The pupil is made of water.
Aristotle, De Anima, III
The true eye of the earth is water.
Gaston Bachelard, L’Eau et les rêves , 1942
Ménilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanov, 1924), L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934), Le Tempestaire (Jean Epstein, 1947)
My essay Film in Depth. Water and Immersivity in the Contemporary Film Experience has just been published in Acta Universitatis Sapientiae – Film and Media Studies, the international scientific journal of Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania. In this essay I argue that since its beginnings, cinema has recognised that water can visually give matter and meaning to human desires, dreams and secrets, eliciting suspense and fear. Using different aesthetical and technical strategies, contemporary cinema shows immersed and drowning bodies to represent and express intimacy and protection, suspense and fear, obsession and depression, state of shock, past or infancy trauma, hallucinations and nightmares, etc. The case of enwaterment (i.e. “waterembodiment”) is significant because of its relevance to the point where psychoanalysis and philosophy meet. I attempt to investigate what is actually meant today by making a bodily and sensible experience of film by analysing the substance of water and the figures of the drowning and immersed body. Cinema embodies aquatic modalities of perception and expression, pulling the viewer into a liquid environment that is the confluence between the film-body and the filmgoer-body.
Ray (Taylor Hackford, 2004)
Camera Lucida (Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, 2007)
Next Sunday, I will be presenting a paper entitled Sonoluminescent Art. Transmutation of Sound into Light and Immersive Spectatorship at the X MAGIS – International Film Studies Spring School in Gorizia. The paper is part of my research project on immersive spectatorship and focuses on a series of contemporary sound and video artworks that explore and reflect upon the phenomenon of sonoluminescence. Sonoluminescence (literally ‘light from sound’) is a phenomenon caused when ultrasound waves excite a liquid, creating tiny bubbles which emit light when they collapse. It was first discovered by scientists who were attempting to accelerate the process of developing photos, in the early 1930s.
The Magic Dome (Kilohertz, 2011) at QC Termemilano Spa
The Special issue of Screening The Past on “Screen Attachments” has just been released. My essay Waterbodies: Moving-image installations at Termemilano Spa is presented as follows in the Introduction by issue curators Paola Voci and Catherine Fowler:
“With Adriano D’Aloia’s essay we shift locations once again, from the home, art spaces and the Internet to health spas. The example of moving image installations in Italian Spa’s is used to provide an original examination of what Casetti has called the relocated filmic experience. Just as Ng re-examined interactivity, so D’Aloia re-visits scholarly work on immersion and, to a lesser extent, absorption. The moving image installations he explores act as a hinge that joins the classical viewing experience in a movie theatre with the relocated experience outside of that familiar space. More importantly, D’Aloia argues, “the spa moving image experience helps us to reframe both the theatrical and relocated dimensions of the contemporary film experience”. In his essay the relationship between viewers and screens becomes one that is multi-sensorial and also part of a ‘wellness itinerary’. Spa installations are used to interrogate the well accepted application of notions of immersion and absorption to describe how viewers are enveloped, and involved in, engage with and become attached to cinematic moving images.
D’Aloia’s essay asks important questions that contribute to studies of the attractions of moving images once they step outside of the movie theatre. In his case study, consisting of installations and projections at Termemilano spa, Milan, he traces the ways in which an annex to the film experience is offered, as all our senses are engaged “through the use of interfaces that combine simulated stereophonic sound, tactile and haptic impressions with thermoreceptive and even kinaesthetic sensations”. In one sense D’Aloia’s examination of a water-based screen experience propels an examination of the roots of the application of the terms immersion and absorption. For visitors to the spa are literally immersed in water before encountering moving images projected on walls and ceilings that show abstract and real underwater impressions. Following these water-based therapies, visitors can undertake a water-based moving image experience either in rooms where relaxing, abstract underwater images are projected on walls and/or ceilings, or in the magic dome in which a 360 degree geodesic structure containing images and sounds envelops the visitors. For D’Aloia, acoustic space supports “a sort of hydro-audio-visual massage” that is set off by the virtual and literal ‘enwatering’ of visitors. Finally, D’Aloia observes that spa moving image experiences might be seen as responses to the loss of immersion that accompanies the exit from the movie theatre. Yet it is not as if we are once again absorbed in the film, involved with characters and forgetting ourselves; instead, the spa-going experience offers a “new kind of embodied auto-empathy based on ‘bodily immersion’”.
For with earth do we see earth, with water water,
with air bright air, with fire consuming fire,
with Love do we see Love, Strife with dread Strife.
Empedocle (B 109)
Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007) – a water-based film that calls for a water-based (immersive, liquid, aquatic) spectatorship.
I am presenting a draft of the first step of my investigation on drowning bodies and cinematic experience at the Emergent Encounters in Film Theory. Intersections between Psychoanalysis and Philosophy international film studies conference, hosted by the King’s College Film Studies Deparment in London on the 21st of March.
Keynote Speakers: Steven Shaviro (Wayne State University), Vicky Lebeau (University of Sussex)
Interdisciplinary approaches to the theoretical discussion of the cinematic medium have often engaged with philosophical or psychoanalytic perspectives. While philosophy and psychoanalysis are by no means opposed schools of thought, the potential to develop new ways of understanding film remains an opportunity to be explored. In seeking out further lines of enquiry, the study of intersections between cinema/philosophy/psychoanalysis, seems most pertinent to our generation of ‘film thinking’, to invoke Daniel Frampton’s concept of the ‘film mind’, whose future still stands, to some extent, in the shadow of psychoanalysis. Recent philosophical models of thought offered by film theorists such as Frampton and D.N Rodowick embrace a new ontological grasp of the cinema, but what then are the implications of this shift for psychoanalysis? The question, therefore, remains whether philosophy and psychoanalysis are indeed irreconcilable, or if the specific philosophical turn sets up boundaries that unjustly seal off the possibility of dialogue between the two methodologies.
And what about drowning? Cinema has immediately recognized that water could visually represent the substance of human dreams and desires. Water can connect or separate conscious and onyric worlds, arousing the spectators’ actual response (lack of breath, sense of choking, menace…). I’d like to figure out if and how the representation of drowning body in contemporary cinema could be a strategy to engage a corporeal relation with the spectator’s psychic dimension, in terms of 1) depth: from the reflective and narcisist surface to the dark profundity; 2) consistency: from the transparent swimming-pool to the opaque and cloudy lake; 3) expressive forces: from the quite, though threatening, ocean to the impetuous river. Here you have a collection of snapeshots captured from “water-based” movie (What Lies Beneath, The Sphere, Jaws, Minority Report, The Hours…).
Altra “figura esperienziale” interessante: l’annegamento, il corpo sommerso… Il cinema ha da subito riconosciuto come l’acqua posso rappresentare visivamente la sostanza dei sogni e dei desideri umani. Essa connette e separa dimensione del conscio e dell’incoscio, sollecitando risposte fisiologiche nello spettatore (mancanza del respiro, senso di soffocamento minaccia…). Un passo ulteriore potrebbe essere capire se e in che modo la rappresentazione dei corpi in annegamento nel cinema contemporaneo è una strategia di “ingaggio” di una relazione corporea fra la dimensione psichica dello spettatore in termini di 1) profondità: dalla riflettente e narcisistica superficie, alla profonda oscurità; 2) consistenza: dalla trasparenza di una piscina, all’opacità delle acque torbide di un lago; 3) forza espressiva: dalle placide, per quanto minacciose, acque dell’oceano, al moto impetuoso del fiume. Ecco una piccola lista per immagini di film che mostrano corpi immersi o in annegamento (Le verità nascoste, Sfera, Lo squalo, Minority Report, The Hours…).