Debating Visual Knowledge

The University of Pittsburgh's Debating Visual Knowledge Graduate Student Symposium was held October 3rd-5th, 2014. This was a multi-disciplinary conference, organized by the graduate students of the History of Art and Architecture Department and the Information Sciences Department. Our symposium challenged interdisciplinary boundaries and created a "visual knowledge" lab with workshops, round-table discussions, and presentations.

Our keynote speakers were Dr. Patrick Jagoda of University of Chicago and Dr. Simone Osthoff of Pennsylvania State University.

Debating Visual Knowledge was organized by Ryan Champagne, Nicole Coffineau, Rae Di Cicco, Annika Johnson, Jocelyn Monahan, Colleen O'Reilly, Nicole Scalissi, and Elizabeth Self.

@debatingvk

Debating Visual Knowledge

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    Tim Fessenden

    Tim Fessenden holds a Masters in Translational Science and is a doctoral candidate in Cancer Biology, both at the University of Chicago. His research in the lab of Margaret Gardel uses live microscopy to capture 3D movements and shape changes of cells within model tissues. Together with the lab's findings on the physical basis of cell migration, this project will characterize cell behaviors underlying cancer invasion and metastasis.

    "Visualizing Cell Behavior in 3D: A Tour of Biology Research Praxis"

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    Chloe Hansen

    Chloe Hansen is a Ph.D. student in the Communication and Rhetoric Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research is focused in rhetorical theory, visual rhetoric, public memory studies, and death and dying.

    “Visual Agnotology: Visual Production and Maintenance of Ignorance”

     

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    Caroline Pirri

    Caroline Pirri is a 2nd year PhD student in the English Department at Rutgers University. Her interests include late-Tudor and early-Stuart court performance, early modern popular media and the phenomenology of vision. Her current project examines the popularity of emblems and impresas in the early decades of Stuart rule and explores the ways in which the revision and dramatization of continental emblem books assisted in the creation of a national mythology.

    “Which long their longings urged their eyes to see:” Emblematic Perspectives in the Early Stuart Masque

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    "'Which long their longings urged their eyes to see': Emblematic Perspectives in the Early Stuart Masque" by Caroline Pirri

    “Which long their longings urged their eyes to see:” Emblematic Perspectives in the Early Stuart Masque

    Caroline Pirri

    Historians of the Jacobean court masque have emphasized the importance of its formal structure, rightly noting that the masque’s scenic backdrop - painted in single-point perspective - would have been clearly visible only from the king’s position at the center of the hall. While the centrality of the perspective schema was a critical feature of the masque’s reception, the crisp geometric lines that converged on the king’s seat were also intersected by a host of other perspectival frameworks. This paper will claim that in Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’s court masques, emblematic tableaux and poetic emblems functioned as miniaturized perspective schemas; they opened out the centralized perspective of the main scene to the spectators ringing the borders of the hall. The masque’s use of popular emblems lent it a didactic function, providing Jonson with a visual scaffold on which to hang his poetry to “make the spectators understanders.” But Jonson and Jones did not simply reproduce popular emblems; they reinvented them, resisting transparency and legibility to create forms that were “not […] hieroglyphickes, emblemes, or impreses, but a mixed character partaking somewhat of all, and peculiarly adapted to these most magnificent inventions.”  To Jonson and Jones, the effectiveness of the masque as a political and didactic tool relied on the spectator’s ability to make sense of the experience.  And after the spectators were invited to shift their focus from the main scene to the emblems, they were detained in that unenlightened position. Their perspective was purposefully and continually frustrated so that they could be directed gradually – through the masque’s poetry – to the larger argument. Thus, the conflict between linear and emblematic perspective turned the spectator’s desire for visual and interpretive clarity into a motive force for political self-fashioning. Masque attendants were compelled to submit their understanding to Jonson’s poetry, and to James I’s position as sovereign viewer, in order to become ideal subjects. 

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    "Visual Agnotology: Visual Production and Maintenance of Ignorance" by Chloe Hansen

    “Visual Agnotology: Visual Production and Maintenance of Ignorance”

    Chloe Hansen

    Relationships between knowledge and the visual continue to receive scholarly attention and deservedly so in our image-driven age. However, the flipside of those relations – the relationships between ignorance or not-knowing and the visual – has not been as explicitly addressed. This visual rhetoric and visual culture project draws on the concept of agnotology – the study of the social construction and maintenance of ignorance – to examine the roles of images in producing and perpetuating the absence of knowledges. Considering the three forms of ignorance explored in existing agnotology scholarship – recognized gaps in knowledge that we work to fill; overlooked or forgotten areas of knowledge; and areas of knowledge foreclosed by strategic plot – I examine some of the ways artifacts give visual form to the unknown or unknowable, specifically focusing on Colin Powell’s 2003 address to the UN Security Council. My goal is to begin to address a dearth in visual rhetoric literature on ignorance by demonstrating that visuals play a central role in constituting “unknowability,” thus limiting the conditions of possibility for knowledge. By considering not only what is made known or knowable via images but also what is erased, marginalized, denied, or otherwise made unknowable through visual representation, this exploration of visual agnotology works to expand understandings of visual rhetoric and conceptions of the knowledge work done by visuals more broadly.

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    "The Thick Black Line: Image and Objectivity in Roman Ondak's 'Measuring the Universe'" by Catherine Falls

    “The Thick Black Line: Image and Objectivity in Roman Ondák's Measuring the Universe

    Catherine MacArthur Falls

    As discussed by historians of science Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, visual representations—including, for example, anatomical and botanical illustrations—have for centuries been integral to the production of scientific knowledge. Believed since the nineteenth century to be a more direct and 'objective' way to represent scientific phenomena than the potentially flawed realm of language, such visualizations, they suggest, have historically helped construct generalized 'objective truths' about the complex individual subjects they represent.1 In his 2007 participatory installation work, Measuring the Universe, Slovakian artist Roman Ondák critically and playfully engages with this longstanding relationship between art, statistical or scientific visualization, and human subjectivity. In a gesture mimicking both biological data collection and the quaint measurement of a child in the home, Ondák traced the heights of all exhibition visitors on the walls of the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, repeating this action until a unified visualization—a thick black line at the average height of all visitors— emerged from the accumulated measurements. This 20-minute talk will explore how this and other similar contemporary works foreground or interrogate the often-obscured process by which idiosyncratic and infinitely complex subjectivities, and their intermediary data, are converted into clean, finalized visual representations of objective, authoritative scientific knowledge. It aims to demonstrate how, in a subversion of the historical relationship that artists have had to scientific knowledge production, such works reveal the process by which statistical and scientific visualizations construct not only truths about human subjects, but also human subjects themselves. It will argue that the exposure of this process and its role in subjectivity construction are increasingly necessary at a time characterized by a proliferation of infographics and other forms of often unquestioned data visualization.

     

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    "To Trust or Not to Trust: Telescopic (mis)Information on the Early Modern Stage" by Vivian Appler

     “To Trust or Not to Trust: Telescopic (mis)Information on the Early Modern Stage”

    Vivian Appler

    Galileo Galilei’s Siderius Nuncius (1610) announced to early modern Europe the introduction of a new machine to the labor of astronomy: the telescope. This manuscript made claims about the topography of the moon and announced the discovery of three new stars, which Galileo named after his benefactors, the Medicis. Galileo’s claims would be transformed into fodder for theatrical satire well into the end of the seventeenth century. Early modern philosophers of science were the first to incorporate machines into the process of re-visioning the contents of outer space, which caused a rift in the European academy. The debate over such machines, and the reliability of the information derived from them, quickly became the subject of popular plays and performances of the time. The seventeenth century stage was teeming with telescopes.

    Giambattista della Porta, who claimed to have invented the telescope before Galileo, also wrote the commedia erudita, Lo Astrologo, in 1606. Della Porta’s play soon became a primary source for Thomas Tomkis’s English farce, Albumazar (1615), which pokes fun at the idea of mechanical instruments constructed to enhance human perception. Aphra Behn’s comedy, The Emperor of the Moon (1687 – also based on an Italian commedia) raises questions about knowledge gained through the medium of the telescope and mocks the characters who value such information. The seventeenth century was a time, in England and in Italy, during which the distinction between the sciences and the arts were not as fixed as they might seem today, a disciplinary fuzziness which may have contributed to a cultural rejection of empiricism. This paper considers the reasons why the visual information presented through the lens of the telescope was suspect, and what role theatrical performances had in perpetuating and/or challenging such a culture of mistrust.

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    Ginger Elliott Smith

    Ginger Elliott Smith is a PhD candidate in art history at Boston University, currently researching the ideological and sociological contexts of art and technoscience. Her dissertation, 'Practicing Big Science: Art, Technology, and Institutions in 1960s and 1970s Southern California,' analyzes a group of Southern California artists who responded to, and often directly incorporated, science and technology into their studio and post-studio practices. Her project is a technical art history that provides thick description of technical and material analysis for each adapted technology and clarifies the degree to which scientific paradigms and regional industrial developments converged to inspire such experimentation.

    "Post-Studio Sublime: Southern California Art and Technology after Earthrise"

     

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    Matthew Allen

    Matthew Allen is a PhD candidate at Harvard University whose work investigates cognitive prosthetics in architecture and science. He holds an MArch from Harvard University and previously taught at the University of Toronto.

    https://harvard.academia.edu/MatthewAllen

    "Equivocating Diagrams: The many epistemic virtues in C.H. Waddington's images and arguments" 

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    Jeff Richmond-Moll

    Jeff Richmond-Moll is a doctoral student in Art History at the University of Delaware, studying nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American art. His current research investigates the role of religion in transcultural artistic exchanges, the interplay of religion and American national identity, and the contested nature of sculpture in the Protestant art-making tradition. He graduated in 2010 from Princeton University with an A.B. in Art History, and received a Graduate Certificate in Christian Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) in 2011.

    http://udel.academia.edu/JeffRichmondMoll

    "'Divine Truths Photographed Upon the Soul': The Holy Land through the Stereoscope"

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