Environment

Since the origins of humankind, the physical environment has been profoundly shaped by the countless ways people make, modify, and interpret the places they inhabit or use.  Conversely the environment has always shaped the material possibilities through which people can order their existence.  Here we investigate the environment as both a material and imaginary field through which social and cultural relations are represented and constituted.

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Environment

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    Itinera's Best Practices

    In the Fall semester of 2016, I started training potential Itinera contributors outside the post of project manager. These individuals included Eleanor Harvey, senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Fracesca Torello, professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon, S. E. Hackney, fellow Visual Media Workshop project manager, and Lindsay Decker, VMW graduate assistant. Through their feedback and questions during the trainings, I was able to refine my Spring semester project, which is to develop a Scalar site dedicated to outlining the best practices for Itinera. My vision for this project is to provide a platform for scholars interested in the mission of Itinera to be able to view and appreciate its networked complexity and readily envision themselves contributing to that complexity with their own objects and processes of inquiry.
     

    Scalar
    Currently, the content manager I am looking into is Scalar, an open-sourced authoring and publishing platform developed by the University of Southern California. Their mission is to enable their authors to assemble various media with text to create and structure easily navigatable, long-form and essay-length pages. From Itinera's point of view, the benefit of organizing information in this digital format is creating a business-card-like deliverable that, when given to interested parties, demonstrates the networked and relational complexity–while still, I hope, the do-ability–of working with Itinera through Collective Access, the University of Pittsburgh's web-based cataloging tool. (Collective Access is used to catalog the digital images for both the University Art Gallery and Decomposing Bodies project here at the University of Pittsburgh.)
     

    Itinera's Best Practices
    In using Scalar, I am building an online manual that: one, walks the user through the process of data input, both in text-based and video/screen capture directions; two, outlines common issues that arise when the historical record is translated into structural hierarchies in flattened input forms; and three, answers to frequently asked questions. I am certain to include the workflow, diligently put together by Jen Donnelly and Meredith North before me. Also, my growing list of chapters include: Source Authorities, Highlighting Narrative and Historical Tone, Location Specificity, Object Metadata, Supporting Agents Input, and a template for Users' Logging and Reflections. The aim of these chapters is to highlight issues that have emerged for the art historians working on Itinera that concern the nuances of the historical narrative that are lost in the metadata.

    For example, "Highlighting Narrative:"
    Tour Case Study:

    AG16051001_mn, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

    This is a factual overview of Montagu’s Turkish tour:
    With her husband and ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu set out to Turkey from Westminster, England by way of the Netherlands, Austria, and Serbia from August of 1716 to November 1718.

    This is historical context suggesting the motivations behind the tour:
    At that time, Turkey was at war with the Venetian Republic, whereby Mr. Montagu was assigned to mediate on behalf of England an agreement with Austria, in the attempt to prevent Austria from engaging with the Spanish power in the Mediterranean.

    This is my interpretation of the historical account, preserving the voice of the original historical record:
    During this time, Lady Montagu entertained at court while studying Arabic and reading Arabic poetry. Toward the end of their tour, her husband inevitably failed at establishing a truce with Austria, his position was usurped by a competitor, and he failed to ascend to a political post of any import, resulting in a general, bitter demeanor. Shortly after they separated. Lady Montagu turned her sights to Italy for almost the rest of her life, keeping up with her studies and correspondence with her stately and artistic friends abroad. She died in 1962, reviled and adored across Europe and the Near East.

    In short, my intention is to create an editable and mutable document that demonstrates the complexity of historical and social histories for Itinerant posterity.

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Itinera
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Site Specificity and Diversity Concerns within Itinera

     

    Since starting on Itinera, I've focused on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an 18th-Century aristocrat and poet. Specifically, I focus on her tour from London, through Eastern Europe, and into Istanbul with her hubsband, the English ambassador to Turkey. As her introduction reads:

    With her husband and ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu set out to Turkey from Westminster, England by way of the Netherlands, Austria, and Serbia in August of 1716. At that time, Turkey was at war with the Venetian Republic, whereby Mr. Montagu was assigned to mediate on behalf of England an agreement with Austria, in the attempt to prevent Austria from engaging with the Spanish power in the Mediterranean. During this time, Lady Montagu entertained at court while studying Arabic and reading Arabic poetry. Toward the end of their tour, her husband inevitably failed at establishing a truce with Austria, his position was usurped by competition, and he failed to ascend to a political post of any import. Shortly after they separated. Lady Montagu turned her sights to Italy for almost the rest of her life, keeping up with her studies and correspondence with her stately and artistic friends abroad.

    Originally, I saw my take on this project to be one that diversifies both the travelling agent and their destinations. As it was, and, in light of recent electoral events, selecting and following a wealthy, white woman as she travels through Eastern Europe and Turkey was not going to suffice. Thus I've redirected my thinking on what it means to do diverse digital humanities and scholarship as far as I can see: though it would be wrong to ignore the readily available histories of white travellers during this time, I use Montagu as locus to investigate the structural biases built in to the historicization and visualization of these white, European travellers.

    In doing so, I hope to place at the forefront practical and conceptual best practices: practically, I aim for site specificity in order to visually differentiate the plot points on Itinera's map. When an agent, Montagu, visits Rome, for example, she lists details such as churches, squares, villas, often without naming the building or describing its function. So I focus my attention on teasing evidence foremost from the primary material, (i.e., Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters) and historical data (i.e., histories of medieval bridges, churches, etc.) in order to best differentiate between sites. I ask myself questions such as:

    • Architecturally, which sites, details, buildings were extant while she was visiting and what buildings are known to have been demolished? This question might lead to understanding what peoples were displaced with the destruction of their communities and spaces both during the Austrio-Turskish War as well as more contemporary wars.
    • Socio-politically: what positions did her hosts hold? I can find much of this information in the endnotes, but sometimes this would still need further investigation, especially with the misspelling of a name or location. Certainly, this question can help in determining in what "castle on the hill" she stayed while in Budapest in January 1717, but even more importantly this specificity can shed light on her hosts' alliances and what hand they had in the erasure of other histories.
    • Also socio-politically: what historically significant meetings and events occurred while she was in that city that would indicate the location of a town center, assembly hall, or city center? This question could shed light on significant events in the history of the Habsburg Empire and could point to the location of other points of interest in uncovering other histories. For example, what effects, if any, did Montagu's epistolary criticism of the Imperial German Diet's assembly to other aristocrats (i.e., Alexander Pope) have on court life? Would the ramifications of her criticisms have any political or legistlative effect?

    Practically, if I'm able to piece together pieces of evidence that in some way answer questions such as these, I am able to narrow down a specific location with some degree of certainty. And if such details are not available, I do not take it upon myself to differentiate the location and will, as necessary, defer to others who specialize in these histories. I recognize at this point I am an interlocutor to interpret subjective data and place it into a flattened network of other data points on a map. In this case, if I name the site simply as "Rome instead" of "the north wall of the Colosseum," I leave the reponsibility of further specification to a future historian that may perhaps work with a new visualization and evidence.

    This attention to site specificity, of course, serves a worthwhile conceptual function as well. Although I am still working on this connection, attention to historio-politically mediated spaces in turn draws attention to the systems of power and the erasure of other histories. 

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Itinera
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  • 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
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    Environment Affinity Group at SECAC

    This blog post was created in the context of our Methods class in which we (Sarah, Jackie, Clarisse) are working on the notion of environment. At SECAC we were exploring the ways in which current scholars are approaching their subjects through this methodological lens.

    On Friday morning, we as a group attended a panel called “The Perils of Periodization, the Simplifications of Style: Revisiting Border Crossings in Medieval Art and Architecture”. Inspired by Ethan Matt Kavaler’s book Renaisance Gothic, the panel confronted the limitations of period labels based upon styles, and pushed for a deeper exploration of the specific geographic and temporal boundaries of a particular piece. Sarah Dillon, of Kingsborough Community College, presented a talk, “Italian Stained Glass of the Trecento: Late Medieval, Gothic, or Early Renaissance”. This talk in particular struck us as a particularly effective exploration of the impact of environment within art history. Her talk centered around three Italian stained glass windows from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: The Duccio Rose window in the Siena Cathedral, the Simone Martini window in the Chapel of St. Martin, and Taddeo Gaddi’s Baroncelli Chapel at Santa Croce. Critically addressing their origins in late Medieval Italy, Dillon argued that these windows represent just a small part of Italian works that defy traditional classifications of ‘Medieval’ or ‘Renaissance’.

    Her analysis of the Duccio window was particularly exciting for our own academic pursuits dealing with the theme of environment. Analyzing the window and its location within the church, Dillon critically addressed the way that this window would have been visible to the thirteenth and fourteenth century viewer. Dillon drew compositional and iconographical connections between the window and the altarpiece situated below it (also a work of Duccio), and she further emphasized the relationship by addressing their specific locations within the church. The altarpiece and window not only iconographically inform one another but the window additionally illuminates the golden altarpiece, highlighting it with its many colors during the day.

    The panel “Casting the ancient World for the Modern World” chaired by Carol Mattusch, from George Mason University, took a different approach to the notion of environment. Presenters discussed the plaster cast as a work of art itself, with its own history, and its complexity that is often overshadowed because of its devalued status of copy for which it has long suffered. Until recently, plaster casts were destroyed or lost because of this reception. Annetta Alexandrinis, from Cornell University, presented two recent exhibition projects: “Firing the Canon! The Cornell Casts and Their Discontents” (http://www.cornell.edu/video/firing-the-canon-cornell-plaster-casts ), and “Cast and Present: Replicating Antiquity in the Museum and the Academy,” (http://museum.cornell.edu/exhibitions/cast-and-present-replicating-antiquity-museum-and-academy )and demonstrated the documentary, as well as artistic, values of these objects for students who worked on these collaborative exhibitions at the university.

    The plaster cast is particularly interesting in our discussion about environment: conceived by 19th century collectors as substitutes of the originals, plaster casts were praised for their pedagogical values in academies and museums, like at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Francesca Torello, from Carnegie School of Architecture, presented a paper on, “Exhibiting Architecture: Plaster Casts in Pittsburgh between Instruction and Professional Debate” which focused on the history of the creation of the collection of plaster casts by Andrew Carnegie between 1904 and 1906. His goal was to bring artworks from across the Atlantic to people in Pittsburgh who could not travel. The original environment of a façade of a church, or a specific architectural element, become lost. However, it allows for the selection of the most representative architectural and sculptural “marvels” that contribute to the creation of the encyclopedic museum. Art historians today can learn from these objects about the history of early 20th century taste, and conceive the plaster casts as works of art themselves, now that the idea of the fragmentary is well accepted.

    Another aspect of environment we noticed at SECAC was present in the session entitled “Reconfiguring Knowledge: Making the Digital Humanities Visual”. Timothy Shea, of Duke University, presented his work “Digitizing Athens: Reconstructing the Urban Topography of Athens with GIS”, which stood for its methodology focused on notions of environment. The focus of this project on graves in Athens was rooted in the understanding of the original markers and their ancient environment, and how the roads would have informed the original viewer experience. There were similarities between Timothy Shea’s methods, and those found in a reading we completed earlier in the course by Lauren Hackworth Peterson. In “The Baker, His Tomb, His Wife, and Her Breadbasket: The Monument of Eurysaces in Rome” (http://www.jstor.org/stable/3177343), Peterson highlights the importance of context through the relation of urban cemeteries to the roads leading to and from the city. Similarly, the mapping project “Digitizing Athens” overlays the locations of known cemetery sites with their contemporary roads and emphasizes the relevance of funerary marker location.

    Given our own research interests, it was informative for us to see how contemporary scholars are using the notion of environment in their work, implicitly or explicitly, through a variety of approaches. The viewer experience and the relationship of the object to its context provide a deeper understanding of artworks, and will inform our current research projects.

    Sarah Conell, Jackie Lombard, and Clarisse Fava-Piz    

     

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Graduate Work
    Tags: 
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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
    Tags: 
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    New forum to discuss constellations event 2016

    For those of you who weren't at the Agency meeting on Sept 28, we decided that we would take up the challenge offered by Barbara to help create a "signature" event for the Constellations to be held in Spring 2016.  The basic goal of the event is to bring national/international attention to our constellations model here and to forge possible collaborations with scholars and others outside our university.  We are clear that we don't want to do the standard keynote + conference panels, and that instead we want to put into practice what we are preaching here -- new models of collaboration and research practice, pedagogical innovation, and public engagement.  Barbara's initial idea was to build on the question posed by Gretchen, WHAAM (why history of art and architecture matters).  Some good discussion of this idea pro and con took place at the meeting.  If I can offer my takeaway from that discussion, it was this: while we do need to make our work matter to people outside our subfield, discipline, and instittution, we also need to give those external constituencies some good reason to join us.  

    I have set up a forum to brainstorm and discuss this event.  Go to forums in the navigation bar up above and you will find it listed.  Only constellations registrants can see the forum for now. 

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
  • Kirsten, Kaley, Karen, and Sara.

     

    At the Flight 93 Memorial

    I took four undergrads to the Flight 93 Memorial today, three of them TAs in my 1010 course and one of them my daughter. The fields were full of goldenrod under a scintillating sky. The site is a huge strip of over 2000 acres located on an old surface coal mine, with wind power turbines turning in the distance.  The landscape plan incorporates coal's "scar" into its design, suggesting in a very subtle way the hidden layers of history and violence that culminated in the attack of September 11.  There is much to ponder here about agency -- the agency of the passengers on the flight, who organized themselves and brought the plane down, and whose remains are still there mostly unrecovered; that of the terrorists, who are unnamed and effectively expunged from the site; and that of the visitors, who are led through the memorial in a tightly choreographed pattern and barred from most of the site by gates, barriers, signs, and rangers.  At the same time visitors are enabled to leave objects and post comment cards, which often follow patterns but are sometimes highly idosyncratic and obscure in their meaning -- windows into other minds.  

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Environment
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Faculty Work