User:Zalán Szakács/thesisoutline4

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Thesis Outline

An analytical essay exploring related artistic, theoretical, historical and critical issues and practices that inform your practice, without necessarily referring to your work directly.

How are media objects interpreted as phantasmagoria in the contemporary context?
Exploration of the integration of new media and technologies in spiritualist contexts


Supernatural / Media Archaeology / Human Perception / Light



I have been VJing since 2012 starting in the underground rave parties of Vienna and moving up to club and festival nights later on. This year I took new steps in my audiovisual practice and was more interested in the conceptual and perceptional approach behind my visuals. How can I play with space, brightness, time and perspective? How can I create an dialogue between the sound and the visual, while only using very minimalistic formal language? This made me realise that I would like to explore more the power of light on human perceptions and to understand the contemporary fear.

Therefor I am building the 21st century phantasmagoria, called Eigengrau. My own design attains to adapt to a larger Media Archaeology discourse that I would like to stress out through the thesis. Starting from the ancient Greek and Roman times and moving towards the 1799’s Robertson’s Phantasmagoria until the 1960’s Brion Gysin’s, William Burroughs’ and Ian Sommerville’s stroboscope apparatus, called Dreamachine, I will examine and compare several directions from the technological and perceptual psychological aspects of these media design objects while creating a bridge between my own design. Through establishing this framework the project Eigengrau would become the reinterpretation of an audio-visual dialogue between science and illusion.

In the spirit of famous magic lantern projectionists, who were driven by the metaphysical metaphors and the notion of Enlightenment, while promising the elements of demonstrating scientific facts, but paradoxically they were impressing and frightening the audience through black magic and charlatan instruments my project sets the goal of underlining this phenomenon.
If we examine the relationships between the specific time epoch and the content of phantasmagoria spectacles we become conscious about how strongly these shows were the reflections of the zeitgeist. During ancient Greek and Roman times the strong believe in Gods influenced heavily the population, whose aspiration was to establish religious contact on regular bases. These ritual gatherings took in temples place and with help of concave mirror and fire the priest was able to reach out to the sprits. 1
Moving further to the violent years of Catholic Revival the German Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher was using his magic lantern as a propaganda and political act to serve the Catholic church in order to put the fear of God into their audiences by illuminating the devil. 2 Kircher implied the metaphysical symbolism of his time into his theatrical performances by letting his messages to be interpreted differently by lower and upper classes of the 17th century. During the Enlightenment times, where the influential role of the the church and the state started to be losen up through the importance of science several magicians such as Schöpfer, Philidor and Robertson were claiming to be educative scientist, but in contrary their real goal was to frighten their audience and make a commercial profit of their “seance” performances. Their visitors had to fasten three days ahead before establishing the contact with their descended relatives and for them was never told the real truth about that they become victims of an optical illusion trickery. In the 1960’s Brion Gysin, William Burroughs and Ian Sommerville got inspired by cybernetics, hallucinations and alpha wave brain activities and they developed the stroboscopic apparatus called Dreamachine. New neurological aftereffects were achieved by using the dual structure of the shifting after-image and fickering interruption to produce a virtually experienced moving image. Nowadays we are living in post digital immersion revolution, where we became travellers of our omnipresence in physical and digital realm. Being online and offline shapes an fusion. Fear manifest itself from the deepest corner of the internet, the dark web, while becoming “Pandora’s box” of the 21st of century. Eigengrau is metaphorising this phenomena through the poetic narrative of using light, sound and darkness.

The research is tracing back the passage from the supernatural to the technological, and the technological to the neurological: the phantoms move from outside to inside. The human nervous system becomes the apparatus through which the phantasm is produced.

1 Hecht, Hermann, “The History of Projecting Phantoms, Ghosts and Apparitions”, Magic Lantern Society, 1984
2 Grau, Oliver, "Media Art Histories", The MIT Press, 2010


Imaginary & Real (Chapter I) (Media Archaeology) Introduction to the media history of Phantasmagoria

  • Uncanny - Sigmund Freud
  • Gods and Ghosts - Smoke in relationship with Gods and Ghosts,The discovery of Magic Latern - Christiaan Huygens
  • Metaphysical Symbolism - Athanasius Kircher and Gaspar Schott pressed the laterna magica into the service of the Jesuits’ propagatio fidei in order to put the fear of God into their audiences by illuminating the devil

Supernatural (Chapter II) (Media Archaeology) Technological and perceptual psychology aspects of Phantasmagoria

  • Phantasmagoria, an audio-visual dialogue between the dead and the living – Johann Schröpfer, Edme-Gilles Guyot, Paul Philidor
  • Immersion – Perceptual psychology of Robertson
  • Hallucinations for spiritual enlightenment – Brion Gysin’s, William Burroughs’ and Ian Sommerville’s Dreamachine (1960), William Grey Walter, “The Living Brain”, cybernetics
  • Laws of gestalt
  • Reflection on the contemporary Phantasmagoria aspects in current audiovisual light installations – "art-science", technological manifestation, instafam and link to Robertson plagiarism problems
  • Smoke becoming an interactive interface – Connection to Eigengrau

Zeitgeist (Chapter III) (Narrative & Architecture) Content & Context of Phantasmagoria

  • Metaphoric displacement (Content of Robertson’s shows)
  • The Opening of Padora’s box – a metaphor in French Revolution (1799) and a metaphor in Post Digital Immersion Revolution (2019) (Zeitgeist)

What kind of narrative was Robertson saying about the french revolution?
What kind of narrative I am saying about the darkweb? – parafiction - Benjamin Bratton

  • The Opening of Padora’s box – a myth about the dark web
  • Ritual model of communication – Fear in the collective (how could darkness strength the collective feeling?)
  • Heterotopic liminoid
  • Post ritual spaces – club context – Hybrid audience
  • The darkness as a driving motor for a transcendental space for body and soul

short summary of the above

final statement

In our information age in which technology becomes more and more omnipresent of our daily lives there is a growing need for spiritual understanding. Therefor it is important to understand light as stimulus for human perceptions.

Could be compared that most (?) of contemporary audiovisual projects are still continuations of phantasmagorias (pseudo scientific discourse) since they don’t reveal the technology (custom made software and hardware) and the software behind it and becomes not science rather alchemy