Top: Eadweard Muybridge, Athletes, Twisting Summersault, 1878-1879. Middle: Claude Monet, Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond, ca. 1920Bottom, left to right: Ernst Haas, Helen Frankenthaler, 1969; Marcel Duchamp, 3 Standard Stoppages, 1913-14; Aaron Siskind, Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation No. 37, 1953.

Monday, February 7, 2022 - 3:00pm to 5:00pm



Meeting ID: 920 6350 5353

Passcode: 295708

DISSERTATION DEFENSE - Miriam Ashkin Stanton, "Gravitational Imagination: Picturing Suspension from Eadweard Muybridge to the Space Age"

Resisting gravity holds an allure. Translating that appeal to the realm of art history, my dissertation charts modern aesthetic efforts to channel and challenge gravitational force—casting suspension as vital to modernism. I contend that new modes of pictorial time—and, in turn, novel possibilities for embodied engagement—emerged once photographic technology accelerated enough to catch airborne bodies and hold them aloft in the space of an image—documenting a potential which was actualized in the Space Age, when humans first experienced sustained weightlessness. Tracing an ungrounded sensibility that emerged between these nodal points, my project offers a thematic account of how gravitational disruption coheres in pictorial composition and perceptual effects—drawing upon a range of interdisciplinary sources and period voices. From Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of figures held in momentary flight to artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Marcel Duchamp employing and subverting gravity by dropping their materials, and from Claude Monet’s “upside-down” waterlily paintings to Aaron Siskind’s levitational midcentury imagery, my chapters posit the rise of a form of suspended viewership—which does not presume grounded-ness or fixed coordinates, either within artworks or on our part. Once gravity became dislodged in visual representation, these case studies show, formal axes were opened to more symbolic creative dimensions. With that metaphoric tenor, this dissertation defines a pictorial suspension ripe with potential—and charged with the power to resist seemingly inexorable forces. Materializing a stillness that arose in the face of modern momentum, the objects at its core open space for a “gravitational imagination”—founded in the world but also challenging its limits.