This interdisciplinary conference invites graduate students in Archaeology, Classics, History of Art, and related fields to present papers that address aspects of night from antiquity to the contemporary period. We are pleased to announce that this year’s keynote speakers will be Professors Noam Elcott and Ioannis Mylonopoulos of Columbia University.
Please see the Schedule tab for specific panel and lecture times. Please see the Call for Papers tab to learn more about this year’s theme “Irresistible Night, Ageless Dark”.
Radcliffe Edmonds III
Paul Shorey Professor and Chair of Greek and Professor of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies, Bryn Mawr College
“First-Born of Night or Oozing from the Slime? Deviant Origins in Orphic Cosmogonies.” – November 15
Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art and Media
and Chair of Art Humanities, Columbia University
“A Brief History of Artificial Darkness and Race” – November 16
Muge Arseven, Columbia University
“Death Becomes Her: Following Medea into the Dark”
Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d; Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.
Greek literature has no shortage of men describing Medea’s reaction to Jason’s infidelity, and Congreve’s famous lines provide an apt, modern echo of those ancient views. Women’s wrath is a perennial fear for men.
Loving daughter, temptress, stranger, refugee, devoted wife, murderer… Throughout her life, Medea embraces many extremes, often gravitating towards the more odious. And a dangerous yet volitional shadow follows her at every step as she leaves a trail of destruction even when she meansto do well, help, and nourish. A magnificent krater, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, can perhaps be considered the best depiction of the dichotomy that is Medea: shielded by a radiant nimbus, riding the marvelous serpent-chariot her grandfather Helios has provided, flanked by Erinyes that appear more scornful of Jason than they are of Medea, she hovers above the corpses of her sons, a reminder that underneath the seeming glory of this woman is the heinous act she has just committed. We are invited to be simultaneously awed and repulsed by Medea’s subversion of her motherly duties, her disavowal of the roles circumscribed by her gender and social rank. She willingly welcomes the darkness that had always lingered inside and lets it engulf her once and for all.
In my talk, I will discuss the concept of innate, visceral darkness as personified by Medea. Following a brief survey of select Archaic and Classical material, I will turn to Euripides’s play and few South Italian vases that offer some fascinating images of Medea vacillating between the light and the dark, with the hope of prompting a discussion on how Greek art approached her controversial personae.
Robert J. Barnes, Bryn Mawr College
“Let there be Night: Lightness and Darkness in Longinus’s On the Sublime“
I shall argue that Longinus’s use of night and day, light and dark imagery in chapter 9 of his treatise On the Sublime affectively recalls the experience of religious initiation which, in turn, rhetorically supports and enriches Longinus’s own didactic aim of ‘initiating’ the reader into the experience of sublime style.
As is often argued, the dominant mode of ancient Greek religion is imagistic and experiential rather than doctrinal. Thus, ancient Greek initiation rituals are not designed to disclose or perpetuate a particular doctrine from a sacred text as much as to impart a specific experience of becoming closer to a particular divinity. While we know very little of what actually occurred at ancient mystery initiations, we know that many occurred at night and initiates often experienced the quick oscillation of torchlight and darkness. In fact, when mystery initiation is mentioned by ancient authors (metaphorically or not), the experience of extreme brightness and extreme darkness is also often mentioned as a feature highly salient to the notion of mystery initiation.
In chapter 9 of On the Sublime, Longinus sets out to give an account of sublime subject matter; however, he remarks that it is no easy task since, he notes, sublime topics are learned more by long and recurrent exposure to sublime literature than by a list of precepts. Nevertheless, Longinus goes on to offer a long list Homeric passages which he believes convey sublime concepts. In the end, I shall argue that Longinus’s Homeric examples subtly play upon the initiatory imagery of extreme lightness and darkness and that Longinus evokes the expereince of initiation in this way so as to expose and direct the reader (experientially if not doctrinally) toward what he considers to be properly sublime ideas.
Savannah Bishop, Brandeis University
“Ancient Ceramic Oil Lamps: Shedding Light and Spilling Oil”
The great commonality of oil lamps in the ancient world was their ability to illuminate the unknowable and otherwise untraversable, in both literal and figurative darkness. In doing so they frequently shed light upon and attained supernatural and mythological properties. This paper seeks to examine the unique intersection of these mundane items so frequently found in “daily,” or in our circumstance more commonly, “nightly” life – and the individuals who wielded them. To achieve this aim, an investigation into the supernatural representation and contextualization of oil lamps has been undertaken within literary, cultural, and archaeological considerations.
Chief among these literary sources is one of Latin literature’s most supernaturally charged works, Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, wherein three oil lamps are referenced, and in each instance linked and sometimes endowed with supernatural and mythological properties: guiding Venus’ ship through the night, the ability to foretell the future, and ascribed sentience. This latter instance being the famed discovery of Cupid by Psyche. These dark and supernatural instances in Apuleius’ work reflects the true to life nature of these ceramic vessels: illuminating the hidden and obscured, facilitating work done under the cover of night, and sharing space with the gods for the purpose of sacred and nocturnal rites.
By understanding the way in which ancient peoples contextualized and transformed the objects found in their “nightly” lives we can gain deeper insight into the way in which they constructed their own narrative around the dark, nocturnal, supernatural and unexplainable parts of their world.
Virginia Girard, Columbia University
“Touching Light and Hearing Shadows: Darkness, Disorientation, and the Diorama”
The Ruins of Holyrood Abbey, a Gothic scene exhibited at the Regent’s Park Diorama in 1825, was one of the most enthusiastically received pictorial illusions by Louis Daguerre. The gloomy grandeur of Daguerre’s gothic dioramas, achieved by the artist’s uncanny manipulations of light and atmospheric effects, left critics speechless. The imperceptible shifts from light to dark, from sunny afternoon to tempestuous black sky, from candlelit mass to empty nave, were both enchanting and bewildering to contemporary viewers. The illusory vignettes collapsed natural oppositions within the indeterminate space of the Gothic chapel, destabilizing the observer’s perception. Time, space, and light took on unusual qualities in Daguerre’s dimmed rotunda, enthralling viewers for nearly three decades.
Over a hundred years later, audiences continue to be drawn to instillations that distort light and space to similar effect. Since the late 1960’s, contemporary artist James Turrell has experimented with sensory deprivation and light effects by means of ganzfelds, or “total fields” of vision. The first investigations into ganzfelds are dated to studies of subjective visual phenomena conducted by Jan Purkinje, a pioneer of early neuroscience. Purkinje observed how one might see light and dark spots when viewing naturally occurring fields of unstructured color, such as cloudy skies or luminous candle flames. His studies coincided with the development of Daguerre’s diorama, suggesting a perceptive link between the diorama and Turrell’s ganzfeld. In Turrell’s color fields, and in the diorama before them, sunlight and darkness become the medium, and the viewer experiences a heightened sense of self-awareness—in Turrell’s own words, “perception is the object.” This paper will supplement art historical analysis with physiological insight to suggest that the “magic” behind the gothic diorama and Turrell’s ganzfeld series can be attributed to a shared neurological response.
Jenni Glaser, Bryn Mawr College
“Walking on Air and Scorning the Moon: Aerial Encounters in Aristophanes’ Clouds and Lucian’s Icaromenippus”
It is a well-established fact that Lucian was profoundly engaged with Old Comedy. There have been a number of recent studies, most notably by James Brusuelas and Robert Branham, examining the relationship between them. Often, Lucian himself makes these connections easy to find. But he also challenges his educated audience to pick up on more implicit references. I would like to take up that challenge and point out parallels between two works that are not so obviously connected: Lucian’s Icaromenippus and Aristophanes’ Clouds. On close examination, parallels between the Moon’s complaint in both works point to a wider lunar phenomenology that pervades Lucian’s entire dialogue and educated audience members are meant to pick up the clues.
Karen Ní Mheallaigh observes that the moon in both the Icaromenippus and the True Histories is a multigeneric mirror of the second sophistic imagination. In some ways it is programmatic of all Lucian’s efforts to reflect on and contend with his own classical corpus. At the same time, within the Icaromenippus itself, the moon has a direct correlation to Clouds and its specific content. The moon’s appearance as a character is the most striking set-piece in both works, but the moon-imagery is visible from the very first page of both, and acts as a symbol of Aristophanes’ – and Lucian’s – philosophical polemic. From the first mention of the moon by Strepsiades, and Menippus, Lucian closely follows the thematic material of Clouds. I will argue that Lucian observed a preoccupation with the moon in Clouds, and therefore chose the moon as his anchor to tie the two works together in the eyes of his audience. Through the figure of the moon, Lucian channels all the vitriol of Aristophanes’ invective against philosophy – as he interprets it – into his own work.
Wesley Hanson, University of Pennsylvania
“Sallust’s Nocturnal Challenge to Cicero’s Catilinarian Narrative”
This paper argues that the night is a narrative battleground on which Sallust vies with Cicero’s account of the Catilinarian conspiracy. Sallust reconfigures the role that night plays in the conspiracy, creating in his monograph a narrative that supersedes Cicero’s Catilinarian narrative. Cicero’s rhetorical strategy in his speeches relies on a distinction between night and day: conspirators work at night while Cicero and his allies expose their crimes to the light of day. Night, in Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae, is a time for action – for both sides. Catiline and his allies conspire at night, but find their nocturnal actions are ineffective for numerous reasons: e.g., the arousal of suspicion (Cat. 42.2) or inaction (Cat. 27.3-28.1). Catiline’s opponents find night politically efficacious, preempting the conspirators’ plans with their own nocturnal action at the Mulvian Bridge (Cat. 45.1).
But night’s political efficacy for the anti-Catiline forces raises moral difficulties: the conspirators are killed on dubious grounds in the darkness of prison (Cat. 55.4), echoing the extra-judicial execution of Fulvius on his father’s orders from earlier in the monograph (Cat. 39.5). Similarly, among Catiline’s many vices is his ability to avoid sleep (Cat. 5.3, 15.4); Caesar can count the same as one of his virtues (Cat. 54.4). Sallust’s night directs his reader’s attention to the moral tension that arises when similar men undertake ethically different action. Night’s appeal to Sallust is not located in one individual’s subversive exploitation of it, which is the subject of Cicero’s oratory, but as a space in which men of virtue and vice contend over the political landscape of the Roman republic, the subject of Sallust’s historiographical endeavor. By attending to what happens during the time frame of night in the Bellum Catilinae, Sallust capitalizes on night’s potency in shaping Republican moral discourse.
 Habinek, Thomas. 1998. The Politics of Latin Literature: Writing, Identity, and Empire in Ancient Rome. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Mueller, Hans-Friedrich Otto. 2004. “La reglamentación nocturna en la antigua Roma.” Nova Tellus 22: 121-139; Welch, Kathryn. 2005. “Lux and Lumina in Cicero’s Rome: A Metaphor for the Res Publica and Her Leaders.” In K. Welch and T.W. Hillard eds., Roman Crossings: Theory and Practice in the Roman Republic. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales. 313-337.
 Earl, D.C. 1961. The Political Thought of Sallust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 Batstone, William. 1988. “The Antithesis of Virtue: Sallust’s Synkrisis and the Crisis of the Late Republic.” Classical Antiquity 7: 1-29.
 Pagan, Victoria. 2004. Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Taylor Hobson, Bryn Mawr College
“Douglas Gordon’s Between Darkness and Light and the Luminous Double Bind of Projection”
Cinema depends upon an artificial night to sustain the shadow play of its visual expression. Darkness feeds and supports the projected image, indebted to its dim opposite even as it reaches towards luminosity. Among video artists in the 1990s to use Hollywood films as their subject, Scottish-born Douglas Gordon (b. 1966) manipulates the parameters of projection itself. He thereby restructures the conditions of cinema, recalibrating the contrast necessary for light to transmit images. Between Darkness and Light (For William Blake)(1997) simultaneously projects two films – William Friedkin’s The Exorcist(1973) and Henry King’s The Song of Bernadette(1943) – onto one screen. This excess of sound and image incites confusion, but the films also cooperate to generate new moments of illumination, as when a dimly lit scene of one movie allows for clarity in the other. These adjustments redefine the screen as sculpture, but their shadows also transform the space around it.
I explore Gordon’s installation as a competition of light and dark, which plays out on screen and off. This struggle reforms the surrounding space and infects the viewer’s experience. Gordon is prefigured by structural filmmakers of the 1960s like Michael Snow, whose films reflect their own material conditions. These experiments within the celluloid frame inevitably expand into an altered conception of the theater itself. Loosening the connection between viewer and film text, Gordon’s gallery comes into relief, along with the beams of light themselves. In this microcosm of night and day contained in a room, darkness and light appear as codependent elements essential to sight. Given the similarities to origin parables like Plato’s cave and Pliny’s Corinthian maiden, we might then ask how these complements are able to construct and expand lived space, even in a cinematic system intended to suppress reality for an illusory, screened world.
Emily Leifer, Bryn Mawr College
“Seeing with Darkness: Maria Nordman’s Saddleback Mountain (1973)
Walking into a darkened chamber, a wall of pure light seems to materialize before one’s eyes. As the viewer adjusts to the near total darkness of the room, a sliver of sunlight pierces the gallery walls, becoming more visible, more substantial, finally resolving into a part of the architecture. In her 1973 installation Saddleback Mountain artist Maria Nordman deftly orchestrated an environment of artificial darkness in order to bring the viewer’s attention to sunlight itself. Darkness, in this installation, served to make the ubiquitous ambient surround of daylight into something strange and intriguing. Through the use of light, darkness, and time Nordman isolated a particularly evocative example of the dynamic relationship between the body and its surroundings.
While Claire Bishop interprets the experience of opaque and disorienting darkness in installation art as a dissolution of the boundaries of the self, I hope to show that these intense effects of darkness confound not only one’s definition of self but also one’s definition of surround. The experience of light and darkness deployed in Nordman’s installation arguably relates as much to ideas of environment as it does to ideas of subjectivity. Nordman’s incorporation of natural sights and sounds in her Saddleback Mountain installation worked in concert with her emphasis on perceptual effects of darkness to shift the viewer’s sense of environmental interdependence from the psychological scale to the ecological scale. By referencing the natural world, the darkened installation environment became not only a place to reconsider one’s subjective placement in the world but also to reconsider the material realities of human interaction with the natural environment.
Isabelle Martin, University of Illinois at Chicago
“Fugitivity and Disavowal in Dawoud Bey’s Night Coming Tenderly, Black”
Dawoud Bey’s 2018 series Night Coming Tenderly, Black is comprised of photographs ofspaces along the portion of the Underground Railroad that routed through Ohio. Captured in the daylight but manipulated to take on the appearance of night, the photographs aim to communicate the experiences of slaves as they journeyed toward freedom in the shadows of night. In their depictions of open fields, shadowy forests, and expansive bodies of water, the photographs are entirely absent of subjects, instead inviting the viewer to inhabit their landscapes and take on the experiences of fugitive slaves as they navigated the Underground Railroad undercover of night, seeking to escape enslavement.
This presentation attends to the contradictory sense of longing and capture that the photographs of Night Coming Tenderly, Black offer viewers, proposing that the sense of connection the series fosters is premised on the production of a feeling of melancholic empathy that risks foregoing political action and critical analysis of social realities in favor of becoming fixated on traumas of the past. Building upon Frank B. Wilderson III’s theorization of the slave as “a being outside of relationality,” this presentation engages with aesthetic theory, psychology, and film and photography criticism to argue that the sublimity of Bey’s photographs complicates his effort to pull viewers back to the experience of the landscape through which slaves moved toward freedom. Instead, in inviting viewers to become the subjects, the photographs of Night Coming Tenderly, Black ultimately cultivate a sense of fugitivity from confrontation and disavowal of the capacity to critically and productively scrutinize the social and political realities of slavery and its legacies.
 Frank B. Wilderson, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010): 11.
Jenna Marvin, Yale University Art Gallery
“Spurious Subjects: Nadar’s Illumination of Death and Labor in the Paris Catacombs”
Nadar, the famed French photographer, undertook a series of photographs of the Paris catacombs during 1861-62. Though the series has been noted for Nadar’s pioneering use of electric lights to illuminate the dark passageways replete with disarticulated skeletons, the photographs are also remarkable because many of the prints employ mannequins as stand-ins for catacombs workers. The long exposure times required by the wet-collodion process, did notallow for living human beings to be easily posed in these darkened spaces. The photographs, alongside those from the series of the newly renovated sewers that Nadar executed in 1864 and 1865, have been linked to a Romantic nostalgia for an older Paris; however, the inclusion of the mannequins signals a desire to illuminate the labor surrounding death and burial; labor that had become increasingly shrouded in mystery with the professionalization of medicine during the nineteenth century.
Institutions such as the Paris morgue, as well as the catacombs, exemplify the delicate balance between this visibility and invisibility, light and darkness: the public’s desire to view and interact with corpses must be placed alongside medical advances that require the seclusion of dead bodies for both the safety of the public, as well as the preservation of bodies’ integrity for scientific purposes. These anxieties are often personified in depictions and descriptions of those who have access to these privileged spaces such as the morgue and the catacombs. To engage with Nadar’s photographs of the catacombs, particularly those that contain mannequins, requires not only an interrogation of the illumination of the morgue and the darkness of the catacombs, but also an exploration of the relationship between the bodies of the deceased and the living bodies who activate them for the public.
“Noctes Elegiae? Love as Lucubratio in Roman Elegy”
Among the indices of Roman respectability, the use of one’s time was particularly telling. Hours logged meant honors gained, and the eagerness to represent oneself as too busy to relax, such that even nominal relaxation is transformed into work, is pervasive. Of the various ways to demonstrate a high degree of productivity, the devotion to industry of hours conventionally reserved for sleeping spoke volumes. It is a ritual claimed and declaimed by would-be paragons from Cicero to Quintilian and one that becomes integral to the image of the industrious statesman. But the harnessing of the night for productive ends is a practice equally detectable in Roman elegiac poetry, by all accounts low on the cultural totem pole for its embrace of frivolous and unscrupulous themes and the lifestyle that begets them.
To this end, my paper, “Noctes Elegiae? Love as Lucubratio in Roman Elegy,” presents a reading of nighttime erotic encounters in Roman elegy as instantiations of the practice of studying and working at night, constituting an “elegiac lucubratio.” My suggestion is that such scenes work to legitimize the elegiac poetic program, albeit wryly, by inserting it into the visual and cultural lexicon of respectable (even laudable) uses of time, namely the statesman’s tireless devotion to his craft. Pulling on studies of the relationship between Roman elegy and rhetoric, as well as metapoetic readings of elegy as reflecting on the writing process, I discuss how the Augustan elegists appropriate the trappings of lucubratio proper toengage in the broader social discourse about personal industry and valuable contribution.
Claire W. Seidler, Emory University
“Umbra Loco Deerat…Umbra Loco Venit: Conceptions of the Shade in Ovid and Roman Egypt”
This paper explores the depictions of the shade or shadow of the dead depicted in House-Tomb 21 at Tuna el-Gebel, a funerary structure in Egypt from the second century AD. The shade of the dead is a concept present in both ancient Egyptian and Roman pictorial and written tradition. This paper seeks to understand how the patron and artist of House-Tomb 21 receive and deploy the Egyptian concept of the shade. This paper then analyzes Book X of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provides a key source for Roman period conceptions of umbrae.
In an analysis of the tomb decoration, the design displays a mixture of conventional Egyptian and Greek forms, demonstrating an interest in the visual languages of both cultures. The tomb owner does not wish to copy the traditional Egyptian way of portraying the shadow of the dead but has included her own thoughts on the shade in this composition. The shade, though rendered in its usual gaunt form, accompanies, and relates to, the deceased through a shared pose, relating it directly to ideas of shades in Ovid. This paper posits that the Roman and Egyptian ideas on the shade unite in a dual understanding of this funerary concept shared by both traditions: the shade is at once a natural shadow cast by light and a spectral concept. I argue that this duality of the shade allows it to transcend period and ethos, transforming an Egyptian funerary concept into a tomb of the Roman period of Egypt with little effort.
Zach Silvia, Bryn Mawr College
“Bel-Marduk’s Celestial Dais: The Importance of Lapis Lazuli in Mesopotamian Cosmic Order”
Lapis lazuli is one of the most widely recognized semiprecious stones in the archaeology of Mesopotamia in the Bronze and Iron Ages. This rare blue stone transported from a single ancient source in northeast Afghanistan is often regarded by scholars as a luxury grave good found in the graves of Mesopotamia’s elites and royal family members. However, the symbolic significance of lapis lazuli has rarely been investigated. This paper explores textual attestations for lapis lazuli written in Sumerian and Akkadian (Akk.:uqnu; Sum.: NA.ZA.GIN) to suggest that the stone was prized for its supreme relationship with the governing deities of Mesopotamian religion, and importantly, as a constituent element in Mesopotamia’s cosmology of a vertically ordered universe within which these same gods reside. Lapis lazuli is presented as the constituent material of the celestial night sky – the domain of ancient Babylon’s supreme deity Bel-Marduk and the primordial source of universal knowledge. It is argued that lapis lazuli derived its symbolic power from the cosmos and was prized and imported on account of its divine properties.
The prevalence of a vertically ordered cosmos in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian myth and sacred practice has been established by Wayne Horowitz in his Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (1998). However, the real-world implications for this cosmic order and its constituent elements have yet to be fully explored. Assyrian and Babylonian sacred and mythic texts, such as Enuma Eliš, indicate a long-standing belief system that observes a vertically ordered cosmos physically constructed of different types of rare stones. Esoteric commentaries on this tradition, such as text KAR 307 of the first millennium BCE from Assur and guidebooks for practical divination, indicate that the celestial, lapis lazuli sky was a principle source of wisdom through practical acts of divination by baru priests. This is supported by the appearance of this stone as the material composition of one of the most sacred objects recurring in early Mesopotamian myth – the “Tablet of Destinies” in the Epic of Gilgamesh or “Tablet of Stars” in The Blessing of Nisaba and Gudea Cylinder A. As a symbol of celestial divination and as an element of the cosmos, physical lapis lazuli is here considered of key importance for rituals involving palace construction, burial, witchcraft and demonic expulsion, and divination enacted for the preservation of cosmic order.
Benjamin Stolurow, Johns Hopkins University
“Obscene Lust”: Nationalism, Classicism, and the Ethics of Desire in Sebald Beham’s Die Nacht (1548)“
In 1548, the Nuremberg artist, Sebald Beham, produced one of his most provocative engravings, Die Nacht, depicting a sleeping female nude on a sumptuous bed with her genitals exposed to view. Enframed by a citation from Ovid’s Amores—Nox et amor vinumque nihil moderabilesuadent(night and love, and wine, urge nothing moderate)—and the German phrase, Die Nacht, the image has been described as a moralizing allegory of nocturnal intemperance, which, through formal references to several Italian models—Bonasone’s Danaë,Caraglio’s Antiope, and Michelangelo’s Night—capitalizes on the popularity of Italianate forms while challenging their claims to ideality. However, I would like to suggest that the figure’s true sources have been overlooked.
While the slumbering nude bears a superficial resemblance to Michelangelo’s Night, it is, in fact, a regendered composite of several male nudes—notably, Michelangelo’s Dusk. The words Die Nacht inscribed below its genitals pun on the German for “naked,” nackt, suggesting that its vaunted referent, Night (Nacht), is little more than a nackt, a titillating nude. At the same time, Sebald’s regendered citation of a set of male nudes works to expose their latent eroticism, implying that Michelangelo’s classicism is little more than a socially sanctioned pretext for the solicitation of same-sex desire. Here, I contend that the image’s polemical rhetoric is indebted to the anti-Italian diatribes of German humanists, like Conrad Celtisand Ulrich von Hutten, which, likewise, emphasize the unnaturalness of Italian desire in an effort to undermine Italy’s claims to cultural superiority. In this context, the figure of Night operates as a symbol of spiritual and moral blindness and as an indictment of a formal language that is irrevocably associated with the perfidy of Italo-Catholic culture.
Jennie Waldow, Stanford University
“Midnight Wanderings: Issues of Performance Documentation in Bas Jan Ader’s In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles)”
In 1973, the Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader (1942–1975) documented a lengthy nocturnal walk in a series of eighteen photographs entitled In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles). By turns hazily dim or illuminated by the blurred light of streetlamps, the photographs, taken by his wife Mary Sue Ader-Andersen, feature Ader in silhouette against the dark background, his back to the camera as he walks through city streets and along the freeway, passing over varied terrain as he makes his way through the Hollywood Hills to the Pacific Ocean. In these photographs, Ader is presented a lonely figure carrying a flashlight, searching for something revelatory that he never finds. Across the bottom of each photograph, Ader scrawled the lyrics to Searchin’, a 1957 song by the Coasters, its simple lyrics about looking for a lost love over land and sea imbuing the images with a unified and recognizable narrative.
While much scholarly attention has been paid to the second part of In Search of the Miraculous (1975), in which Ader disappeared after attempting a solo sailboat voyage across the Atlantic, the Los Angeles walk is often mentioned as a precursor to or component of his better known work. The 1973 performance, which was marked by significant danger considering the low visibility and great length of Ader and Ader-Anderson’s nighttime route and thus likely required a great deal of planning and communication between the collaborators, is instead presented in the photographs as the spontaneous, romantic quest of a lone voyager against a tranquil, inky backdrop. In this paper, I argue that In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles) should be understood as emblematic of questions surrounding the gulf between a performance and its documentation, with its nocturnal setting as key to interpreting this divide.
“Monet and Nature at Night”
During a painting trip to Étretat on the Normandy coast, Claude Monet mentioned in a letter to his wife: “against my habit, I went to bed late, at half-past eleven. It was a beautiful moonlight, and the herring boats, which had left at five o’clock, were returning again at eight and nine o’clock at night, laden with fish, it was very pretty.” Such notes reveal the artist’s affinity for the night sky; however, this subject was vanishingly rare in Monet’s long and prolific career. Indeed, from the artist’s initial successful debut at the annual Paris Salon in 1865 with two views of the Normandy coast, much of the praise, and criticism, that followed was connected to his ability to fix the shifting effects of daylight en plein air from dawn until dusk.
On capturing effects at night, Monet remarked to William H. Fuller, an American collector of his work, “I greatly admire moonlights, and from time to time have made studies of them; but I have never finished any of these studies because I found it so difficult to paint nature at night. Some day, however, I may finish such a picture.” Despite this claim, we know of at least two night views that the artist brought to a degree of finish that he must have considered them complete as they were both sold over a decade before this exchange with Fuller. In my talk I will focus on the earlier of the two, A Seascape, Shipping by Moonlight, to examine the unique pictorial opportunities this night scene afforded the artist. By evaluating this picture in the context of a daytime view of the same bustling port—The Entrance to the Port of Le Havre—this paper considers how the artist used these opportunities to tell the story of the round-the-clock activities of France’s busiest international port.
Wildenstein, 1979, 267, letter 626.
William H. Fuller, Claude Monet and His Paintings(New York: The Lotos Club, 1899), 24.