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The Gesamtkunstwerk as a Synergy of the Arts

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Edited By Massimo Fusillo and Marina Grishakova

Conceived by Wagner as a way to recover the synthesis of arts at the core of Greek tragedy, the Gesamtkunstwerk played a significant role in post-Romantic and avant-garde aesthetics. It was designed to regenerate and defend the public function of art against mass culture and technology, yet at the same time depended on them in an ambivalent relationship manifested by its various realizations. The book reconceives the "total work of art" as a variation of intermediality, a practice that subverts any essentialist vision of artistic languages through complex interplay and blending of perceptions, amplified by new media and the syncretic nature of the cyberspace. The Gesamtkunstwerk can no longer be considered a Hegelian synthesis of arts or a Romantic and Wagnerian fusion of languages: it involves a synergy of different arts and media and captures the digital age’s principle of open textuality without any hierarchy and any organicist connotations. This book reveals the vitality of modern and contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk by mapping its presence in various arts and media.

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Chapter 7 Anatomies of Totality: Peter Greenaway’s The Tulse Luper Suitcases and the meta-Gesamtkunstwerk: (Mattia Petricola)

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Anatomies of Totality: Peter Greenaway’s The Tulse Luper Suitcases and the meta-Gesamtkunstwerk

Mattia Petricola

Over the last fifty years, Peter Greenaway has experimented with painting, drawing, installation art, film, video, television, opera, digital artand museum curatorship. The evolution of his style in film and video, in particular, has been driven by a constant research for new contaminations between media, which led him from directing a film centered on the act of drawing like The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) to projecting a computer-generated video on the actual surface of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch in 2006. If film as a medium can be considered one of the 20th-century inheritors of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk,1 Peter ←129 | 130→Greenaway is undoubtedly one of those filmmakers who engage with media plurality in the most complex, self-reflexive and baroque ways.

From this perspective, the elaboration of The Tulse Luper Suitcases represents a key moment for the redefinition of Greenaway’s approach to the interactions between media. Developed between 2003 and 2006 and animated by an almost megalomaniac spirit of ambition, this gargantuan multimedia project includes a film trilogy,2 books, gallery exhibitions, catalogues, internet sites, live-cinema performances and an online game. This intricate tangle of narratives, images and objects develops around the figure of Tulse Luper, a “professional prisoner” who spent his life passing from jail to jail, leaving ninety-two suitcases behind him before his mysterious disappearance in 1989. Archivist, biographer, and Luper’s best friend Martino Knockavelli has succeeded in collecting...

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