Agency

Art objects, makers, and users all have agency, the capability to do and undo, to transform their worlds.  Here we investigate art as a system of action. Agency in all its many variations mediates between the interests or intentions of an individual, group, or other form of organized social life and an audience, viewership, or community. Areas of inquiry include artistic patronage, collecting and cataloging, propaganda, idolatry and iconoclasm, cult and ritual, and performative spaces.

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Agency

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    Talking about "The Other": Resources for the CMNH

    This past spring, I had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Erin Peters and the Department of Education at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH). My job was to provide an outline for a potential curriculum to be used for docent training at the CMNH in talking about cultures which are considered “the other" particularly with Alcoa Hall, but also in general. The term “the other” or alterity in this context refers to cultures which vary greatly from western culture and as such are not well known among the average person in the United States and often the average person has grave misconceptions of these cultures. These facts make it difficult to discuss these cultures in a museum setting.

     

    In an attempt to tackle this task, I started by talking to professors in several departments at the University of Pittsburgh including anthropology, history of art and architecture, and religious studies to get their opinion on the subject as well as the current state of the cultural halls at the CMNH. I was also able to set up meetings with the director of the Department of Education at CMNH as well as the people in charge of training docents to get their opinions on the subject. I was even able to view the training videos that they use for training the docents at CMNH in the cultural halls.

     

    By combining the opinions of academics and museum professionals, I was able to get a good idea of where to start my own research. From there, I did a lot of research ranging from specific case studies of mostly representations of Native American groups in museums through to anthropological and historical theory. This took up the bulk of my internship by simply reading through the material and creating short summaries of each paper/book.

     

    At the end of my internship I created a short outline with all of the ‘big ideas’ of all of the readings for the CMNH as well as a set of summaries for the resources that I gathered. These will be presented to the Department of Education at the CMNH to help guide them as they are changing their docent curriculum.

     

    Overall, this internship was very research oriented and hands-off. I found that it helped me to better work independently and find better sources for research projects in museum studies research. In the future, I hope to use these skills to further my own research.

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    Looking Behind the Glass: Rediscovering the Women of Botany Hall

    This semester I had a research internship with the department to work with a group of undergraduate students on the dioramas of CMNH’s Botany Hall. With graduate student Colleen O’Reilly as my mentor, I was given the opportunity to create my own independent project on the topic of my choice. My primary focus was the role women played in the creation of the dioramas from past and present. This subject interested me most because it was a point where botany, museum studies, and gender studies intersected. The section of Botany in the Natural History museum was dominated by women compared to the other departments. The broader thoughts that challenged me throughout this project were about the museum’s accessibility to women during the different stages of botanical dioramas; was Botany Hall a space which simply allowed women to flourish, one that confined them to a subject that was considered “appropriate”, or one that was passed off as “women’s work”? I wanted to take a different approach to presenting this research so I worked with an online program called Scalar. Scalar is a platform that creates a digital book that allows readers to navigate their own path through the narratives that I present. The pictures and documents found in the museum’s archives were vital in the understanding and creation of this project and I felt that I needed a platform that showcased that. Though I ran into just as many technical challenges as I did with my actual research, it was really rewarding to watch it all come together

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Race-ing the Museum participants, May 13, 2016, in Braddock PA (minus Marina who had to leave to catch a plane)

     

    Race-ing the Museum: Some Afterthoughts

    Our workshop ended on Friday the 13th with a beautiful day at the Carnegie Library of Braddock with the artist collective Transformazium, after a packed week of field work and intense conversation with an amazing group of graduate students and faculty from across Pitt's campus.

    Over the course of the week we met and talked with various curators, educators, and archivists at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Teenie Harris Archive, the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, the Heinz History Center, the Allegheny City Gallery on the Northside, Pitt’s special collections and multiple archives, and the Art Lending Library in Braddock.  We interacted in various ways with objects on display and brought from storage, as well as curated selections of mixed materials from larger collections, and on the last day had a chance to do some speed-curating of our own in the art lending space at the Braddock Library.  In between, we talked a lot about what we had seen and heard and about what we should do to put ideas in practice and push the conversation forward in public.

    For me personally it was a revelation to move from one radically different collection to another and to ponder the structural differences that help determine their narratives, audiences, and engagements.  Each institution has its own criteria of quality and value.  These value systems in turn create communities around them.  Some systems are inherently more exclusive than others and therefore present particular challenges for an ethic of inclusion.

    At the Hunt Institute, for example, with the help of their generous staff we spent a couple of hours examining prints and books mostly against the grain: we looked through botany books and various records of collecting expeditions by European and Anglo colonizers to see how they represented the indigenous and enslaved peoples who actually supplied much of the knowledge.  Against the hierarchy of power and knowledge communicated by the materials themselves, we worked to recover the devalued voice and expertise of the peoples at the bottom of the hierarchy. At the Teenie Harris Archive, in the Carnegie Museum of Art, with the help of their equally generous curators, we had the privilege of entering a lost world – the largely African American Hill district before the destruction wrought by urban renewal – through the eye and lens of the maker himself, a man who did not self-identify as an artist and who rarely entered the art museum where his huge collection eventually found a home.  Here the institution has the good fortune to mine the knowledge of the community, because many of them from those days are still alive and come in to talk about their pictures and their world.  And so an archive of images has also become an archive of oral memory and of written history, all deeply interwoven into a still living community fabric.  A quote my co-facilitator Shirin read to us two days later keeps returning to my mind: If one no longer has land, but has memory of land, then one can make a map.

    And in Braddock, where Shirin read that passage – one of the poorest municipalities in our region – we thought about the value system of an art lending library in the context of a community whose resources, knowledge, and creativity tend to be ignored in a racialized master narrative of blight and distress.  Here is a public library that lends original art for three weeks to anyone with a county library card – art that includes work donated by every artist represented in the 2013 Carnegie International, black arts printmakers, emerging artists, and paintings by incarcerated men in a prison art program.  All of it surrounded by books on art and society in a light-filled room with salaried art and culture facilitators from the nearby community to discuss the art and its makers and stories.  From these artworks and books we curated our own multi-media displays on various themes which had emerged here and there in our week-long conversation.

    That conversation was simultaneously challenging, contentious, draining, and energizing.  But the big question we returned to all week was what can we do?  Many interesting ideas for real projects came out over the course of the week, and some initiatives have gotten started.  We are talking about exhibitions and websites and courses and new partnerships and pedagogical initiatives.  I’m sorry I won’t get too specific at the moment, because we are in the early stages and some ideas may blossom and others may not.  But, with a little patience and some more work, we’ll start to roll out ideas and proposals and solicit advice and feedback.  We promise to keep you posted.

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
  • Carnegie Museum Gallery of Ethnology 1908

     

    Race and the Museum: A Pittsburgh Workshop

    In our far from post-racial world, museums are increasingly feeling the pressures of demographic change and urgent new campaigns for racial justice.  Famous European museums are altering the titles of art works to eliminate demeaning terms; Confederate monuments are being dismantled in public space and sent to history museums for storage; museums across the U.S. are scrambling to shed their image as bastions of privilege and to diversify their audiences and supporters. 

    How have museums, as collections and as institutions, created, supported, or challenged constructions of race and racial identity?  How are museums and their objects implicated in the history of slavery, indigenous peoples, and race relations?  How have museums represented and interpreted these issues?  How can and should their collections tell different stories?  What can museums do to combat white privilege, and become more inclusive in their institutional structures and in their audiences?

    For one week in May, a group of twelve faculty and graduate students representing nine different departments here at Pitt will tackle these questions in a new workshop funded by the A.W. Mellon Foundation.  Drawn from a wide array of fields from anthropology and history of science to English and art, the participants will go behind the scenes in local museums, dig into collections, and talk with curators and museum educators to see how they deal with these issues in their institutions and careers.             

    But we also plan to do more than just talk, as important as that is.  Every participant in the workshop will develop an individual or collaborative project to carry the workshop forward, whether it be a revised course for undergraduates, an exhibition, a publication, a community engagement initiative, or even a new partnership with a local institution.  We hope these projects will not only be transformative for the participants themselves but have ripple effects within the university and museum communities and ultimately out in the city and region as well.  Please check back in later and we will point you to a new website documenting their work and its impact.

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
  • Digital Tools

    Image Source: https://mydigitalhumanity.wordpress.com/

     

    Digital Tools of Interest: Winter 2015-2016

    Below please find a curated list of the digital tools I am currently recommending to people when they come to me with particular humanities-based tasks that they'd like to accomplish.

    Text Processing

    Data Visualization

    Blank Slates

    Time and Place

    Data FitnessTM (Matt Burton)

    Time-Based Media

    Still-Image-Based

    Text Annotation

    App Creation

    HTML Creation

    Network Analysis

    Another nice, not ovewhelming, list is found here from the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative: http://digitalhumanities.unc.edu/resources/tools/

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Contemporaneity submission deadline extended!

    Hello all!

    Contemporaneity co-editors in chief invite you to submit to the department's journal Contemporaneity. The new deadline is September 30th, 2015. We hope that this constellation-based edition sparks conversation in the department and beyond. Please share with your colleagues.

    CONTEMPORANEITY 5 CALL FOR PAPERS:

    AGENCY IN MOTION

    In the 2013 documentary The Missing Picture Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh revisits his own painful memories and experiences of the Khmer Rouge genocide by creating miniature dioramas from a deeply personalized account of historical settings and personages. As Panh said in an interview, "these aren’t just figurines, they are something else, they have a soul.” Panh’s traumatic experiences relay not only a very personalized account of the grainy historical record, they give a particular agency to artistic objects.

    In its 5th edition, Contemporaneity will focus on the concept of agency in visual culture. As a method, agency examines the dynamics of visual culture and human relations, questioning the work, its makers, its audience. The concept of agency has enjoyed increasing currency within multiple disciplines—the humanities and social sciences among them—opening up new avenues for understanding social and aesthetic interactions, including anthropologist Alfred Gell’s conception of the art object as embedded in a system of action, Michael Baxandall’s examination of artistic intent, and the extension of relational and contextual artistic practices by Claire Bishop. Contemporaneity is seeking submissions that cover a wide range of issues, topics, periods, and disciplines with an emphasis on the complexity of human and non-human agents interacting in the visual world. These topics may include, but are not limited to:

    • Historiographical/theoretical models of agency
    • Virtual agency, avatars, self-fashioning, branding
    • Indigeneity, mestizaje, hybridity, trans-/cross-culturation
    • Gendered, queer, ethnic, classed, race/racialized identities
    • Embodiment, cult objects, iconoclasm
    • Curation, patronage, collecting
    • Artist intention, artist workshops and collaboration
    • War, counter-histories/memories, politics of testimonial and memorial practices
    • Political agency, activism, riots
    • The disappeared, the dead, the missing, the absent

    SPECIAL SUBSECTION: REENACTMENT

    We are further seeking papers for a special subsection that address, problematize, or work through the conceptual issues surrounding “Reenactment” as a mode of artistic production. What may be lost, what may be gained, when one reenacts? Who is allowed to reenact, when, where and to what purpose? How does one begin to assess the innovative work of artists, like Panh, who seem motivated by alternative historiographical values such as resurrection, embodiment, and vivification? This includes but is not limited to the following issues:

    • Trans-multi-inter media considerations of reenactment in visual art, film, or theatre and performance
    • Formal strategies of recursive processes
    • The body as a means of generating and preserving history
    • Paradigms of ritual, re-performance, and altered states
    • Revisiting traumatic acts of institutionalized violence
    • Techniques of historical staging in curation and exhibition studies

    The deadline for submissions is September 30, 2015. Manuscripts (6,000 word maximum) should include an abstract, 3-5 keywords, and adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style. To make a submission, visit contemporaneity.pitt.edu, click Register and create an Author profile to get started. Proposals for book and exhibition reviews, interviews, or scholarly discussions will also be considered, and we recognize that these submissions may take many forms. Proposals can be uploaded online at contemporaneity.pitt.edu

    Contemporaneity is a peer-reviewed online journal organized by the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit contemporaneity.pitt.edu and constellations.pitt.edu

     

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Current Projects
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future

    I just returned to Pittsburgh after a month-long trip to Australia. I've spent the past week sorting notes and images and making sense of my whirlwind tour of the Aboriginal art world. I didn’t think it was possible, but one show topped the rest: “Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future,” curated by Dr. Melinda Hinkson (Australian National University) and hosted by the Charles Darwin University Art Gallery in Darwin, NT.

    I’m partial to University Art Galleries because they provide a space for focused, research-driven shows. This medium-sized gallery space comprised of approximately 100 stunning crayon drawings made by the Warlpiri people from Yuendumu and Lajamanu in central Australia during the 1950s-2010s. “Remembering the Future” was an exposition of Hinkson's masterful research project carried out over four years. 

    What interested me most was how Hinkson and her collaborators confronted multi-layered questions of agency - the agency of the drawings and of their makers, as well as the project's relevance to Warlpiri people today. The majority were made in the 1950s at the behest of anthropologist Mervyn Meggitt and stored in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. To interpret these drawings, Hinkson consulted with Warlpiri people about their potential meaning and significance (and the appropriateness of their public display). Personal memories flooded out and the relationship sparked a new group of drawings, some of which were included in the show.

     

    Exposed to the materials for the first time in the 1950s, the Warlpiri artists, primarily Larry Jungarrayin and Paddy Japaljarri, captured the shimmering radiance of the ancestral Australian landscape using a primary color palette and thick textured crayon lines. The curators openly complicate the issues such visually compelling Aboriginal material presents to anthropologists and art historians. On the representational level, one question concerns the ability of images to document and represent a culturally-specific way of seeing the world. In Meggitt’s documentation of the drawings (often included in wall texts), his descriptive language concerns the artist’s aesthetic development. He notes how the artists experimented with color and composition to approximate seen reality. The drawings indeed have an expressionist appeal.

     

    While still concerned with what the Warlpiri saw in the landscape and how they represented it, Hinkson views drawing as “a prism through which to explore Warlpiri experience.” She emphasizes the Warlpiri people’s changing and diverse experience ushered in by their removal to Hooker Creek and the increased role the Australian government played in Warlpiri life. The drawings mediated and shaped social relationships, and continue to do so. She put this central claim into practice by interjecting into the history of the drawings and bringing them back to the community. In the accompanying catalog Hinkson relays her interaction with Neville Japangardi Poulson, who, after viewing the drawings said, “They’re only for making white people happy.” He clarified his comment a few days later, yet it had already exposed the myth of many anthropological social experiments regarding Indigenous peoples that sought to capture the purity of Indigenous cultural expressions in visual form. 

     

    The exhibition’s curious title, “Remembering the Future” captures the essence of the entanglement of the Warlpiri past, present, and future (perhaps counterintuitive to art historical narrative) and the role drawing plays in mediating these relationships. The pithy wall texts and stunning organization could provoke and delight the casual and more engaged viewers alike. This is truly an art.

     

    There’s an online exhibit with fantastic images of the  crayon drawings exhibited in the show that I encourage you all to visit: http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/warlpiri.  Here is a link to the exhibit’s opening ceremony: http://cdu.edu.au/artcollection-gallery/warlpiri-drawings-floortalk. Hinkson’s catalog, Remembering the Future: Warlpiri Life Through the Prism of Drawing (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2014) is a fantastic read for those interested in issues of agency and Indigenous art. 

     

    Image credit: Larry Jungarrayi, Hooker Creek, The malaka’s (superintendent’s) house, crayon drawing. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/warlpiri/works/houses. A special thanks to the Center for the Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh for supporting this trip. 

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Graduate Work
  • VMW in Summer 2015

    The Visual Media Workshop in Summer 2015...waiting for Fall Term to begin!

     

    To My (Once and Future) Undergraduate Research Assistants

    Please read this article, "An Undergraduate's Love Letter to Digital Humanities Research," by Tiffany Chan...and let me know your feedback (either below in the comments if you have worked here before...or to adl40@pitt.edu for everyone). For those interested in working and learning here in the Visual Media Workshop (VMW) in the future, this essay, written by an undergradate about her experiences in the digital humanities, provides a taste of the potential opportunities in the field. We strive here in the VMW to create a community where all ideas are heard, and where we sincerely want each other to succeed.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    HA&A Graduate Student Trip to the College Art Association Annual Conference

    With generous support from the Dean of Graduate Studies, ten HA&A graduate students (Maria Castro, Nicole Coffineau, Clarisse Fava-Piz, Annika Johnson, Isaac King, Colleen O’Reilly, Ben Ogrodnik, Nicole Scalissi, Krystle Stricklin, and Marina Tyquiengco) traveled to New York to conduct individual research and attend the annual conference of the College Arts Association. In a colloquium on March 25th, these students discussed their research, their newly acquired tools and knowledge, and the presence of the constellations at CAA.

    Attached is the slideshow from their discussion which includes some resources and potential jumping off points for further discussion in the department.

     

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    Hey, Art Historians! Interested in learning more about copyright issues in your work??

    CAA has produced the pamphlet, "Code of Best Practices for Fair Use for the Visual Arts." It is clear, concise, and direct. Do read it!

    It's attached below, and it's also on the Internet here: http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/fair-use/best-practices-fair-use-visual-arts.pdf

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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