Cassandra Xin Guan
Year entered: 2015
Cassandra Xin Guan is a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. Her research combines the theory of film aesthetics with environmental and regional media studies to critically interrogate perceptions of liveliness, such as a flower blooming in cinematic time lapse or reproductions of faces unmade by emotional turbulence, that animate the viewing masses by de-forming, and consequently politicizing, the representational spaces of modernity. Working with moving-image archives from Western Europe and the Soviet Union, her dissertation, “Maladaptive Media: Life and Other Political Emergencies, 1917-1939,” traces the interactions of interwar-era media technologies with discourses and representations of life in science and vernacular culture, while drawing critical attention to the sovereign nature and emergency powers of what German art historian Ernst Gombrich called “the illusion of life which can do without any illusion of reality.” Beyond her dissertation, Guan has started to research the connection between Cold-War media aesthetics from mainland China, in such texts as the classic animation Havoc in Heaven (1963), and the country’s atmospheric nuclear testing in Uyghur Xinjiang. Her preoccupation with the aesthetics and mediation of bio-political emergencies, from the advertisement of nitrogen fertilizer to the detonation of nuclear bombs, undermines the techno-centric vision of modernity. From positions informed by theoretical anti-humanism (especially Marxism, psychoanalysis, and the philosophy of technology), Guan emphasizes the entanglement of the bio-logical with the techno-logical, arguing that life cannot be thought of as either pure immanence or pure transcendence but rather as a psycho-somatic interface subject to conflict and mediation.
Guan is the current recipient of the Josephine De Karman Dissertation Fellowship and a past recipient of the Presidential Fellowship from Brown University and the Joanne Cassullo Teaching Fellowship from the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is the co-editor of a 2020 Screen dossier on emergent environmental perspectives in film studies and the author of pending publications on “apophatic” visuality in recent documentary practice and botanical animations from the silent era. Since 2017, Guan has served as a visiting faculty at the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York City, where she leads seminars and advises participants in Critical Studies, Curatorial and Studio Art Practice. She holds a BFA from The Cooper Union School of Art and an MA from Brown University in Modern Culture and Media. Between 2011-2015, Guan worked in film production and co-directed an experimental feature, The Filmballad of Mamadada (2013), that has been widely exhibited in such film festivals as IFF Rotterdam, Copenhagen Documentary IFF (CPH:DOX), Lisbon International Independent Film Festival, Athens Avant Garde IFF, the Asterisco Festival Internacional de Cine in Buenos Aires, and visual art venues such as Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul Modern Museum of Art, the Elizabeth Foundation of Art, etc. Guan is the main organizer of Magic Lantern Cinema, an independent film series serving the local arts community of Providence, RI.