Below the Water Line. Scuba Diving with the Austrian Cinema
The Austrian cinema has most different ways of staging the sea, depending on the date of origin and the context of the respective movie production. The conception of submarine space and of sinking are regular and recurring elements in many of the movies, and distinguishing the genre. Three lines of orientation can be seen as dominant in the thematic employment of the submarine: the military, the artistic and the scientific reflection provide kind of a broad yet permeable and liquid typology. On the basis of these three lines and corresponding examples, the developments and contexts of the submarine in Austrian cinema will be presented and discussed.
The Sea of Versailles
Although Louis XIV. and his landscaper André Le Nôtre were never able to realise their plan of connecting the grand canal in the palace garden of Versaille to the Atlantic, a sea of Versaille nonetheless emerged, triple-charge and derestricted, establishing a passage to the oceans and the colonies for the King. The Sea of Versaille was a place of imagination, soaked up in fabulous tales, sustaining the sovereign’s mythical corpus. It was a place of claiming influence in foreign affairs, manifesting itself in France’s armada policy, heralded by an increasing number of vessels in the grand palace garden canal. And it was a place of inner political acknowledgement for the King whose power was reinforced through a ceremony involving in its entireness the castle, the garden and the grand canal, therefore granting the King and his people a place in the dress circle (André Félibien) among the peoples of the world.
Jules Verne’s Maritime Delight
Jules Verne’s water vehicles are always emblems of a paradox unity of absolute movement and absolute stability. Mobilis in mobili is the motto of Captain Nemo; standstill occurring as shipwreck, freezing, freezing or starving to death, suffocating pose the biggest threat to all of Verne’s seafarers. Especially unimpeded movement is the precondition for the idyll, the complete happiness in confinement. Encased in their ships or submarines the travellers have the highest possible number of objects at their hands (R. Barthes). Especially at and under the sea empires – or their parodies – are founded, their territories measured with the latest apparatuses and established within a net of coordinates, their inhabitants classified by maritime taxonomies but also systematically wiped out. The dynamic perception of space at sea mutates into a totalitarian concept of space domination, reflected in Verne’s novels in the figure of the ‘captivated’ observer and the observing captive. The author seems to be rather fond of in the end literally blowing up mobile systems and maritime regimes: the submarine of the order-obsesses anarchist Nemo is buried in a volcanic eruption, the propeller island of the tax exile billionaire torn to tatters when the kettle of a steam engine explodes.
On the Bottom of the Sea in Helgoland. Maritime Topologies of the early Radio
Ever since its appearance in the early 1920s, the radio entertains a liking for the ocean. As early as in 1908, Adolf Slaby wrote a whole book about the happy hours he spent exploring the electrical ocean1, and the early radio plays also stage cable catastrophies at sea and the first reports cover the bottom of the sea in Helgoland. This affection for the maritime is due to the interaction of two space concepts, parlous with regard to the ability of establishing order in fostered spaces: the sea and airwaves. The talk will present radio as a heterotopic place in the sea of airwaves, opening spaces between deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation which are haunted by interference, malfunction and noise, and in which one experimentally practices a “culture of danger” (Foucault).
Fish & Chips. Sampling Swarms by Media.
The biological investigation of fish swarms is relatively young. The first studies exploring the possibility of treating swarms as ‘research subjects’ only appear at the end of the 1920s. These approaches apply various technologies and experimental systems for which swarms repeatedly pose an explicit problem with regard to media: first as a question of recognition, and second as a question of how to represent a ‘semi-thing’ or non-object, continually withdrawing from identification and objectification. Examining the shift of epistemological strategies »from measurement to models« regarding fish swarms, media theory dares to jump off McLuhan’s surfboard beath the surface of the sea: to where swarms as smooth spaces are doubling the smooth space of the sea. Yet, the intensities and movement vectors of this second smooth space are only made operable through the serration and sampling of the sea. Swarms are smooth space made of serrated space, they emerge as figures of knowledge right at the intersection of fish tank walls, movie stills and sonar reflections, constraining the sea with regard to the media. This constitution of swarms as research subjects would be unthinkable without the computerisation of biology, interacting with a simultaneous biologisation of computer sciences, resulting in the usability of swarms as media themselves.
Twixt Land and Sea. The Boundary Layer of the Tidelands
Shores constitute a natural boundary between land and sea. It seems as if the territorial Nomos and his fundamental other, serrated and smooth space meet exactly at this line. That, in fact, the boundary is not a stable, discreet boundary and by no means a line, shows perhaps most evidently with a ‘boundary layer’ like the tidelands. Maybe it’s due to cyclical tidal forces, maybe to human intervention – the tidelands are a zone of intensity in within which earth and sea, territorial and naval supremacy, national and international law have always been intertwined. This region is a borderline case, not just in ecological, legal and nautical terms. We are going to demonstrate by means of some episodes of the history of seafaring that it is the tradition zone par excellence in cultural, social and political terms. Up until the era of aviation and space travel the coast was the intermediary third party between the land and the sea, as interstice particularly mirroring the mutual relationship of the two.
The surface of the sea has always been a treacherous image carrier, commenting in each depiction the pictorial character of the picture - to the point of disintegrating the conception of the image carrier as a geometric area in favour of a vibrating and oscillating screen, a noise on a channel in contrast of which all figuration has to stand out yet to again disappear in it. On the basis of copper engravings of the 16th and 17th centuries (like Brueghel’s Vaisseaux de mer series) and with various objects of the fine arts we are going to explore how the surface of the sea collapses images.