Graduate Work


    Touching Correspondence: Archive Visit during Making Advances Mellon Workshop

    Author: Paula Kupfer, PhD student in History of Art and Architecture and Making Advances Workshop participant

    One of the postcards shows a hunky man with dark eyebrows and long black hair, dressed in a vibrant red sweater. His left hand grasps his belt, the intensity of his gesture matched only by the fiery look in his eyes. The backdrop—a pink wall with three small pictures in kitschy frames—crowns the humorous earnestness of his pose. The other postcard depicts a hand-colored black-and-white reproduction of Jesus: his hair, highlighter orange; his sleeves, highlighter blue; his torso, highlighter pink. A caption reads: Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Sacred Heart of Jesus). 

    These postcards were sent by artist and photographer Nan Goldin (b. 1953) to her friend, the artist Greer Lankton (1958–96), and are part of the Greer Lankton archive at the Mattress Factory, which we visited during the Making Advances Mellon Workshop in early May. Lankton is remembered for her hand-sewn dolls, installations, and autobiographical work reflecting her life experiences as an artist and a transgender person who also struggled with drug addiction. Goldin is best known for her Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a series of personal photographs mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, of her life and friends in Boston, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere. The pictures reflect moments of ecstasy and pain, in particular highlighting the ravages that the AIDS crisis inflicted on her community. Ballad offers an intimate, diaristic view of Goldin’s life; she would present it as a slideshow, often in nightclubs, accompanied by a soundtrack created by her and her friends.

    On the back of Jesus, Goldin wrote, from Mexico, in 1982: 

    Dear Greer, a belated valentines card for you, my sweet. . . . Still living a lazy existence, reading a lot, swimming, cooking + cleaning, eating only fruit + veggies for a while. It must be a modern Mexican miracle—this sudden domesticity I’ve fallen into. Still, it’s difficult to be a woman down here. It’s like walking past one enormous construction site all the time. It’s very repressed sexually especially this area. . . . Women can’t drink in the cantinas or play pool in the halls or do much alone. But actually there seems to be a new breed of woman coming up seems more independent. Mardi gras carnival is starting so we’ve been going to all these town events—the crowning of the child queen, the crowning of the lady queen. Marceled hairdos à la colonial Spain, banana curls with tiaras or else Carmen Miranda drags. . . . We’re still planning to come back March 10. Will write if changes. Love to Michele. Miss you! Want word from NYC.” 

    On the back of the handsome man in red, sent from Germany in 1984, Goldin wrote: 

    Dear Greer, this is one of the sex symbols of Turkey. We stayed in Little Turkey in Berlin—like the Lower East Side. Lived in a house with 40 people, a printing press, carpentry factory, dinners for 40 every night. A real little socialist state. Spent all the $ I brought on sekt—the link between wine and champagne—so I have not much to show for it and not even sure how many memories. Did make some good connections workwise. . . . Did 2 slideshows at cinemas, one in Berlin, one here in Wuppertal—sort of like Pittsburg [sic] except w. Pina Bausch company here. No amour this trip. Coming back in time to do the Diane B shot so get ready! Can’t wait to see Art Forum and yr new work. Love xxx Nan” 

    Although I knew of links between the two artists—Lankton appears in many of Goldin’s photographs from the 1970s and ’80s, perhaps most famously in Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC, from 1982—the discovery of these two postcards was particularly affecting. Doubtless it was the sweetness of the tone in both, but also the surprise of reading first-hand words by an artist who so often speaks through images. Reflecting the sort of intense personal character of both Goldin and Lankton’s work, these postcards embody a material link between the two women, a form of tenderness relayed through handwriting, a traveling piece of cardboard that speaks of their connection, trust, and a form of care that spanned geographic distance.  

    Goldin is credited with inaugurating a new aesthetic in photography—her off-the-cuff, bright-flash, richly colored representations of her own life represented a new possibility within the realm of fine art photography. Her life was her art—raw, joyous, painful, sexual, tender. She had this in common with Lankton, whose work and archive—a deeply moving, deeply human collection of photographs, photo albums, diaries, and letters—bears testament to the troubles and joys of her unusual life and its translation into artworks. These postcards fall into the same spirit: they are sincere, disarming, and funny. 

    Thinking of Greer Lankton and Nan Goldin feels urgent today. Not only because of new threats against the lives and rights of transgender people. Or because of Goldin’s admirable and ongoing activism in response to the opioid crisis in the United States—of which she herself has been a victim—and the complicity of art institutions. But also because the radical vulnerability they offer the world through their art and archive is deeply political and necessary today. The more stories of pain and alterity—but also joy and euphoria—are shared with others, the more art may serve a form of much-needed empathy. Sometimes such reminders come in inconspicuous forms, such as that of postcards. 

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Kim Fox's installation


    Gendered spaces, materials, forms ... and their transformation

    Author: Brooke Wyatt, HAA graduate student and HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018 

    Handwork is an exhibition of new work by Pittsburgh artist Kim Fox, currently on view in Contemporary Craft's BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery in the lobby of the Steel Plaza T-Station downtown. Six works are presented, ranging in size from the large-scale Eight-Pointed Star Quilt II (2018), a work that employs two salvaged wooden barn doors for its support, to the more intimate Log Cabin Quilt Block (2018), scaled to the size of the reclaimed wood lath that frames the composition. Fox engages a range of found materials, including vintage tin, paper dress patterns, and a tabletop that was used to cut glass in a hardware store, as seen in Blue Honeycomb (2018). In some cases, Fox links these materials to their previous location and function in manufacturing towns around Pittsburgh. Through wall-text information, we learn that the tabletop came from Clairton, PA, home of U.S. Steel's Clairton Works, the largest coke-producing facility in the United States. The salvaged wood used in another work, Honeycomb (2018), was found at the Jeannette Glass Works, defunct since 1983, but once one of Pennsylvania's premier consumer glass manufacturers. 

    In conjunction with these echoes of the region's industrial history, Fox's use of forms and patterns drawn from the world of quiltmaking reflects parallel traditions in the area's production of housewares and crafts. In Handwork, references to mechanized industry and factory production interface with the aesthetics of homemade, hand-stitched textile work to evoke a complicated reading of gender. Materials and techniques associated with masculinized spaces such as the factory floor and the realm of hard labor intersect with interior, domestic spaces often coded as feminine. The works allow layers of meaning to accumulate as found objects join together with the mark-making, collaging, and repetitive ordering that reveals the artist's working process. Fox combines materials and techniques from craft practice with more conventional fine art approaches, effectively playing with embedded hierarchies about which forms are most valuable or visually provocative. Through her material exploration of these binary constructions —masculine/feminine, public/private, fine art/craft, work/hobby — Fox's work unravels dichotomies to present a composite, layered meditation on labor, place, and the convergence of past and present.

    Bringing new interpretations to traditional paradigms of gendered space, material, and form is central to Fox's visual language, and reverberates with the work of Katie Ott, another Pittsburgh-based artist whose work is currently on view in the University Art Gallery (UAG) at the University of Pittsburgh. Part of the student-curated exhibition This is Not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, Ott's work makes a queer and intersectional feminist intervention into the historically masculine domains of woodworking and furniture-making, literally turning the tables on established gender norms around art and craft practice. 

    Handwork is presented in conjunction with Contemporary Craft's biennial show Transformation 10: Contemporary Works in Found Materials, the Elizabeth R. Rafael Founders Prize Exhibition and is on view from September 14, 2018 to January 5, 2019

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Introducing "Sustaining DH"

    Approximately a year following the conclusion of our first NEH Research and Development Grant, the Visual Media Workshop team (with Dr. Alison Langmead at the helm) is embarking on its second NEH-funded project.

    As some of you may recall, the first grant was dedicated to running an extensive case study of Images of Medieval Art and Architecture (, an early manifestation of a digital humanities project. The grant culminated in the creation of a website entitled The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap (STSR) (, a resource for project managers interested in assessing the status and potential sustainability solutions for their digital projects. 

    With the second NEH grant, we (Dr. Langmead, Chelsea Gunn, and Aisling Quigley) will take the STSR "on the road," running facilitated workshops at carefully-selected universities across the United States (Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah). These two-day workshops will incorporate three major sections: 

    1. A Project Survey (considering the scope, longevity, and sustainability priorities of the project at hand)
    2. An assessment of Staffing and Technologies (considering the socio-technical infrastructure of the project)
    3. An exploration of potential Digital Sustainability Plans (incorporating the NDSA levels of Preservation, file formats and metadata, permissions and data integrity, etc.) 

    As part of this grant, we have also proposed specific mechanisms for engaging with workshop participants and other interested individuals beyond the in-person workshops, offering virtual "office hours," for example, and other resources throughout the granting period. 

    More details on all of these activities will follow in the coming months!

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    • Sustaining MedArt
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    Launching Botany Hall

    On Thursday, March 29th, Colleen O'Reilly and I launched our collaborative project Botany Hall: Dioramas on Context in the Hall of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The event marked the launch of our online exhibition at and provided an ideal opportunity for facilitating a cross-institutional, interdisciplinary discussion about art and science. This latter component was always an essential part of our project vision. Indeed, in our initial mock grant proposal (drafted in Spring 2016), we posited that our project would contribute to academic discussion on the politics of display, representation as a pathway to knowledge, and the lives and agencies of objects. 

    We were delighted to assemble a panel of individuals who contributed to our research process between 2016 and 2018. Lugene Bruno, Curator of Art & Senior Research Scholar at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, provided expert knowledge on the history of botanical illustration and helpfully contrasted 2D and 3D representations of scientific phenomena. Bonnie Isaac, meanwhile, is an in-house expert on the space we have been studying for two years. As Collection Manager of Botany at CMNH, Isaac manages the herbarium and has witnessed the evolution of the museum since 1989. Erin Peters, joint lecturer of curatorial studies in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Assistant Curator of Science and Research at the CMNH, straddles the line between art history and historical, scientific display, so has provided invaluable advice on this project since its inception. These individuals helped to generate a lively discussion about dioramas, display techniques, and collaborative work. 

    We were also pleasantly suprised by the number of attendees. Participants arrived from a range of institutions and disciplines: ranging from faculty and students from the School of Education and the Department of Art and Architecture at Pitt as well as staff from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Andy Warhol Museum, Hunt Institute, City of Asylum, and the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania. 

    Having launched the website and hosted an opening event, we are taking some time away from Botany Hall. We may do more with this project, but are allowing ourselves some time to write our own dissertations and reflect on the work we've done thus far. Feel free to send us feedback after perusing the website! 

    • Dioramas in Context
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    CFP, Contemporaneity Edition 8: “Yesterday’s Contemporaneity: Finding Temporality In The Past”

    Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture

    CFP, Edition 8: “Yesterday’s Contemporaneity: Finding Temporality In The Past” 

    In recent decades art historians across the discipline have offered new insights into how communities in the global past understood their own positions in time. For example, Marvin Trachtenberg has made the case that twelfth- and thirteenth-century European architecture articulated a form of medieval modernism. Conversely Paul Binski has argued for how the same material could be understood as not only innovative, but also firmly historicist in nature. Studies of eschatology in artworks ranging from Renaissance wall paintings in Italy to Pure Land Buddhist Mandalas in Japan have highlighted how people in the past used theology to conceptualize their own place in time in the face of an uncertain but infinite future beyond their death. Meanwhile, studies of the visual cultures that emerged under different eras of imperialism and colonialism have illuminated how local and foreign definitions of time, history, and contemporaneity could directly shape the identities of both conquered and conquering peoples.  

    Contemporaneity asks what it means to be contemporary. The term is often invoked in reference to the current lives of citizens of today’s world, but this edition seeks to highlight contemporaneity across a wider variety of historical contexts. The aim is to uncover how cultures throughout the global past have negotiated temporalities, modernities, and historicisms, to come to terms with what it means to be present in their own moment. How can both history and modernity be visualized, contextualized, or conceptualized to create a sense of contemporaneity? How have institutions created temporalities for the cultures they study, and how can a historical object or space shape a person’s perception of an entire culture’s identity or agency? What is at stake in defining a work of art’s place in time? 

    Submissions on all topics will be considered. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to: 

    -modernism, medievalism, and historicism 

    -modernity and history in a global context 

    -anachronisms, futurisms, and revisionist histories  

    -Orientalism and other uses of the temporal in cross-cultural exchange 

    -spoliation, re-use, and/or appropriation 

    -museums, the ethics of collecting and “Grand narratives” 

    -traditional or historical art and crafts and the preservation of style 

    -contemporary interventions on historical objects or sites  

    -creation myths, apocalypses, beginnings and end times 

    The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2018. Manuscripts (circa 6,000 words) should include an abstract, 3-5 keywords, and adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style. To make a submission, visit, click Register and create an author profile to get started. Proposals for book and exhibition reviews, interviews, or other scholarly contributions will also be considered, and we recognize that these submissions may take many forms.

    Proposals and questions can be directed to the editors at

    Contemporaneity is a peer-reviewed online journal organized by the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit for more information.

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    Tracing the Influence of William Henry Fox Talbot: Thoughts on a Guided Tour at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Author: Krystle Stricklin

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    In early February 2018, a group of Pitt graduate students and faculty spent the afternoon talking all things Talbot with curator Dan Leers, during a special tour of the Carnegie Museum of Art exhibition, William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography. Organized by Leers, the show brought together more than 30 works by British photographer William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877), making this the largest collection of Talbot photographs displayed in the US in the last 15 years. During the tour, Leers discussed his vision for the show, highlighting key moments from Talbot’s long career, as well as the difficulties in displaying such fragile objects. 

    Talbot’s influence on the development of paper-based photography is undeniable, with his patented “calotype” process serving as a forerunner to the darkroom techniques that many photographers still use today. At the time, daguerreotypes reigned supreme, but required photographers to spend hours laboriously treating and polishing copper plates, and allowed for only a single image per plate.

    However, Talbot’s calotype process allowed for multiple prints and shorter exposure times, which in turn expanded the potential subject matter. One point that Leers highlighted in his talk, was the incredible range of subjects that Talbot tackled in the early years of his photographic practice. After reducing his exposure times from a few hours to just a few minutes or even seconds, Talbot set out to photograph the world around him, in an almost encyclopedic fashion.

    The photographs on display offer a broad sampling of Talbot’s interests, from landscape scenes, street views, and family portraits to pictures of ceramic bowls and glass vases, classical busts, botanical specimens, and even his mother’s treasured lace collection. He photographed the things and places that had captured his fascination early on as a young Oxford student, where he cultivated a passion for the arts, sciences, and the classics. As Leers reminded us, it was Talbot’s unceasing pursuit of knowledge and his role as a “gentleman scientist” that led to his innovations in photography – innovations that can be traced from this early moment in photography’s history through to today.

    For those who missed the show, which closed in February, do not fret. The exhibition was accompanied by a wonderful catalogue available online or through the Carnegie Museum of Art gift store, with brilliant reproductions of Talbot’s works, an introductory essay by Leers, and detailed captions by noted photo-historian and Talbot expert, Larry Schaaf. With Leers at the helm of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Department of Photography, I have no doubt that we can expect more exciting exhibits to come, rousing more dialogues about the varied and far-reaching promises of photography.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Paul Glabicki, Work in Computer Animation, Drawing, and Installation. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Forum Gallery/Carnegie Museum of Art. Courtesy of the artist


    Anxious Optics: Microcinema Series Celebrates Local Animator Paul Glabicki

    Author: Ben Ogrodnik

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and 2017-2018 Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education

    Paul Glabicki, Professor Emeritus of Studio Art at the University of Pittsburgh, has spent most of his career quietly but profoundly changing the world of animated film.

    From his earliest psychedelic experimentations with a Super 8mm camera, to his found-footage plunderings of TV commercials, to current interest in computer graphics, Glabicki has been concerned with animation as a vehicle for generating ideas, concepts and new modes of perception, rather than the Disney-ified usage of animation-as-entertainment that many of us may be used to. When you ask him to discuss his work, he frequently draws analogies with computers – his visuals “encode” new kinds of data directly to the viewer’s brain. He brings to the world of animation his deep interests in such fields as information theory, linguistics, continental philosophy, and classical music. His work has garnered numerous accolades in festivals around the world; and today, the prestigious Kim Foster Gallery in New York City represents him.

    Glabicki completed not one, but two MFA degrees at Ohio University, in Painting (1974) and Film (1979), respectively. He moved to Pittsburgh in the 1980s at the offer of a full-time professorship at Pitt. The city in this decade was a major hub for experimental animation. Local Pittsburgh animators such as Brady Lewis and Victor Grauer opened up new ways of seeing, through the cinematic manipulation of motion/movement. At the same time, the local film scene enjoyed a constant stream of visiting artists. Thanks to the presence of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s pioneering Film Section, founded by Sally Dixon in 1970, and led by Bill Judson from 1975 on, Glabicki recalls seeing leading animators present new work in person at the Museum, such as Robert Breer, George Griffin, and Suzan Pitt. Glabicki quickly made his presence felt in the community by serving as the Board Director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers; teaching courses on art and animation; and exhibiting his work at the Mattress Factory and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

    Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Glabicki’s work is that, as an artist, he has enjoyed critical success in both the film-world and the art-world – two disciplinary spheres which do not always intersect or tend to recognize the other’s interests as valuable. Indeed, many filmmakers complain they are neglected in the art-world, which prioritizes auratic, priceless objects, like sculpture or painting. Meanwhile visual artists oftentimes struggle to create films that “succeed” with audiences in a more theatrical setting. Neither one is the case for Glabicki. His dual affinity for film and fine art is most evident in his one-of-a-kind animation technique: each film is carefully crafted by means of thousands of hand-drawn images on paper – “each drawing representing both a frame of film and a unique, complete work.” In short, his films are, by their very ontology, multidisciplinary: they exist both as fine-art objects (drawings) and reproducible copies (films/videos).

    Indeed, Glabicki has been able to subsidize his time- and labor-intensive animated work (sometimes taking up to 4 years to complete a twenty-minute short!) by selling individual frames to collectors as stand-alone works.

    In the 1980s, Bill Judson would visit Glabicki working tirelessly in his studio on Pitt campus, just a stone’s throw from the curator’s Museum office. There, he witnessed the slow evolution of Glabicki’s films, which were later displayed as serial drawings in art spaces, as in the 1981 University Art Gallery exhibition, Drawings and Studies for Animated Film.

    The close fit between fine art and film resulted in many innovative exhibitions that broke down the barriers dividing these disciplines. For instance, Judson organized a solo exhibition of Glabicki’s computer-based work, Computer Animation Studies, in 1991, in the Forum Gallery. The installation work on display blended computer animation, drawing, and sculpture. In turn, the animated image fluidly moved across distinct formats and institutional spaces, from the traditional movie theater, to the Amiga computer screen, to the white-cube gallery walls of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

    On April 11, at the Melwood Screening Room, local audiences will once more have an opportunity to survey the boundary-crossing animated work of Glabicki, across three decades of his practice.

    In my role as Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education in History of Art at Pitt, I have been able to curate a retrospective of Glabicki’s animations to cap off the third and final installment of Pittsburgh’s Avant-Garde, a free microcinema series at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers media arts center. On April 11’s screening – “Anxious Optics: The Experimental Animations of Paul Glabicki” – the artist will be in conversation with Judson, discussing his hand-drawn animations from the 1970s and 1980s, and more recent computer-based works, such as Red Fence, 1999, which exist and circulate in multiple formats as video loop, installation, and feature-length films shown at festivals.

    The Pittsburgh Avant-Garde film series aims to “explore rarely seen works, and honor Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ legacy as a hub for artistic experimentation and innovation.” After our inaugural screening on visiting artist Stan Brakhage, and a subsequent event on important work by gay and feminist local artists, we are thrilled for an animation-centric event that celebrates a local filmmaker’s contribution to this important cinematic tradition. Much like his artistic predecessors Oskar Fischinger, Viking Eggeling, and Walter Ruttmann, Glabicki has transformed animation into a powerful bridge, opening up new connections across painting, drawing, and the moving image.

    For a complete list of works being shown, and other information about the event, please click here, or feel free to contact me directly. We hope to see you there!

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    Update on Botany Hall


    This post was written by Colleen O'Reilly, PhD Candidate, Department of the History of Art and Architecture

    This past year has been filled with many productive developments and collaborations in relation to Botany Hall: Dioramas in Context. Aisling and I were very honored to receive support from the School of Computing and Information, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and the Cultural Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, and from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which allowed us to apply for an Interdisciplinary Humanities Grant from Pitt’s Humanities Center. These funds enabled us to present our project at two conferences in the fall of 2017. The first was the International Council of Museums Natural History conference, which took place at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in October, and was focused on the theme of the Anthropocene. We presented some of our research on Botany Hall to an audience made up of museum professionals and natural history curators, many of whom are working with dioramas and displays, both new and old, at their institutions. We were able to share our viewpoints as researchers, working from outside the museum to produce work that helps to put natural history dioramas in historical context, and contribute to a broader discussion about the responsibility of the natural history museum in relation to our contemporary environment. 

    In November 2017, we presented at the Museum Computing Network annual conference in downtown Pittsburgh. This was a completely different setting in which we had the chance to talk about diorama history to an audience of museum professionals who are specifically focused on how to use technology in their institutions. It was enriching to share our work on the potential of a digital exhibition for contextualizing natural history museum content, and to bring questions about the role of visual technologies in museums to bear on the dioramas themselves, thinking through their status as objects that mediate knowledge. You can hear our talk here

    With the support of the grant, we are now completing the first iteration of our online exhibition, and will be launching it with special panel discussion event at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in front of the dioramas themselves. This will take place on Thursday, March 29th from 4:30-6:00pm (write to me at for more info and to register). We will be talking about the role that the dioramas play in the museum and the community, incorporating the perspectives of Pittsburgh experts in botany, botanical art, and environmental justice. We are looking forward to hearing reactions to our digital exhibition, and we anticipate that we will continue to develop it as Aisling and I move towards the ends of our PhDs and our next projects. 

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    Ph.D. Candidate Rae Di Cicco discusses Tlingit visual culture in the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History


    Bringing Tlingit Stories to Troy Hill

    Author: Rae Di Cicco

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Adding to the department’s many collaborations with local cultural institutions, I have been working with Stephen J. Tonsor, Director of Science and Research at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Stewart Urist, Managing Director at Quantum Theatre, to connect programming at the theater on Troy Hill to local collections.

    In December, I led a tour of the Carnegie’s Tlingit collection to the production and design team of Quantum Theater’s upcoming show, Inside Passage (March 2-25). Based on playwright Gab’s Cody’s true experiences, Inside Passage meshes Gab’s patchy memories of her early childhood in Alaska spent with her parents, step-siblings, and Tlingit foster-siblings with family lore and her true quest for reunification 35 years later. I will lead an additional tour of the Carnegie, open to the public, on Saturday, March 24th at 3:30pm.

    During the tour, visitors will have the rare opportunity to see objects outside vitrines, and learn about the importance of art and ceremony to Tlingit storytelling, adding important cultural context to the narrative of Inside Passage. The following is a text I was invited to contribute to the program for Inside Passage:

    “The push and pull of the ocean’s waves around the islands of the Alaskan panhandle are mimicked by the rise and fall of the tides, the pendulum of the seasons, and the growth of red cedar and its eventual disintegration back into the soil. The Tlingit (Klin-kit) people have called this landscape home for thousands of years, passing down stories of their origins in Southeast Alaska to younger generations. Prior to contact with Europeans, the Tlingit did not have a written language, but instead relied on oral storytelling to chronicle their own history. However, the foundational narratives of the entire Tlingit nation, in which the mythical creature Raven takes center stage, are the only broadly shared body of oral literature in traditional Tlingit culture. Other stories are viewed as clan histories. Dating to a time when animals could transform into humans, the origin of clans often entails an ancestor’s overcoming a supernatural foe, partnering with a mythical figure, or transforming themselves from an animal into a human, thereby establishing a new clan. Because they represent familial histories, only clan members have the right to tell such stories.

    Indeed, the Tlingit conceive of stories as important immaterial sources of wealth shared among clan members. This type of ownership is manifested within the narrative content and structure, means of transmission, and visual record of stories. Ownership is usually indicated within the story itself; characters represent important ancestors or mythological creatures representative of the clan in stories with morals about familial duty, respect for natural resources and the changing landscape, or the duality inherent in all creatures. Most overt announcements of clan ownership have been removed in textual publications of Tlingit stories, but within the culture, ownership of oral texts is recognized and respected by audience and storyteller alike.

    Tlingit oral tradition extends beyond verbal communication of narratives to incorporate artistic and ceremonial tradition as well. The stories are not meant to stand alone, and clan chiefs often commission totem poles to represent a chosen narrative to be shared at a potlatch ceremony. For a people with no written documentation, the potlatch ceremony gathered together members of the community at the host’s clan house to publicly share a piece of clan history. The totem pole would often be carved in secret, with only the commissioner and the artist knowing what story the imagery represents. At the potlatch, the totem pole – seen for the first time – is raised in stages. The pole rests on a log crutch intermittently to accommodate breaks for dancing and the explication of the story in successive acts. When the story and ceremony end, the sculpted poles stand as material reminders of the narrative they represent, while confirming the identity, rank, and social standing of the clan. The ceremonial act of storytelling thus canonizes events to a collective history while reaffirming the strict social structure of Tlingit society.

    Removing native children from this context divorces them from their clan histories, making them resource-poor members of the tribe, if they have access to indigenous culture after removal. Inside Passage balances the serious, and often heart-breaking, realities of Indian child welfare with a comedy that mirrors the tension and release seen in Tlingit oral tradition and artistic design. Much like the push and pull of the waves on Alaska’s coast, Inside Passage chronicles one woman’s separation from her indigenous foster siblings and her return, decades later, to the landscape of her earliest family memories. This is Gab Cody’s story."

    For more information about the tour, Inside Passage, and to purchase tickets, click here

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    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Debuting Channel Silver Eye

    Author: Emi Finkelstein

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    As a first year graduate student in the History of Art and Architecture department at Pitt, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to explore the many museums and galleries that make up Pittsburgh’s art scene. During the “Unblurred” gallery crawl night on Penn Ave, I walked into Silver Eye Center for Photography, a non-profit gallery that focuses on contemporary photography. I was immediately impressed with the space; the large glass windows and adjoining bookstore reminded me of the kind of galleries you see in New York and London. The artwork I saw, from local and international artists, was new, engaging, and beautifully displayed. 

    As I worked through my first semester, I got to know the talented team behind the gallery: Executive Director David Oresick and the wonderful Communications Coordinator, Kate Kelley. It was Kate who first approached me with a new idea: wanting to get the HAA department more involved with the gallery exhibitions, she thought of introducing a micro-cinema programme, where graduate students could curate a night of short films for the community. I immediately agreed, and Channel Silver Eye, a series that aims to exchange knowledge and open lines of communication between the university and the art gallery, was born. 

    My screening, to be held on March 29th, will debut the Channel Silver Eye series to the public. As such, I have chosen to combine some of the themes most dear to my heart (and my research): feminism, materiality, experiment, and affect theory. In the process, Kate introduced me to the Video Data Bank, a media archive for moving-image art founded by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

    Using the organization’s database, I found the first two films in my screening: Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988) and Shigeko Kubota’s My Father (1973-75). I liked that both of the films dealt with the idea of family and loss through the lens of media. Kubota’s film is a mourning diary, where the artist comes to terms with the loss of her father through television and pop music. Meanwhile, Hatoum’s film deals with displacement and exile, questions of translation and distance (both physical and linguistic), through a series of letters written between the artist in London and her mother, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. 

    While the first two films were easy to settle on, I struggled to find a third film to balance out the evening; I wanted to find something more contemporary, with more humor, that reached beyond the idea of personal loss, and was made by an artist working in Germany, the country that my research centers on. Initially, I suggested Tacita Dean’s beautiful 16mm film Kodak, which explores machinery and workers in the soon-to-be-closed Kodak film factory in France; Kate reached out to Dean’s gallery, but the costs of printing and projecting a 16mm film far exceeded the modest budget Silver Eye had provided me. 

    Although we were disappointed, the staff at Silver Eye were patient and I was flexible. I spent a couple days exploring the recesses of UbuWeb, an online archive of avant-garde film, art, and writing, and eventually came across Hito Steyerl’s film Lovely Andrea, which ticked all the boxes on my wish list: it was made in 2007 by a German filmmaker/visual artist, included moments of humor, and, most importantly, located loss in a photograph rather than a person. The film follows the artist through a search for a bondage picture featuring Steyerl herself, taken 20 years prior in Tokyo, and uses restriction, archives, terrorism, and the idea of images to think about loss, censorship, and how pictures can act on their viewer.

    With the final lineup chosen, I named the screening “Imag(in)ing Loss: Media and Melancholy in Feminist Experimental Film” and began to write a short series of essays for the mini-catalogue that Silver Eye will publish alongside the event. I am so excited and honored to be kicking off this series, and to be able to introduce other graduate students and the Pittsburgh community to these amazing artists. 

    As a graduate student, it is important to me to get involved with the local arts community, and to share both my knowledge and work. Silver Eye has given me the opportunity and freedom to do so, and will continue to work with other graduate students in upcoming events for this series. On March 29th, I will be introducing my screening with a short talk, as well as hosting a question-and-answer session after the screening to open up a discussion of how material and loss, feminism and experiment, are portrayed in these three films. 

    I hope to see you there!

    Channel Silver Eye presents “Imag(in)ing Loss: Media and Melancholy in Feminist Experimental Film,” curated by Emi Finkelstein, PhD student in the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh.
    Silver Eye Center for Photography 4808 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15224
    Thursday, March 29, 2018 / 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
    More details and registration here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh