yFile York Daily News: Cinema & Media Studies Graduate Conference Imagines Crisis

Cinema & Media Studies graduate conference Imagines Crisis

A still from "Notes From the Anthropocene"

How should we respond to the many kinds of crises facing society today? Concerns such as climate change, political turmoil and technological transformation present immense challenges to the imagination.

Imagining Crisis, a graduate conference taking place at York University Nov. 21 to 23, will bring together academics, filmmakers and activists to explore critically imaginative approaches to pressing global issues.

“This is the first international graduate student conference to be organized by York Cinema and Media Studies students and the Department of Film,” said Scott Birdwise, who co-chaired the organizing committee with fellow PhD student Chloe Johnson.

Imagining Crisis will feature seven panels and 22 presenters from across Canada, the United States, and Britain. Panel topics include “In Defence of the Future”, “War Games” and “Radical Identities”.The conference begins on Friday, Nov 21 at 2pm, with presentations continuing Saturday, Nov. 22 from noon to 6pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm in Nat Taylor Cinema, N104 Ross Building at York’s Keele campus.

York graduate student Samuel Adelaar will present a talk titled “Leviathan: Art in the time of hyperobjects”,which looks at the critically acclaimed 2012 documentary Leviathan in the context of global warming and “a metaphysics that displaces humans from the centre of the ontological universe”.

Joseph DeLeon (University of Michigan) will look at how the city of Detroit is represented in amateur media produced by urban explorers, or “urbexers”, who “aim to counter the dominant narrative of Detroit as emblematic of the Unite States’ financial, racial and urban crises”.

Other presentations include Katerina Korola (University of Chicago) on the question of moving-image spectatorship in the gallery space; Amber Christensen (York) on ideas of trauma and affect in the work of queer performance artist Heather Cassils; Eli Horwatt (York) on cinema piracy as a field of study; and Vincent Marquis (Courtauld Institute of Art, London/UK) on “the aesthetic of boredom” as a turning point in our conception of media arts.

McKenzie Wark

The keynote speaker is renowned media theorist McKenzie Wark, author of A Hacker Manifesto, Gamer Theory and The Spectacle of Disintegration, and professor of culture and media at The New School, New York City. His talk, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 22 at 4pm, will mark Wark’s first public presentation in Toronto.

“McKenzie Wark is a perfect keynote to inspire conversation around the theme of ‘Imagining Crisis’, particularly as he focusses on the representation of environmental crisis in contemporary mainstream cinema”, said York film Professor Brenda Longfellow, one of the event’s faculty advisers.

A still from John Greyson's filme

Wark’s address, “Cinema of the Anthropocene, will examine the anxiety engendered by environmental crisis as expressed in three recent feature films: the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt star vehicle Edge of Tomorrow, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.

The conference will also include an off-campus film screening. Screening Crisis, featuring short productions by Professor John Greyson and students and alumni of York’s Graduate Program in Film, takes place at the Free Times Cafe, 320 College St. on Saturday Nov. 22 at 7:30pm.

The program includes Greyson’s Gazonto, an Al Jazeera video of the week that re-imagines Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip as if it were an attack on Toronto; Terra Long’s (MFA ’14) speculative faux-nature film Notes From the Anthropocene, about mythic dinosaurs that resist domestication and seek to transcend fantasies of human dominion; and Elinor Svoboda’s dystopic fiction Merus Breach, in which radical sound technology is used to clean the earth’s air and water — but at a great cost.

The Imagining Crisis conference and Screening Crisis are both free and open to the public. For the full schedule, abstracts, presenter’s bios and venue information, visit the conference website.

Imagining Crisis is presented by the Graduate Program in Cinema and Media Studies, Norman Jewison Series, Department of Film and Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts & Technology in the Faculty of Fine Arts, with additional support from the Graduate Program in Political Science, Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought, and Faculty of Graduate Studies, York University.

Submitted by Daniel Cockburn, MFA candidate, Graduate Program in Film


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Keynote Presentation: McKenzie Wark

Saturday, Nov. 22

Venue: Nat Taylor Cinema @ York U

Time: 4-6pm

Cinema of the Anthropocene

Sometimes cinema has a way of expressing a structure of feeling obliquely. Perhaps some recent cinema has found ways of being honest about how audiences actually feel about the Anthropocene. By ‘Anthropocene’ I mean this period of time, perhaps of a deep time, in which the consequences of collective human labor’s impact on its natural conditions of existence are such as to undermine those very conditions. Perhaps certain films have had a way of expressing the anxiety and loss such the Anthropocene necessarily implies. It is as if we are all exiles now, with no homeland, even if of course some experience this exile in a far more catastrophic form than others. The three films I want to look at are the Tom Cruise / Emily Blunt star vehicle Edge of Tomorrow, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.

wark_mckenzie McKenzie Wark is Professor of Culture and Media in Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research. His research interests are media theory, new media, critical theory, cinema, music, and visual art. He is the author of A Hacker Manifesto, The Spectacle of Disintegration, Telesthesia: Communication, Culture & Class, The Beach Beneath the Street, among others.

Info on Vera Frenkel’s Transit Bar

What it is: . . . from the Transit Bar is “a seminal work of Canadian art” first built by Toronto artist Vera Frenkel in 1992, to represent Canada at the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Frenkel is a leading figure in contemporary art. The installation toured Europe throughout the 1990s, and was first installed at the National Gallery in 1996. She gave it to the gallery as a gift (and partial purchase) in 1997, and now it’s up again for the first time in Canada in almost 20 years. It sat in storage at the National Gallery for 18 years, and Frenkel was surprised and thrilled to learn this year that the many, fragile pieces of the installation had all survived intact. It continues to Aug. 17.

2 Materials: It is a room-sized, multi-media installation, including full bar with stools, tables and chairs. There’s a digital player piano, which visitors can play and even record their efforts for replay. (Play well, as the bartender has a remote that can turn the recorder on. Or off.) Embedded in the walls are video monitors, over which friends of Frenkel talk about migration. Newspapers, printed for the exhibit and published in English, Swedish and French, are spread about the bar. “I was already dealing with issues of migration, and thought it would be interesting to create an environment in which immigrants, refugees and locals would feel at home,” Frenkel says. She wants visitors to think about issues of culture and identity, and how we decide who we are.

3 Drinks: It is a real, working bar. Any gallery visitor of legal drinking age can stop in for a drink, during regular gallery hours. (Minors are also welcome, for soft drinks.) Serving alcohol has sometimes caused problems for Frenkel. In Kassel, where the installation debuted, a permanent bar in the same venue complained about the competition, as did another bar at the Power Plant, in Toronto. In Sweden, there were complaints the bar was open past regular bar hours. Is there no exemption for art? “I wish that were true,” Frenkel says, and takes a sip of scotch. The Transit Bar prevailed in all challenges, and kept on serving alcohol. At times Frenkel has served as the bartender, incognito. She says she enjoyed hearing patrons talk about the piece of art, never knowing that the artist who made it all was serving their drinks.

4 Fictions: Making the Transit Bar a working bar was essential, Frenkel says, as she wanted the fiction to seem real, and to encourage people to create fictions about themselves, as they sometimes do in transit. Most of all, she wanted people who were not immigrants to get a real sense of what it’s like to be displaced. The entire room is situated within a larger room, which is revealed by looking through holes cut in the wall, heightening a sense of displacement. “You’re standing in the middle of this installation, which is an artwork, a functioning bar and a fiction,” Frenkel says. “The false walls will remind you of the evanescence, the transient nature of that reality.” The monitors project video of people talking in various languages, and their speech is subtitled in three languages, but only one language at a time, and randomly.  As a result of all this, few visitors will understand all they see or read, and so to some degree everyone will “have the experience of being an immigrant or refugee,” Frenkel says.

Imagining Crisis: CFP

Imagining Crisis: York University Cinema & Media Graduate Conference, Nov 21-23, 2014

full name / name of organization:
York University, Toronto
contact email:


Imagining Crisis
York University Cinema & Media Studies Graduate Student Conference 2014
Toronto, Canada
November 21-23, 2014

Midway into the second decade of the 21st century, the term crisis has emerged as a dominant signifier, descriptor, and instrument of provocation and analysis. Crisis marks both a separation and a turning point, a break and a place of decision. In this light, crisis can be a critical tool, a means through which to imagine change, a site in which to work at questioning established limits (social, political, epistemological, ontological). As spaces of potential intervention in the given state of affairs, crises emerge from within and against a great variety of transitional moments, marking them as endpoints and/or origins.

Crisis can also be seen as the raison d’être of contemporary systems of control under neoliberal “24/7” capitalism. Indeed, in a world of “posts” (post: 911, “Axis of Evil”, economic collapse, Egyptian Revolution, Snowden, etc.), where economic, governmental, and mediatic forces of continuity now arguably absorb and integrate rupture and exception into their norms, have we reached a kind of crisis point of the very notion of crisis? Are we “post-crisis”? “Imagining Crisis” takes as its starting point the question of the crisis of crisis, and how to imagine crisis — to take on a crisis of the imagination — in way specific to our contemporary moment.

What kinds of questions and contingent answers does crisis — or the crises specific to our time, to our academic, activist, and artistic practices — provoke? Conversely, how can we question the very notion of crisis, or use crisis to imagine and bring into being new forces? How does crisis make things politically and socially visible; and how does crisis as a critical term reveal itself?

Crisis can offer cinema and media studies scholars, filmmakers, media artists, and activists of many stripes an experimental and diagnostic space for critique and research. For example: is film studies reaching a crisis point in terms of its role in academia or in relation to significant changes in its purported object of study (celluloid film and/or digital video)? For media artists, are the institutions of the art gallery or the film festival at a point of transformation or obsolescence? Do social media sites like Facebook and Twitter present necessary challenges to or opportunities for political and social activism? The multiplicity of ways in which crises present themselves as spurs and challenges to imagination and image technologies, as well as how crisis itself needs to be interrogated as a useful (or not) analytical term, is what “Imagining Crisis” seeks to begin to map out.

Topics for discussion and papers may include but are not limited to:

– film as a cultural and material object in a state of transformation, decay, and/or mutation;
– academic and disciplinary transformations and the challenges they pose to critical thought, practice and pedagogy;
– representations of ecological and environmental development and disaster in film and media;
– changes in social (sexual, moral, etc.) conventions as represented in film and television programs;
– the roles of attention, participation and/or boredom in the contemporary mediascape;
– the representation and/or the critical analysis of precarious labour and identities (immaterial and manual labour, union busting, small studios, etc.);
– changes in media platforms and social networks and how they have affected the practice of film criticism, history, and/or analysis;
– navigating the blurring of boundaries between privacy and publicity;
– temporality and historical change as located in/through media objects and discourses;
– the human, the animal, the posthuman, and the cyborg as (post)historical subjects.

We welcome papers that engage with the work of contemporary scholars and theorists like, but not limited to, McKenzie Wark, Rosi Braidotti, Alexander Galloway, Eugene Thacker, Wendy Chun, and Benjamin Noys. We also welcome filmmakers, media practitioners, and activists to present and discuss their work.

The confirmed Keynote Speaker for “Imagining Crisis” is McKenzie Wark, author of A Hacker Manifesto, Gamer Theory, 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International, The Beach Beneath the Street, and The Spectacle of Disintegration, among others. He is a Professor at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York City.

Please send a 300 word abstract, brief bibliography, and bio (with institutional affiliation, if applicable) as email attachments toimaginingcrisis@gmail.com by September 28, 2014.

Notifications about acceptance or rejection of proposal will be sent by October 1, 2014.

“Imagining Crisis” will be held at York University, Toronto, Canada from November 21-23, 2014.

The conference is cosponsored by Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts & Technology, York University.