The Meaning of the Face in Contemporary Visual Cultures

1 December 2021, 12:30 - 14:00

Location TBC

I think the seminars are a real perk of a CRASSH fellowship, and I found them more useful, both in substance and in form, than any other seminars I have attended in Cambridge. (Dr Louise Joy, Crausaz Wordsworth Fellow, Lent Term 2020)

 

Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work-in-Progress Seminar Series. All welcome but please email fellowships@crassh.cam.ac.uk to book your place and to request readings. 

Professor Massimo Leone

FACETS studies the meaning of the face in contemporary visual cultures. There are two complementary research foci: widespread practices of face exhibition in social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tinder; and minority practices of occultation, including the mask in anti-establishment political activism (e.g., Anonymous) and in anti-surveillance artistic provocation (e.g., Leonardo Selvaggio). Arguably, the meaning of the human face is currently changing on a global scale: through the invention and diffusion of new visual technologies (e.g., digital photography, visual filters, as well as software for automatic face recognition); through the creation and establishment of novel genres of face representation (e.g., the selfie); and through new approaches to face perception, reading, and memorization (e.g., the ‘scrolling’ of faces on Tinder). Cognitions, emotions, and actions that people attach to the interaction with one’s and others’ faces might soon be undergoing dramatic shifts. In FACETS, an interdisciplinary but focused approach combines visual history, semiotics, phenomenology, visual anthropology, but also face perception studies and collection, analysis, and social contextualization of big data, so as to study the cultural and technological causes of these changes and their effects in terms of alterations in self-perception and communicative interaction. In the tension between, on the one hand, political and economic agencies pressing for increasing disclosure, detection, and marketing of the human face (for reasons of security and control, for commercial or bureaucratic purposes) and, on the other hand, the counter-trends of face occultation (writers and artists like Banksy, Ferrante, Sia, or Christopher Sievey / Frank Sidebottom choosing not to reveal their faces), the visual syntax, the semantics, and the pragmatics of the human face are rapidly evolving. FACETS carries on an innovative, cross-disciplinary survey of this phenomenon.

Massimo Leone is a Full Tenured Professor (“Professore Ordinario”) of Philosophy of Communication, Visual Semiotics, and Cultural Semiotics at the Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences, University of Turin, Italy and Permanent Part-Time Visiting Full Professor of Semiotics in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Shanghai, China. He is a 2018 ERC Consolidator Grant recipient, the most important and competitive research grant in Europe. He graduated in Communication Studies from the University of Siena, and holds a DEA in History and Semiotics of Texts and Documents from Paris VII, an MPhil in Word and Image Studies from Trinity College Dublin, a PhD in Religious Studies from the Sorbonne, and a PhD in Art History from the University of Fribourg (CH).