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research group + own research


Susanna, Jue, Marieke

Keywords: affect, gaze and gender (as of March 2019)

How is my research related to this research group?

My core research questions up to the point are: how do people feel, specifically, how do people feel empathic?

After reading Eric Schouse's essay, Feeling, Emotions, Affect, I realize that affects closely connect to core emotions. As a person fortunate to have experienced it in therapy, I believe the acknowledgement of and clarity about core emotions will enrich and enlighten one's self.

My then therapist recommended three books to me. All of them seem relevant to my recent projects (not as foreshadowing frameworks, but as an emerging pattern as I make them). The books touch on neuroscience, development psychology, psychotherapy (A General Theory of Love); suffering, revisiting the past, healing (Reconciliation); and ways to access core emotions and arriving at clarity (It's Not Always Depression).

I will start to externalize these connections and position my work in the framework of affect theories.

What have I been reading so far?

When it comes to theory, I read based on keywords. I am fond of the series of readers called Documents of Contemporary Art, published by Whitechapel (London) and MIT Press (Boston). I have leafed through titles like: Work, Practice, Chance, Memories, The Archive, The Sublime, etc.

At the beginning of the program the word "autobiography" appeared frequently in my attempts. I noted the early, loose thoughts in the page named memoir. [1] For a couple of months, the driving force of my readings was personal memories, more specifically, how my own memory (and experience) can move others. I noticed my tendency of archiving without articulating the significance of that act, or only doing so in a half-baked way. A breakthrough came when I finished the essay investigating my relationship with autobiographic work. [2] I have since shifted more definitively from my own images (words, storylines, specific events) to those of an external origin.

I briefly investigated mythology as a potential framework. [3] After reading some contextualizing texts about myths, I found mythology's cultural indications and specific mechanisms (for example, reproduction to perpetuate in public memory) did not quite speak to what I wanted to create. I shifted my attention to tales and stories.

Relying on my experience with narrative forms (playwriting, stage storytelling), I wanted to read about realms I knew little about. The Cinematic (Documents of Contemporary Art) has introduced me to photography and film theories. I like this volume because it makes an effort to distinguish between photography and cinema, not from a technological/historical point of view, but with more in-depth analysis of each medium. I have written synopsis of the essays from which I learned. [4]

What am I reading now?

March 2019

My interest in cinematography emerges, somewhat coincidentally, with The Cinematic readings and a work I created over December 2018 to Feb 2019 (Seek). [5]

I have selected my readings directing towards the specificity of the techniques and studies of cinema, including haptic aesthetics and screen as a situation.

June 2019

Always: What evokes and conveys emotion? How to?

In the past: storytelling through writing, especially drama

Now: aesthetics of the image... BUT HOW?

-- Why I choose cinema over photography...

-- Why I am reconnecting with narratives...

-- What I understand better: medium, space (in particular to the medium), craft, my own voice in image-making (it's hard)

Current keywords: memory image, identification (part of empathy), projection, cinema space, cinematography

I find theoretical essays relating to haptic aesthetics less relevant than the design research or scientific studies. For example, Haptical Cinema, in which the author compares early cinema to Egyptian reliefs, is less interesting to read than An audio-haptic aesthetic framework influenced by visual theory. [6]

One article that affirmed my direction is Emotions and the Structuring of Narrative Responses. In it Miall (a professor in English and Film Studies) refers to studies about people's emotional reactions when reading literary text... The bibliography of this article is extensive and extensively relevant. I have not researched an equivalent article in film studies, but this one has provided a lot specific literature about feelings, perception and memory.

With regards to memory, I leafed through the title Memory (DoCA) and found the text on memory image by Siegfried Kracauer immensely helpful in capturing the relationship between the personal story (from me) and the perceived reality (by another). [7] (Interestingly, the text was written in 1927... during the early days of photography and cinema).

The term memory image appears in Narrative Space by Stephen Heath as he analyzes the process of identification. A subjective image is a mental image and specifically, a memory image. When the viewers identify in the POV shot, they see what themselves/the camera/the director/the protagonist see.[8]

I observe: without narrative, images (produced specifically for a screen, not to say those as part of an installation, or a play where there is a chance to experience embodiment) are left alone and can only make meanings via semiotics.

Readings from Screens give me a better understanding about the history of projection and frame and the materiality of different types of screens. One of the articles (Mental Screen) illuminates the essence of the cinema space: instead of "collective viewing", it's about isolation and privacy. That's why we are able to watch films on our phones.

Another article related to cinema space is "Is a Museum a Factory? by Hito Steyerl. In it she compares the cinema as well as the museum to a factory (from the industrial age). [9]

I read two articles on cinematography.

  • Digital Cinematography: Evolution of Craft or Revolution in Production?
  • Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality

These, along with the 16mm workshop we did at Filmwerkplatz and the earlier classes we had on the history of camera technology with Mathijs/Barend, helped me to further position the use of camera and the use of documentary in my practice. I am using digital camera and I choose conservative settings (aka. best practice) when I shoot documentary footage. (This might change as I further my practice, but I'd like to start with the norms and really understand them.)

I have since bought the Documentary title from Whitechapel (after having a hard time to choose among: The Everyday, Moving Image, etc.)

reading Mulvey

Contextualizing Mulvey: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Mulvey

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

(pdf from Film: Psychology, Society)

Braudy, L., & Cohen, M. (1999). Film theory and criticism: Introductory readings (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Written in 1975, this essay uses Freud's psychoanalysis as a theoretical framework. Although most of Freud's theory is outdated in 2019, Mulvey has been conscious about its fallacy from the beginning. With a critical eye, she calls her use of psychoanalysis "political."

We are still separated by a great gap from important issues for the female unconsious which are scarcely relevant to phallocentric theory... But, at this point, psychoanalytic theory as it now stands can at least advance our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught. (833)

In the first part of her analysis, she focuses on the pleasures offered by mainstream Hollywood cinema of her time. (She is aware of the "politically and aesthetically avant-garde" and is a maker of those films, but it is not the focus of this essay.) The pleasures from scopophilia ("a person's deriving aesthetic pleasure from looking at something and from looking at someone" [10]) relates to the formation of ego (psychoanalysis lingo), and alludes to the discussions on subjectivity and "the objectified other."

The cinema setting (darkness in the auditorium, contrast of the brilliance of the screen, isolation between one spectator and another) perpetuates a voyeuristic illusion. The spectators (given privacy) look into a private world on screen — so the illusion goes. +

The pleasure of looking surrounds the human form, i.e. anthropomorphic scales, space, stories. The psychoanalytic term used here is "narcissism." Mulvey maps out the relationships between "the imagery, the recognition/mis-recognition and identification, hence the articulation of the 'I', of subjectivity." The human form on the big screen is similar to the mirroring of a pre-language child. As she continues to analyze: the structures of the cinema "allow temporary loss of ego" through narrative of a fictional story, "while simultaneously reinforcing the ego" through the process of identification. The stars of the film produce ego ideals. The images from cinema make the everyday, perceptual reality mundane and create an idealized, "eroticized" concept of the world, making "a mockery of empirical objectivity". (836-7) ++

In the second part of the essay, Mulvey writes in-depth about the gendered portrayal and perception on screen. Women's "traditional exhibitionist role", i.e. "the woman displayed", becomes a spectacle supported by the narrative. She suggests that the gaze of the male character and that of the spectators synchronize as the woman performs in the narrative, reinforced by cinematography of fragmented body close-ups. Again, it is interesting how different surfaces, space and mechanism play into one another: the screen story (i.e. the narrative), the space of the auditorium and "either side of the screen". (837-8)

While woman becomes the spectacle, the man's role serves to drive the story forward. "The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator..." The spectator's gaze becomes the male gaze because they can identify with the main controlling figure. The male star is the "more perfect, more complete and more ideal ego" rather than the erotic, objectified female star. To achieve this kind of power portrayal, the male figure is closer to "natural conditions of human perceptions."Techniques of cinematography — deep focus (?), camera movements following the action of the protagonist, and invisible editing — all give the illusion of realism, and naturalize the male figure. (838-9) +++

Mulvey uses the opening of Only Angels Have Wings and To Have and Have Not as case studies. They open "with the woman as object of the combined gaze of spectator and all the male protagonists"; through identification with the main male character "the spectator can indirectly possess her too." The next part of the essay aligns the image of woman with psychoanalytic terms. "The meaning of woman is sexual difference" — in today's view, the theories of castration anxiety are no longer valid, but this difference and the power and control that it convinces the spectators of are worth noting. The female star and the film in which they are produce two kinds of pleasures: voyeurism (sadism "ascertaining guilt") and fetishistic scopophilia ("builds up the physical beauty of the object").

"Sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory defeat, all occurring in linear time... [F]etishistic scopophilia can exist outside linear time as the erotic instinct is focused on the look alone." (840) The two kinds of pleasures allude to the two types of image/processes in cinema: one driven by narrative (or "degesis", as she calls it) and the other by fetishized icons. ++++

Mulvey compares works from Hitchcock and Sternberg. Hitchcock investigates voyeurism while Sternberg produces the "ultimate fetish." In Sternberg's films, the woman is the "perfect product, whose body, stylized and fragmented by close-ups is the content of the illusion of screen depth." +++++

Sternberg's plots concern with "misunderstanding rather than conflict," thus blurring the story. The male character does not become the surrogate for the audience; the "male" gaze here comes from the iconic images of the woman. (Or do they sympathize??) In contrast, Hitchcock's camera is "subjective from the point of view of the male protagonist". (841)

Mulvey captures one of the most interesting characteristics of cinema, "the look." (underlines are mine)

None of these interacting layers [woman as icon, as sexual difference, as threat to the ego, as the perfect product, etc.] is intrinsic to film, but it is only in the film form that they can reach a perfect and beautiful contradiction, thanks to the possibility in the cinema of shifting the emphasis of the look. It is the place of the look that defines cinema, the possibility of varying it and exposing it. This is what makes cinema quite different in its voyeuristic potential from, say, strip-tease, theatre, shows, etc... Playing on the tension between film as controlling the dimension of time (editing, narrative) and film as controlling the dimension of space (changes in distance, editing), cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire."

Mulvey breaks down the cinematic codes for scopophlia and voyeurism. She defines the look in three ways: "that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion." The conventional, mainstream narrative film hides the first two while focusing on the third. However, without the recording process and the curiosity of the spectator, "fictional drama cannot achieve reality, obviousness and truth." She suggests disrupting the conventions by consciously including the first two looks, "destroying the pleasure, satisfaction and privilege of the 'invisible guest'." (843-4)

Movies mentioned in the essay:

Only Angels Have Wings, To Have and Have Not

Sternberg: Morroco, Dishonoured

Hitchcock: Vertigo, Marnie, Rear Window

Explore more

+ spaces for illusions, collective viewing and privacy, darkness as a setting, the difference between cinema and gallery

++ rather than propagandizing cinema as manipulative, how can we use cinema as a space for empathy?

+++ how do focus, camera movement, editing affect the spectator's identification process (whom are they identifying with)?

++++ how do narrative and fetish influence the spectator's distance with the subject on screen?

+++++ what roles do close-ups play, does fragmentation of an entity distance the spectator?

Other academic text regarding

screen image, screen depth, cinema space, narrative space, fetish v. narrative

Afterthoughts on “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Inspired by Duel in the Sun

In this essay Mulvey analyzes how cinema "inherited" traditions from traditions of story-telling in other forms of folk and mass culture. While the previous "Visual Pleasure" concludes with the uniqueness of cinema (the 3 looks), this essay focuses on the use of narrative structures in cinema.

Mulvey again uses Freud's theories the hero in narrative. "Three elements can thus be drawn together: Freud's concept of 'masculinity' in women, the identification triggered by the logic of a narrative grammar, and the ego's desire to fantasise itself in a certain, active, manner."

She analyzes the narrative of the Western and the dividing point of "marriage" in the Western. Getting married or not for the protagonists represents the "symbolic... and nostalgic narcissism." She continues about how other elements add to the develop of the story. "The issue at stake is no longer how the villain will be defeated, but how the villain's defeat will be inscribed into history."

Stillness in the Moving Image

This essay is included in The Cinematic. See synopsis --> Jujube/methods-session-3#Laura_Mulvey:_Stillness_in_the_Moving_Image.2C_2003

Introduction : 1970's Feminist Film Theory and the Obsolescent Object

As the introduction to the book Feminisms, Mulvey writes about the changes in Feminist Film Theory (FFT) over time. Movements in the 1970's and various "theories" (her quotation marks, psychoanalysis, Maxism, and semiotics) influenced experiments and the larger film culture in the UK.

She points out that the 1970's was an era of "utopian desire to fuse radical aesthetics with radical politics." As VHS arrived in the 1980's, the 1970s was also "the last decade in which film could only be viewed by the public, collectively, projected and in a darkened theater."

She critiques her own essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. As she did in Death 24x a Second "the changes in modes of spectatorship between the 1970s and the late 1990s render the premise and argument" of the essay irrelevant. FFT is has started to work with race and queer theory.

This introduction revisits the context of the Visual Pleasure essay and considers time and history as "a confusion of temporalities than as a linear succession in which decades and eras follow each other in chronological order." The relevance of feminism stems from women's "collective irrelevance to traditional accounts of history as well as their collective absence from its construction." Other essays in the book establishes the missing (theoretical) links to contemporary concerns.

The feminism from 70's "made the invisible visible and provided a vocabulary and a set of concepts that could enable a first articulation of the place of sexuality in women's liberation." FFT in the beginning used psychoanalysis and semiotics to illustrate the discrepancy between women and their social context.

The classical understanding of the oppression of the 70's is "women as spectacle". However, Mulvey provides another account that does not follow the somewhat overused rhetoric.She analyzes early Hollywood cinema next to post-revolutionary Iranian cinema. While the former has played a role in the popularization of glamour in 1920's and all sorts of theories around gaze and fetish, "erotic femininity was signified by its erasure" in the latter. Both cinemas speak to troublesome image creation and the ideology associated with it.

The Promise of Touch: Turns to Affect in Feminist Film Theory - Anu Koivunen (not by Mulvey, but in the book of Feminisms)

notes only

phenomenology & new materialism (Deleuzian) <-- e.g. haptic visuality by Laura Marks, intersubjectivity, not alienated spectatorship

--- epistomologic fault line ---

the psychoanalytic, Marxist, Perician (Lacanian) frameworks <-- Mulvey was situated here in 1975

my positions as I read Mulvey

- Laura Mulvey introduces me to the early feminist film theories, which is the first kind of film theory I have read. It presents me with discourses that encompass my own fields of interest and situates me more in the vast space that (film) theories occupy. Perhaps now I can see more relevance of other key texts. (She makes references to Bellour and Metz, for instance.) As I read, I am noticing more and more the way(s) people describe image and image-making.

- She shows me the tenacity of feminism (how it adapts to the times, how it reflects upon itself) -- it is an illustration of that so-called frameworks for research are, and should be, malleable, depending where I am in my practice. I am not interested in using feminism in my daily language. As Susanna said, "the new feminism is humanism."

- The vocabularies of gaze and spectator feel very much the product of the last era (1970's). I am not interested in framing things with vocabularies "coined" to describe a certain thought or phenomenon. I am more interested in the everyday language, especially spoken with ingenuity. There is an intelligence that comes with the everyday language, one that connects people through shared words and the feelings they evoke.

- I will keep reading academic writing as long as it helps me build connections among different knowledge systems OR gives me new insight about something, however esoteric, relevant. I will set the tone of my research in an academic language. I am a conscientious about the roles of theories in my practice and do not take any theoretical text for granted without the historical and cultural context in mind.

reading text suggested by Marieke and Susanna



  • The ban of adult contents on Tumblr takes away the platform for female, queer, trans persons who explore their sexualities and desires with alternative images (compared to the mainstream media, including tube site pornography.)
  • The article revisits Laura Mulvey's second-wave "male gaze" and is centered on (queer) identity politics and the changing landscape of mass media. The author cites several sources to illustrate the out-datedness of "male gaze", emphasizing instead the "female, queer and oppositional gaze."
  • The author is sex- and body-positive, the creator of 'Critique My Dick Pic', a blog that created an oppositional point of view that catered to female (visual) pleasure. "I was speaking in the language of the female gaze." She asks, "how does the 'female gaze,' a binary concept, allow for that plurality of desire?"
  • The author diversifies the types of gazes in a "woke" fashion, including the female, queer, trans. Her survey of the current entertainment landscape supports the narrative of the destabilizing of the binary, and the fragmentation and externalizing of identities. -- "Queer women over the age of 30 will remember a time when Ellen Degeneres was essentially the only famous lesbian on television; now there are entire shows centered around female queerness like The L Word and Orange Is the New Black, with casually bisexual characters like Ilana of Broad City and Eleanor of The Good Place popping up with increasing frequency. Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out in 2014 had a mainstreaming effect on the representation of trans women, and TV shows like Vida, BoJack Horseman and Shameless have portrayed black, Latinx and non-binary queerness in an unforced, almost incidental way."

While the author introduced the most current oppositional view of the "male" (aka. female, queer, trans), the "gaze" part stays the same. All of the examples is about looking and perceiving appearances. The use of "image", "beauty" and "desire" stay on the level of visual (and, to a degree, sexual) pleasure. Her arguments and examples come strictly from, whether alternative or mainstream, the performance of sex through pornography and the circulated body image.

This is an strict interpretation of — or, the continuation of it — gaze.

To some power comes from occupying the previous space — such as what led to the "Euro-centric beauty standards", i.e. colonialism, and what perpetuated the objectification of woman, i.e. consumerism in a capitalist society. Subversion of values associated with these social conditions seem logical and indeed politically correct.

This kind of opposition feels much like a direct action (in activist terms), in which you protest against the imposition. Much like Mulvey's 1975 analysis, the pleasure is taken away once someone deconstructs it.

I have never been a fan of direct action, but I do acknowledge the value. Activism is crucial in the stage of raising awareness, but not so much in creating empathy. It is rather confrontational. Sustained belief comes from a kind of universal understanding — I diverge here. This is the topic I will address more as I write about my own approach.