Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference

  • Joshua Yumibe (Chair)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in or organising a conference


Recycled Media and the Occult

This panel explores the recycling of images and technologies in experimental and avant-garde media. Specifically, we are interested in how occult ideas often undergird this process of recycling. One approach to this issue has to do with the ways in which occult, magical, and/or mystical ideas about media often surround new technologies and media practices at their inception (e.g. the phantasmagoria, spirit photography, and spiritual telegraphy), and later media makers return to this material specifically to evoke and revivify these occult impulses, bringing them back from the past. Synaesthesia, for instance, has been a reoccurring motif in experimental media. A popular topic in the late 19th century, it was theorized not just as a means of talking about the cross-modal mixing of the senses but also as a way of demonstrating the interrelation of the spiritual and material worlds. Particularly in avant-garde media experiments with color, this occult notion (and often the media technologies and imagery associated with it) has been recycled repeatedly, from color organs to abstract cinema, and even in televisual experiments that connect 19th century media to 1930s dadaist manifestos.

Another approach has less to do with unearthing occult meanings in the recycled material, but instead places the emphasis on the process of recycling itself as having occult potential: old material takes on new meanings as it is retooled for new purposes. This is a frequent trope in archival and found footage films, from the repeated decadent uses by Kenneth Anger of recycled footage that magickly transforms through a new montage of sound and image, to the structural, back-and-forth recyclings of early cinema by filmmakers such as Ernie Gehr who, through temporal manipulation, introduce—or enhance—empathetic layers within archival footage.

As these examples suggest, the 19th century notions of synaesthesia, decadence, or empathy have been reoccurring and recycled motifs in the imagery of experimental media. Through the various papers on this panel, what we aim to delineate and compare are some of the different ways in which such occult-influenced notions structure ways of thinking historiographically and theoretically about recycled media.

Panel sponsored by the Experimental Film & Media Scholarly Interest Group
Period11 Mar 2011
Event typeConference
LocationNew Orleans, United StatesShow on map