Terror, Security and Death – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Terror, Security and Death

Johan Grimonprez’s talk was a fitting punctuation to the Fisher Center’s theme of crisis because of his subject matter: terror, security and death, said Cedric Johnson, associate professor of political science and director of the Fisher Center, while introducing the final speaker of the 2009-10 Fisher Center lecture series.

It is appropriate that we end the Fisher Center with an artist,” Johnson said, “because the artist can cut to the heart of the matter in ways that social scientists cannot.

In his talk, “Maybe the Sky is Green and We’re Just Colorblind,” using his background as an acclaimed filmmaker, critic and professor, Grimonprez focused on the hyper-saturation of modern culture, examining through his films the ways the media and the constant barrage of images and sounds affect our perception and construction of meaning.

Drawing examples from his disjunctive films “Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y” and “Looking for Alfred,” which examine respectively the coverage of airplane hijacking in the media and the notion of doubling, Grimonprez discussed the relationship between montage and “zapping,” i.e. channel or Web surfing; the political “spinning” of information that goes into media coverage; our desensitization to words and images; and the role of the artist in addressing these issues.

“Where do the filmmaker and the media critic stand?” Grimonprez asked.  “Where do you make an impact on political life?”

For art and artists to “open the critical gap in mainstream media,” he argued that thinking for oneself, through rigorous analysis and questioning, is essential in avoiding the anesthetizing effects of media inundation and instead making sense of it all.

Having studied at the School of Visual Arts and attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York, Grimonprez achieved international acclaim with his film essay, “Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y.” With its premiere at Centre Pompidou and Documenta X in Kassel in 1997, it eerily foreshadowed the events of September 11th. The film tells the story of airplane hijackings since the 1970s and how these changed the course of news reporting. The movie consists of recycled images taken from news broadcasts, Hollywood movies, animated films and commercials. As a child of the first TV generation, the artist mixes reality and fiction in a new way and presents history as a multi-perspective dimension open to manipulation.

Grimonprez’s “Looking for Alfred” plays with the theme of the double through simulations and reversals.  The point of departure is the film director Alfred Hitchcock and his legendary guest appearances in his own films. Innumerable Hitchcock doppelgangers act out a mysterious game of confusion in which Hitchcock meets Hitchcock. This puzzling game of confusion also pays tribute to the pictorial cosmos of the Surrealist painter René Magritte. Looking for Alfred won the International Media Award (ZKM, Germany) in 2005 as well as the European Media Award in 2006.

Grimonprez’s productions have traveled the main festival circuit from Telluride, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, to Tokyo and Berlin. Curatorial projects were hosted at major exhibitions and museums worldwide such as the Whitney Museum in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich and the Tate Modern in London. Grimonprez’s work is included in numerous collections such as the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Kanazawa Art Museum, Japan, the National Gallery, Berlin and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark. Grimonprez is currently a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts and lives and works in Brussels and New York.

The Fisher Center was endowed with a $1 million gift from Emily and the late Richard Fisher, whose son Alexander graduated from Hobart College in 1993. Creation of the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men reflects a perfect intersection of the Colleges’ coordinate history and trends in the study of gender throughout academe.

The 2010-11 Fisher Center theme will be “Gender, Isolation and Imprisonment.”