Benjamin’s method of analysis appearedstunningly close to the work of experimentalpsychologists. It is not a coincidence thatHugo Münsterberg, who used a bevy ofcinematographic-like instruments in his laboratoryof experimental psychology, also wrote one ofthe first books defending the artistic value offilm.
For decades, the main task of experimentalpsychology was to explain the link (or disconnect)between
. Perceptionand reality were installed as privileged topics foranalyzing the relation between art and science.For certain artists, they were two categories thatrevealed the power of art and the deficiency ofscience. For some scientists, they often revealedthe power of science and the deficiency of art.Many practitioners and critics settled on a neatdivision of labor where art was charged withinvestigating perceived reality and science withreality
. Science and art, in the work ofHarper, no longer function in this capacity.From the first decades of the nineteenth centuryonward, many writers, philosophers, and scientistslamented the increasing transformation of theworld into an illusion. In the twentieth century,Oliver Wendell Holmes’s exclamation that withphotography “form is henceforth divorced frommatter” seemed more prescient than ever before.During the post-war period, many continuedtheir endless complaints and investigations ofthe gap between the world as it was actuallyperceived and the increasingly rarified scientificdescriptions of it. The dominant philosophicalschool that developed during that period—phenomenology—was wholly designed to reversecontemporary hierarchies between reality andperceived reality. Even artists themselves wereenlisted into this mission—buying into the globaltask of revealing, twisting, or playing with thelaws of perception. Early scientific laboratoriesfocusing on spectacle, like Münsterberg’s, gaveway to amalgams between factories, studios,and laboratories.
The century ended with theparanoid fight against the simulacra described byJean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida’s obsessionto join “the world” and “lived experience” withwhat he called the “trace.”
Harper’s work no longer revolves around thetired intrigue of perception versus reality. In herart, the central plot—and the main categories ofinquiry—are radically different.In the 1960s the entire plot of a blockbustermovie could revolve around the theme of realityversus perception. A scene would climax with thecamera’s zooming-in on a photograph that wassuccessively enlarged for the thrilling search formore and more information. The plot would startto unwind after reaching a critical point,
whenthe selfsame photograph became so grainy thatnothing more could be seen. In this way, viewerswere captivated by Michelangelo Antonioni’sfilm “Blow Up” (1966), when the main characterfound evidence of a gun murder by enlarging andenlarging photographs.Obtaining new evidence through the successiveexpanding and sorting of photographic imagesconcerned astronomers and nuclear physicists asmuch as Hollywood producers in a society thatrevolved as much on spectacle (as described byGuy Debord) as on surveillance (as described byMichel Foucault). It seemed utterly thrilling torealize that images contained information andthat a noise-to-signal ratio impeded total recall.It was exciting to see how this logic was based onthe laws of thermodynamics—the same ones thatexplained why the countercultural lives of artistsin the‘60s also ended in dissipation and disarray.ike all good stories, this one had its own moral.Blow up, or in broader terms, the thrill of thinkingthat something can be found in an image—evenat a price—seems quaint when we considerHarper’s work. Not only does her work ask
.3. Giuliana Bruno, “Film, Aesthetics, Sci-ence: Hugo Münsterberg’sLaboratory of Moving Images,”
36(2009).4. Peter Galison and Caroline Jones A.,“Factory, Laboratory, Studio: DispersingSites of Production,” in
The Architectureof Science
, ed. Peter Galison andEmily Thompson (Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press, 1999).5. Jean Baudrillard,
Simulacra and Simulation
, The Body, in Theory(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,1994). Originally published in 1981.Derrida described the “trace” as alink between the “world” and “livedexperience”: “The unheard difference …(between the ‘world’ and ‘livedexperience’) is the condition of allother differences, of all other traces, andit is already a trace.”Jacques Derrida,
, 1st American ed.(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UniversityPress, 1976), 65.
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