• SCREENING THE APOCALYPSE: ZOMBIES, VISUAL ART AND THE GROTESQUE IN THE AFTERMATH OF SOCIAL TRAUMA

      Pauwels, Erin Kristl; Silk, Gerald; Glahn, Philip; Alter, Nora M., 1962- (Temple University. Libraries, 2021)
      This project explores the zombie’s status and function as an artistic traumatic grotesque within the 2000s. Coined as a grotesque “stream” by art historian Frances S. Connelly, the traumatic grotesque interrupts established visual norms by presenting contemporary social anxieties in monstrous form. Though a historically filmic monster, the zombie made its formal and enduring appearance in visual art amid the near-continuous cultural traumas of the 2000s. My goal was a better understanding of how the zombie, as expressed in art and film, embodies the traumatic imagery and psychology of three specific tragedies. They are: Britain’s 2001 Foot and Mouth disease outbreak, Damien Hirst and Jenny Saville, and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002); 9/11, Dana Schutz’s “Self Eaters” series (2003-2005), and George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead (2005); and the 2008-2010 Great Recession, Jillian McDonald, and AMC’s The Walking Dead Season Four (2013-2014).The zombie’s iconographic crossover marks art history’s need for a detailed history of both zombie symbolism and how the social contexts of past and present iterations affect the monster’s function and reception. I used a combination of semiotics, psychoanalysis and critical theory to begin that examination. First, a brief historiographic analysis of grotesque theory establishes the artistic construct’s evolving “yes, and…” semiotic functions. From within a socio-historical breakdown of zombie movies, the monster uses its grotesque characteristics to critically challenge the viewer’s social identity. During cultural trauma, sociological and psychoanalytic effects transform the zombie into a traumatic grotesque. By invoking viewer identification and traumatic memory, the zombie traumatic-grotesque engages individual viewers in self-realized moments of either progressive or traditional cathartic trauma processing.