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Science on Screen: Shorts on Attention

Friday, Apr 26, 2024 at 6:30 pm

Location: Bartos Screening Room

With historian of science D. Graham Burnett, professor of humanities and media studies Jonathan Beller, and filmmakers William Wiebe and Sheri Wills in person 

This program of short films explores the myriad ways our attention can be focused or unfocused by the moving image. This choreography of attention can be traced across the history of cinema, while the human capacity for attention sits at the heart of contemporary anxieties over capital, technology, art, and even politics. The screening will be followed by a conversation that will consider how the sciences of human attention have given shape to the sensory experience of the 21st century.  

Dir. Thom Andersen. 1965, 6 mins. DCP. The first film by experimental filmmaker, critic, and educator Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself) focuses on an ice cream sundae as it devolves into slush. 

Dir. William Wiebe. 2024, 10 mins. DCP. Filming within an eye-tracking platform funded by Meta, Fixation gives presence to omnipresent attention-manipulating media and how they affect what we perceive as real.  

Dir. Sheri Wills. 2023, 9 mins. DCP. Collaging found 16mm, tape loops, and audio records originally made by behaviorist B. F. Skinner, Iris explores how filmic techniques attempt to focus audience attention and the ambiguity that lies on the edges of perception. 

Annea Lockwood / A Film About Listening
Dir. Sam Green. 2021, 33 mins. DCP. This portrait of influential sound artist and composer Annea Lockwood challenges the notion of cinema as primarily a visual medium by grounding audiences in the moment.  

Grosse Fatigue
Dir. Camille Henrot. 2013, 13 mins. DCP. Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue presents a critique of the universalist ambition to represent the totality of the world. Set entirely on a computer desktop with accumulating layers of footage from the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the film highlights the very limits of the ways we take in information.

About the guests:

D. Graham Burnett is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History and the History of Science at Princeton University, where he is affiliated with the IHUM interdisciplinary doctoral program. His scholarly books on cartography, empire, optics, and the oceans have examined the changing understanding of nature from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Burnett is associated with the research collective ESTAR(SER) and the activist coalition “The Friends of Attention,” with whom he co-authored Twelve Theses on Attention (2022). His new book, Scenes of Attention: Essays on Mind, Time, and the Senses (co-edited with Justin E. H. Smith), was published by Columbia University Press in fall 2023. 

Jonathan Beller is Professor of Humanities and Media Studies and co-founder of the Graduate Program in Media Studies at Pratt Institute. He is also Distinguished Visiting Professor of English and of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. His books include The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle(Dartmouth UP, 2006); Acquiring Eyes: Philippine Visuality, Nationalist Struggle, and the World-Media System(Ateneo de Manila UP, 2006); The Message is Murder: Substrates of Computational Capital (Pluto Press, 2017) and The World Computer: Derivative Conditions of Racial Capitalism (Duke UP, 2021). He currently serves as Co-Editor of the international journal Social Text.


Tickets: $15 / $11 senior and students / $9 youth (ages 3–17) / free for MoMI members at the Senior/Student level and above. There is a $1.50 transaction fee per ticket for all online purchases. The cost of admission may be applied toward a same-day purchase of a membership. 

Order tickets. Please pick up tickets at the Museum’s admissions desk upon arrival. All seating is general admission.