The Performance of Trauma in Moving Image Art

With reference to recent neurological research into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) using new imaging technologies and models of implicit and explicit memory systems developed from this research, The Performance of Trauma in Moving Image Art examines the capacity of an artist’s cinema of experimental and avant-garde film to perform and communicate traumatic experience.

De Bruyn analyses key films from the 1940s to the present that perform aspects of overwhelming experience through their approach, structure, content and perceptual impact, mapping a trajectory from analogue to contemporary digital moving image practice. He argues for the inclusion of Peter Gidal’s 1970s conception of ‘materialist film’ into the genre of ‘trauma cinema’ through its capacity to articulate un-locatability and perceptually perform dis-orientation and a flashback effect, all further identified here as key characteristics of digital moving image practice.

The discussion explores the following questions. Can ‘materialist film’ model traumatic memory and perform the traumatic flashback? Does the capacity to articulate trauma’s un-speakability and invisibility give this practice a renewed relevance in digital media’s preoccupation with surface and the impact of information overload?

De Bruyn’s phenomenological ‘traumatic’ reading of materialist film steps beyond Gidal’s original anti-illusionist rationale to incorporate critiques effectively mounted against it by the founders of a ‘70s feminist psychoanalytic counter-cinema. This contemporary re-reading further re-evaluates the Minimalist turn in painting and sculpture after the Second World War, arguing that this development is not essentialist or visionary but makes visible the implicit mechanisms of denial and erasure at the core of traumatic remembering.

For de Bruyn, the initial traumatic impact of industrialization on the body’s perceptual apparatus, traceable through the advent of cinema and train travel, is communicated by such moving image art. The development of digital technology marks a new cycle of such perceptual re-balancing for which materialist film is uniquely positioned and which it critically addresses.

Dirk de Bruyn is a Senior Lecturer in Animation and Digital Culture at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, and a member of Deakin’s Research Centre for Memory, Imagination and Invention (CMII). He has published numerous experimental, animation and documentary films over the last 40 years, as well as curating and writing about this work internationally, including in Senses of Cinema and Screening the Past. The recent documentary The House That Eye Live In (2014) chronicles this creative work. The scope of his academic research is accessible at

"Dirk de Bruyn’s book is a bold and original piece of in-depth, sustained research that brings together two areas have never been brought into relationship in this way, at this length. [...] I learnt an enormous amount from Dirk de Bruyn’s book – just as I have always done from his film and multi-media performance works. The Performance of Trauma in Moving Image Art has the potential to change the future of the film studies and digital media field internationally."

Adrian Martin desistfilm, 13.03.2017

"Despite this book’s genesis as an original thesis, and consequently with its density, occasional opacity and relentlessly sustained narrative trajectory, The Performance of Trauma will nevertheless provide an outstanding contribution to wider cinema literature, and will find readers from the many areas of screen studies: history, politics, philosophy, practice, and also those interested in reception and understanding, loss and trauma, and narrative issues."

Dr David Ritchie Honorary Associate Professor, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University Senses of Cinema, 75 (2015)

"The contemporary relevance of de Bruyn’s book does not stop with current avant-garde film practices. De Bruyn also identifies contemporary digital media as mirroring traumatic experience. For de Bruyn, those schooled in new technologies thrive in a simulataneity of multiple perspectives as pure, unadulterated Situational Accessible Memory. This digital consciousness marks a shift from text to image based thinking, from a consciousness which incorporates history to an experiential realm grounded in a non-reflective present."

Martin Rumsby Millennium Film Journal, 63 (2016)

Buy This Book

ISBN: 1-4438-6053-0

ISBN13: 978-1-4438-6053-6

Release Date: 12th September 2014

Pages: 245

Price: £47.99