Tom Gunning

Senior Fellow from april - september 2010
Tom Gunning received his B.A. in 1970 from New York University's Washington Square College, his M.A. in 1974 and his Ph.D. in 1986 from New York University. A recipient in 1993 of the Award for Excellence in Teaching given by the New York State Chancellor, Gunning taught at SUNY at Purchase from 1986 until 1993, when he joined the faculty at Northwestern. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, the University of Stockholm and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Fields of research
International early and silent cinema; American avant-garde cinema; Hollywood film genres; film and narrative theory; classical film theory; film and still photography; Japanese cinema; early cinema and the experience of modernity; directors' styles (especially Lang, Griffith, Von Sternberg, Hitchcock, Godard, Bresson, Borzage); film historiography; film exhibition and spectatorship; modernist cinema of the twenties (Soviet, French, and German).

Research project at IKKM

In an era of media innovation and transformation, more than our image of the future transforms; history, our sense of the continuities and fissures with past practices, also rearrange themselves. The rise of new digital media and new means of delivery of even traditional films has led some historians and theorists to proclaim the end or the death of cinema. One could just as easily proclaim cinema’s longevity within a transformed field of possibilities and therefore the need to rethink the subject of film history, questioning, for instance, its identification with photography or classical means of exhibition. Recent art works in new media has been exploring the nexus between new media and traditional cinema by incorporating film material into works in new media and by moving beyond the reference to television inevitable in the use of the monitor and exploring the spatial and spectatorial possibilities of projection (See the recent anthology The Art of Projection eds. Stan Douglas and Christopher Eamon and the exhibit “Beyond Cinema: The Art of Projection at the hamburger Banhof in Berlin in 2005).

In other words, rather than the replacement of cinema by so-called new media, I want to explore new media as a transformation of the moving image and its self-conscious attempt to rethink its historical roots. By focusing especially on projection, I want to de-emphasize the photographic as the essence of cinema (Kracauer, Bazin, Cavell) and deal more with the projection of light through space. Thus not only will I extend cinema’s contemporary history but also raise the archeology of the projected image beyond the nineteenth century back to the explorations of magic lantern and catoptric mirrors. The unique material (or non-material?) nature of the light-borne image, its unique sense of passage through space and of its relation to a variety of screens demonstrates the way cinema’s relation to new media need not be limited to a Darwinesque teleology, a process of utopian or nostalgic mourning. nor an exclusive focus on future possibilities, but rather initiate a new awareness of a broad historical tradition consisting of a new constellation of optical practices through the centuries.

Thus I want to research the centuries-old history of what is often (rather narrowly) referred to as the pre-history of cinema (or better, what Siegfried Zielinski calls the deep time or archeology of visual media and Musser terms screen practices), but also to think about this long tradition in terms of modern avant-garde practices (clearly, installations based in new media, especially those using projection, but also the experiments of the historical avant-garde from the early twentieth century – Duchamp, the Futurists, Thomas Wilfred—and the sixties – Fluxus, expanded cinema—and the cinematic avant grade cinema from Richter to McCall) as well as ways that even classical cinema and animation have evoked, portrayed and worked with the processes of projection (from Griffith to Minnelli to Hitchcock and Powell).

I see my project as involving, and indeed intertwining, a variety of approaches. Historical research into discourses and practices forms an important component of my work. But theoretical consideration of the ways this broader sense of the moving image revises traditional film and media theory, especially the attempts to define specific essences for each medium, will also make use of this research and consider it in a broader context. Most centrally, aesthetic analysis of individual works in cinema and new media will form a basis for exploring the phenomenological nature of experiences offered and solicited by these works their relation to vision space and the viewer.

This work is part of larger project for which I have received a Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award and which I will also begin in Fall of 2009 by research at the Getty Institute in Los Angeles (focused especially on their pre-cinema collections and within the context of their year-long focus on “Display”). I especially welcome the access to European and German archives the stay at the Bauhaus will offer, as well as the intellectual discourse it will make available to me. Although it will not form the main focus of my research, the relation of the historical Bauhaus in the twenties in articulating some of these issues is important to me.