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KINO EYE #10: Spectral Illusions: Showing Ghosts Everywhere, and of any Colour
EVENTS International Conference // Intermedial Poetics Performative Poetics


The central topic of this meeting is the phantasmagoria, hugely popular spectacles during the nineteenth century in capitals of modernity like Paris and London. Using magic lanterns and other new technologies of the visible, these impressive events both incorporated Victorian modes of theatrical staging and looked ahead to more modern forms of the projected image. They marked a time when the ontological status of the image was radically uncertain: while these exhibitions of visual technology were explicitly presented as trickery, as the product of man-driven machinery, contemporary documents testify to audience insecurity as to the status of these spectral illusions. Moreover, phantasmagorias were staged as mock-séances or spiritist gatherings during which ghosts of the past were conjured up as vivid manifestations. According to Tom Gunning, keynote speaker, this paradox articulates what he notes as the ‘double consciousness’ of modernity: phantasmagorias explicate the desire for scientific control through technology but at the same time point to a predilection for what is unknowable, mystical, obscure.
This Kino Eye proposes a return to the phantasmagoria, ghostly spectacles much in fashion in the nineteenth century, as both a practice and a concept crucial for our understanding of what it means to be modern. There was a time when promoters of the phantasmagoria offered the superstitions of a supposedly past Romantic era as a novel experience to an audience seeking to define their modernity. Whereas the manipulation of the senses through technology (magic lantern) producing spectral images involved belief, the key aspect of the show itself cast doubt upon the complete illusion of the senses. The aim of the conference, then, is twofold. First, we want to explore this paradoxical staging of spectral illusions as a specific means to come to terms with the ontology of new media of reproduction. Second, our interest in the ambiguity of modern experience goes beyond the iconography of the specter or ghost, as it circles back on spectrality as a theoretical figure to grasp our own relation to history. More specifically, we believe that the specter accretes new value as a tool for thinking through the ways in which artists today play with the ambiguity of space, embodiment and ontology. Their ambition to once again use interdisciplinary theatre as a critical medium to conjure up ghosts, as diverse as these are in technologies and effects, signals a return in the digital era of modern phantasms. What this might indicate is that our present modernity is, ultimately and dialectically, restaging the specters of its past.

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