Albert Speer’s Light Cathedral, one of the centerpieces of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, is routinely singled out as a defining instance of Nazi-fascist aesthetics. Yet, however indicative this spectacle may be as regards 1930s political aesthetics, such deployments of military searchlights for purposes of spectacle and mass persuasion, have a long history extending back to the 1880s and forward into our own time. As demonstrated in “Luminotectonics”, the history in question is a bifurcated one. On the one side stands the history of searchlights themselves as an element within the military arsenal that, starting in the late decades of the 19th century, becomes integral to the staging of spectacles of military wonder for civilian populations. On the other side stands the role of illuminotechnics in the development of modern architecture and art and, more specifically, the modern movement’s attempt to forge a new language of (counter- or trans-) monumentality. The story encompasses a wide range of phenomena from the electric pavilions of World’s Fairs to movie theater façade designs to Moholy Nagy's light-space modulators. Its labyrinthine path leads from the cathedral of socialism prophesied in Gropius’s founding manifesto for the Bauhaus to Speer’s cathedral to the Crystal cathedrals of contemporary televangelists to the vectorial elevations of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.
Before moving to Harvard in 2011, Jeffrey T. Schnapp occupied the Pierotti Chair of Italian Studies at Stanford, where he founded the Stanford Humanities Lab in 2000.A cultural historian with research interests extending from antiquity to the present, his most recent books are Speed Limits and The Electric Information Age Book (forthcoming with Princeton Architectural Press in 2011). Also forthcoming in 2012 are Digital Humanities: Theory in Practice (MIT Press), a book co-written with Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, and Todd Presner; Modernitalia (Peter Lang), a collection of essays on 20th century Italian cultural history being edited by Francesca Santovetti, and Italiamerica (Il Saggiatore), vol. 2, co-edited with Emanuela Scarpellini.
This lecture is part of the six-part series "Art and Technology" organized by Joyce Tsai and Kerry Oliver-Smith. For a full description of the series, see the poster here.
Center for the Humanities
and the Public Sphere
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
200 Walker Hall
P.O. Box 118030
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611