Saturday, 24 July 2010

The indeterminate in cinema and art

In this paper I will address two moments in cinematic history: a shot that occurs in Robert Wiene's avant-garde production of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919) and the attempt by the main protagonist in Antonioni's Blowup (1966) to discern a phantom figure in a blurry section of a photograph. Both moments are examples of what I term 'visual indeterminacy', where images resist easy or immediate interpretation. Visual indeterminacy is in fact quite a common perceptual phenomenon, and although not very widely studied in science it has been recognized and exploited for centuries by visual artists and writers.

I will discuss the phenomena of visual indeterminacy, its perceptual basis, and its wider implications for our understanding of how we see the world. In particular, I will note the impact of indeterminacy on our notion of the 'real,' and close by looking at the work of the artist Gerhard Richter, whose images veer between the mechanically and expressionistically abstract to the photographic and hyper-real. Richter's declaration that works of art should defy easy interpretation will be considered in relation a wider modernist preoccupation with indeterminate meaning.

Keynote presentation
Realism after the European Avant-Garde Conference
University of Paderborn, Germany, October 2010