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Before and After Ghostcatching

Animation, Primitivism, and the Choreography of Vitality

Heather Warren-Crow

Abstract

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.