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Title: Destroy, she said : objects and subjects in silent slapstick film
Author: Lange, Janina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7967 6133
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2019
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It is the aim of this project to demonstrate how slapstick in the silent films of the 1910s and 1920s undermines the centrality of the human subject. To achieve this, the project follows three interlinked lines of investigation. First, by drawing on over a hundred comic short films of cinema's silent era, it creates a map of slapstick's vocabulary and traces how matter, things and machines transform and transgress boundaries between humans and objects. Beyond investigating slapstick's building blocks and comic strategies, it also challenges traditional narratives focused on male, Hollywood comedians by integrating the stories of female and European comediennes. Finally, by means of artistic practice it reanimates and re-circulates elements derived from this tradition and asks about its relevance today. In doing this work I take up a number of theoretical positions. I am challenging a linear, historiographical interpretation of silent comedy. Furthermore, I resist the traditional categorisation of the films into subgenres, like the European grotesque or the comedy film of the Transitional Era. Instead I focus on formal rather than historical links between tropes in the films. This text follows its own taxonomy, shifting the focus to an in-depth study of the agency of objects and destruction across silent film comedy. The conflation of historic film categories and periods allows me to rearrange the archive and engage comedians from different times and continents. By increasing the visibility of non-human bodies as powerful agents in my writing and practice, I engage with urgent ecological questions and technological acceleration. I argue that early comic film puts forward micro-political practices like notions of kinship with objects that can be appropriated to address these pressing issues. By focusing on the interconnection between entities over individualism, I place the project within the line of inquiry put forward in the philosophical project of Posthumanism. The thesis seeks to dismantle the Western hierarchical structure, which places the human atop the 'Great Chain of Being'. While laughter is disregarded as automatic and complicit with patriarchal ideology by feminist theorist such as Mary Ann Doane, this thesis reclaims the unruly, wild female body as capable of rejecting objectification and challenging gendered oppression in real terms. Laughter grants sudden insights and thoughts, as George Bataille and Wyndham Lewis have argued. Its ruination of meaning can rupture dialectical thinking and generate new thought. The project therefore argues against an understanding of comedy as a social corrective, as proposed by Henri Bergson. I engage these positions in my artwork through material and discursive practices. Through a body of new work consisting of films, objects and performances I show objects to be recalcitrant and unwilling and thereby challenge notions of human control. Drawing on comedy's fascination with archetypal objects and questions around elasticity and rigidity, I work with liquid rubbers, plastics including TPU and PVC, and helium. By collaborating with experts, including Foley artists and cloud scientists, I invite other voices and practices into the work so that new lines of thought can emerge between objects and words, reason and silliness and between technology and nature.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: W100 Fine Art ; W620 Cinematography ; W631 History of Cinematics