The vision politic : the multiscreen film presentations of Charles and Ray Eames

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Schuldenfrei, Eric Henry 

In this dissertation I consider the broader discursive context that led the designers Charles and Ray Eames away from producing goods for conspicuous consumption and into information design. During an intensive five-year period starting just after the launch of Sputnik, the Eameses employed multiscreen film as a means to generate a desire for capitalist-style consumerism in the USSR and to promote progressive education in the US. Throughout the dissertation I will argue how creating this new mode of communication dramatically altered the Eameses' own thinking, growing from a means developed to engage the audience to an instrument testing an alternative pedagogical model. Although numerous film directors had created multiscreen environments before the Eameses, I contend that their predecessors had not significantly deviated from traditional cinema and, therefore, did not sufficiently exploit the possibilities of the medium as ensemble. This dissertation will show how the Eameses' films were constructed to actively cultivate the public's intellectual capabilities as interpolative agents between production and consumption - a shift in the very idea of pliant subjects. I examine methods that not only address the desires of the ideal consumer, but models that envisioned the needs of the ideal producer. Rather than understanding the subject or citizen as a customer, within this dissertation I reposition the discourse to explore the ramifications of interpreting the social collective as potential creators. I argue that the consequences of the Eameses' multiscreen films are far more nuanced than most historians have ascribed and that critical evidence has been discounted or ignored that demonstrates how the films' productive purpose was to incite the creative capacity of all individuals, striving to erase the disparity between consumers and producers. It is this configuration which is so relevant t oday, as the structural divide between those who consume and those who produce continues to become less distinct in our global and technological economy. Through examining the historical and discursive context that shaped the instruments and apparatuses we commonly use today in the production and dissemination of cultural products, I believe that new opportunities might be identified. As such, this dissertation functions as a mechanism to further conceptualize the potential of the consumer I producer.


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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge