monstrous media/spectral subjects
Ninth Biannual Conference of the International Gothic Association, July 2009
Monstrous Media/Spectral Subjects, the Ninth Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association, was hosted at Lancaster University on 21-24 July 2009. It was the largest Gothic conference yet to be held anywhere in the world, with approximately 230 participants from at least 25 countries.
Papers presented drew from the fields of literature, creative writing, film, TV, theatre, dance, digital media, popular culture, art, music, fashion, Classics and even medicine. There was a pronounced contemporary focus, reflecting Lancaster’s own Gothic expertise, but the historical range comprised early eighteenth century to the present day (with a nod to ancient Greece and Rome on one panel) and a particularly strong showing from the later nineteenth century.
This breadth was reflected in the keynote speakers, each of whom had been chosen to represent a different field. On Tuesday Marina Warner opened the conference with a fascinating and gorgeously illustrated presentation on Orientalism and magic in Beckford’s Vathek. On Wednesday, Elisabeth Bronfen spoke inspirationally on the current media presentation of war and its refraction in zombie films. On Thursday, Christoph Grunenberg (Director of Tate Liverpool) gave a highly entertaining (and again, fabulously illustrated) talk about Gothic in contemporary art. Finally, the conference closed with Tanya Krzywinska’s dynamic and provocative discussion of horror videogames – including live demonstrations of the games – which one distinguished delegate referred to as the best defence of videogames as an art form he had ever seen.
There were also a number of special events staged throughout the week. Local site-specific artist Steve Messam created an installation especially for the conference, entitled ‘Cloud Cube’ – a cube-shaped structure filled with dry ice and red light that was inspired by the dual sensations of losing one’s bearings as the fog descends on the Cumbrian mountains, and attending Goth nightclubs. The red light also evoked alien life-forms and the interior of the human body – an uncanny experience on multiple levels.
On Tuesday evening, Mervyn Heard recreated a Victorian magic lantern show using authentic slides and equipment. Heard is a great raconteur as well as an expert on phantasmagoria, and enthralled a highly appreciative audience. On Wednesday, Gothic cupcakes in black and absinthe-green (decorated with little monsters, edible green glitter, and sparkly bats and ghosts) were served at tea-time, and media theoretician Sarah Kember ‘performed’ extracts from her fiction – presented as ‘authentic’ scientific case studies. After dinner on Wednesday evening, ‘Bizarre Magicians’ Stuart Nolan and Nik Taylor interacted with delegates in the bar area – ‘Bizarre Magic’ involves lots of story-telling, lots of strange and curious props, and is a little bit marvellous and a little bit sinister. On Thursday, cream teas were served in the Ruskin Library, which was opened late for delegates’ private viewing, and novelists Jo Baker and Paul Magrs and dramatist and screenwriter Daragh Carville read extracts from their work.
Finally, Thursday night ended with a DJ set from Paul Hodkinson, soon affectionately renamed the ‘Goth Disco’ – this was a raging success, with Paul heroically DJ-ing for four and a half hours and dancing going on until 1.30 in the morning. (Paul’s set list is available on his website at if you want to see what we were dancing to.)
There were even Gothic cupcakes designed for the occasion by Lancaster’s Yummy Cupcake Company – with icing in black and absinthe-green.
Event co-organiser Dr Catherine Spooner said the phenomenal response to the conference reflected the resurgence of Gothic in contemporary popular culture: “Gothic literature first emerged two hundred and fifty years ago, but in the twenty-first century it has diversified into other media, and is more popular than ever – look at the massive success of the Twilight books and films, or TV shows like True Blood and Supernatural and computer games like Silent Hill. The extraordinary range and diversity of the proposals we received shows that Gothic is also thriving as a subject of academic research.” In all, the conference surpassed our expectations and we are proud to have hosted such a rewarding and exciting event at Lancaster. For more information go to www.monstrous-media.com
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