Arthouse Memes

ArtHouse Memes is to be created by the UCHV Research Film Studio of Princeton University for the European Cultural Center Exhibition at the 2024 Art Biennale in Venice, which runs from May to November of 2024 and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.

ArtHouse Memes seeks to give poetic justice to a systematically injured people via the art of cinema transformed by the fresh technical-vernacular competence of today’s youth. This project has grown out of a Research Film Studio course entitled Hidden History of Hollywood. The latter is a survey of a hidden canon of African American arthouse cinema. The class uncovers the roots of representational injustice in Hollywood and the secret, but cardinal role Woodrow Wilson played in the production and distribution of D. W. Griffith’s enormously influential The Birth of a Nation (the film that led to the rebirth of the KKK). Wilson’s policy of segregation was adapted by Hollywood as a self-censoring industry regulation of representation. Hollywood became Wilson’s propaganda machine fully during the First World War. Black people could only appear on screen as subservient and marginal characters, never as equals, partners or leaders. This industry code, Wilson’s legacy, then became second nature to Hollywood. Arthouse Memes presents a creative subversion of the strong industrial, commercial, and propagandistic aspect of American filmmaking. The formation of the American film canon is an ongoing struggle between civil rights activism and a Jim Crow system of representation. The Princeton students of the Research Film Studio want to assist this creative struggle with sophisticated canon formation via the ArtHouse Memes exhibition. Our exhibition will give an opportunity to a global audience to be inspired by unfamiliar, systemically injured and overlooked people and by the unjustly unacknowledged, undistributed, underrated chroniclers of their lives. 

The exhibition also constitutes an avantgarde exploration of the co-productive powers of the art of filmmaking, architecture, and theater armed with cutting-edge applications of geometrical optics and sound- engineering. The roomful of technologically and artistically innovative film installations will reveal the immense potential of the art of cinema to inspire new forms of modern art that challenge our imagination and cognition through the senses. In particular, ArtHouse Memes introduces novel ways of articulating and dynamizing space by using a combination of immersive optics and directed sound as well as a hieroglyphic language of cinematic memes held together by the syntax of film montage. The common thread along the various kinds of film installations is the tension and fusion between “masking” and “iconicity”, everyday life and ritual, TikTok aesthetics and arthouse filmmaking via the multi-sensory and multimedia metamorphosis of the most memorable clips of Afro-American cinema. The ArtHouse Memes exhibition is a radical rethinking of the art of filmmaking and architecture in their relation to each other.

The project involves Princeton faculty and undergraduates, many of whom we hope will also go to Venice and take part in a global conversation on art and historical injustice.  The project builds on the success of a previous exhibition at the 2023 Architecture Biennale, which won the European Culture Centre’s University Innovation Award in a competition with MIT, Harvard and many other universities.