Terror and the Inhuman

Curated by Beth Capper

In Conjunction with Terror and the Inhuman Conference, Brown University

“Terror and the Inhuman,” designed and printed by Muffy Brandt

“Terror and the Inhuman,” designed and printed by Muffy Brandt

How can we represent “terror” and “the inhuman” in film and media? And how do each of these terms make the other intelligible? Taking up these questions from multiple angles — and thinking through the mutable and shifting boundaries of both terms — this program charts some of the ways in which notions of terror and the inhuman converge. While some of these films and videos seek to examine how we represent and remember genocide, or to remind us of the historical dehumanization of black bodies, others seek to understand how war and terror are connected to consumer products and services (from pop music to plastic surgery), or to examine how different genres of fantasy (from animated worlds to internet and gaming cultures to post-apocalyptic speculative fictions to the atmospheric conventions of horror movies) reveal the entanglements and oppositions between humanity and its various others. These works, taken together, point to both the promises and limitations of the workings of “terror” and “the inhuman” as concepts which constrain and define the legibility of bodies and things beyond or outside normative ideas of the “human.” Yet they also make legible the instability of such norms.


“Peggy and Fred in Kansas,” Leslie Thornton, 1989, video, b&w, sound, 11 min
Leslie Thornton’s Peggy and Fred in Kansas is a multi-layered work and a sinister companion piece to the Wizard of Oz where two parentless children contently play house amidst a post-apocalyptic wasteland of cultural detritus, junk and outmoded electronics. Thornton refuses to cast Peggy and Fred’s existence as necessarily utopian or dystopian. Instead, the film explores what might be after the “terror” of apocalypse, a world beyond our social imaginary where representational and linguistic coherence has broken down.

“Meet Me in Wichita,” Martha Colburn, 2006, 16mm film on video, color, sound, 7 min
Martha Colburn’s Meet Me in Wichita takes the Wizard of Oz as its starting point in a frenzied animation where Osama Bin Laden is re-cast as every villain Dorothy encounters along the yellow brick road.

“Evil.16: Torture Musik,” Tony Cokes, 2011, video, color, sound, 17 min
Tony Cokes uses pop music and appropriated text to explore how Western pop music is employed in torture.

“Remote,” Jesse McLean, 2011, video, color, sound, 11 min
“In the collage video Remote, dream logic invokes a presence that drifts through physical and temporal barriers.There is a presence lingering in the dark woods, just under the surface of a placid lake and at the end of dreary basement corridor. It’s not easy to locate because it’s outside but also inside. It doesn’t just crawl in on your wires because it’s not a thing. It’s a shocking eruption of electrical energy.” – JM.

“Moviestorm Machinima Audition Tape,” jonCates, 2009, video, 8 min
“This piece is an experimental Machinima video remix of the Moviestorm Machinima authoring software with a bootleg porn audition tape leaked on the internet and critical theories of Gaming, Algorithmic Culture, Seduction and Enchanted Simulation. as well as being distributed on the Moviestrom Machinima website, shown in Media Art contexts (i.e. Material and the Code conference at the University of Chicago Film Studies Center, The Nightingale Broad Shoulders Tour, etc) it is also released on peer-to-peer networks under the file name of the original porn audition tape so that it can be downloaded/discovered this way as well.” – JC.

“Operation Invert,” Tara Mateik, 2003, video, color, sound, 12 min
Tara Mateik examines the use of botox in warfare and plastic surgery alongside the pathologizing norms governing sex reassignment surgery in order to ask whether gender outlaws are the new biological terrorists.

“Cicero March,” Film Group, 1966, b&w, sound, 16mm, 9 min
Cicero March by the Film Group documents a 1966 civil rights march in Cicero, Illinois over restrictions in housing laws and the clash between marchers and a white supremacist group that ensues. Here, hatred becomes the force through which white citizens define their humanity and claim their territory.

“Playing Dead,” Kevin Jerome Everson, 2008, video, b&w, sound, 1 min
Kevin Jerome Everson suggests that for some the only reprieve from terror is death, taking archival footage from the 1970s of an African American man who survived a racist attack by “playing dead” which Everson presents as a readymade.

“Twenty Minutes,” Kevin Jerome Everson, 2005, video, color, sound, 3 min
In Twenty Minutes, Everson charts Leonardo Da Vinci’s design for the Pulley to its use by black workers in the 21st century, reinserting raced labor back into histories of technological progress.

“Anne,” Jessica Bardsley, 2012, video, color, sound, 4 min
“Jessica Bardsley’s observational video seeks to investigate how the atrocities of the holocaust are effaced through tourism.” – JB.

“Kristallnacht,” Chick Strand, 1979, 16mm, b&w, sound, 7 min
Chick Strand evokes the terror of the Night of Broken Glass abstractly through a poetic layering of sounds that gradually recede to silence over images of water reflecting light.