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Friday, June 9 • 2:10pm - 2:20pm
no more room in hell

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For this short talk, I will present on my moving-image work no more room in hell, an experimental film that began with research conducted at the archive of horror director George A. Romero (dir. Night of the Living Dead) housed at the University of Pittsburgh. The film and research project explore the zombie as a posthuman species by following threads from Romero’s archive through Pittsburgh’s shifting industry sectors, with a particular interest in autonomous vehicle development and contemporary data collection practices in the region. Modeling itself after Romero’s cult classics which birthed the American cinematic zombie against the industrial backdrop of Western Pennsylvania, the film explores the echoes between the zombie & this landscape.

The research I will present in conjunction with this project investigates the Steel City as a microcosm of a broader cultural phenomena of industrial and technological zombification. Using the undead body – the zombie – as critical framework, this brief multimedia artist talk/ lecture combines research with audio-visual elements from my cinematic work to probe three seemingly unrelated elements of Pittsburgh’s history: Romero’s archive (housed at the University of Pittsburgh), the architectural vestiges of the steel industry, and the development of autonomous vehicles.

The talk will implement Romero’s zombie narratives and the horror genre as a tool in probing where the boundary between living and living dead lies as I imagine the zombie as an emblem of post-human (dis)embodiment. The archive itself will be explored as a reanimated corpse, exposing the horror vacui that it embodies and the legacy it is intended to ensure. The fetishism of industrial aesthetics will be contested by recontextualizing the posthumous architectural bodies of the steel industry as emblems of catastrophic environmental impact and the labor strife. Automated vehicles will be examined as both zombie-like and enablers of the zombification of their human operators through an exploration of neural networks and cyborgian futures.

Riffing on zombie-scholar Dale Knickerbocker’s theory that the zombie apocalypse has a likeness to technological singularity – a time in which AI-driven systems surpass their human creators and lead to our demise. In response, Shapass presents the zombie as an embodiment of apocalyptic futurity, representing the ways in which the ghosts of the past often shape our fears of the future.

In exploring the past-haunting of the steel industry and the future-haunting of autonomous vehicles, I trace the shifting landscape of American “progress” through its careful orchestration of laboring bodies into machine-like entities, and, conversely, its incapacitation of bodies into technological mediators.


Rebecca Shapass

Graduate Student, Carnegie Mellon University

Friday June 9, 2023 2:10pm - 2:20pm EDT
PS 401 (Design Center)