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Geometrical forms in fiction

Formes géométriques en fiction

Checkerboards, grids and cubes, from cinema to art theory

Damiers, grilles et cubes, du cinéma à la théorie de l’art

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Published on Friday, December 21, 2018


Ce colloque interdisciplinaire vise à interroger la présence de volumes et de formes géométriques dans les films de fiction : non pas seulement pour leur rôle narratif ou esthétique, mais aussi pour les connexions qu’ils engagent avec l’histoire de l’art. En effet, grilles et polyèdres ont partie liée avec l’étude de l’espace, tant avec l’élaboration de la perspective à la Renaissance qu’avec la déconstruction de l’illusionnisme au XXe siècle. Au sein des films de fiction, ils tiennent un discours sur l’image que ces journées s’attacheront à analyser.


28-30 November 2019


The goal of this interdisciplinary conference is to examine the presence of geometrical volumes and forms in fiction films, not just for the narrative or aesthetic role they play, but also in terms of their connection with the history of art. Grids and polyhedrons are, of course, integral to the study of space, whether in relation to the discovery of perspective in the Renaissance, or the destruction of illusionism in the twentieth century. When found embedded in fiction films, these forms engage a discourse on the image which this conference seeks to analyze.

A wide variety of films and film sequences are relevant to this approach. The numerous visual grids which imprison the characters of Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Woman Prisoner, 1968) and Dario Argento (Deep Red, 1975), as well as the enigmatic checkerboards in The Night (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961) and Agnès Varda’s Les Créatures (1966) all come to mind. Then there is the equally haunting inscrutability of the silent monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) and the horror inspired by the cube which figures in the film of this name by Vincenzo Natali (1997).

Although rarely analyzed in cinematographic studies, the history of these forms is far from trivial. From the visual grid to the opaque cube, what all these designs have in common is their role in the history of art and the optical sciences, and even in games. They articulate the space necessary for the representation of the human form, and simultaneously invoke the processes of abstract thinking.[1] Indeed, these tools for creating and organizing visual space (Dürer’s nets, the architectural frames of Mantegna or Uccello, the checkerboard floors found in Giovanni di Paolo or Filippo Lippi) are being used, several centuries later, to convey the dismemberment of narration and of figuration in art. Breaking with the art of the past, Rosalind Krauss conceptualizes “grids” as a manifestation of the silence of twentieth-century art, its repetition of similar patterns, its hostility towards literature, narrative and discourse.[2] And although rescued by twentieth-century modernist thought, these forms have also engendered studies of visual forms across time. For example, Éric de Chassey frees the grid from modern art and uses it to trace the long pre-history of abstraction,[3] while Jean Clair has published a study of checkerboard iconography from the Renaissance to Marcel Duchamp.[4]

Caught between optics and physics, the material and the spiritual, reality and abstraction, these designs are the drivers of conflicting histories of art, and of contradictory strategies for writing and analysis. In 1997, Hubert Damisch through his project “Moves”, suggested a new approach to the telling of art history by displaying works from the Boijmans van Beunigen museum in the shape of a chess board. The museum became a site where the historian could reinvent the forms of his discourse, while simultaneously emphasizing both the playful and the scientific dimensions of his discipline.[5] These are the types of fresh approach that will be applied to fiction films.

This conference will therefore be looking at the meanings of these geometric patterns in the development of the fiction film, the ultimate site where narrative and figurative art continue to exist. How is the contradictory nature of these patterns, poised between abstract expression and the science of optics, exploited in the fiction film? How do these tautological forms, which initially appear self-referential, shape the course of the film narrative? How do they contribute to the conceptualization of space when projected in the cinematic environment? Do they imprison the beings who experience them, or offer them new freedoms and additional spaces to explore? When the grid becomes a cage, or the cube an unidentified flying object, the appearance of a pattern is no longer a mere visual form; it becomes a narrative one. These stories are conveyed through characters – or creatures – who are positioned as spectators, which furnishes rich material for analysts of visual history and aesthetics. The goal is to shed light on how the narrative patterns intersect with theoretical discourses about art.

Bringing together researchers from history, aesthetics, art and cinema, this interdisciplinary conference will create the opportunity to examine the relevance of the opposition between visuality and narrative at the crossroads where these disciplines meet.

Lines of enquiry

All forms of fictional film are relevant, regardless of era or geographic context:

  • A variety of approaches to these patterns and forms are possible: as objects (setting, accessories, costumes) and architectural elements. Or from the point of view of the effects of the image.
  • Proposals must address the connections between the fictional uses of these patterns in film and in art theory.
  • Particularly welcome are methodological studies of the ways in which cinema provides a commentary on the telling of art history: how can these narrative film sequences be related to the theoretical discourses whose designs they share? Conversely, do we find representations within the theoretical and historical texts which treat the same patterns?
  • One problematic which could be illuminated by this interdisciplinary discussion of fiction films and art history is the relationship between the mutism of modernism and the loquaciousness of cinematic fiction.

The conference will take place in Lille from 28th to 30th November 2019, partly at the LaM (Lille Métropole, musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut).

Organizing committee

Jessie Martin et Joséphine Jibokji, Université de Lille, Centre d’étude des arts contemporains (CEAC), Barbara Le Maître, Université Paris Nanterre (HAR).

Scientific committee 

  • Bruno Nassim Aboudrar (Pr. Sciences de l’art, Paris 3, LIRA) ;
  • Valérie Boudier (Mcf. Arts plastiques, Lille, CEAC) ;
  • Joséphine Jibokji (Mcf. Études cinématographiques, Université de Lille, CEAC) ;
  • Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt (Conservatrice Art moderne et contemporain, LaM) ;
  • Barbara Le Maître (Pr. Études cinématographiques, Paris Nanterre, HAR) ;
  • Jessie Martin (Mcf. Études cinématographiques , Université de Lille, CEAC) ;
  • Valérie Mavridorakis (Pr. Histoire de l’art, Paris-Sorbonne, Centre Chastel);
  • José Moure (Pr. Études cinématographiques, Paris I, ACTE) ;
  • Chang Ming Peng (Pr. Histoire de l’art contemporain, IRHiS) ;
  • Arnauld Pierre (Pr. Histoire de l’art, Paris-Sorbonne, Centre Chastel) ;
  • Luc Vancheri (Pr. Études cinématographiques, Lyon 2, Passages XX-XXI) ;
  • Caroline Zeau (Mcf. Études cinématographiques, Picardie-Jules-Verne, CRAE) ;
  • Serge Cardinal (Pr. Agrégé Études cinématographiques, Université de Montréal, La Création sonore).

With the support of :

  • Centre d’Etudes des Arts Contemporains (CEAC, EA 3587, Université de Lille),
  • Centre Histoire des Arts et des Représentations (HAR, EA 4414, Université Paris Nanterre),
  • Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion (IRHiS, UMR 8529, Université de Lille, CNRS),
  • LaM (Lille Métropole, musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut).

Submission guidelines

Proposals (title and 500-600 word abstract) along with a brief bio-bibliography (name, institution affiliation and important publications) should

be sent by 20 May 2019

to colloque.damiers@gmail.com.

Papers may be in French or in English.

Notifications of acceptance will be given at the end of June 2019.


[1] See, for example, the essay by Thierry de Duve “Performance Here and Now: Minimal Art, A Plea for a New Genre of Theater” on the “presence” of the minimalist volumes denounced by Michael Fried, in Open Letters, 5-6 (summer-fall 1983), p. 234-60.

[2] Rosalind Krauss, « Grids », The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernists Myths, Cambridge Mass. and London, MIT Press, 1985, p. 9-22.

[3] « Après la grille », Abstraction/Abstractions : géométries provisoires, Bernard Ceysson, Éric de Chassey, Camille Morineau et al., exhibition catalogue (Saint-Étienne, museum of Modern Art, 1997), Saint-Étienne, 1997.

[4] In his studies of Renaissance art (for example of the architectural frame in Mantegna’s Martyrdom of Saint Christopher, Méduse. Contributions à une anthropologie des arts du visuel, Paris, Gallimard, 1989, p.25) and of contemporary art (particularly in his texts on Marcel Duchamp which include an iconographical study of the checkerboard, ‘L’échiquier à trois dimensions’, Sur Marcel Duchamp et la fin de l’art, Paris, Gallimard, 2000, p. 111-133).

[5] Hubert Damisch, Moves. Playing Chess and Cards With the Museum, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 1997 ; Hubert Damisch,  L’Amour m’expose : le projet “Moves”, Bruxelles, Yves Gevaert, 2000 (Paris, Klincksieck, 2007).



  • Lille, France (59)


  • Monday, May 20, 2019


  • cinéma, histoire de l'art, analyse de film, théorie de l'art


  • Joséphine Jibokji
    courriel : josephine [dot] jibokji [at] univ-lille [dot] fr

Information source

  • Joséphine Jibokji
    courriel : josephine [dot] jibokji [at] univ-lille [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Geometrical forms in fiction », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, December 21, 2018, https://doi.org/10.58079/11kg

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