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Abstract research phd in arts in animation Leuven University / LUCA School of Arts Brussels
Alexandra Crouwers
Promotor: Wendy Morris

A diorama is a simulation of a real world environment, or of a fictional scene. The research is focused on the affect of immersive, life sized dioramas. I’ll try to understand what they do, why they work, and how they – though lifeless – are moving anyway.

The rise of digital technology has brought us a new kind of diorama: the computer or mobile device screen. Virtual reality, computer games and augmented reality are the new, immaterial homes for dioramas. The research compares dioramas to screens, but also looks into how dioramas relate to contemporary and historical art works.

In the research, the diorama is a carrier for thoughts and artworks on illusions, immersive architecture, artificial nature, frames, and theatrics. I’m stretching the tension between fake and fact to the mysterious appeal of the realm of conspiracy theories and fake news. Another investigation concerns the emotive qualities of ‘dead things’, including automata, animatronics, and artificial intelligence.

Keywords: suspension of disbelief, the fourth wall, simulated environments, affect, epistemology of the diorama

Update February 2020

The research has shifted from the formal aspects of the diorama to content: Solastalgia is a term, related to ecological grief.

The research proposal ‘Through that which is seen: the diorama & The Appeal of The Unreal’ was initially focused on the more formal aspects of the various concepts of the diorama.

It looked at the way the diorama is embedded in the history of pre-cinema and visual illusions, and explored the origins of the more well known natural history – or habitat – installations involving a combination of prepared animals, painted backgrounds and imitations of natural elements, such as rocks, foliage and even light and shadows.

These investigations took up much of the first phase of the doctoral research. Various results can be found on

Parallel to the research, another project was finalizing: The Three Motions of Loom are three monumental tapestries, woven in the Summer of 2019 at the Textiellab of Textielmuseum Tilburg (NL), and based on fragments from the then novel-in-progress ‘Wildevrouw’ by Belgian author Jeroen Olyslaegers. The story is set in 16th century Antwerp.

The tapestries are the result from a question: how can I, based on the way we perceive 16th century art now, make a prediction for the interpretation of this work – the three tapestries – 450 years into the future?

This is how temperature graphs, CO2 levels and the rising sea levels became entangled in the designs. After the project ended, I found myself wanting to deal in a less ‘hidden’ and more pronounced way with the urgency and consequences of climate change. An article in The Guardian (Jan 12, 2020) put me on track of ‘ecological grief’.

I started to delve into the concept, and encountered the word ‘solastalgia’, which deals with ecological grief.

“the homesickness you have when you are still at home”

In hindsight, many of my works of the past 20 years have been dealing with solastalgia.