The Arts & Humanities Festival 2013 in Tweets

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The Limits of the Human: Vampires, Werewolves, Serial Killers…

‘If we catch John Doe and he turns out to be the devil, I mean if he’s Satan himself, that might live up to our expectations, but he’s not the devil. He’s just a man.’

So says Detective Somerset to his partner in Se7en, a film which tracks the police hunt of a serial killer. Why is it, Professor Richard Dyer asks, that serial killers are so frequently associated with the supernatural – that we desire them to be supernatural figures?

The Italian word for serial killer is ‘il mostro’ – the monster; serial killers are frequently given nonhuman (or, perhaps more fittingly, inhuman) nicknames, from Peter Kürten aka the Vampire of Düsseldorf to Fritz Haarman aka the Werewolf of Hannover. Moving from what is probably the first film focusing on a serial killer, Georges Méliès’s Barbe-bleue, to more recent films such as Silence of the Lambs, Se7en and Antikörper, Dyer highlights the various supernatural associations these murderers have – with Barbe-bleue’s fairy tale connotations (and the threatening disquiet hidden within the seemingly innocuous phrase ‘fairy tale’) to the more overtly malign manifestations of the serial killer’s supernatural qualities in later films. Serial killers are frequently presented as possessing either superhuman or subhuman features. There is the unnerving intelligence of Hannibal (able to tease and manipulate victims and police alike), the superhuman strength of Gabriel Engel, and the animalistic nature of these killers – whether it’s eating human flesh or covering themselves in blood.

As suggested by Detective Somerset, Dyer argues that serial killers are typically associated with the supernatural – as beings whose humanness is called into question – because this ‘lives up to our expectations’. The enormity of such a crime can only be matched by a figure that equally goes beyond its confines, an entity that cannot be contained by a human body and human abilities but must be a supernatural or near-supernatural being. Dyer suggests that the horrific nature of mass murder exceeds our understanding of motives, raising the disturbing thought that the murderer kills simply because he/she enjoys it. So how do we deal with this? We transform or at least align the serial killer with the supernatural being. After all, what is more horrifying? The serial killer as an inhuman supernatural figure, or the serial killer as a nondescript uninteresting human – just like us?

Moving from a broad discussion of serial killers in film, Dyer then focused on the German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919). The film’s highly stylised set designs enhance the audience’s sense of unease. Do these sets present contemporary German society as damaged? Do they suggest it is not just German society but the entire world that is somehow twisted? That the film’s plot is narrated by a man confined to an insane asylum offers another alternative. Dyer raises the possibility that perhaps the corrupt nightmarish state of serial killing can only be truly comprehended through the lens of insanity or the lens of the supernatural. If we can only imagine the serial killer as a figure divorced from reality, a figure closer to a supernatural being than a human being, then perhaps too great a comprehension of the serial killer means we also become divorced from reality and so deviate from the normative human. The implication seems to be that mass murder pushes not only the serial killer but also the witness to the limits of the human.

Following Dyer’s lecture, the audience were treated to a showing of the film, accompanied by music from Stephen Horne (acclaimed silent film pianist based at the BFI Southbank).

Reviewed by Sophia Wilson, co-convenor of the Being Non/Human discussion group: http://beingnonhuman.wordpress.com/

Interdependence of Fate – Searching for “The t-group”: A playwright’s perspective

Jingan Young is a playwright originally from Hong Kong and a King’s alumna (BA in English with Film Studies Class of 2012). She is the first playwright to be commissioned in English by the 42nd Hong Kong Arts Festival to be performed in March 2014.

She was a member of The Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writer’s Programme and has won bursaries from BAFTA, BBC and ScriptFactory UK. Her plays have been performed at The Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, Jacksons Lane, Oxide Student Radio & The Keble O’Reilly Theatre. She is currently adapting Alex Preston’s first novel “This Bleeding City” for the stage and her production company’s first full production “THE T-GROUP” will run during the 2013 Arts & Humanities Festival October 13-23rd in the Anatomy Theatre & Museum.20130927_205100

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory” – Kurt Lewin, 1951

Incidentally the narrative of my play does not run along the lines of “the story of a league of middle-class clerics who meet every fortnight to discuss the benefits of rooibus tea leaves beneath the Harvest Moon.” The “T” stands for “training”. In 1946, med-school dropout, Polish immigrant and social behavioural theorist Kurt Lewin (b. 1890) drew upon Gestalt psychotherapy (uhuh) in order to provide a “new and improved” version he proclaimed “field theory” which, in a nutshell, denotes behaviour as interdependent to the individuals and their surroundings. Got that? He also came up with the rather fabulous three phase change management model:

Unfreeze – transition – freeze

Throw in some map-making and according to Lewin you can predict, facilitate or manipulate bad or good behaviour, holding hands even. If you wish to delve further into the methodological waters of decision-making here is a rather thorough going albeit long-winded summary of his theories…or wikipedia-it. Simple.

Then along came “Group Dynamics”. Lewin believed social skills within working environments could be changed through group therapy and would ultimately placate racial and religious prejudices rampant within modern society  (OK, so far so good. Nobody wants to leave Joe Schmo by the water cooler). After WWII the Office of Naval Research  helped him to set up The National Training Laboratories (NTL) to combat soldiers’ PTS. Think “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit” but instead of Tom Rath’s inferiority/crisis of individuality Lewin supposed we all suffer from one big God complex and needed a slap in the wrist albeit given by one of the few dozen members of a group.

But why? Fear that behaviour within postwar society would spiral out of control? Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll? The following activities (Lewin surmised) aimed to improve relations between co-workers: team building, basic skills development, these “activities”  encouraged “open communication”. Sound familiar? Work day picnics that involve piggy back races and egg and spoon. Does that make you hate Linda from IT less?

Lets all play “how-to-be-a-human-being.”

Set in the near future, my play is a black comedy that follows a group of doctors; a surgeon, a OB/GY, a GP, a pharmacist (and a chiropractor) who after committing a crime are required to attend a sensitivity training course run by a supercilious opportunist with her own agenda they question and demand to be  Its absurdist, unrelentingly harsh and I sincerely hope, controversial in its approach to depicting this profession.

Professor Max Saunders, who entertained and enlightened us in July during our second production in London, with a rather thought-provoking, scintillating (funny too) piece on Ford Madox Ford, asked whether or not we might be interested to do something for this year’s Kings’ Arts & Humanities festival – perhaps, he queried “the play we discussed over coffee in Chapters, about doctors and empathy”? The theme, after all, is “Being Human”.

I often get asked how this idea to combine “sensitivity training” and “medicine” into a play came about. The idea for the play was immediate (sort of). Enter childhood friend – he the aspiring doctor since the age of 11. Decades I watched him beaten, berated, bullied – his life a whirlwind of exams, routine checkups, cramming, copious copying, sleep-deprived, slow atrophy of…empathy.  On the rare occasion he did appear after a gruelling forty-nine hour week in the Emergency Room, or where he is based now – Ob/Gyn – bearing witness to a relentless stream of life and death – he would, over a beer (or two) revel in telling me stories of his days and nights spent in hospital.

He adores the problem solving aspect of medicine, the why, the how – getting the diagnosis right, proving others wrong. His biggest issue as a doctor (more so then when he was a student) was in the not being able to cope with the patients who demanded more than just a jab and a prescription pad – but rather a “shoulder to cry on”.

Aren’t we sick people just so annoying?

Several revelations were had during a full read-through with the full cast, our director Pippa Howie and myself. We discovered that everyone has, in some way or another, a connection, a behavioural connection – an emotional connection – good, bad, ugly – with medicine. Holistic, scientific. The play asks the age-old question of whether we can ever truly understand one another and if we can’t, why should we? Should the “right” emotions in the “right” context be imposed upon us at all?

We all hope you’ll continue to read my posts here on the play’s development into production with performances on the 14th, 17th and 23rd of October at 8pm in the Anatomy Theatre & Museum . We are also very privileged to have several esteemed individuals on the post show Q&A on the 17th including Prof Genevra Richardson, Kate Bassett and Prof Brian Hurwitz.

Follow me on Twitter @jinganyoung

This is a POKFULAM RD PRODUCTIONS 薄扶林道© in collaboration with the KCL Arts & Humanities Festival 2013 Being Human

Purchase tickets for the production on the official KCL e-booking website here

cropped-blogstrip2013.jpgPokfulam Road Productions

Future festival themes

butterflyThroughout this year’s Festival, the ‘Metamorphoses’ theme proved a stimulating one; at once broad enough to showcase the range of the School’s research and singular enough to encourage creative engagement. As the Arts & Humanities Research Institute starts to plan for next year, staff and students are invited to suggest new themes that will help the Festival to reflect the School’s work as best as possible by emailing suggestions to ahri@kcl.ac.uk by 22nd November.

2012 Festival round-up

Imagometia

Over 3,000 people came to King’s this month to get involved in the 2012 Arts & Humanities Festival. Academics, high-profile authors, musicians and artists came together to discuss, exhibit and bring to life the School’s research at 50 events over two weeks. The Festival explored the theme of ‘Metamorphoses, transformations & conversions’ through art exhibitions, performances and discussions to showcase the breadth and diversity of research in the arts and humanities.

Highlights included author Will Self in conversation with Patrick Wright discussing England’s transformative presence on his work, a talk by former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo and a premiere of a new work by Silvina Milstein, Professor of Music which was performed by Lontano; King’s contemporary music ensemble in residence. The history of the Strand was brought to life through performances, songs, poetry and visual displays by the Strandlines Cabinet of Artists.

John BergerAn exhibition by artist, art critic and novelist John Berger received a four star review in the Independent and proved so enticing Berger himself was caught viewing his work at the Inigo Rooms (open until 10 November). Discussion panels explored topics as diverse as the role of religion in US politics, visual representations of political activism in the Arab Spring and philosophical and neuroscientific viewpoints on free will and decision making.

The ‘Collective Spirit’ yacht, the brainchild of Gregg Whelan (King’s Creative Fellow) and Gary Winters of Lone Twin, was unmissable in the Strand Quad for the duration of the Festival. The 30 foot sailing boat which was painstakingly crafted using donated pieces of wood arrived at King’s College after its maiden voyage as part of the Cultural Olympiad.  Lone Twin describe the yacht as a “seaworthy archive of stories and memories” and Festival Director Max Saunders remarked on its ability to “transform the Quad and initiate conversations during the Festival”.

Boat project daylight

The Festival has run in its present form since 2009 and has proved a vital platform for communicating the value and impact of the School’s research to members of the public, alumni, creative partners, staff, students and members of other academic institutions. Head of School Professor Jan Palmowski described the Festival as “an important forum through which our research could inform public debate, on topics including the US elections, how we experience change and displacement, and how English and British identities might be constituted and addressed.”