Professor Alanna Thain
Department of English and Program in World Cinemas
My main research interests emerge from the difference it makes to think relations of art, agency and bodies through time. Rather than study art objects, for example, I am interested in art as an experiential event, one that reminds us of the creative forces of the body itself. Likewise, I’m interested in what I call the “anotherness” of the body as our most intimate experience of difference being made. The early 20th century philosopher Henri Bergson wrote: “in reality the body is changing form at every moment; or rather, there is no form, since form is immobile and the reality is movement. What is real is the continual change of form: form is only a snapshot view of a transition.” My research concentrates on three related axes. The first is post-cinematic “transitions” of cinema form. Out of the box of the movie theatre, where does cinema happen today, how are these transitions lived, and what difference does it make “on the ground”? From Guy Maddin’s reperformances of his own films to movies at the museum, like Christian Marclay’s 24-hour film The Clock, I chart an emerging post-cinematic media ecology. Secondly, I examine articulations of dance, media and cinema, including animation, both onscreen and in live performance, in the works of William Kentridge, Thierry and Michelle-Anne De Mey, Dave St-Pierre and others. This emerging field of screendance studies is one of the best sites for thinking about how we live our media engagements, not simply as records, but as what I call “anarchival events”. Lastly, I explore questions of participatory agency, emergent embodiments and techniques of lived abstraction (as Brian Massumi calls them) through art that doubles an immediacy of participation with an intensified self-referentiality, making us aware of difference being made through the body itself. The Quebec student strike, headphone participatory theatre, and dance video games are all zones of engagement for thinking about new questions of a politics and an aesthetics of becoming. I am a co-director of the Moving Image Research Laboratory (MIRL) at McGill, devoted to the study of the body in multiple moving image media formats, and an editor at Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. I am also currently developing a SSHRC partnership grant, for an international collaborative project on “Media and Event”.
alanna [dot] thain [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Contact Professor Thain)