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Cinematic affect in a time of ecological emergency

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posted on 2019-02-21, 00:07 authored by Denton, Andrew Beyer
Cinematic Affect in a Time of Ecological Emergency is situated within a moving image practice that applies methods aligned with essayist cinema and video installation, as well as historical avant-garde film. The project was initiated in response to subjective experiences of ecological devastation, which induced a personal state of melancholy. It works from the position that another tactic for progressing discourses around anthropogenic climate and geological change might be poetic or affective modes that are often present in the aforementioned moving image practices. The research aims to eschew ‘fact’ based representational modes, for contemplative, expressive and ambiguous registers of visual and aural inquiry. The iterative studio practice is composed of a range of moving image experiments and approaches, including extensive field investigations in locations linked tenuously or specifically to fossil fuel production and consumption. Through research into a variety of cinematic devices, conclusions were reached, which led to the application of creative constraints in the composition of the works. These techniques include, high-speed cinematography, ultra-long or ultra-wide lenses, formal composition and camera movement. The project has been guided by the belief that the sensate realm holds greater political potential for filmmakers than tactics that use didactic means to tell a ‘story’ about the crisis. Thus, the project has explored in some detail the concepts of affect and sensation, through the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze. In addition, it locates theoretical provocations that have contributed to my thinking and making, with the objective to reveal the political potential of grief (Judith Butler) and the ‘politics implicit in aesthetics’ (Jacques Rancière). Rancière’s notion of the invisible becoming visible at a moment of rupture and Butler’s argument configured by Levinasian ethics and her post-9/11 experiences of living in the United States have been important influences. Writers and thinkers whose discourses are focussed on the subject of the ecological crisis situate the subject historically with the help of Felix Guattari’s transversal ‘ecosophy,’ while Timothy Morton’s ‘Ecological Thought’ and Jane Bennett’s ‘vital materialist’ positions are enlisted as methods for reflecting on the ‘uncanny’ experience of living in a time of ecological emergency. From the position of thinking through the poetic and political potential of art, Cinematic Affect in a Time of Ecological Emergency has turned to Robert Smithson, Agnes Denes and Buster Simpson. Chantal Akerman, Chris Marker and Werner Herzog provided insights into essayist modes of cinema through their distinct methods of practice. Chris Welsby’s and Richard Mosse’s films and installations are reviewed in relation to their capacity to extract the invisible and make it seeable through the material. The creative outcomes produced during this research are two video works. The first, Crude, is an essayist film that attempts to see and hear some of the elusive signs of anthropogenic climate change in order to make what is invisible, visible, to evoke contemplations on the subject of ecological crisis, through affective cinematic devices. Crude is accompanied by Flight, a series of filmed passenger jet stream or contrails — forming a database of a particular type of human presence and movement. The work seeks to evoke a space of contemplation, uneasiness, and sadness by engaging with the residual and stratified signs of our collective impact on our environment.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jan Bryant

Additional supervisor 1

Michael Vale

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture