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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Lola Rémy, Film and Moving Image Studies

The “Universal Language of Images”: Interdisciplinary Assemblages in Postwar Experimental Cinema.

Monday, October 16, 2023
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room 362



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation offers a contextualisation and critical engagement with artistic practices that developed during the postwar period in North America (1948-1980), when the universalist discourse of the planet as a “global village” gained popularity across the Western world. As a cultural history of universalism and its fissures, this project places experimental cinema and visual culture exhibition within a network of interdisciplinary and multimedia investigations in communications, information technology, sociology, and anthropology. Filmmakers and curators drew from these networks to develop a unique visual grammar that embraced the principle of assemblage, bringing together disparate objects and data to produce new cultural meanings arising from their juxtaposition. This research situates experimental cinema within a larger universalist cultural movement. It provides a critical reading of a selection of curatorial and artistic practices concerned with the formulation of what Stan VanDerBeek termed “a universal language of images” through the analysis of three case studies: Harry Smith’s collection of objects, VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome, and the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67.

The chapters shed light on three modalities of the collection and display of data as means to formulate a global language of images: 1) the anthropological impulse to document the recurrence of visual symbols across the world through ethnographic collecting, 2) the focus on technologies of communications as receivers, collectors, and transmitters of information, and 3) the juxtaposition of photographs and artworks in exhibition scenography to formulate a global indigeneity. Despite the humanist impulse to connect people across cultures, the ethnographic and gendered “Other” often remains trapped and overlooked in archives and collections. Historical contextualisation and close archival research open these archives to multiple perspectives and interpretations, to show how their collections are the result of cultural encounters and unequal exchanges. These archives reveal that, paradoxically, forms of postcolonial discourses were born from the totalising impulse of universal projects. Identifying a universalist visual culture and its ideological limits paints a nuanced and inclusive history of the postwar period that accounts for its frictions and ambivalences.

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