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Zalรกn Szakรกcs

SCREENS AS IMMATERIAL SPACES


Screens As Immaterial Spaces

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This essay aims to deconstruct the term screen as an immaterial space by tracing back the media archaeology to phantasmagoria. The word originally referred to the optical illusions created with the magic lantern, an eighteen-century projection apparatus that could rapidly change the size and nature of images on a screen or smoke. Historic phantasmagoria were pre-cinema performances that created dialogues between the living and the dead, promising purely scientific experiments, but ending up in illusions of pre-romantic horror. Times have changed since the eighteenth century, and we experience light in completely different ways. Nowadays the projection of stories comes to us through the blue light of our devices. Herein, I discuss the topics of perception, immersion, interaction, and zeitgeist as fields relating to my research, which tries to answer ‘How would phantasmagoria be interpreted in the contemporary zeitgeist?’ The first section will explore the origin and the meaning of phantasmagoria in relation to screens. The second section will allocate the screen as psychological screens. In the third section I will elaborate in-depth about the concept of immaterial space. The final section will describe the performative installation Eigengrau and the relationship to discourse of immaterial spaces.

PHANTASMAGORIA,  A SCREEN BETWEEN THE LIVING AND THE DEAD Contemporary screens surround us everywhere: starting from our digital watches; mobile phones; GPS monitors, moving towards laptops or computers, TV-screens till large scale media façades. Nowadays it is impossible to imagine our lives without these devices. But if we examine the meaning and the function of screens in historical context we discover that screens have been something more and other than optical devices (Buckley et al., 2019). Before the nineteenth century, the original functions of screens were separating, filtering, sheltering, camouflaging, masking, or protecting (Buckley et al., 2019) in spatial contexts. Due to the emergence of spectacles such as phantasmagoria and cinema, the meaning of the word had

Buckley, C., Campe, R., Casetti, F., (2019) Screen Genealogies. Amsterdam University Press. 03


changed to an optical one, ‘‘a surface supporting a changing representation” (Buckley et al., 2019). The word originally referred to the optical illusions created with the magic lantern, an eighteen-century projection apparatus that could rapidly change the size and nature of images on a screen or smoke. Historic phantasmagoria were pre-cinema performances that created dialogues between the living and the dead, promising purely scientific experiments, but ending up in illusions of pre-romantic horror. Here the role of the screen was that of a wall divider as well as invisible projection surface, separating the space into two units: one where the spectators were located and one where the magic lantern was operating. The projectionists used rear projection techniques to trick their frightened public, and by doing so the audience was unable to discover the origin of the emergence of spectres.  Worth mentioning are the leading phantasmagoria showmen and necromancers such as Johann Schröpfer (1738 – 1774), Paul Philidor (unknown – 1829), and Étienne-Gaspard Robertson (1763 – 1837). 

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PSYCHOLOGICAL SCREENS The ‘screen’ of phantasmagoria did therefore not only separate the space between audience and apparatus, but also symbolically represented the veil between the natural and the supernatural world. A few years after Robertson’s spectacular success in show business of ‘phantasmagorias’, he understood the influential aspects of perceptual psychology, and the site-specific context of his performances, hence he moved them to the dark atmospheric location of a discarded Capuchin monastery in Paris. Robertson felt the desire of black magic and superstition of his zeitgeist, partly due to the unstable political context of the French Revolution. By using thunder sounds, total darkness, ‘eigengrau’, projections onto smoke, flicker-, and strobe effects, Robinson created after-images in the brains of his visitors. When the audience entered his ghost-monastery, they had to walk through a cemetery into a sombre room painted black. The audience felt immediately disconnected from the real world. A feeling of disorientation took place, since there was “no foreground, no background, no surface, no distance, only overwhelming, impenetrable darkness”, as the German media theoretician Oliver Grau describes. After a few minutes, the human vision adapts to the darkness and signals a specific dark grey tone of visual noise illusion to the brain called eigengrau. This effect was later scientifically discovered by the German psychologist Gustav Theodor Fechner in 1860. Since the medium was hitherto unknown to the eighteen century society the magical effects appeared to be scientific. At the climax of Robertson’s words, demonic figures became visible on the smoke, and the crowd received little electric shocks through their chairs, underlining the terror of the pre-romantic program. The rapid successions between the ghostly vignettes evoked figures that continued to appear in the visions of the audience, called retinal after-images. Robertson created a metamorphosis, one shape rapidly transforming into another; an effect easily achieved by doubling two glass slides in the tube of the magic lantern over one another in a quick, deft manner (Terry, 1988). The projections seemed so real that the visitors wanted to hit them above their heads and run out of the claustrophobic gothic environment but he locked the doors

Castle, T. (1998) Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie. The University of Chicago Press. 05


Stage magicians

Athanasius Kircher 1602–1680

Media Object

Content

Esmé Gilles Guyot 1706–1786

Johann Georg Schröpfer 1738–1774

smoke flickering

Metaphysical symbolism the original light source symbolizes God (lux) if the lens and the slide symbolizes an angel and man respectively, the image projected on the screen is furthest away from God, and properly depicts and symbolizes Death, demons and Hell

The first appeared in a beautiful white habit, the other in beige, the third in very ugly brown, almost black....the voices in which they answered his questions rang hollow, as if they had no larynx, which he called Ghost Speech.”

hollow voices spoken through concealed tubes, and thunder sound effects

Sound

Analysis

assistants dressed as ghosts

Scenography Location

Jesuit theater in Rome

audience standing in a circle

Time

Why?

coffeeshop Leipzig

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


Paul Philidor 17??–1829 Argand lamp, which produced a much stronger light and thus enabled larger audiences to see the images mobile back-projection rolling on wheels

Étienne-Gaspard Robert “Robertson” 1763–1837 rolling on wheels changing the zoom in and out smoke flickering semitransparent screen

Gothic novels contemporary politics ghosts demons witches supernatural exotic morbid association

sound of the thunderstorm

glas harmonica sound of the thunderstorm

2 days before the event the audience had to deliver a photograph of the person to be able to get in contact

each will show himself in a different manner; one arises as already noted out of the floor, the second appears suddenly and is entirely there, the third appears from a gray cloud and evolves slowly into a figure that can be recognized clearly from his countenance. abandoned Capuchin monastery little electronical shock effects in the chairs

1 h 30 min

the 18th century society was superstitious


to achieve a stronger sense of fear and terror in the audience. A similar dramatic reaction was achieved almost 100 years later by the Lumière brothers in 1896. In their movie The Arrival of the Train, the perspective of the arriving train appeared so realistic that the audience felt that the train would almost break out of the canvas and ran out of the cinema.

IMMATERIAL SPACE The phantasmagoria of Robertson used the concept of the screen both in its spatial as well as pictorial definition. Grau established a thoughtful relationship between ‘phantasmagoria’ and immersion: “‘Phantasmagoria’ connects with death through immersion and spiritualism to overcome the separation from one’s ancestors through the medium” (Grau, 2010). Immersion is a model for the manipulation of the senses, as well as when art and image apparatus creates one consensus: the viewer’s perception totally blends into the artwork. The message and the medium form an almost inseparable unit, so that the medium becomes invisible (Grau, 2010).   According to Noam M. Elcott, “In a reversal of the cinematic, the phantasmagoric must guarantee the highest degree of image detachedness—that is, it must unmoor images from any material support, including screens—in order to enhance their local boundedness. The phantasmagoric image cannot be perceived as trapped inside a device or on a screen, nor as absolutely separated from the space we inhabit; rather, the phantasmagoric image must occupy the same space we occupy” (Elcott, 2016). The immersive character of phantasmagoria can be found in its real time aspect. As Thomas Elsaesser outlines, “the senses are anchored and the body situated in a ‘here and now’” (Elsaesser, 2015). Spectatorship therefore happens between real time interaction of the bodily presence of the audience and the physical presence of the screen.  Phantasmagoria is a multimedia structure, that influenced the ascendance of film, video, theatre, installation and performance art since the 1960s. This includes the work of artists such as Valerie Export, Anthony McCall, Dan Graham, and many more. Art historian Kate Mondloch states that these artists “invited the viewers to understand the screen –

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as well as the site and experience of screen spectatorship – as material” (Mondloch, 2010). Further on the screen started to function both as medium and object – a new understanding of screen in art. This leads to the extended use of cinematic media technologies described by Gene Youngblood as Expanded Cinema (Youngblood, 1970). For Youngblood it is necessary to “examine some of the image-making technologies that promise to extend man’s communicative capacities beyond his most extravagant visions” (Youngblood, 1970). Nowadays there is an emerging trend of screens that pushes the functions beyond the optical and reintroduces the older significance of these devices. According to Buckley, Campe, and Casetti: “They remain surfaces that display images and data, yet their opticality has been deeply affected by their reference to, connection with, and impact upon the various spaces they inhabit. To stress the environmental aspect of the screen is to reconsider the historically contingent and conjunctural role that screens have played as mediators between interior and exterior, protection and exposure, visibility and invisibility. To borrow a concept from the philosopher and historian of science Ian Hacking, we might say that screens today are not only devices for representing but are even more so devices for intervening in the world” (Buckley et al., 2019). By reconsidering the screen as an architectural element, which primary functions as division of space, filter, shelter, and means of camouflage (Buckley et al., 2019), we can establish a new concept of screen. Created through digital technologies, but manifested in the physical environment, this new screen is called immaterial space. Correspondingly to the technological aspects of immaterial spaces, where the technology is not used an object, but rather as an instrument to create atmospheres and spaces that we perceive immaterial. In this case the concept of immaterial space is connected to the discourse of phantasmagoria, where the technology is hidden from the audience and the focus relies on the real time interaction of the bodily presence of the audience and the physical presence of the screen. Furthermore, this phenomenon becomes a new storytelling tool in times of visual and sensory overload. Immaterial space uses the idea of screens as separations in the form of transformation of climates, light, haze, air, acoustic waves and heat, whilst creating atmospheres that Grau, O. (2010) Media Art Histories. MIT Press. Elcott, N. M. (2016) The Phantasmagoric Dispositif: An Assembly of Bodies and Images in Real Time and Space. Grey Room. Elsaesser, T. (2015)  “Between Knowing and Believing,” in Cine-Dispositives. Amsterdam University Press. Mondloch, K. (2010) Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art. University of Minnesota Press. Youngblood, G. (1970) Expanded cinema. E. P. Dutton. Buckley, C., Campe, R., Casetti, F., (2019) Screen Genealogies. Amsterdam University Press. 09


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Anthony McCall Vertical Works 2017

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Robertson Phantasmagorias 1798

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Zalรกn Szakรกcs Eigengrau 2019

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Robertson Phantasmagorias 1798

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challenge human perception. Here the mental and the physical barriers of the spectators are triggered and teleported into an in-between state.

EIGENGRAU The answer to the research question ‘How would phantasmagoria be interpreted in the contemporary zeitgeist?’ manifested in a performative installation, called Eigengrau (derived from German origin, meaning ‘dark light’) that counters the online individual information overload by creating an offline non-screen mediated collective experience. It proposes a temporary escape in a contemporary setting, where the audience is invited into a collective ritual, a feeling of togetherness. With only the means of stripped-back elements of light, sound, and haze, the installation creates an emotional illusion, a dialogue between darkness and light. The circular setup of the light installation is a reference to the magic circles of the early phantasmagorias. The installation creates an emotional illusion, a dialogue between darkness and light. It could be concluded that since the beginning phantasmagorias were built upon mythological stories, political, sociological and religious propaganda as reflections of the zeitgeist. Eigengrau is the phantasmagoria of the 21st century. Thus the storyline of experience takes the audience through different mental states and climaxes from fear to excitement, from individual to collective experience for rediscovering new ways of interactions of ourselves and reconnect to senses in the form of a spiritual experience. Eigengrau frames the negative space, and therefore it generates an illusion of immaterial space. The installation offers a suspension from the isolation and digital saturation of contemporary society.

In this essay I have discussed the development of the screens as an architectural element, which primary functioned as division of space, filter, shelter, and means of camouflage (Buckley et al., 2019). After the nineteenth century the meaning of the word had changed to an optical one, ‘‘a surface supporting a changing representation” (Buckley et al., 2019) through the rise of spectacles such as phantasmagoria and cinema.

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The ‘screen’ of phantasmagoria became a metaphysical one. It did therefore not only separate the space between audience and apparatus, but also symbolically represented the veil between the natural and the supernatural world. Further on the development of contemporary technologies and new media reintroduced the older significance of these devices such as the environmental aspects of the screens. Screens became spatial surfaces for image representations and gather greater significance how humans of the 21st century are “intervening in the world” (Buckley et al., 2019). This leads to the introduction of the new concept of screens that is created through digital technologies, but manifested in the physical environment, which is called immaterial space. This phenomenon becomes a new storytelling tool in times of visual and sensory overload. A manifestation of the immaterial space concept is the performative installation called Eigengrau. The storyline takes the audience through different mental states and climaxes from fear to excitement, from individual to collective experience for rediscovering new ways of interactions of ourselves and reconnect to senses in the form of a spiritual experience. Although we will still consume and use digital tools and digital screens, the value of physical participatory practices will rise: collective experiences that challenge human senses and the perception of mental and physical spaces are the phantasmagorias of our times.

Buckley, C., Campe, R., Casetti, F., (2019) Screen Genealogies. Amsterdam University Press. 13


Profile for Zalán Szakács

Screens as Immaterial Spaces  

The essay aims to deconstruct the term screen as an immaterial space by tracing back the media archaeology to phantasmagoria.

Screens as Immaterial Spaces  

The essay aims to deconstruct the term screen as an immaterial space by tracing back the media archaeology to phantasmagoria.

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