- In Memoriam:Martha Blassnigg, 08 September 1969–27 September 2015
Martha Blassnigg, Associate Editor of Leonardo Reviews since 2006 and a long-time member of the Reviews Panel, died suddenly on 27 September 2015. Martha worked alongside the project’s delivery team, concentrating on its intellectual infrastructure to ensure that we were at least a little ahead of the curve. She was crucial to the thinking of the editorial team, and I know from the emails that I received as the sad news spread that she touched many of our constituency. For this reason, as someone who had the privilege to work closely with her for more than a decade, I would like to share a reflection on Martha.
In the mid-1990s Martha and I worked in the same small department of Film Studies at the University of Amsterdam and we lived in the same district a few canals away from each other. Although we must have passed each other from time to time, somehow we did not meet until 2003 when I returned to Amsterdam to give a paper at the Netherlands Film Museum. In that paper I suggested that some of the unanswered questions around the amazing popularity of the Cinématographe might dissolve if we remembered that at the turn of the nineteenth century Spiritualism was a profound and ubiquitous influence on the very groups of people who attended the screenings, made their desires heard to the exhibitors and shaped the technological form. After the paper Martha came up to share her work on a Ph.D. proposal that she was seeking funding for, and we have collaborated ever since.
When I first met Martha she had just completed a project in which she interviewed a number of clairvoyants in order to give conscious shape to the concept of an angel—something that for most academics sat between kitsch and fantasy. However, in this work she gave such intellectual substance to the discussions of those who spoke with her that their visions had dignity and authority. In the same way she captured the concept of the technological imaginary at Transtechnology Research at Plymouth University in ways that attracted the minds of researchers who were looking for new paradigms, and through that group worked on dozens of projects, including Leonardo Reviews and L|R|Q. We published joint papers and shared a large research grant that allowed us to work with people that she valued at the EYE Film Institute, the Institute for Sound and Vision and the Angewandte in Vienna. She also worked independently on projects, such as the anthology Light Image and Imagination, in collaboration with Gustave Deutsch and Hannah Schimek. At the time of her death we were working with a large group of researchers from the cognitive sciences, the arts and the humanities on creativity and cognitive innovation. We also set up a small laboratory project to revisit the psychological experiments that were important to media in the late 19th century, and we were working with hospitals and the Dental School at Plymouth to build a new center dealing with health and creativity. We also established a network of researchers from across many disciplines, including Roger Malina, to work on methodological issues—in particular those that involve questions about transdisciplinarity and academic collaboration.
It seems today as I write this that the answers to many of our questions about academic collaboration were hidden in plain sight. Martha was a natural collaborator—or perhaps, more precisely, she made it very easy for others to collaborate with her. At this distance it is clear to me that this was not simply a consequence of her intellectual qualities and her natural compassion for the world around her, but rather was the legacy of her refusal to acknowledge the dichotomy between matter and spirit as an irrefutable given. For her this refusal was a gift of personal freedom and intellectual grace; the irrevocable continuity of time, memory and perception [End Page 87] permeated her work as a scholar, teacher, thinker and colleague. I know that many of us hope that we can take this gift forward in our shared futures as we...