Editor's Introduction

Screening Transgression

in Screen Bodies
Author: Andrew J. Ball1
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  • 1 Harvard University, USA

The final issue of Screen Bodies Volume 6 offers readers an ideal combination of the diverse kinds of work we feature, from a macroscopic theory that proposes a new discipline, to a set of articles that rigorously examine a small number of artworks with respect to a shared topic, to a piece of curatorial criticism on a recent media arts exhibition. The articles collected here offer a fitting cross section of the topics and media we cover, discussing such varied subjects as prehistoric art, Pink Film, artificial intelligence, and video art.

The final issue of Screen Bodies Volume 6 offers readers an ideal combination of the diverse kinds of work we feature, from a macroscopic theory that proposes a new discipline, to a set of articles that rigorously examine a small number of artworks with respect to a shared topic, to a piece of curatorial criticism on a recent media arts exhibition. The articles collected here offer a fitting cross section of the topics and media we cover, discussing such varied subjects as prehistoric art, Pink Film, artificial intelligence, and video art.

The bulk of this issue of Screen Bodies consists of three articles that examine cinematic transgression. Their authors look at the work of filmmakers who challenge taboos on the representation of violence and sex, and consider whether freedom can come from the collective experience of breaking those norms. In “Scenes of Subjection: Slavery, the Black Female Body, and the Uses of Sexual Violence in Haile Gerima's Sankofa,” Z'étoile Imma considers how the Ethiopian filmmaker strategically disrupts the tropes of the rape-revenge genre to show forms of Black women's survival and resistance. Similarly, in “Violent Thresholds: Sights and Sounds of the Cinematic Baroque in Pascal Laugier's Martyrs,” Lawrence Alexander analyzes how the French filmmaker probes the limits of spectators’ shared cinematic experience and, indeed, the very limits of representation. Alexander considers how bodily and architectural thresholds function in extreme cinemas—like arthouse horror or rape-revenge films—as figurative boundaries that mediate social concepts of containment, excess, and transgression. Further examining questions of spectatorship and the shared transgression of social norms, in “Embodied Liberation: The Female Reception of Oshima Nagisa's International Co-Productions,” Yuta Kaminishi examines Japanese girls’ culture and testimonials from feminists that suggest female viewers derived emancipatory power from the pornographic and homoerotic aspects of Oshima's films In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983).

These are followed by two articles that take up questions about technology and the human body. Amal Al Shamsi's “Reimagining Frankenstein” discusses the impact of popular visual representations of Shelley's novel on contemporary works by Ahmed Saadawi and Jeanette Winterson, which emphasize concerns of otherness as related to gender and race, as well as anxieties about how the body is altered by technology. In “Bodies with Objects in Space through Screens: Casual Virtuality and the Self-Mediation of Laura Paolini's Constraining Aesthetics,” Jakub Zdebik introduces the concept of pandemic aesthetics in an article that engages with Benjamin and Jameson to offer timely reflections on habit, mediation, and affective experience in the context of the COVID-19 quarantine.

This issue is bookended by two articles that are concerned with general questions of form, method, and culture, as well as with the history and practice of screen studies. In “Being Screens, Making Screens: Functions and Technical Objects,” Mauro Carbone and Graziano Lingua argue that screens have been a perennial aspect of human life, so much so that it is impossible to detach human experience from the existence of screens. Therefore, they propose an anthropology of screen experiences that would seek to define the relationship between human beings and screens. Carbone and Lingua suggest that the body delegates functions to screens, and thus the latter work as prostheses that enhance the body through forms of externalization.

We are pleased to feature in this issue's Reports section a special contribution by Pavel Pyś, Curator of Visual Arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. In “The Self on Onscreen,” Pyś discusses his remarkable exhibition, The Body Electric, which premiered at the Walker Art Center in March 2019 before traveling to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (September 2019 – February 2020) and most recently to the Museum of Art and Design at Miami Dade College (November 2020 – May 2021). The exhibition was both a retrospective of vintage work and a collection of recent pieces by early career artists. As Pyś explains, “the through line connecting the artists on view was a shared engagement with the body and its mediated image, raising important questions about representation especially in terms of identity, embodiment, race, gender, sexuality, class, and belonging.”

We are also pleased to announce that our next issue, the first of 2022, will be a special issue devoted to the artist Lu Yang. This special issue, entitled “The Work of Lu Yang in Transnational Chinese and Global Contemporary Art and Visual Culture,” will be guested edited by Livia Monnet (University of Montreal), Gabriel Remy-Handfield (University of Montreal), and Ari Heinrich (Australian National University).

Screen Bodies

The Journal of Embodiment, Media Arts, and Technology

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