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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    Inaugural Callery Lecture by Kirk Savage

    Thursday July 17, 2014 3:45 PM
    Frick Fine Arts Building, University of Pittsburgh

    Reception and Light Refreshments to Follow

    The inaugural lecture in the Bernadette Callery Archives Lecture Series will be held in conjunction with the Archives Educational Research Institute (AERI) being held at the University of Pittsburgh; the lecture is free and open to the public. The lecture series honors the memory of Dr. Bernadette Callery who was a member of the iSchool faculty and who taught in the Archives specialization in the Library and Information Science program. Previous to joining the faculty, Dr. Callery was the Museum Librarian at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Before her death, Dr. Callery thoughtfully established this lecture, which was funded through a generous bequest.

    Follow the Bodies, Follow the Names: One Art Historian’s Search Through the Archival Remains of the Civil War Dead

    Kirk Savage

    During the Civil War the problem of the “unknown dead” became a national crisis.  On both sides of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died on the battlefield or in makeshift hospitals or in prison camps ended up as lost bodies, in unidentified graves or no grave at all.  Bodies became severed from their names; or, in archival terms, the material object (the corpse) lost its metadata (the headboards or gravestones that physically linked the name of the dead to the bodily remains).

    The crisis of the unknown dead was, therefore, an archival crisis, which resulted in the proliferation of new archives devoted to the common soldier.  These included cenotaphs (empty tombs) and public monuments inscribed with names of the dead, on a scale never before seen.  In this paper I will reflect on the process of following bodies and names through these myriad archives, a process greatly enhanced by digital tools.  On an individual level the process looks much like family genealogy, but on a collective level the process speaks to cultural shifts linked to evolving concepts of family, nation, and sacrifice.

    Kirk Savage is a professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh.  He has published widely on public monuments in the U.S. for the past thirty years.  He is the author of two prize-winning books, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth Century America (Princeton, 1997) and Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape (University of California, 2009).

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    What do you value about studying the humanities?

    Our colleagues over at 4humanities.org have brought our attention to an "idea comparison" engine that they have set up to talk about what the value of studying the humanities might be. You can visit the survey here: http://www.allourideas.org/4humanities. It presents you with a series of dyads, allowing you to pick between different options...including "I can't decide." You may also add your own thoughts. A peek at the results is also revealing...

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Enchanted Latte

    This enchanting cup was presented to me as I waited wearily at the counter of a coffee shop.  I normally drink tea so I don’t have a lot of lattes in my life experience.  But this cup was beyond exceptional, and certainly the turning point of my day.

    I asked the barista, how did you do that?  She said, “a flick of the wrist.” 

    I photographed it and carried it very carefully to a table and just sat contemplating it for a few minutes before deciding to drink it.  I needn’t have worried about it because as I sipped it, the foam stayed perfectly intact with its mesmerizing botanical design.

    Two points from Alfred Gell came to mind.  One was his argument about the “tackiness” of decoration: his pun on the word tacky meant to suggest how intricate patterns attract and entrap viewers and render them harmless, or worse, victims.  Now this pattern in the cup of course was not abstract.  It suggested a leaf or a plant specimen in its overall outline, but in its detail it did entrap me, especially the swirling quality of the line and the scatter of the white highlights, which had everything to do with medium and material – the foam of the milk catching and holding the liquid of the coffee.

    The other point was the mystique of facture that is beyond our understanding.  When craft is so far beyond our ability to imagine its execution, we might ascribe it to genius, or magic, or God.  In other times and places, people have in fact ascribed divine origins to objects that seem too amazing to have been made by human hands.  I didn’t do that, but I did spend a while trying to work out how she had made it. I guessed that she must have had a tool besides her own wrist.  A fork, to swirl the mixture?  I decided not to ask her, because I didn’t want to break the spell.  Later I thought to myself, maybe this is what they teach in barista school and maybe it’s not even that hard to do with a little practice. 

    Agency, Gell argued in his earlier essay on enchantment, is about overcoming a gap between mind/will and object.  The bigger the gap, the more powerful and mysterious is the agency that bridges the gap.

    For my half hour in the coffee shop, that gap was a chasm I let myself marvel at.  Eventually, when I had drunk all the coffee and was left with only the foam, I had to decide whether to swallow it.  The design was still intact.  It was time go pick up my daughter, so the art encounter was coming to an inevitable close.  Do I ritualistically swallow the work of art, or leave it on the counter to be casually destroyed by someone else?  I actually had these thoughts.

    I will leave you hanging with that question, but I look forward to any comments you might have.

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  • Vittore Carpaccio, Arrival of the Ambassadors

    Vittore Carpaccio, Arrival of the Ambassadors, 1498, oil on canvas, 275 x 589 cm, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy.

     

    Guided Tours of the Lochoff Cloister

    Since September 2013, undergraduate educators at the UAG have been offering free guided tours of the Nicholas Lochoff paintings in the Frick Fine Arts Building. In the Fall semester, educators talked about the Lochoff paintings in terms of conservation and preservation, and linked their tour to the gallery exhibition "ReDiscover: the Collection Revealed". This semester, the tours offer a different approach. One educator is even offering a tour in Mandarin-Chinese! This is a whole new way to look at the Lochoff paintings and think about how they fit within our building!

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
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    Upcoming Talk: Digital Preservation's Place in the Future of the Digital Humanities

    Ensuring long term access to digital information sounds like a technical problem. It seems like digital preservation should be a computer science problem. Far from it. In this lecture Trevor Owens, a digital archivist at the Library of Congress argues that digital preservation is in fact a core problem and issue at the heart of the future of the digital humanities. Bringing together perspectives from the history of technology, new media studies, public history, and archival theory, he suggests the critical role that humanities scholars and practitioners should play in framing and shaping the collection, organization, description, and modes of access to the historically contingent digital material records of contemporary society.

    Trevor Owens, Digital Archivist, Library of Congress
    Tuesday, March 18
    11:00 a.m.
    Information Sciences Building | Third Floor
    135 N. Bellefield Avenue

    Trevor Owens is a Digital Archivist with the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress. At the Library of Congress, he works on the open source Viewshare cultural heritage collection visualization tool, as a member of the communications team, and as the co-chair for the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s Infrastructure working group. Before joining the Library of Congress he worked for the Center for History and New Media and before that managed outreach for the Games, Learning, and Society Conference. He has a BA in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin, an MA in American History from George Mason University and is currently finishing his doctorate in Research Methods in George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development. http://trevorowens.org

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  • Verplanck Room, Metropolitan Museum

    Verplanck Room, Metropolitan Museum

     

    Agency in and around the period room

    I visited the Met two days ago and found myself in the period rooms of the American Wing.  I was interested in the new interpretive tool, the screen with a menu of options, in place of the old static placard that listed all the objects in a horizontal format.  It puts a whole lot more information at the visitor's fingertips and seems to give us more agency as well because we choose to navigate: we can focus on "people" rather than "objects" and so on.  But the period room itself is still a bizarre disembodied space with fetishized objects absent of users.  In the Verplanck room, a re-creation of the luxurious mid-18th century Wall Street house of one of the old and wealthy Dutch settler families, I was most interested in the issue of the slaves, the house servants who probably handled the objects as much as or more than the owners themselves did.  Not only are they invisible from the disembodied space, but they are absent from the interpretive screen as well.  They don't qualify as "people" or as context in any other way.  And in the end this is hard for me to stomach: why should a chair or a bowl or a table occupy me to the exclusion of the slaves whose job was to keep these objects clean and pristine?  Aren't the social relations embedded in these objects more interesting than whatever motifs or "style" they might show?  Deprived of real human agency, these objects become...what exactly?  And what is the rationale for displaying them in the first place?

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Faculty Work
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    101 Women Artists Who Got Wikipedia Pages This Week

    At first I was like, that's cool, then I read the by-line: "The Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon was an international initiative to bring women's voices to the online encyclopedia--as editors and as subjects"  and I was like, nevermind, that's awesome! This project intervenes in a number of patriarchival social formations simultaneously: women become active and vocal as Wikipedia editors (who are predominantly men), they increase their representation in art history (also mostly written by, and about, men) and they engage technology in a collaborative way (when women are still underrepresented in STEM fields). Cool.

    Read more on Artnews.

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