Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays

Nº 11 – 2023 (1)


Kevin L. Ferguson (Queens College, City University of New York)

How to cite this article: Ferguson, K. L. (2023) Void. Tecmerin. Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales, 11, 2023(1). ISSN: 2659-4269

Here I explore the affective aesthetics of the cyclorama: a curved, cornerless background used in advertising, music videos, and cinema. While 19th-century historical cycloramas featured realistically painted panoramic scenes, their use in 20th-century moving images often has the opposite effect, isolating characters in void-like white backgrounds not unlike the blankness of an unprojected cinema screen. While this piece of media infrastructure lends itself to highlighting characters or products, there are a number of contemporary moving image texts that emphasize the white cyclorama wall as a void in and of itself. Seemingly simplifying the filmed environment, these voids in fact project a range of contradictory affective connotations: abstraction, simulation, freedom, punishment, interiority, infinity, simplicity, futurity, whiteness. Looking at a range of aesthetics in science fiction, fine art, advertising, and popular music, this video argues that white void aesthetics are not the simple neutral spaces they appear to be.

The word “cyclorama” originally referred to large, immersive panoramic art installations portraying historical scenes in a 360° cylinder. The theater also commonly employs “cycloramas” as backgrounds that are painted or used for scenic projection. However, in reference to contemporary film and television, the cyclorama has a much more distinct use, specifically referring to a studio setup that creates the illusion of a void-like infinite space with a curved, cornerless join where white studio walls meet the floor. Without the visible shadow of corners and with the dominance of a pure matte white, cycloramas in film and television create a strangely flat, unbounded space, both infinitely three-dimensional and flatly two-dimensionally. In its current form, the void cyclorama has become a visual trope in specific media contexts, namely advertising, science fiction, and music video. 

The cyclorama used as a white void tends to provoke two divergent reactions: either the infinite freedom of a blank canvas upon which to project the imagination or the infinite terror of an untethered blankness with no stable point of reference. In my video, we see examples of these extremes, from Neo (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix (Wachowkis, 1999) and Greta (Oona Chaplin) in Black Mirror’s “White Christmas” (2014) panicking over being dropped into a featureless void, to Busta Rhymes in “Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)” (1994) and Pusha T in “Diet Coke” (2022) positively exuberant about roaming an empty space of expressive freedom. In general, science fiction texts mark the void as a frightening space of emptiness and lack, whereas popular Black music videos mark it as a space of possibility and exploration.

For this reason, I observe that Black characters in science fiction films frequently become the guide to otherwise lost white men, beginning with SRT (Don Pedro Colley) in THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971) and continuing with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) in The Matrix. In considering the visual representation of Black bodies comfortably navigating science fictional voids (as well as white bodies such as Neo’s that are typically costumed in all-black), I am reminded of artist Kara Walker’s work with cut-paper silhouettes and plantation imagery, which is explicitly referenced in Nia DaCosta’s remake of Candyman (2021). Akin to the cyclorama, Walker uses a specific media trope to recontextualize America’s racist history. Walker’s work also amplifies another component of the white cyclorama void: the pure white space of presentation. Like an empty art gallery or an empty cinema screen, the cyclorama’s void is a blank screen upon which to imagine one’s fears, fantasies, and fetishes. Indeed, the contemporary cycloramic void has historically offered these three choices: science fiction fears, Black musical fantasies, and consumerist fetishes. 

Thus, the argument behind my central text card: “rather than simplify visual context, the white void produces a variety of complicated contradictions: abstraction, simulation / freedom, punishment / interiority, infinity / simplicity, futurity / whiteness.” In this sentence, whiteness alone is unmarked with an opposing term since we know whiteness deceptively represents itself as the ground, the base, the natural, the uncoded, the pure, the uncontested. Rather, in the diverse media examples I gather, we see figurative and literal whiteness consistently used as a backdrop for a variety of affective responses. The cyclorama’s void holds no one special meaning in moving image texts but rather serves as a multifarious changing backdrop for a variety of affective expressions. The cyclorama’s backdrop of whiteness is redeployed literally as a space of play for Black actors and a space of terror for white ones.

This work considers the paradoxical ways that void cycloramas both liberate and trap figures, focusing on the areas of advertising, science fiction, and Black popular music. Using the database logic of the supercut, it seeks to evoke an affective response in viewers, asking them to consider how cycloramas can simultaneously be a blank screen upon which to imagine a utopian playground as well as a hellish, unmoored void that is confining in its infinity.


  • DaCosta, N. (Director). (2021). Candyman [Film]. Universal Pictures.
  • Lucas, G. (Director). (1971). THX 1138 [Film]. American Zoetrope.
  • Mack, C. (2014, June 27). Flava in Ya Ear (Remix) [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/PMbELEUfmIA
  • Pusha T. (2022, February 8). Diet Coke [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/HFrwm6oRYJg 
  • Tibbetts, C. (Director). (2014, December 16). White Christmas (Season 2, Episode 7) [TV series episode] In A. Jones, C. Brooker (Executive Producers), Black Mirror. House of Tomorrow.
  • Wachowskis (Directors). (1999). The Matrix [Film]. Warner Bros.

Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays
ISSN: 2659-4269
© Tecmerin Research Group
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid