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Masks and Thinking Images

Part of Unmasking Masks

© Bellamy

Masks and Thinking Images is the third panel discussion in Unmasking Masks, a one-day livestream event that explores the historic and artistic representations of masks. 

Analyzing their use in films, performances, and theoretical texts that question the ontology of images, this panel will explore masks as poetic objects of aesthetic theory and figures of theoretical discourse itself. It will approach masks as denkbildern, i.e. thought-images that affirm the heuristic dimension of images.  


10:30 AM Introduction
Chloé Kaczmarek 

10:35 AM – 10:55 AM The Power of Death Masks in the Post-Heideggerian Thought 
Anne-Gaëlle Saliot

Anne-Gaëlle Saliot, Associate Professor of Romance Studies and Core Faculty of Cinematic Arts in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University, will investigate the ways in which images of death masks have entered and provoked dialogues between the literary and philosophical imagination in post-Heideggerian French thought. They appear in philosophical essays focused on images and how they are related to the imago, most remarkably in Blanchot's The Space of Literature and in Jean-Luc Nancy's The Ground of the Image, in which masks serve as figurative allusions that probe Heidegger's reading of Kant and Sartre's reading of Heidegger. 

10:55 AM – 11:15 AM Wax Masks
Raymond Bellour, with Interpreter Nicholas Elliott

Raymond Bellour, critic and theorist of cinema and literature, Honorary Researcher at the CNRS in Paris, will explore figures and cinematic process in the film of Michael Curtiz, 1933.

In the Western imagination of the 19th Century, Marie-Antoinette serves a castrative function as someone whose specular image seizes the male subject, who is both the subject of discourse and the enunciator. Through a transformation by the cinematic process in The Wax Museum , she becomes both the heroine and the object of obsession of a mad sculptor who pursues the completion of his wax museum in order to push the limits of his fantasy. 

11:15 AM – 11:35 AM Mask Powers: Shamanism and Metamorphosis in Pascal Quignard's The River Bank in the Dark 
Stéphanie Boulard & Marie Vialle 

Marie Vialle and Stéphanie Boulard will discuss the use of a singular mask in Pascal Quignard’s performance The River Bank in the Dark, which was created at the Festival d’Avignon at La Chartreuse in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon in 2016. The performance involves two wild birds – a diurnal raven and a nocturnal owl – and images from paleolithic caves projected on stage, while Pascal Quignard reads and plays musical pieces by Simon Pease Cheney and Olivier Messiaen on piano. While Pascal Quignard is on stage costume-less and maskless, in the middle of the show, the actress Marie Vialle appears wearing an owl mask opening the performance to the question of masks and metamorphosis.

11:35 AM – 11:55 AM Studying Masks from Artifacts: Focus on a Method in Development
Claude Dessimond & Erhard Stiefel, with Interpreter Nicholas Elliott

For some years, part of the activities of Erhard Stiefel’s mask creation studio, have been increasingly oriented towards scientific research. In what the Master of art calls his "studio-laboratory,” lines of research, which give objects a central place, are starting to be defined. It is from the in-depth examination of the masks considered as documents, the study of their shapes and their uses, but also from data collected during the creation of the masks, that certain practical problems, historical or philosophical are thought out or “revisited.”

This archaeological approach to artistic technics for theater masks is currently being developed, through the search for a protocol for the scientific and technical description of a mask at the macroscopic scale, for the time being, in the reserves of the rare institutions that keep this type of masks. It continues in the studio as part of experimental archeology experiments, with the aim of reconstructing the shapes and colors of old masks, and thus better understanding their meanings, their uses, and their history.

11:55 AM – 12:45 PM Q&A
Moderator: Chloé Kaczmarek, with Interpreter Nicholas Elliott

Click here to watch the event:

Replay event: Unmasking Masks, Part 3 | French Culture

About the Speakers

Raymond Bellour is an author and honorary researcher at the CNRS (Paris). He has been responsible for the edition of the complete works of Henri Michaux in the Pléiade and curator of several exhibitions. His books include L’Analyse du film (1979); L’Entre-Images. Photo, cinéma, vidéo (1990); L’Entre-Images 2. Mots, Images (1999); Le Corps du cinéma Hypnoses, Émotions, Animalités (2009); La Querelle des dispositifs. Cinéma - installations, expositions (2012). He is a member of the film journal Trafic.

Stéphanie Boulard is Associate Professor of French Literature and Visual Arts at Georgia Tech (Atlanta). Her research focuses on literary criticism and word and image relations from the nineteenth century to the contemporary period. Author of Rouge Hugo (PUS, 2014), she has also published extensively on the works of 20th-21st-century French writers such as Pascal Quignard, Hélène Cixous, Claude Louis-Combet, Henri Michaux or Jean Genet. Her research explores different links and perspectives between the readable and the visible and between poetry and philosophical thought on topics such as migration and exile; (auto)portrait, identity and singularity, death penalty, monstrosity, violence and myths in contemporary French literature.

Claude Dessimond, Ph.D. Student – Université Polytechnique Hauts de France. He discovered mask creation for theatre in 2002, at the Laboratoire d’Étude du Mouvement of the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. He then became interested in the rare profession of the creator of masks for the theater, which he approached on his own given the lack of a specialized training center, and on which he has since researched for a long time. In 2009 he became assistant to master sculptor and creator of masks Erhard Stiefel, with whom he has since continued as a student learning sculpture and knowledge related to "theater masks." Ph.D. student in Art, Aesthetics, Practices, and Theory at the Université Polytechnique Hauts de France of Valenciennes, under Professor Amos Fergombé, his main case study is the studio of Master of Art Erhard Stiefel. As part of his doctorate, he was an associate researcher at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France from 2012 to 2015, describing historically and technically the collection of masks kept at the Department of Performing Arts. From 2013 to 2016, he was also a lecturer in the Performing Arts department of the University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis. He taught an "Introduction to the history of theater through the history of masks." He is currently teaching a polytechnic module on the theme of masks, entitled “Masks: Histories, social practices, creations.”

© Walid Mohanna

Nicholas Elliott is a writer and translator based in New York. His recent translations from French to English include two essays by William Marx, professor at the Collège de France (The Hatred of Literature, Harvard University Press; The Tomb of Oedipus, Verso, forthcoming), Michel Winock’s biography of Gustave Flaubert (Flaubert, Harvard University Press), a collection of conversations between Marguerite Duras and Jean-Luc Godard (Duras/Godard, The Film Desk), and several plays by Pascal Rambert. From 2009 to 2020, Nicholas was the American correspondent for French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. His writing on film has also appeared in BOMB, Film Comment, The Criterion Collection, 4 Columns, Extra Extra Magazine and collective volumes on the films of Chantal Akerman, Philippe Garrel and Ryusuke Hamaguchi. From 2018 to 2020, he was a member of the programming committee for the Locarno Film Festival.

Chloé Kaczmarek is a PhD student in French and Francophone Studies in the department of Romance Studies and a candidate in the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University. She is interested in translation studies, contemporary francophone experimental and documentary film, and theories of political ontology. Her research questions the epistemological and ontological value of film and visuality for contemporary discourses on race and social antagonism.

Anne-Gaëlle Saliot, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Romance Studies and Core Faculty of Cinematic Arts in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University. A French native, she was first educated in France at the Lycée Henri IV (Paris) and the Sorbonne, before receiving her DPhil. from Oxford University in the U.K. Professor Saliot’s research explores translations and migrations of cultural objects across epochs, and across geographical and linguistic frontiers. Her central concern is the need to investigate the relations between the nineteenth- and twentieth-century modernities and their common cultural imaginary. Her work encompasses literature, theories of the visual, film studies, and dance. She is the author of a book on the famous “Inconnue de la Seine” (The Drowned Muse, Oxford University Press, 2015) and the co-editor of the Cahiers de la NRF dedicated to Philippe Forest. Her second book (in preparation), Against the Grain. Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, François Truffaut, and the Nineteenth Century argues that the nineteenth century serves as a sort of political unconscious discernible in most of the central tenets of French New Wave and in the ceaseless productivity of its associated filmmakers. Her most recent research focuses on the perception and reception of Japan in French theory, literature, cinema, and dance from 1945 to present, and on the emergence of “néo-japonismes.” She has published on Maurice Blanchot (Cahiers de l’Herne), Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Alain Resnais, Maurice Pialat, Philippe Forest, and contemporary dance.

© Association of Masters of Art and Their Students

Erhard Stiefel, maître d’art and creator of theatre masks, was born in Zürich in 1940 and has lived in Paris since 1961. Trained in graphic design at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, he was auditor at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris and attended the school of pedagogue Jacques Lecoq. Associated with the Théâtre du Soleil since 1968 for the creation of masks, he has also participated in this field through the creation of eighty productions and collaborated with many artists such as the Argentine director Alfredo Arias, or in the United States, with the actor Tim Robbins. Internationally known as a mask collector and an expert of Japanese masks, he was the first Maître d’art in the field of Performing Arts appointed by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in 2000.

Photo courtesy of Marie Vialle © Richard Schroeder

Marie Vialle is a French Actress. Trained at the Ensatt, then at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’art dramatique de Paris, she has performed on stage with notable directors including Didier Bezace, Luc Bondy, Alain Françon, Jean-François Sivadier, André Engel and David Lescot. She has also appeared in several feature films (Inseparable by Christine Dory; Julie is in love by Vincent Dietschy; The Enchanted Parenthesis by Michel Spinosa and Ulysses and Mona by Sébastien Betbeder.) She directed and starred in three texts by Pascal Quignard and two texts by David Foster Wallace. She is currently working on a new adaption of Pascal Quignard’s text In This Garden We Loved.

This event is presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Atlanta, Duke University, Georgia Tech, and Vanderbilt University
with support from the Institut Français, the Beaux-Arts Nantes Saint-Nazaire (France), Les Maîtres d'Art (France),​ Descripto-Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France, the Atlanta Global Studies Center – Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta), the High Museum of Arts – Atlanta, Centro de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos – CEMCA (Mexico).