Visual Knowledge

    • Schenley Park Entrance 1922
    • Schenley Park and Forbes Field 1936
    • Maria Sibylla Merian, Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung
    • Andrey Avinoff at Carnegie Museum of Art
    Schenley Park Entrance 1922

    Schenley Park Entrance, 1922, Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, courtesy of the Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

     

    Picturing Nature in Early 20th Century Oakland

    In the context of the Consuming Nature workshop, sparked especially by our plans to visit the Hunt Botanical Institute, I was thinking a lot about how to situate CMNH’s Botany Hall and its dioramas in the social and cultural context of Oakland. I had learned from research conducted by Kate Madison and Emily Enterline, collaborators on our project, about the involvement of Rachel Hunt with Andrey Avinoff in the creation of the botanical dioramas. Hunt (wife of Roy Hunt of Alcoa) was president of the Garden Club of Allegheny County, which contributed the funds for the first diorama of wildflowers of Pennsylvania, completed in 1928. Press from the time noted that the Garden Club of Allegheny County had also contributed to the improvement of the entrance to Schenley Park, which was visible from the windows that used to be in Botany Hall.

    I also had learned from the work of Peter Clericuzio (Currently Visiting Lecturer in Architectural Studies at Pitt) on the architecture of Forbes Field about how in the early twentieth-century Oakland was positioned as a cultural center and soothing escape from the grime of the city. I therefore came into the workshop with the notion that the dioramas might belong in this context, in which picturesque views of nature, leisure, and cultural enrichment worked together, while at the same time, the funding behind the institutional framework for this came from the very industry that was destroying the environment, via philanthropic activities.

    At Hunt Botanical Institute, we were able to see Elizabeth Shoumatoff’s portrait of Rachel Hunt (with background painted by Avinoff), as well as examples of the kind of botanical illustrations that were Rachel Hunt’s passion: large, richly detailed portraits of individual plants that almost seem to pose for the viewer. Chuck Tancin also mentioned to us that at the insistence of Roy Hunt, the shelves in the library reading room are aluminum (but painted bronze so as to fit with the overall aesthetic), which is a poignant anecdote for thinking about the intersecting agencies at work behind Pittsburgh’s institutional investment in a culturally sophisticated appreciation of nature.

    At CMOA, Lulu Lippincott shared with us some of her expertise on Avinoff, and we viewed some of his artworks, which as Lulu explained, can be understood as depictions of his philosophy about the linkage of art, science, the natural world, and spirituality. Even though Avinoff was known as an entomologist, it is clear to me now that Botany Hall was of special interest to him. In the context of Avinoff’s interests and Hunt’s patronage, the representational strategies of the botanical dioramas, which must be described as picturesque, theatrical, and somewhat political, as much as scientifically accurate, come into clearer focus. It is important to imagine the museum, and the philanthropic culture that shaped the space of Oakland, as driven by a dream of a unified sphere of progress and idealism of all kinds, rather than the division between art and science that came to structure the institutions in the later twentieth century. This cultural space allowed the appreciation of nature to remain congruous with the glorification of industry.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    • Underwood and Underwood, Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope
    • Six Degrees of Francis Bacon
    Underwood and Underwood, Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope

    Underwood and Underwood, The Pool of Siloam, --outside of Jerusalem, Palestine, 1900, 2 photographs mounted on card; (8.5x17cm). From a collection of stereo views of Israel/Palestine c.1900. Collection of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. http://haagradsymposium.pitt.edu/Abstracts/Richmond-Moll.pdf 

     

    A Reflection on Debating Visual Knowledge

    Earlier this month, students in History of Art and Architecture and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh hosted Debating Visual Knowledge, an interdisciplinary graduate symposium. It was an honor to have Patrick Jagoda and Simone Osthoff participate as keynote speakers, as well as many other inspiring and diverse thinkers and makers. Highlights included a panel on curating with Terry Smith, Cynthia Morton, Alison Langmead, and Dan Byers, opportunities to experience the work of filmmakers Ross Nugent and Mike Maraden, Ella Mason and Joanna Reed of Yes Brain Dance Theater, and a Finnbogi Petursson exhibition curated by Murray Horne at Wood Street Galleries. We heard 14 presentations on a huge variety of topics from grad students who had travelled nationally and internationally to be here, and were able to workshop papers by two participants. We also toured Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia at the University Art Gallery.

    I hope that we can continue the many specific and fascinating conversations raised that weekend as we post videos and further thoughts to the Constellations website, collaborate with our graduate journal Contemporaneity, and produce digital projects that present the results of this event. I think we have an opportunity here to become a network of researchers who are a resource for each other because of some common interests. We take images seriously as sources of new knowledge, not just reflections of other knowledge. We share a concern about focusing on “the visual” as something specific, as something that matters as a historical concept, but not always, not necessarily, as separate from other domains. Most of all, we think that the study of visual material and sensory experience does not belong to a single discipline. We all have to reckon with traditional disciplinary boundaries in our work and can benefit from the support of a community in doing so.

    When we started developing the symposium, we were intentionally vague about what we wanted to happen, and the conversations throughout our process were both exciting and confusing. We took a risk and refused to decide what exactly we meant by ‘visual knowledge’, what kinds of material would count, or which scholars would fit. Really the only thing the CFP asserted (besides that visual knowledge is in many places and means many things to many people) is that visual knowledge is different from language, a choice that continues to bring up important questions. By working as a multi-disciplinary group, we were able to invite work across a broad variety of areas and in formats other than papers--like posters, artworks, and workshops. At the same time, we learned how difficult interdisciplinarity can be to achieve, and I think our CFP still spoke most readily to humanities scholars. There is so much ground that must be covered in order to make non-superficial bridges between the cultures, communication networks, and languages of different disciplines.

    We took some baby steps though, and the biggest payoff for me was that our CFP, and the idea of visual knowledge being put forward jointly by art historians and information scientists, attracted people who all shared a feeling that their work requires interdisciplinarity. I believe that this sensibility alone is a powerful idea, that young scholars who have this feeling should get connected early on to affirm that their work can develop in this way. We also were successful in experimenting with traditional conference structure and in thinking about what it is we really want to get out of a graduate symposium. It is clear to me now that while opportunities to present in front of auditorium audiences are important for us as developing scholars, working groups and roundtables are where we really have the productive conversations of which we are in search when we travel to conferences.

    I am really excited about how collaboration between people in different disciplines permits work that could never be done by one person. Humanities scholars don’t publish multiple-author papers very often, but to me this seems necessary. Twentieth-century photographer Berenice Abbott commented, when talking about how she tried to collaborate with scientists to make photographs to teach physics in the late 1950s, that one of her main arguments with them was that photography is a lifetime profession too, and that if true expertise in photography could be combined with other scholars’ expertise in physics, the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts. Many other examples of this kind of situation came up in talks during the symposium. We need also to talk about the difficulties in collaboration—how it can be slow and inefficient, how it can be socially and emotionally demanding.

    Debating Visual Knowledge is aiming to extend outward the constellations model that the History of Art and Architecture department at Pitt has been working with for the last few years. In our department, the identification of important themes and terms facilitate a specific kind of scholarly collaboration between experts in different fields. This environment has resulted in co-authored digital projects, co-taught courses, and this symposium, which seeks to apply these approaches beyond our department and make contact with others who are working in convergent ways.

    This reflection is cross-posted on Nexus, a blog hosted by University of Maryland’s Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture.

     

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Debating Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
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    A Selection of Visualization Resources, as Curated by Alison in September 2014

    From time to time I am asked to speak about the process of visualization, especially in the context of humanities research. Each time I set about doing this, I look over my list of resources on this topic and curate a list of them. The list does not change dramatically over time, but it does vary. Below is the list of projects, resources and tools that I presented in September 2014 here at Pitt:

    Projects and Resources

    Tools of Note for Humanists

    These are a smattering of different types of packages...investigate for yourself! Fool around with them and see what happens.That's often the best way to learn.

    And, please don't forget about Excel and Numbers. They can often be your first, best path. If, for example, what you want to display adds up to 100%, please consider the benefits that a pie chart has to offer...

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Paper museums : the reproductive print in Europe, 1500-1800

    TitlePaper museums : the reproductive print in Europe, 1500-1800
    Publication TypeBook
    Year of Publication2005
    AuthorsZorach, Rebecca, Elizabeth Rodini, David and Alfred Art, and Grey Art Galler Center
    PublisherDavid and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
    CityChicago, Ill.
    ISBN Number0935573402 9780935573404
    Keywordscollections, Exhibitions, Prints, UAG, Visual Knowledge