Book Review: From Méliès to New Media: Spectral Projections

Reviewed by Amy Ione, August 2020
Leonardo Reviews, https://www.leonardo.info/review/2020/08/from-melies-to-new-media-spectral-projections

From Méliès to New Media: Spectral Projections is an exploration of the presence and importance of film history in contemporary digital culture. Using a media archaeology approach, the author, Wendy Haslem, aims to demonstrate that innovative new media forms are not only indebted to, but firmly embedded within the traditions and conventions of early film culture. Throughout the book Haslem presents an array of projects that deftly move through topics, like indexicality, semiotics, memory, and digital restoration to light, materiality/immateriality, creative experimentation, time and obsolescence. While the overall goal is to introduce a new language of cinema and an alternative approach to historiography, the net result is a good start but falls short. The study is strongest and most original when presenting contemporary projects and examples of spectacle. Haslem tells us:

“Many of the films that I explore in this book favour spectacle over realism, some prioritize non-linear, experimental narration over linear, classical narrative form. Many of the older (and some of the newer) films exhibit surfaces etched with markers of time, and as such, they provide a rich surface aesthetic to encounter and explore. My approach to writing on film has always been to try to explore the surface of the film itself. That means prioritizing the aesthetic, looking for moments where details of the spectacle reveal history. My tendency is to zoom into surface details, focusing on the traces of celluloid that remain present within a digital ecology. Material detail, surface, aesthetic and mise-en-scéne drive my film analysis. This is also an approach that prioritizes the senses. (p. 28)

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Leonardo Reviews Posted July 2020

Leonardo Reviews is pleased to announce this month’s reviews posting.

Soundtracking Germany: Popular Music and National Identity
by Melanie Schiller
Reviewed by Beate Peter

Planet of the Humans
by Jeff Gibbs, Director; Michael Moore, Executive Producer
Reviewed by George Gessert

IOBA: Virtual Book Fair, May 15-17, 2020

The Independent Online Booksellers Association LogoIOBA Virtual Rare Book Fair
May 15–17, 2020
Virtual doors open 1:00pm EST
www.iobabookfair.com

The Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA) is proud to announce its first virtual international rare and antiquarian book fair, to be held Friday, May 15 to Sunday, May 17, 2020 at www.iobabookfair.com.

The virtual book fair will enable attendees to browse hundreds, if not thousands, of books and items of ephemera from the safety of their homes. Over four dozen exhibiting booksellers will be available for questions at their “booths” so customers may shop at their leisure during the 3-day fair.

When asked what attendees can expect from the book fair, Doug Nelson, President of IOBA, responded, “We took the best elements from physical book fairs – fresh material, exhibitors from around the globe, and the ability for attendees to easily interact with the exhibitors – and put it online. We anticipate this fair will be a success for our members and the book-buying public, and it will hopefully be the first of many.”

The Independent Online Booksellers Association is a trade organization representing more than 300 online rare and antiquarian booksellers worldwide. IOBA has promoted professionalism, ethics, and trust in online bookselling since 1999. To learn more about IOBA, its members, or to join, visit www.ioba.org.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power Reviewed by Amy Ione

Book cover. Soul of a NationReview:
Mark Godfrey, Zoé Whitley, Curators

de Young Museum, San Francisco, 9 Nov. 2019-8 Mar. 2020
Exhibition organized by Tate Modern
Catalog by D.A.P./Tate; 2017, 256 pp., ISBN: 978-1942884170.

In balancing a range of art practices with socio-political realities, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 effectively demonstrates that there isn’t a Black art per se but rather a Black experience that informs what, how, and where Black artists present and re-present. The project also superbly presents the rich contributions of African American artists are an important and integral part of American Art, despite their often being underrepresented in art histories. While the catalog expands one’s understanding of the exhibition immeasurably, I was glad to have the opportunity to engage with the actual size works so as to optimally experience the interweaving of artistic insights and materials with concepts like Black Power, Black Pride and the array of social realities that informed the work (e.g., the Watts riots) [1]. Still, the catalog is invaluable. Reading curator Mark Godfrey’s essay on Black abstraction in the publication before visiting the exhibition primed me to see the socio-political elements through the eyes of individual artists musing about material objects and black identify in tandem. In essence, his essay, co-curator Zoé Whitley’s essay, and the recollections from a number of people associated with this art in the documentation, all of whom were black participants, further underscored that there is a black American culture to celebrate, one that has thrived despite its peripheral place within institutions. Furthermore, the written material demonstrate the value of critically engaging with objects on a number of levels.

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Book Review: Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life by Phillip Thurtle

Reviewed by Amy Ione

As I began Phillip Thurtle’s well-researched Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life, I wondered how his “envisioning of life” would intersect with the abundant evidence that a complex array of grids have served as a foundational element in art, architecture, and design production throughout history. A few examples that quickly come to mind include those used to construct perfectly proportioned Egyptian and Aztec temples, Islamic and Buddhist art, Chuck Close’s stylized portraits, and the layout of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Rosalind Krauss’ 1978 statement that the surfacing of the grid in early twentieth century modernist art was an announcement of “modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse” [1] is also a part of the grid litany, although one that gives a negative cast to how we use grids to engage with objects in our world.

As it turns out, Biology in the Grid moves along a markedly different track. Despite his integration of graphic design, the entertainment industry, advertising, and cultural theory, the book is largely orthogonal to the long art and design trajectory. Thurtle sees grids as a framework within a biopolitical circumstance and makes the point that “living in the grid’ does not equalize us because all lives are not treated similarly despite the seeming uniformity of the form. In his words: Continue reading “Book Review: Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life by Phillip Thurtle”

Book Review: The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity by Jeffrey Sconce

Reviewed by Amy Ione.   

The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity by Jeffrey Sconce is a robust and multidimensional reminder of the complexity of human consciousness. Moving from Enlightenment studies of electricity and human anatomy to our 21st century digitally-connected globe, this interdisciplinary study asserts that delusions of electronic persecution have been a preeminent symptom of psychosis for over 200 years. One impressive feature of the study is how deftly Sconce weaves together case studies, literary source material, court cases, and popular media. Through this material he argues that we are moving toward an increasingly psychotic reality in which data practices will produce a world in which thought, reflection, and doubt will be disrupted by the very structures humans are putting in place. In his view, the current melding of big data and political power is creating a situation in which it is becoming more difficult to isolate precisely how (or perhaps where) bodies, the mind, electronics, and information intersect. He draws a parallel between psychotic disembodiment and electronic simulations:

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Facebook Society: Losing Ourselves in Sharing Ourselves: Reviewed by Amy Ione

According to Roberto Simanowski, the author of Facebook Society: Losing Ourselves in Sharing Ourselves, this volume isn’t a book about Facebook. Rather his concern is what he calls Facebook society. His starting point is Facebook’s claim that it is building a “global community,” and his underlying assumption is that social-media platforms have altered social interaction, political life, and outlooks on the world, even for people who do not regularly use them. Bringing boundless enthusiasm to how Facebook and other social apps create community, this cultural studies perspective both celebrates networked society and offers a critique of problematic elements derived from digital communities, with a particular focus on our concept of the self.

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Review of A Different Kind of Animal: How Culture Transformed Our Species

Reviewed by Amy Ione, March 2019
Published: Leonardo Reviews

A Different Kind of Animal is based on two lectures Robert Boyd delivered in 2016 at Princeton University as a part of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values series. In these lectures Boyd introduces his theory that biology and culture are both evolutionary, a topic he’s been working on with Peter Richerson for three decades. Needless to say, this is a broad topic, a point brought home by the four Responses to the lectures also included in the volume. All four commentators endorse the contours of Boyd’s theory and their critiques also raise valid questions: Is Boyd too reductive? Does Boyd’s view of social learning and cooperation rely too much on copying others? Does he adequately define the ways that norms arise and change? Is he ignoring how individuals manipulate norms?

At the beginning of the book Boyd points out that his lectures are about human uniqueness and cumulative cultural adaptation, not the inventive capacities of individuals. He writes:

“We are much better at learning from others than other species are, and equally important, we are motivated to learn from others even when we do not understand why our models are doing what they are doing. This psychology allows human populations to accumulate pools of adaptive information that greatly exceed the inventive capacities of individuals. Cumulative cultural evolution is critical for human adaptation.” (p. 16)

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Book Review of William Kentridge: Process as Metaphor and Other Doubtful Enterprises

In my 2007 Leonardo review of Rosalind Krauss’ book Perpetual Inventory I characterized her essay on William Kentridge as the most compelling in the book [1]. Krauss introduced him as a South African artist whose animated films pursue the problems of apartheid and spoke about how he creatively mixed film, drawing, and erasure with highly charged ideas. She also spoke about how his peripatetic approach, improvisational process (fortuna), and his use of erasure spoke of a creative practice that combines drawing and seeing with making and assessing. Krauss concluded that regardless of whether Kentridge’s drawings for projection come together in a series that examines apartheid, capitalist greed, eros, memory, or whatever, his process is not based primarily on the theme of the series. Rather, in her view, and I share her view to some degree, the works result through the dictates of his creative process. William Kentridge: Process as Metaphor and Other Doubtful Enterprises by Leora Maltz-Leca sees his philosophical relationship to the work as more important than his creative practice per se. Therefore, one intriguing question on my mind as I wrote this review is why Maltz-Leca, and indeed Kentridge himself as relayed in this book through a number of interviews, did not change my mind.

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