Forum dissects human figure across mediums

Take “The Artist’s Studio” by Vermeer and replace the painting’s Muse of History in a voluminous blue robe with a naked woman. Now replace the Dutch master and his canvas with a balding man in front of a camera. What was an oil painting from the 17th century is now a film frame from the 80s.

The Whitney Humanities Center will host a symposium Thursday through Saturday entitled “The Human Figure in Painting, Film and Photograph.” The symposium, which is a collaboration between the Film Studies Program and the History of Art Department, will focus on how and why the human figure has been represented in the three artistic mediums as the boundaries between the disciplines become increasingly permeable.

Lectures by professors on the depictions of the human figure in different media will be accompanied by screenings of films exploring the issues of identity, representation, time and the human body.

One of the organizers, Germanic Languages and Literatures professor Brigitte Peucker said the event is a response to the current interest in investigating the boundaries between the disciplines.

“The displacement of cinema by video and digital image raised the question of what authenticity is in visual art,” Peucker said. “Now film is going back to painting and contemporary artists are incorporating digital art through installations involving films.”

In the interplay between different forms of art, the human figure becomes both the subject of artwork and the link between media. The symposium will examine how the human body is used for artistic expression while figuring as an anchor between the disciplines.

Comparative Literature professor Dudley Andrew, one of the organizers of the symposium, said the pose is one of the central themes that will be explored.

“Historically, people used to pose for paintings,” Andrew said. “The photograph is more random because it captures a moment, but people also pose for photos. Even films are made of carefully set-up poses. Films often freeze and people end up posing in a tableau vivant.”

The symposium will address how the human figure can be layered through several modes of media. In some cases, this is done by placing an artwork at the center of a film frame, such as Vermeer’s “The Artist’s Studio” transformed by director Peter Greenaway into a frame for his 1986 movie “A Zed & Two Noughts,” which will be screened Friday evening.

Other films depict the creation process of a painting, such as Derek Jarman’s “Caravaggio” and Jacques Rivette’s “La Belle Noiseuse,” which will be screened on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Still others, such as the works of Dreyer, Bresson and Fassbinder, can be interpreted with the vocabulary of painting because of the intensely visual quality they give to their depictions of the human face and body.

History of Art professor Alexander Nemerov, who will give a lecture as part of the weekend symposium, said he will examine how and why director John Ford quoted American painter Frederic Remington in his Oscar-winning Western “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”

“The film shows the body as a constant, subject to changes and given to the historical moment,” Nemerov said.

The symposium will involve speakers on nine specific inter-art cases and five film screenings.

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