Archie Malloch Graduate Fellows in Public Learning
Ms. Caroline Bem
PhD candidate in Communication Studies
Malloch Fellow, 2014 - 2015
From Writing Tablets to System Reboots: Death Proof and the Cinematic Diptych
My dissertation draws on writings that span the fields of philosophy, art history, film, media and (video)game studies, legal theory, and literary theory, to explore a single artifact, Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 film Death Proof, from a variety of angles. I posit that Death Proof is a cinematic diptych and note that, through its “low” status, my object of study finds a direct correlate in the diptych form itself: Death Proof is a film made to resemble a 1970s B-movie, a fact which mirrors the visual diptych’s longstanding history as a widespread but comparatively “minor” form (the diptych is associated primarily with relatively small, portable objects made for private use). By tracing how the diptych has survived and adapted to a variety of genres and formats over the centuries, gaining a new-found relevance within today’s time-based environments, like videogames and post-cinema, my thesis suggests that there is something deeply stable, yet simultaneously versatile, about the diptych. These two attributes are only contradictory in appearance: it is because the diptych is versatile, and adaptable to a range of media, that it has been able to endure through the ages.
While there have been a number of art historical studies on the triptych, few writings exist on the diptych specifically and none, thus far, theorize it in a holistic way. Specifically, I show that the diptych has always possessed the unique ability to ally and conjure up different media or generic formats within a single work—the codex and the altar piece, the icon and the portrait—and, as a result, to transcend its own material or generic substrate. This characteristic is exacerbated and lent meaning to through the form’s unique twoness or dualism, which means to say its capacity for paradox or simultaneously co-present dual states: flatness and three-dimensionality, openness and closure, repetition/variation and finality. By contrast, to return to the counterexample of the triptych, tri-partition is almost always synonymous with closure and resolution (a characteristic shared by both the Trinity and the Hegelian dialectic). By paying unprecedented attention to the diptych form, not only historically but also within contemporary visual texts ranging from painting through to video and film, I argue the diptych as a whole should be reconsidered, re-evaluated and focused upon as an object in and of itself worthy of study.
From a methodological perspective, my dissertation adopts an approach that I have come to term “medial-formalist analysis” in order to shed light on the ways in which, despite its unassuming status as the most frequently overlooked title in Tarantino’s filmography, Death Proof’s overarching material, visual, narrative, and temporal organization allows it to transcend the boundaries of the film medium in significant ways that question, act out and negotiate a range of issues pertaining to a series of media and systems of thought. Ultimately, my aim is two-fold: first, I hope to draw attention to the diptych as an understudied form across the arts in general and in the cinema in particular. This, in turn, allows me to demonstrate how, through the revitalization of a longstanding concept, recent developments within contemporary media culture can be apprehended and comprehended in new ways.
Ms. Nina Penner
PhD candidate in Musicology, Schulich School of Music
Malloch Fellow, 2014 - 2015
Towards a Philosophy of Operatic Storytelling: A Theory of Point of View
I am interested in comparing the mechanics of storytelling in different media, particularly opera as compared with literature, film, and theatre. My dissertation focuses on the concept of point of view, exploring how opera spectators gain access to characters’ subjective experiences; how this may encourage them to empathize or identify with opera characters; the role of narrators in opera; and the importance of expressions of authorial points of view.
Relative to literature and cinema, opera may seem lacking in resources for articulating point of view, as operatic performances rarely evince a fictional narrator or presenter, an imagined source of or guide to the narrated events who might also offer insights into, or distortions of, characters’ thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Opera also lacks a correlate to cinema’s point of view shot, that is, a means of allowing spectators to see the fictional world from a particular character’s vantage point. Yet, music is a powerful means for expressing aspects of character’s points of view, especially their emotions. Using music as a window into characters’ psyches was a major preoccupation of composers from Wagner to the present day.
I also investigate the ways in which staging and performance strategies specific to opera can enhance or undermine the expressions of point of view already present in the opera’s music and text, and even afford means of gaining access to characters’ points of view that are entirely distinct from those contained within the score and libretto. How can the creative decisions of the director, conductor, singers, and musicians affect the point of view from which an opera is told, especially when those decisions contradict the intentions of the work’s composer and librettist? Is violating the composer’s and librettist’s intentions justified if it makes the work more accessible to contemporary audiences? I probe such questionswith reference to recent performances by Opera McGill and the Canadian Opera Company. I pay particular attention to the generally neglected contributions of visual elements to operatic storytelling. Although typically considered a primarily aural artform, an opera’s story is conveyed just as much through the visual realm as the auditory.
My approach is an amalgamation of methodologies drawn from musicology, my home discipline, and analytic philosophical aesthetics, which has recently become a hotbed of new theoretical work on narratives and narration. Music scholars maintain close ties to continental philosophy while remaining relatively disconnected from work being conducted by philosophers on their own campuses. One of my broader aims is to help establish more robust lines of communication between music scholars and analytic philosophers.
Ms. Meghan Goodchild
PhD candidate, Schulich School of Music
Malloch Fellow, Fall 2013
Orchestral Gestures and Peak Emotional Responses to Music
My research explores the role of timbre (sound colours of different instruments) and orchestration (the art of writing music for the orchestra) on emotional responses to music. Empirical findings in music and emotion research indicate that changes in instrumentation elicit strong emotional responses in listeners. These results suggest an important link between emotional response and changes in timbre, but little research has been undertaken to uncover this connection. Orchestration and timbre are underdeveloped areas of music theory scholarship, particularly when compared to other musical parameters such as harmony, rhythm and form. Further research is needed in the pursuit of generalized principles, a clear taxonomy of large-scale orchestral techniques, and a conceptual framework related to the perceptual effect of timbre on emotions.
The interdisciplinary nature of my work draws on the fields of music theory and experimental psychology. I hypothesize that musical passages that have coordinated changes in timbre create large-scale orchestral gestures. This type of passage is grouped perceptually into a coherent musical unit as an auditory image, a psychological representation of a sound entity. Due to the combination of timbre, dynamics (loudness and playing effort), tempo and other musical dimensions, orchestral gestures often give rise to strong emotional experiences. I constructed a model that includes four categories of orchestral gestures based on changes in instrumentation; each gesture either adds or removes instruments, gradually or suddenly, as a coordinated change over time.
In order to test the perceptual relevance of the model, I conducted an exploratory behavioural experiment where listeners used a slider to indicate the intensity of their emotional responses and completed questionnaires outlining their subjective experiences (e.g., chills, tears, and other reactions) for each excerpt. In order to isolate response patterns and investigate their connection to the music, I developed a visualization tool that illustrates the relative textural density of each orchestral family and maps other musical features (e.g., loudness, tempo, contour), spectral analyses of the sound files, and the experimental data over time.
This project explores the relationships between perceptual/behavioural and musical/acoustical dimensions and quantifies elements of the temporality of these experiences. In addition to relating orchestral gestures to musical and performance (sound-producing) gestures more broadly, my work will investigate how gestures contribute to our experience and to an understanding of meaning or agency. How do musical gestures resonate with listeners and how does interpreting these gestures become part of our social experience? How are gestures embedded in our collective understanding of music and other arts? My project aims to address these questions and contribute to a theory of orchestral gestures.
Mr. Vincent Post
PhD candidate, Department of Political Science
Malloch Fellow, Fall 2013
Putting Out the Fire, or Fanning the Flames? How regulating secret service files and personnel affects the politicization of the communist past.
My research deals with communist spies. Or, to be exact, with the legacy left behind in East and Central Europe by the communist secret services. A crucial source of power for the communist regimes, these organisations employed thousands upon thousands of secret agents and recruited tens of thousands of secret collaborators to spy and inform on their fellow citizens. One of the key ways in which post-communist societies addressed this legacy politically was by passing 'lustration laws', which exclude secret service personnel and high-ranking communists from positions in the civil service. In addition, they have in many cases declassified the secret service files, and are working to make them accessible to the general public. The effects of these 'transitional justice' policies remain poorly understood. They were aimed (amongst other things) at settling the debates over the communist past generally, and the involvement of politicians and celebrities in particular, which would supposedly lead to a social form of catharsis. In practice, however, these policies might actually contribute to further politicizing the legacy of communist rule and intensifying debates over the communist past.
The idea of a society experiencing 'catharsis' after a conflict or a repressive episode feels intuitive to many of us, but we don't really know what it actually entails. By looking at politicization over the past, I hope to get a handle on what societal catharsis might be, and whether transitional justice helps it or hinders it. The dissertation I am writing attempts to address this question by combining a large-scale media analysis of coverage in six countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria) with an in-depth detailed analysis comparing memory politics in the Czech and Slovak Republics. Although those two countries share a past under communism, their responses to this past are highly divergent, which makes for a very interesting comparison. Although I am concentrating on East and Central Europe in particular, the process of dealing with a past of authoritarianism or violent conflict is universal, and the post-communist experience offers an excellent context to illustrate the dynamics of transitional justice and politicization of the past.
For more on my work, visit my blog.
Ms. Danijela Zutic
PhD candidate, Department of Art History and Communciation Studies
Malloch Fellow, 2012-2013
In Harmony with Heaven and Earth: Italian Romanesque crypt paintings
The medieval crypt was a site where death and life coexisted. The elaborate pictorial programs lining the walls of the crypt further reinforced the inter-dependency (semantic and experiential) between death and life, as perceived in the liminal space of the crypt. These images are the subject of my dissertation. Specifically, my doctoral research investigates the impact of theology and natural philosophy on spiritual healing within the context of crypt frescos in Italy from the twelfth to the thirteenth century. At this time, the Italian peninsula was marked by multiple cultural and political intersections. It was here that the roads from the north (France, Germany and England) and the south (the Byzantine Empire) converged. The arts and sciences merged under the umbrella of the early universities, while continuous historical, political, and religious tensions played out between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. By elucidating this distinct milieu and its various publics, my in-depth inquiry into the crypt and its polychromy cycles promises to demonstrate how the liminal space of the crypt, replete with sophisticated fresco decoration, was central to the formulation and dissemination of new understandings of death, renewal, physical and spiritual healing.
I will look specifically at the crypt at Anagni, in central Italy, where a series of scientific representations exist in tension with the rest of the painted cycle. The majority of elements within the pictorial program at Anagni coalesce scenes from the Old and New Testament. In contrast to the main wall in the church, ordinarily reserved for the images of Christ or the Virgin, the crypt is decorated with the representations of saints’ lives, and their miraculous actions. Thus the main bay of the Anagni crypt houses an image of the Apocalypse on the top, life and miracles of Saint Magnus below, and an altar that would have likely had the saint’s relics. These pictorial choices and the spatial arrangement of the crypt render it a site of veneration, as well as a place of Christian liturgy. In addition, however, the program includes the depiction of two Greek doctors, Galen and Hippocrates, surrounded by medical instruments, as well as the four elements and the representation of the Ages of Man. These images, which directly relate to contemporary science and natural philosophy, complicate our understanding of the space of the crypt as they would likely resonate with only a limited audience vis-à-vis the host of the faithful. This program’s unique reference to medieval conceptions of science, natural history and health prompts a reconsideration of the audience of the medieval crypt more broadly.
Mr. Tomasz Grusiecki
PhD candidate, Department of Art History and Communciation Studies
Malloch Fellow 2011-12
Negotiating the social value of the self in visual terms: The public life of painting in Poland-Lithuania during the reign of the House of Vasa (1587-1668)
My research is based upon the emergence and the public life of painting (understood as a separate category of human classification of knowledge) in the predominantly Roman Catholic Poland during the Vasa period (1587-1668). As such, it is built up around three major claims. (1) The appropriation of a new conceptual construct of the picture gallery initiated a new phase in the cultural life of early modern Poland-Lithuania. This occurred in the late sixteenth century and was a social novelty available only to a few. (2) Due to the exclusive nature of the performance of picture collecting, there developed a new possibility for the perpetuation or re-negotiation of one’s social status. As a foreign and a relatively inexpensive pursuit, the ownership of painting revolutionised the ways in which one could emphasise their social standing. (3) The picture gallery had to be a public or at least a semi-public space, in order to provide its owner with the discursive possibilities of the accumulation of cultural capital, and thus to help safeguard a high social position.
This PhD project has been conceived within the framework of the Habermasian logic of producing a history that is linked to our own times and thus has the capacity to shed a new light on contemporary life. I believe that research on the social implications of the activity of picture collecting in early modern Polish-Lithuanian Republic is much needed in the context of the contemporary socio-political reality of Poland, and East Central Europe in general. This topic seems particularly well-suited for a region that has only recently re-discovered its own class divisions after 44 years of discourse on equality under ‘real socialism’ and is currently faced with the problem of growing inequality. In these circumstances, I deem it as imperative to point out the political and the highly divisive nature of ‘art’ and to de-construct its seemingly neutral nature. The question of the public dimension of the new concept of ‘painting’ is equally crucial. Whether the perpetuation or re-negotiation of social distinction through ‘painting’ could only be effective in the public sphere unsurprisingly constitutes a supra-European problem. This question could indeed be asked of any country within the orbit of ‘Western’ civilisation, naturally in compliance with local contextual specifics. Consequently, this research will contribute to the anti-teleological reading of the development of the public sphere in the regions within post-communist Central Europe.
Mr. Hans Bernhard
MMus candidate, Schulich School of Music
Malloch Fellow 2010-11
The Sound of Time: How Recording Technology Shapes and Defines the Historical Consciousness
I’ve been told I have a good memory for a twenty-three year old, but no matter how hard I try I can’t remember the events of my twenty-fourth birthday. Should I be concerned? Our human experience compels us to answer “no”. We instinctually recognize that the concepts of Memory and Echo are concretely time dependent: always following, never preceding. I am interested in how any further temporal distinction between memories are necessarily abstract. I focus on sound, using recorded music as a form of memory, and it’s relationship with time perception. When introduced, for example, to a few unfamiliar songs, it is possible to attempt to sort them chronologically based on the impression of sound fidelity, the instruments used, the delivery medium, and historical knowledge of the genre. My research specifically investigates how manipulation of a recording’s medium and signal processing can confuse our perception of when it was made, creating an elastic sense of time within the temporal limitations of Memory.
Ms. Sara Kowalski
PhD Candidate, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Malloch Fellow 2010-11
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