Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

May 7: Justus Nieland, Michigan State University

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar on Thursday May 7th at 6:30 to welcome Justus Nieland(Michigan State University) for his talk “Management Cinema: Film, Design and Communication in Aspen.” Nieland’s primary research includes modernism, film and media studies, and contemporary fiction. Additional interests include avant-garde and experimental cinemas, the film noir, film and media theory, theories of the affects and emotions, and modern architecture and design. He is the author of Feeling Modern: The Eccentricities of Public Life (U of Illinois Press, 2008), and David Lynch (Illinois, 2012), and co-author (with Jennifer Fay) of Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalization (Routledge, 2010). He is currently co-editor of the Contemporary Film Directors series at the University of Illinois Press. He is working on a book titled Happiness by Design, which explores midcentury designers' interest in moving-image technologies and their role in remaking the sensorium for the conditions of Cold War modernity. 

Nieland describes his talk as follows:

This paper explore the contours of a filmic modernism shaped at the International Design Conference at Aspen, a crucial institution for the midcentury merger of the corporation, the industrial designer, and a late-Bauhaus aesthetic retooled for American-style democratic liberalism. Founded in 1951 by visionary Chicago-based industrialist Walter Paepcke, chairman of the Container Corporation of American, the IDCA would quickly establish itself as one of the world’s most important design conferences, assembling a roster of famous designers (Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Herbert Bayer, Eliot Noyes, Paul Rand, and Saul Bass, among others), artists, educators, corporate executives, and scholars from a diverse range of disciplines for an annual, week-long series of conversations around a predetermined theme. In many ways, the conference was symptomatic of the new professional legitimacy and cultural prestige of the designer at midcentury, and what architectural critic and historian Reyner Banham once referred to as “the problem of affluent democracy” incarnated by the design profession and its expansive liberal optimism. But IDCA also emerged from its founder’s interest in broad-based, humane inquiry into the most pressing problems of the Cold War world “to-be-designed.” This world’s challenges would only be met by open-minded individuals who understood “design as communication,” and thus, thought beyond the limits of their disciplinary training and expertise.

Situating the IDCA as an institution within the Cold War pedagogical reforms with which Paepcke was also involved (both in his Institute for Humanistic study at Aspen and in his patronage of László Moholy-Nagy’s Institute of Design in Chicago), I turn specifically to the 1959 conference “The Image Speaks,” the first at Aspen devoted to the role of film as medium of communication. I demonstrate how the design profession’s increasingly prominent claims on the administration of culture at midcentury is evident in the apportioning of cultural expertise at IDCA, and in the conference’s growing investment in film and the moving-image as management technologies.  The paper describes a brand of designer film theory, and assesses its instrumental modernist vision—at once managerial and democratic, pedagogical and humanist.

The Chicago Film Seminar is held at DePaul’s Loop Campus in the Daley Building at 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Room LL 102, using the State St. entrance located at 247 S. State.

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