On Wednesday, September 30th, I am curating a video installation by filmmaking and PhD candidate Dylan Cree (Communication Studies, Simon Fraser University) at Traill College. The aim of To Conference: Faux Pas in Perpetuity and Of Pornology is to internally critique both the institutional and social processes of knowledge-production within the Humanities.
Cree’s main target is late-20th century philosophy and the constantly shifting terrains of cultural theory: postmodernism, post-structuralism, hermeneutics, semiotics, and deconstruction. His characters engage in lively, heated, and nonsensical debates and employ theorists’ and philosophers’ names and their concepts to ends that only contain meanings internal to the participants.
Of Pornology is a short film documenting a fictional conversation amongst a group of intellectuals about pornography, taste, beauty, and the genre’s aesthetics. To Conference is the longer companion piece. The film is in multiple parts and will be installed in several different classroom settings.
Two of the “theorists” cited in Of Pornology, the filmmaker himself and his co-conspirator Violetta Sera, are interviewed by theorist and publisher of Semiotext(e) Sylvère Lotringer (fictionally portrayed by Reg Johanson). Lotringer attempts to systematize Cree and Sera’s diatribes against contemporary philosophy despite the theorists’ wishy-washy remarks, and disruptive behavior, and incomprehensible speculations.
In these two works, Cree highlights the potential separation between ordinary language and academic discourse – the latter is pushed to hyperbole. Characters speak over and atop one another, ramble theoretically in the midst of a nap, derail conversation with sidebars about Nietzsche and Hegel, and mistake personal taste for philosophical argumentation. Of Pornology goes as far as presenting onscreen citations from fictional and real-life sources, bringing the tactics of self-reflexivity, not unlike Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000), to comment on the usefulness of over-citation.
Cree, the filmmaker, turns humor into a weapon with To Conference and Of Pornology. Part Monty Python, part academic discourse gone awry, part Shakespearean drama, Cree abstains from direct criticism of the university and of academia, but nevertheless make the problems internal to these institutions apparent. To Conference, as indicated by the title, particularly wants its spectators to reflect on the nature of the academic conference. This is an institutional critique Cree has been pursuing since his MFA at SFU.
His MFA thesis, “The Conference on the Conference,” involved the conceptualization of a conference and an actual conference that, according to Cree, “involved a staging of the rules, procedures and the standard format for hosting a commonly conducted academic forum for exchange…. The Conference participants’ addressed what is often assumed, overlooked or purposefully omitted but nonetheless has become integral to the very form of an academic conference.” Cree’s thesis thus became a collection of the conference materials into an eight volume “brutish art-object.” He states, “The practice and gesture of these various institutional bindings led me to further reflect, not only on the terms of the repository destined to ‘contain’ the narrative of one’s scholarly investments but, on what may or may not be containable in the formation of and ordering of one’s thinking and presentations.”
Cree’s video works continue to reflect on institutional practices and knowledge-production. To Conference and Of Pornology operate in the satirical mode to (sometimes un-)critically evaluate the rules of academia, academic publishing, and the so-called authorities of cultural theory. In To Conference, to note the Shakespearean “plot” of the film, the characters go as far as killing Derrida as part of a larger book project for Semiotext(e).
Come see Dylan Cree’s video works at Traill College (Scott House, Wallis Hall, and Bagnani Hall) on Wednesday September 30th from 7pm to 10pm. There will be a Q&A with Cree and actor Dimitrios Otis at 8:30pm in the Trend. Food and beverage will be provided by The Trend. This event is supported by Traill College, Cultural Studies Undergraduate Program, and Trent Film Society.