Before and After Ghostcatching

Animation, Primitivism, and the Choreography of Vitality

in Screen Bodies

Primitivism gathers together several hegemonic lines of thinking about otherness as a function of underdevelopment vis-à-vis the Western, white male subject. This article presents an analysis of the animated dance video Ghostcatching (Bill T. Jones, Paul Kaiser, Shelley Eshkar, 1999) that offers a framework for understanding the piece’s thoughtful relationship to the history of primitivism in animation. Positioning the dancing body and the motion-capture apparatus at the center of understandings of the supposedly pre-rational and uncivilized, I argue that Ghostcatching is an expert commentary on animation’s long-standing investment in notions of human origins and development. Ghostcatching and related animations (including its stereoscopic 3-D reworking, After Ghostcatching; Betty Boop cartoons of the 1930s; the Dancing Baby meme; and work by media artist Ian Cheng) provide a lens for examining technologies and discourses of motion capture, revealing the economy of vitality through which the energy of raced, infantilized, and animalized bodies are circulated.

Screen Bodies

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Experience, Perception, and Display

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