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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    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
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    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. Hi... 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
    Tags: 
  • Ill-Treatment of Chinese at San Francisco.  From Arthur H. Smith, "A Fools Paradise," Outlook, March 24 1906.

     

    The Search for Bertillon Cards from the Chinese Exclusion Act

    For the past few months, Aisling and I have been searching for the identification cards created for Chinese immigrants using the Bertillon system of measurement.  While we have found many earlier and later identification cards from the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Bertillon cards created during the system’s short-lived period of use, between 1903 and 1906, have eluded us.  The Bertillon system was used to create a database of Chinese laborers who were exempt from the Chinese Exclusion Act and thus allowed to remain in the United States.  While the law only required laborers submit to measurement, the definition of laborer was ambiguous, and any Chinese immigrant suspected of being a laborer, as many were, could expect to be measured.  The Bertillon system was considered incredibly degrading by those Chinese immigrants who underwent measurement, as Bertillonage was known as a method of criminal identification.  The repeal of the Bertillon system was part of a moderate liberalization of the Chinese Exclusion Act after the- Chinese boycott of American goods in 1905.

    In the absence of the any Bertillon cards used during the Chinese Exclusion Act, there is at least one first hand account of the process written by a Chinese immigrant: “First, the person’s picture is taken, full body and from the waist up.  Then the face, frontal view; and then from the back of the head, and facing left and right.  Afterwards, a machine is used to measure the width of the skull.  The distances between the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth are measured as well as one’s height and the length of one’s hands and feet.  The distance between the shoulder, elbow, and wrist are measured, as are the distances between the hips, knee, and calf.  The arms are measured out-stretched and bent as are the legs measured while standing and in-step.  All of these measurements are taken while the person is nude.  The length of the fingers and toes between each joint is also recorded.  There is nothing that is not recorded in great detail.” Liang Qichao Ji Huagong jinyue. Excerpt translated in K. Scott Wong, “Liang Qichao and the Chinese of America: A Re-Evaluation of His ‘Selected Memoir of Travels in the New World,’” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Summer 1992): 3-24.

    The striking revelation from Liang’s testimony is that the Chinese immigrants were measured in the nude.  Compare this to the account of an Ohio prisoner: “The second day of my imprisonment I was taken to the room for the identification of prisoners by the Bertillon method.  My photograph was taken with my glasses off, front and side view, with my prison number 31498 fastened across my breast.  Then I was weighed and measured in many dimensions, and my own clothes were taken from me, except my underclothing and shoes, and I was put into the gray uniform of the highest grade allowed to be given to any prisoner on his first coming there. “ Charles C. Moore, Behind the Bars; 31498, Lexington, K.Y. 1890.  While Moore’s self-aggrandizing tone leads one to question the reliability of this account, his reveals the Bertillon process as the critical moment in the transition from citizen to prisoner.  Moor associated the loss of his street clothes, which he claimed happened after measurement, with his (uncharacteristically enthusiastic) achievement of the grey prisoner’s uniform.

    If we take Moore’s account to understand Bertillon measurement as a moment of transition from one state of identity to the next, what does that mean for the Chinese immigrant?  This person is also transition.  He or she is passing between national boundaries, transforming from national-citizen to immigrant-outsider, and being distilled from a complex background into two dominate identities: “Chinese” and “laborer.” According to Simon A. Cole in Suspect Identities, what emerged from the Bertillon system “was a new way of visualizing criminality: the authorities did not read criminality in the body itself, but rather used the body as an index to a written criminal record.”  The physical traces of the anthropological “born criminal” was replaced by the Bertillon system’s preference for the individual’s unique mark.  In other words, the grasping overreaches of the search for the identifiable characteristics of criminality in the nineteenth century were replaced by a system in which the criminal’s body was itself a unique trace of criminality.  Such an identity was permanent and unambiguous.  For the Chinese immigrants, this becomes more complex.  The enforcement of Chinese Exclusion Act was based on broad generalizations of  “Chinese-ness,” leading to infinite confusion and appeal as to the definition of identifiable physical and cultural characteristics for identifying those Chinese laborers to be turned away from the United States.  With the adoption of the Bertillon system, the Chinese immigrant was subjected to a method in which the label “Chinese laborer” was no longer a generalization, but the unique mark of their person, exposed in the moment of transition from an assumed state of personhood to the pretext of criminality.  Thus, for now, we continue to search for these cards.

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • VMW
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    Sisterhood

    Sisters Mary and Agnes Berry, daughters of Robery Berry, born in Britain only 14 months apart, naturally had an insepreable bond. Their mother passed away when they were quite young in childbirth, and so did what would have been their third sister. Their fathers story is tragic, in that 18th century kind of way, his Uncle left all his money and estate to Robert's younger brother, William, because Robert had failed to create a male heir (of course)! Mary did not forget this, she wrote, "For many years afterwards," she could not of the will, "without my blood boiling in my veins, and lamenting that I had not been present to support and reply for my father," (Journals and Correspondance of Miss Berry). Although Mary did not need to stay for long in Britain lamenting this disrespect because in 1783 she convinced her father to give up thier house in London and travel abroad, fullfilling Mary's lifelong dream of fleeing British society. In Naples she was invited to the court of Caroline, daughter of the Austrian Empress Maria Thersea and Emperor Joseph II, in Rome she was presented to the Pope, and on following trips she conversed with famous mathmetician Pierre Simon Laplace and personally met Napoleon Bonaparte. The sisters travelled to "the Continent" together nine times in their life before their death only months apart.

    Today, I must choose what I would like to research with the VMW this semester, to help build a web of knowledge about the Grand Tour. My choice is simple-- women who travelled-- exploring thier world and educating themselves. Miss Berry never married but instead dedicated herself to being a role model for her sister and guide to her father (and not the other way around). She is an impressive women, whose adventures in Europe deserve a chance to be documented and logged into the world of Itinera! It is my little way of supporting sisterhood. 

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    Radical Contextualization

    Tim Hitchcock gave a lovely talk at the British Library at the end of last year on "Big Data, Small Data, and Meaning," that contains the following reflection that I found galvanizing this morning as I was listening to him speak on youtube (also embedded here):

    There are any number of research council initiatives, European funding calls, and twitcy private sector start-ups out there, ragging at the edge of established practise. We are advised to seek ‘disruption’, and to pursue the shiny. But it is important to remember that the institutions we have inherited – libraries and museums in particular - were created in service of a deeper purpose. It is not simply that we value them because they are ancient and august. Instead, we value them as a means of preserving memory, and acknowledging worth. And as importantly, we value them as part of a complex ecology of knowledge discovery, dissemination, and reflexion. So while disruption and the shiny, are all good; it remains important that libraries, continue to serve the fundamental purposes for which they were created.

    And then also here, near the end:

    To do justice to the aspirations of a macroscope, and to use it to perform the humanities effectively – and politically – we need to be able to contextualise every single word, in a representation of every word ever. Every gesture contextualised in the collective record all gestures; and every brushstroke, in the collective knowledge of every painting.
    Where is the tool and dataset that lets you see how a single stroll along a boulevard, compares to all the other weary footsteps? And compares in turn to all the text created along that path, or connected to that foot through nerve and brain and consciousness. Where is the tool and project that contextualises our experience of each point on the map, every brush stroke, and museum object?

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Mobilities

    This is the current theme of Wesleyan's Humanities Center.  To add to all the many "turns" we have heard about, there is now a "mobility turn":

    MOBILITIES

    Over the past decade, a new approach to the study of mobilities has emerged involving research on the combined movement of peoples, animals, objects, ideas, and information. This can be viewed through the lens of complex networks, relational dynamics, and the redistribution or reification of power generated by movement.  But despite the emphasis on movement, this “mobility turn” must be viewed in the light of the relationships between mobilities and associated immobilities:  borders as well as border crossings, isolation as well as connectivity, disability as well as ability. It thus encompasses both the embodied practice of movement and the representations, ideologies, and meanings attached to the mobile and immobile.... (click here for the full description)

    Of course we've already made the turn with our constellation mobility/exchange and Itinera in particular.  But I wanted to add a couple of notes to this topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  

    One is that art history overwhelmingly privileges sedentary societies and non-mobile populations.  "Art" and "architecture" do tend to serve the needs of sedentary states and institutions. The distinction between center and periphery only makes sense in a world that assumes the sedentary as the norm.  Our own Kathy Linduff, who works on exchange between mobile and sedentary societies in ancient China, is one of the very few who does not think in this "sendetarinormative" way. (I believe I have just coined a new jargon term.)  

    The other idea I have been revolving is the notion that in the sedentary world of territorial states and civilizations, art is used often to defeat mobility, or dishonor it, or deny it.  My cemetery project is making me think about how the nation-state fixes dead soldiers in place, as a response to their tragic dislocations in life.  Out of the terrible flux of their wartime experiences, the national cemetery creates a monumental arrangement of graves and names that is supposed to be static, unchanging, and hence honorific.

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Current Projects
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    Current Conversation about Topic Modelling and "Plot Arcs"

    For your perusal, the following are links to a conversation happening currently about topic modelling and plotting the plot of a text. Members of the conversation include: Matt Jockers, Ted Underwood, David Bamman, Ben Schmidt, and Lynn Cherney.

    Ben Schmidt, "Fundamental plot arcs, seen through multidimensional analysis of thousands of TV and movie scripts," December 16, 2015: http://sappingattention.blogspot.com/2014/12/fundamental-plot-arcs-seen-through.html.

    David Mimno, "Where do themes occur in novels?" undated: http://mimno.infosci.cornell.edu/novels/plot.html.

    David Bamman's find, and ensuing conversation, January 3, 2015: https://twitter.com/dbamman/status/551440390361194497

    Matt Jockers, "Plot Arcs (Schmidt Style)," January 5, 2015: http://www.matthewjockers.net/2015/01/05/plot-arcs-schmidt-style/

    Ben Schmidt, "Mimno Clone," undated: http://benschmidt.org/mimnoClone/.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW

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