acting (an area that still demands further investigation) we seek to address the diversity of ways in which performing bodies present themselves, carry meaning, and move us. How can neighboring fields like theater, dance, performance art, opera, painting (and the critical methodologies and vocabularies that have developed around them) enrich the ways in which we talk about performance on screen? Turning to performing bodies also prompts us to face a number of questions about the capacities and limits of our discipline and the future of our objects of study. To what extent can the movements of a body – so manifold, so potentially rich – be adequately described and made intelligible in language, and do new trends in audiovisual forms of media criticism promise to overcome this disparity? As the moving image landscape mutates, in what ways do digital imaging technologies (CGI, motion capture) complicate the notion of the body or challenge its prominence – and in what ways have cinematic bodies always been virtual?
Attending to performance in cinema and related media insistently raises questions of the body’s role in systems of ideology and power. As Pierre Bourdieu has written, the culturally transmitted norms of corporeal bearing – what he terms “bodily hexis” – amount to “political mythology realized, em-bodied, turned into a permanent disposition, a durable manner of standing, speaking, and thereby of feelingand thinking.” Despite the commonplace assertion that performing in the cinema is not a matter of acting, but of being, studying performance problematizes what it might mean to act naturally, exposing the ways that ideologies (including those of gender, race, class) are borne in the most inconspicuous and intimate details of our bodily inhabitation of the world. In producing and transmitting images of performing bodies, moving image media thus form a complex interface between individual subjects and the larger social systems in which they are enmeshed. To grasp how these media function socially, we have to consider both the work of performing and the work done by performance. Walter Benjamin located part of cinema’s mass appeal in the relationship between the labor of cinematic performance and the working conditions of everyday urban life. Precisely because “the film actor performs not in front of an audience but in front of an apparatus,” the actor becomes an object of identification and proffers the promise of redemption for “the majority of city dwellers [who], throughout the workday in offices and factories, have to relinquish their humanity in the face of an apparatus.” If both the status of cinema and the dominant modes of labor have shifted since he wrote, Benjamin’s suggestion to consider screen acting in its relation to wider modes of economic production still seems urgent, especially in light of contemporary theories of affective labor, to which onscreen performance seems to have a special affinity.
In seeking to open up new ways of thinking about the place of performance on screen, we welcome papers exploring (but not limited to) the following areas of inquiry:
– The history of styles and modes of film performance: schools of film acting; the relationship of performance and genre; national or regional performance styles; star performances, character actors, amateur and non-professional acting; Analysis of filmmakers or actors who have developed idiosyncratic performance styles (Bresson, Cassavetes, Jerry Lewis, etc.)
-Intersections between screen performance and other performative domains (e.g. the importance of the circus and Meyerhold’s avant-garde theater for early Soviet film acting)
– Performance and/as labor: from theoretical questions of affective labor and the relationship between performance style and economic modes of production, to historical inquiries into the details of acting as work, such as the history of acting unions, acting contracts, etc.
– Sociological and anthropological accounts of performance and the work of the body (Marcel Mauss’s idea of “techniques of the body,” Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “bodily hexis,” Erving Goffman’s work on the presentation of self, etc.) in relation to onscreen performance
– Philosophical and theoretical conceptualizations of gesture (Giorgio Agamben, Vilém Flusser, Bertolt Brecht), as well as work that explores the place of gesture in cinema and moving image media compared to gesture in painting or sculpture
– How questions of disability studies and performance studies intersect (differently-abled bodies on screen, temporarily able-bodied people performing disability, etc.)
– Performance and identity: how ideologies of race, gender, and class are embodied on screen
– Questions of performance in documentary, including documentary
– The relationship between bodies on screen and the bodies of spectators
– Vocal performance: the role of the voice in cinema, including questions of its embodiment or disembodiment
– The body as figure, particularly as opened up by the work of Nicole Brenez
– How the movement of cinematic bodies reflects or articulates change and/or the passage of time
Interested graduate students should submit abstracts of 250-300 words (along with institutional/departmental affiliations and current email) to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 15, 2015. Participants will be notified in early February