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Title: Gesture and the cinéaste : Akerman/Agamben, Varda/Warburg
Author: Mowat, Hannah Barbara
ISNI:       0000 0004 5989 0714
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis offers an adjunct to recent theories of the haptic contingent upon proximity by considering how embodied engagement might take place at a distance. Developing a broad definition of gesture as a motion away from the (carnal or camera) body that is nonetheless always attached to it, the thesis seeks a state of in-betweenness unmediated by touch. Two chapters explore this gesture-as-bodily-extension as an analytical approach to art. Each focuses on an insistently individual artist, according each a different theoretical approach in order both to do justice to that individuality and to test fully the potential and limits of the gestural approach in question. The first chapter focuses on the writings and films of the écrivain-cinéaste, Chantal Akerman, whose gesturality, equal parts literary and cinematic, is explored through Giorgio Agamben’s similarly language-based thoughts on gesture, the moving image and repetition. Charting a three-stage gesture of (displaced) demonstration (proximal, medial and distal) that finds its linguistic correlate in a triad of slippery shifters (là, làbas and ça), it examines how, and why, the artist, in a relentless process of ressassement informed by atrocities always one step away from first-hand experience, translates these to page and screen as the story of ‘la petite chose à côté’. The second chapter centres on the photographs, films and installation work of the artiste-cinéaste, Agnès Varda, using an approach developed from selected writings by the German art historian, Aby Warburg, the majority translated into English for the first time. As with Akerman, Varda’s work insists upon a spectatorship premised on distance, but it also demands complicity. Defining the viewing experience not as the still contemplation of moving images but as the active contemplation of still ones, the chapter explores the relation between onlooker and image by harnessing Warburg’s vision of a gesture encoded in the artwork that may be triggered anew through mobile, engaged and bodily spectatorship from afar; a vision underpinned by his concepts of the animated accessory (bewegtes Beiwerk), the memory-image (Erinnerungsbild) and the inbetween space of artistic encounter (Zwischenraum). Ultimately, this thesis asks, and answers, two questions. What can theories of gesture contribute to a close analysis of artists whose work demands distance? And do these highly individual artists exceed the scope of theory – and in so doing, expand it?
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral