UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making light : criticality and carousel projection in the work of Marcel Broodthaers and Allan Sekula Loewen, Nicholas


The invention of the Carousel slide projector made it possible for artists to create looping slide sequences for continuous display in contemporary art galleries. Slide projection already had a strong association with institutional and educational use, however, and a growing association with corporate marketing. How could artists use slide projection without having their work coloured by the medium’s existing connotations? This thesis discusses two early slide sequences that demonstrate a proactive approach to this problem. Marcel Broodthaers’ Bateau Tableau (1973) critiques art history’s role as institutional gatekeeper and interpreter. In an absurd recreation of an art historical slide lecture, a single painting is repeatedly re-photographed until it is utterly defamiliarized, reduced to its basic materiality, refusing any art historical “reading” of the painting. Allan Sekula’s Untitled Slide Sequence (1972) recreates the set-up of the film Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, but replaces the Lumière factory with an aerospace plant where workers manufacture fighter-bombers, transforming the industrial optimism of the original film into a condemnation of the military-industrial complex. These works show how artists turned the slide projector’s institutional and corporate connotations to their own ends. They also show that the projection apparatus itself can help to support this kind of critical project. The intermittent interruption caused by the projector’s automatic advance, in particular, draws attention to the mediating presence of the apparatus in a way that allows artists to comment on the technology itself, and to critique the way that the device’s connotations influence viewers’ perception of the images that it reproduces. A discursive assessment of slide projection’s historical relationship to other technological media, especially film projection and digital slide software like PowerPoint, shows that analogue slide projection is particularly well suited as a platform for this type of critical artistic commentary. The early history of slide projection is thus of ongoing relevance: as “new media” become increasingly important in contemporary art, artists continue to grapple with the challenge of using technologies with pre-existing institutional or commercial associations—making it important to understand the strategies that artists have used to navigate this challenge in the past.

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