Meadows lecture series explores utopias and the apocalypse

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Editor’s note, Sept. 17, 7:10 a.m.: This story has been updated throughout.

An image of an oil drum hits into the earth as blood squirts from the ground. In another film clip, a dancing woman deteriorates. The audience sat captivated as they watched these video clips on the wall during an art presentation in the Zhulong Gallery this week.

More than 30 people turned out for “From Man and his World” to the End of the World lecture by cinematic artist Michael Morris. Pollock Curatorial Fellow Danielle Avram introduced Michael Morris and warned the audience that the films were “weird, unsettling, and even a little disturbing.”

From “Man and His World” to the End of the World included films that touched on communism, capitalism, sexuality, war, and violence. Morris’ lecture was named after a film by Stan Vanderbeek that he wished to include in the series but is currently unavailable.

Morris, a University of North Texas adjunct professor, who has also taught at the University of Texas in Dallas, discussed the concept of utopia and apocalypse and how artists in film present those ideas. His presentation was based on of a theory by media arts theorist Gene Youngblood that “apocalypse is what may happen and utopia is what will never happen”. Morris then showed short films to illustrate that idea.

“I wanted to survey the way artists in cinema portray the threat of the end of the world and the dreams of utopia,” Morris told the audience.

His presentation included clips from seven films: “A Movie” by Bruce Conner; “Beirut Outtakes” by Peggy Ahwesh; “Notes from the Anthropocene” by Terra Jean Long; “Victory over the Sun” by Michael Robinson; “Gravity Hill Newreels” by Jem Cohe; and “Zinoviev’s Tube: Tape 2 of Inner Trotsky Child” by Jim Finn.

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Zinoviev's Tube, one of the films in Morris' lecture, discusses communism and displays capitalism as a parasite. Photo credit: Candice Bolden

“A Movie” and “Victory over the Sun” delved into religious and moral implications in an apocalypse, while “Beirut Outtakes” used film scraps rescued from Lebanon. “Anthropocene” focused on how aliens will view our culture’s love of dinosaurs after humans are extinct dies. “Gravity Newreels” used clips from the political movement Occupy Wallstreet, and” Zinoviev’s Tube: Tape 2 of Inner Trotsky Child” discussed criticized capitalism.

Bentley Brown, a film director, attended the lecture before he leaves to teach film in Saudia Arabia. Brown liked how Morris’ lecture took an imaginative look at the apocalypse but recognizes how watching these films could be difficult for a first time watcher.

“It takes some getting used to, in order to see an argument getting made,” Brown said.

Morris’ lecture was part of SMU’s A to Z: Abracadabra to Zombies exhibit and lecture series. The exhibit is at the Pollock gallery at SMU until Oct. 24. The next lecture in the series will be Sept. 22 with vintage photograph collectors Jack and Beverly Wilgus as the guest lecturers.

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