Mobility/Exchange

Creativity frequently springs from the movement of people, ideas, and objects across frontiers and boundaries and into places deemed new, foreign, strange, or remote.  These encounters produce highly charged, often violent, contact zones, stimulating the desire to collect, to map, to trade, and to possess. We investigate the things that result from such encounters and the ways in which these things affect the people who make, recreate, and use them.

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Mobility/Exchange

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    Teaching and Time Management in 2020

    Author: Andrea K. Maxwell

    In the History of Art and Architecture Department (HAA) we benefit from our constellations, researching and learning along meaningful themes of inquiry that unite heterogenous areas of focus.  In a pandemic-stricken society fighting for social and political revolution, these constellation themes suddenly become deeply personal, affecting our ability to work, learn, and live.  Our mobility was frozen, exchange restricted to virtual encounters, personal and institutional agency stunted, identities challenged, persecuted, and strengthened, and our environments on lockdown.  Every routine and hack we had for chugging through regular life was disabled and our pedagogical practices were uprooted.  For graduate students with teaching and research appointments, our usual means of functioning were obsolete.

    Undoubtedly, life in 2020 has emphasized the need for patience, self-care, and understanding, but as working graduate students, we often forget those virtues apply to us and not just our students.  While social media will gladly tell us how to care for ourselves through consumerism, making adjustments to work more efficiently also does wonders for mental well-being.  Having our familiar support systems muted by the pandemic, a return to the basics of time management seemed to be in order.

    As TA Mentor for AY20-21, I led a virtual colloquium in HAA to workshop time management skills with faculty and grads.  As many of us in the department have reiterated, now is not the time to strive for our best work ever, nor should we expect of ourselves the same rigor and productivity as we did in the before-times.  Instead, we must rely on prioritizing what we can and delegating (and deleting) tasks accordingly.  In my initial presentation, I encouraged participants to also consider what level of cognitive demand their high to low priority items required of them.  When developing strategies for time management, when we choose to work on a task is as important as which task we choose.  Personally, I require sunlight and minimal distractions to get difficult tasks completed, so this typically means working in the mornings, after my husband has “gone” to work at his desk and my cats have fallen into their post-breakfast naps.  Non-morning people, however, are making their work harder if they try to start demanding tasks first thing in the day.

    The workshop continued with faculty tips for time management related to teaching and work/life balance.  Beyond these practical suggestions, we also focused on the importance of scheduling self-care and time off from work-related tasks.  In the subsequent discussion, students raised important questions related to the expectations placed on our time, noting that the current system and division of hours for a student with a full-time appointment and coursework requires working over 40 hours a week making days off feel impossible.  We also emphasized that gender discrepancies contribute to these issues of work/life balance and the ability to say no, and women in the university are often burdened with all the emotional labor in their department. While the conversation made it clear there is no easy answer, the faculty that participated were sensitive and responsive to the concerns raised.  We were encouraged to practice making choices that benefit us and our goals, though the issue remains that freedom in making choices is a privilege to which we do not all have equal access.

    Perhaps the most important takeaway is that no individual plan will work for everyone, and what worked for one person in the past may not work now.  The system in which we perform as students, teachers, and employees needs repair, but maybe through the upheaval of 2020 we can start to make those changes and take care of ourselves and each other.  To get there, we need open and honest communication, with each other and with ourselves, and it takes all parties involved to cultivate an environment where change can occur.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
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    Network Analysis + Digital Art History

    Author: Alison Langmead

    Researchers in the Visual Media Workshop, a digital humanities lab located in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, have been working on a Getty-funded advanced workshop on network analysis and digital art history. This research fits within the Visual Knowledge Constellation, because of its connections with visual and material culture, but it also holds ties with Mobility and Exchange as many of the projects that are participating in this workshop deal with art exchange and the ways that network analysis and network visualizations can reframe trade and the sharing of ideas.

    This workshop is officially entitled the Getty Advanced Workshop on Network Analysis + Digital Art History [NA+DAH]. It was designed by Alison Langmead (University of Pittsburgh), Anne Helmreich (Getty Research Institute, now Foundation), and Scott B. Weingart (Carnegie Mellon University) to bring scholars of art history and network science together in a structured, supportive, and persistent environment in order to encourage and advance research at the intersection of these two fields of inquiry. This event is unfolding over the longer-term, having begun in 2018 and enduring the delays and changed plans following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

    The foundational convening, the “Digital Art History + Network Science Institute,” was a five-day event held between July 29-August 2, 2019 that hosted over 25 US-based and international scholars on seven project teams. During the Institute, participating teams had the opportunity to structure a longer-term research agenda that uses network analysis to advance such art historical areas of inquiry as museum provenance, exhibition histories, and the history of the art market. We hosted five keynotes, supported eight workshops, and held two receptions. We were very happy to welcome HAA graduate students Sarah Reiff Conell and Meredith North as Project Associates. After this initial event, between September 2019 and March 2020, we held bi-monthly virtual project meetings with the teams as well as bi-monthly virtual webinars on topics useful to the teams. This work was spearheaded and facilitated within the VMW by the assiduous efforts of S.E. Hackney (SCI), the project’s GSR.

    The work of Spring Term 2020, was, of course abruptly transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Yet, we were able to hold a successful virtual convening over Zoom during our originally scheduled time in June-July 2020. This work included project presentations from each of the teams, focused time for discussion on how the pandemic was changing our research plans, and also a closing keynote. In our closing survey, we were so heartened to note that a number of participants contributed thoughts such as, “Thank you for making our virtual convening so successful. It was so much better than most Zoom-based events I have attended in these past months and I was sorry when it ended!”   

    We are thrilled that the Getty has approved our revised plan to extend this advanced workshop for an extra year, allowing us to run another year-long series of webinars and facilitate another year of project team meetings between September 2020 and April 2021. We are then crossing our fingers that we will be able to conclude this workshop in Summer 2021 with a four-day, face-to-face symposium held in Pittsburgh, although only time will tell!

    For more information on this project and to read further about the participating projects, please visit the NA+DAH website.

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
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    The Provincialism Problem and the Contemporary Condition

    Author: Golnar Yarmohammad Touski, PhD Candidate in the History of Art and Architecture

    Over the eventful summer of 2020 the isolation we collectively experienced across the globe due to the coronavirus pandemic brought about an opportunity to venture into ideas and projects that I had long been contemplating. The History of Art and Architecture Department at Pitt has always centered pedagogy as an important component of both our future careers and our development as scholars, and that led me to ponder the possibility of a free online school for Iranians in that country. The idea came from many ‘free schools’ that sprung about various academic communities in the United States, as an academic way of circumventing education as business, and instead offering a more democratic, inclusive educational model. Before the pandemic, the exchange of ideas and collaborating across borders were often hindered by various political games of travel bans and the daunting procedures of visa applications. As difficult as our contemporary moment may be, the global pandemic offered a silver lining. The idea of getting together virtually, via online platforms, was now more pervasive than ever.

    As I held weekly classes online about global currents of contemporary art, Terry Smith’s 1974 essay ‘The Provincialism Problem’ struck a chord with my students. Everyone shared a common concern about writing an art history for Iran, even while artistic practice in the country was still heavily dictated by the whims of local and regional art markets. Such observations prompted us to think about the ways in which the history of artistic movements in that part of the world could be articulated without having to unequivocally submit to the hegemony of mainstream art world, or what remains of it today. We decided to take this opportunity to introduce the Iranian audiences to Terry’s ideas on writing a history of, and creating art from, an post-provincialist vantage point.

    It was interesting how the problematic Terry identified in the Australian art community decades ago continues to speak to artists and educators in Iran today. On September 9, 2020, we gathered with members of Iranian art community from across the country to meet at an online event hosted by the Tehran-based e1 Art Gallery, where more than hundred people, among them art students, college professors and artists, joined us to discuss ‘The Provincialism Problem’, the contemporary condition of producing and writing about art, and Terry’s art history survey text Contemporary Art: World Currents. The book is about to be translated in Farsi/Persian, and so will soon be available to Iranian audiences.

    The event, from designing promotional material to locating hosting institutions, resulted from a collective collaboration of my students, in particular Mahyar Bahram-Asl, an MA graduate of art research from my alma mater The Art University of Tehran. In that sense, the event was a chance to expand our conversation trans-geographically and trans-generationally. This seminar was the first in a series of conversations to come with art journalists, art historians and artists from around the world on topics of contemporary art for Iranian audiences.

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
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    Irrespetando la frontera: un mural de la comunidad Latinx en Pittsburgh

    *You can read this text in English below the Spanish version

    Autora: Marisol Villela Balderrama

    Doctoranda en Historia del Arte y de la Arquitectura

    Irrespetando la frontera es un mural creado comunitariamente en Pittsburgh en octubre de 2019 con el fin de reflexionar y de posicionarnos en contra de las políticas y retóricas antiinmigración cada vez más violentas de la administración de Trump. Como estudiante de Historia del Arte y de la Arquitectura, soy parte del grupo interdisciplinario organizador de este proyecto de arte público que activa el diálogo acerca de la presencia Latinxs en Pittsburgh, utilizando un muro como elemento de conexión, en lugar de división. El mural refleja trayectorias de migración representadas por vehículos hechos de objetos cotidianos que cargan memorias de nuestros lugares de origen; mensajes en spanglish, referencias musicales y de intercambio de conocimientos, entre otros elementos. Los vehículos están conectados entre sí y son arrastrados por un caracol encapuchadx que brinda honor a la rebeldía y la libertad, fuerzas críticas para soportar tiempos difíciles. 

    El mural es una pintura acrílica sobre paneles de fibra de vidrio con dimensiones totales de ocho por veinte pies (2.5 x 6 metros) y fue creado durante un taller comunitario de tres días en un estudio de arte en el Hill District. Invitamos al artista Gil Rocha, originario de la ciudad fronteriza de Laredo, Texas, a dirigir el proceso creativo. La vida y trabajo de Gil están íntimamente ligados a la frontera, por lo que al compartir sus experiencias nos ayudó a conceptualizar y plasmar en imágenes nuestras propias vivencias como comunidad Latinx en Pittsburgh. Veinte personas de diversos géneros, edades, nacionalidades y profesiones nos unimos para pintar. Nuestras edades oscilaron entre los siete y cincuenta años y describimos nuestros orígenes como chilenxs, colombianxs, salvadoreñxs, guatemaltecx-estadounidenses, mexicanxs, mexicanx-estadounidenses, y estadounidenses. La colaboración de Casa San José fue crucial para contactar con la comunidad Latinx y el proyecto tuvo el apoyo del comité de Pitt's Hispanic Heritage Month y la iniciativa de Year of Creativity. La curadora fue la artista local Leah Patgorski.

    La siguiente fase del proyecto es encontrar una pared pública en Pittsburgh donde montar el mural permanentemente y así continuar dignificando y haciendo visible la presencia Latinx en la ciudad. En diciembre de 2019 el mural se exhibió durante el evento Unblurred - First Friday Gallery Crawl en Garfield, donde hubo una ocasión más para convivir. Después de participar en la creación y exhibición del mural, Jorge Jiménez, doctorando en Bioingeniería en Pitt, expresó: “Irrespetando la frontera fue la primera oportunidad desde que llegué a Pittsburgh hace tres años y medio en que pude compartir con libertad mis vivencias y experiencias culturales.” Con el proyecto de Irrespetando la frontera buscamos que la comunidad Latinx, al igual que otras comunidades minoritarias, pueda ser y sentirse siempre libre en Pittsburgh y los Estados Unidos.

     

    Disrespecting the Border: a Mural from the Latinx Community in Pittsburgh

    Author: Marisol Villela Balderrama

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Disrespecting the Border is a community-based mural created in October 2019 with the aim of reflecting and taking a stand against the increasingly violent anti-immigration policies and rhetoric under the Trump administration. As a second-year graduate student in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, I am part of an interdisciplinary group that organizes this community project of public art project, which activates dialogue about the Latinx presence in Pittsburgh by using a wall as an element for connection rather than division. The mural reflects trajectories of migration represented in vehicles made with everyday life elements. These vehicles carry memories of our homelands, Spanglish messages, motives for migration, references to research, music, and the sharing of knowledge, among other elements. They all are connected and pulled by a caracol encapuchadx (masked snail), which honors rebelliousness and freedom, critical forces for enduring dark times.

    The mural, an 8 by 20 feet acrylic painting on fiberglass panels, was created collectively in a three-day community workshop at a local art studio in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. Artist Gil Rocha, from border-town Laredo, Texas, led the workshop, in which twenty people of diverse gender, age, nationality, and profession participated. Ten women and ten men joined the mural painting process. Participants’ ages ranged from 7 to 50 years old; they described their origins as Chilean, Colombian, Salvadorian, Guatemalan-American, Mexican, Mexican American, and American. Casa San Jose was a crucial partner for reaching out to the community, and local artist Leah Patgorski was the curator. This project was supported by Pitt's Hispanic Heritage Month committee and The Year of Creativity initiative.

    The next phase of this project is to find a public wall in Pittsburgh to mount the mural permanently, as a way to further dignify and make visible the Latinx presence in Pittsburgh. The mural was exhibited at the Unblurred - First Friday Gallery Crawl in Garfield in December 2019. After participating in the creation of the mural, Jorge Jiménez, graduate student in Bioengineering at Pitt, said: “Disrespecting the Border was the first opportunity in 3.5 years of being in Pittsburgh, where I could share my cultural and lived experiences freely.” With this project, we enable the Latinx community, and other minority communities, to express themselves freely in Pittsburgh and the rest of the United States.

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Frontpage of “India in America”: East Indian Furnishings between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr by Katie Loney

     

    Digital Exhibition Maps Agency and Identity through Furnishings

    Author: Katie Loney

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and Graduate Student Assistant in Public History

    How can furniture help us understand the world and its connections? As the Graduate Student Assistant in Public History at Pitt’s World History Center, I have developed a digital exhibition that shares the 19th century furniture from India which I study as an art historian beyond my discipline. “India in America”: East Indian Furnishings between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr traces the movements of a set of artistic furnishings produced by the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company in Ahmedabad, India to explore important questions about agency and identity. In the late nineteenth century, the American heiress, philanthropist, and suffragette Mary Garrett purchased this set for her Baltimore estate, later moving it to Bryn Mawr College’s Deanery with the help of the American designer Lockwood de Forest—one of the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company’s founders.

    Through virtual “galleries,” visitors are able to explore the transnational histories of these Indian furnishings, tracking their movements from Ahmedabad to de Forest’s New York showrooms, Garrett’s Baltimore mansion, and the Deanery, where Garrett lived with her partner, M. Carey Thomas, the then-president of Bryn Mawr College. Looking to period photographs, correspondence, inventory reports, and other archival materials, the digital exhibition reexamines the company’s artistic furnishings and their position within Orientalist interiors, which evoked an imaginary “East” for Western consumption. At each stage, issues of agency and exchange come to the fore by registering the company’s furnishings as objects of skilled craftsmanship, commodities, and exotic luxury furnishings. Taken together, these galleries illuminate the ways nineteenth-century Americans and Indians used luxury goods to navigate their identities and social relationships in an increasingly interconnected world characterized by colonialism and imperialism.

    Almost serendipitously, my project coincides with a new exhibition of de Forest’s work at Bryn Mawr College, “All-over Design:” Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr, curated by Nina Blomfield (Ph.D. candidate at Bryn Mawr College). This led to a series of collaborative events at Pitt and Bryn Mawr college where we were able to discuss both our exhibitions with the public. At Pitt, we hosted a curatorial conversation in the India Nationality Room. We not only discussed our approaches to work of de Forest and the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company but were able to compare this de Forest’s design as a turn-of-the-century venture with the twenty-first century Indian Nationality Room modeled after the Buddhist Monastic University, Nalanda (active from ca. 500-1200 CE). This comparison raised questions about the global circulation of materials, goods, and aesthetics and how they are used in places deemed new and foreign. Comparing de Forest and the Indian Nationality Room also highlighted the processes of appropriation and inequity on which nineteenth-century Orientalist interiors relied and perpetuated, while illuminating the ways in which the Indian Nationality Room negotiates issues of identity formation for Indian communities in Pittsburgh.

    This event was followed by an object study session at Bryn Mawr College, where Nina and I led an interactive tour of her physical exhibition. Bryn Mawr Special collections provided us with hand lights and gloves to share with attendees, so everyone had the opportunity to engage with the objects visually and tactically. 

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Local Collectors and Global Gestures

    Author: Alex Taylor

    Assistant Professor and Academic Curator, History of Art and Architecture

    In a new collection display at the University Art Gallery (UAG), Pitt graduate students Emi Finkelstein, Rebecca Giordano, Adriana Miramontes, and Brooke Wyatt conducted object research on a group of abstract paintings from the late 1950s and early 1960s by artists from Britain, Japan, India, Italy and Venezuela. The result is an exhibition titled Global Gestures: Post-war Abstraction from the Lowenthal Collection, open until March 21, 2019.

    These works were all donated to the UAG in the 1980s by Oakland-based collectors Anne and Alexander Lowenthal and their children. The Lowenthals were actively involved in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and enthusiastic art collectors, purchasing works from the Carnegie International and on their travels around the world. In addition to their donations to the University Art Gallery, their collection was also donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in Washington, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

    Their eclectic collection included eighteenth-century furniture, nineteenth-century French prints, Persian ceramics and twentieth-century paintings such as those included in the exhibition.“It’s more than collecting pieces or donating,” Anne Lowenthal once told an interviewer, “it’s important to us because this leads to a global vision." The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) records held by the University Library System includes oral history interviews with both Alexander and Anne Lowenthal that explore their diverse cultural interests.

    The works that the Lowenthals donated to the UAG exemplify just such a global vision. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Painting (1959) by Indian modernist painter V.S. Gaitonde (1921-2001) which was cleaned and treated by Rikke Foulke Fine Art Conservation for the occasion. Gaitonde’s was the subject of a major retrospective V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2015, and was recently featured in The Asia Society’s exhibition The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India.

    As Giordano explains in her label on Gaitonde’s work, his is a “modernist painting that is no mere imitation of western modes, instead pursuing hybrid forms that engaged with the crises and questions of India’s newly post-colonial society.” Japanese abstraction too had, as Wyatt uses the work of Hiroshi Kunimata to explain, “emerged from a repressive wartime climate into a period of intense activity.” Across all of the works in the exhibition, the political entanglements of post-war abstraction emerge as a persistent thread.

    The social resonances of these paintings are further revealed by the titles of several works that exploit the boundaries between abstraction and figurative content. In her account of Saroni’s work, Finkelstein notes how the Sergio Saroni’s Natura Morta di Carne uses a thick impasto to suggest the “tactile, visceral effect” of its titular subject, while Bernard Farmer’s Meridian deploys sharp linear and curved forms to suggest the ‘divisions in time and space’ marked by the prime meridian at Greenwich.

    Other works point towards the engagement of their makers with the broader expansions of avant-garde practice in the post-war decades. In Alberto Collie’s Spatial Rhythm #7, for example, Miramontes connects its formal expansion beyond the limits of the frame to the artist’s own ‘floating sculptures’ and more broadly, to the embrace of space, light and motion by many Latin American artists of the period.

    Global Gestures: Post-war Abstraction from the Lowenthal Collection is open until March 21, 2019.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Mapping Mobility in the UAG

    Author: Ellen Larson

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and University Art Gallery graduate fellow

    As University Art Gallery (UAG) graduate fellow, I am collaborating with HAA Professor Michelle McCoy, along with five undergraduate students on a pop-up exhibition to take place in the UAG mid-March. This exhibition supplements Professor McCoy’s HAA 1010: Approaches to Art History undergraduate course, focusing on Chinese art objects within the UAG collection. Students selected Chinese work, as a means of initiating in-depth original research on themes and ideas related to the art objects themselves or broadly connected to socio-cultural contexts from which these materials emerge. 

    In my role as a curator and mentor to undergraduate students, I am working with the class to conceive a short-term exhibition that presents these objects as portable agents of culture, whose value lies not only within the realm of connoisseurship and museum collecting, but also as transient catalysts of new knowledge activated through their physical positions within an exhibition-setting. Rather than uncovering specific temporal histories, the exhibition seeks to extend spatial and thematic connections between works centered upon mobility and exchange. 

    Selected artworks include ink paintings by Chinese master painter, modern nomad, and notorious forger Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Following the Communist takeover and subsequent establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the Mainland in 1949, Zhang Daqian traveled to Macau, Argentina, Brazil, and Carmel, California, before settling in Taipei in 1978. Other featured works include rubbings depicting seventh-century Buddhist monk Xuanzang, whose travels led him to regions throughout central Asia including parts of modern India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Xuanzang’s writings inspired the sixteenth-century Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. Additional objects include a selection of Chinese snuff bottles, whose aesthetic utilitarianism is juxtaposed with the non-utilitarianism of a ritual ceramic vessel displaying the abstracted character , meaning “good fortune.” This object references a common practice of pasting the upside-down character  in one’s doorway, allowing good fortune to descend upon the dwelling, as the words for “upside-down” and “to arrive” are homophonous. This is further suggested by the same Chinese term, which indicates the performative action of pouring liquid from a vessel. While the selection of snuff bottles and  ritual vessel are commodity objects, the latter serves as a striking example of totality found within the context of written language, material objects, and ritual practice. 

    Echoing the words of Susan Stewart, this particular presentation of objects replaces the notion of origin with classification, presenting “temporality as a spatial and material phenomenon.” [1] In addition to displacing one’s understanding of time, the collection’s relational organization highlights the exhibition’s function as a three-dimensional map into which gallery visitors are invited to physically enter. These objects represent points of exchange and connection; concealed and revealed only through their spatial relationships to each other. Thus, new knowledge is produced through space, and is further activated through the creation of multiple networks that traverse and transition from Pittsburgh to China, and beyond. 

    [1] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1984), 153. 

     

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Itinera's Best Practices

    In the Fall semester of 2016, I started training potential Itinera contributors outside the post of project manager. These individuals included Eleanor Harvey, senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Fracesca Torello, professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon, S. E. Hackney, fellow Visual Media Workshop project manager, and Lindsay Decker, VMW graduate assistant. Through their feedback and questions during the trainings, I was able to refine my Spring semester project, which is to develop a Scalar site dedicated to outlining the best practices for Itinera. My vision for this project is to provide a platform for scholars interested in the mission of Itinera to be able to view and appreciate its networked complexity and readily envision themselves contributing to that complexity with their own objects and processes of inquiry.
     

    Scalar
    Currently, the content manager I am looking into is Scalar, an open-sourced authoring and publishing platform developed by the University of Southern California. Their mission is to enable their authors to assemble various media with text to create and structure easily navigatable, long-form and essay-length pages. From Itinera's point of view, the benefit of organizing information in this digital format is creating a business-card-like deliverable that, when given to interested parties, demonstrates the networked and relational complexity–while still, I hope, the do-ability–of working with Itinera through Collective Access, the University of Pittsburgh's web-based cataloging tool. (Collective Access is used to catalog the digital images for both the University Art Gallery and Decomposing Bodies project here at the University of Pittsburgh.)
     

    Itinera's Best Practices
    In using Scalar, I am building an online manual that: one, walks the user through the process of data input, both in text-based and video/screen capture directions; two, outlines common issues that arise when the historical record is translated into structural hierarchies in flattened input forms; and three, answers to frequently asked questions. I am certain to include the workflow, diligently put together by Jen Donnelly and Meredith North before me. Also, my growing list of chapters include: Source Authorities, Highlighting Narrative and Historical Tone, Location Specificity, Object Metadata, Supporting Agents Input, and a template for Users' Logging and Reflections. The aim of these chapters is to highlight issues that have emerged for the art historians working on Itinera that concern the nuances of the historical narrative that are lost in the metadata.

    For example, "Highlighting Narrative:"
    Tour Case Study:

    AG16051001_mn, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

    This is a factual overview of Montagu’s Turkish tour:
    With her husband and ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu set out to Turkey from Westminster, England by way of the Netherlands, Austria, and Serbia from August of 1716 to November 1718.

    This is historical context suggesting the motivations behind the tour:
    At that time, Turkey was at war with the Venetian Republic, whereby Mr. Montagu was assigned to mediate on behalf of England an agreement with Austria, in the attempt to prevent Austria from engaging with the Spanish power in the Mediterranean.

    This is my interpretation of the historical account, preserving the voice of the original historical record:
    During this time, Lady Montagu entertained at court while studying Arabic and reading Arabic poetry. Toward the end of their tour, her husband inevitably failed at establishing a truce with Austria, his position was usurped by a competitor, and he failed to ascend to a political post of any import, resulting in a general, bitter demeanor. Shortly after they separated. Lady Montagu turned her sights to Italy for almost the rest of her life, keeping up with her studies and correspondence with her stately and artistic friends abroad. She died in 1962, reviled and adored across Europe and the Near East.

    In short, my intention is to create an editable and mutable document that demonstrates the complexity of historical and social histories for Itinerant posterity.

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Itinera
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Site Specificity and Diversity Concerns within Itinera

     

    Since starting on Itinera, I've focused on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an 18th-Century aristocrat and poet. Specifically, I focus on her tour from London, through Eastern Europe, and into Istanbul with her hubsband, the English ambassador to Turkey. As her introduction reads:

    With her husband and ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu set out to Turkey from Westminster, England by way of the Netherlands, Austria, and Serbia in August of 1716. At that time, Turkey was at war with the Venetian Republic, whereby Mr. Montagu was assigned to mediate on behalf of England an agreement with Austria, in the attempt to prevent Austria from engaging with the Spanish power in the Mediterranean. During this time, Lady Montagu entertained at court while studying Arabic and reading Arabic poetry. Toward the end of their tour, her husband inevitably failed at establishing a truce with Austria, his position was usurped by competition, and he failed to ascend to a political post of any import. Shortly after they separated. Lady Montagu turned her sights to Italy for almost the rest of her life, keeping up with her studies and correspondence with her stately and artistic friends abroad.

    Originally, I saw my take on this project to be one that diversifies both the travelling agent and their destinations. As it was, and, in light of recent electoral events, selecting and following a wealthy, white woman as she travels through Eastern Europe and Turkey was not going to suffice. Thus I've redirected my thinking on what it means to do diverse digital humanities and scholarship as far as I can see: though it would be wrong to ignore the readily available histories of white travellers during this time, I use Montagu as locus to investigate the structural biases built in to the historicization and visualization of these white, European travellers.

    In doing so, I hope to place at the forefront practical and conceptual best practices: practically, I aim for site specificity in order to visually differentiate the plot points on Itinera's map. When an agent, Montagu, visits Rome, for example, she lists details such as churches, squares, villas, often without naming the building or describing its function. So I focus my attention on teasing evidence foremost from the primary material, (i.e., Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters) and historical data (i.e., histories of medieval bridges, churches, etc.) in order to best differentiate between sites. I ask myself questions such as:

    • Architecturally, which sites, details, buildings were extant while she was visiting and what buildings are known to have been demolished? This question might lead to understanding what peoples were displaced with the destruction of their communities and spaces both during the Austrio-Turskish War as well as more contemporary wars.
    • Socio-politically: what positions did her hosts hold? I can find much of this information in the endnotes, but sometimes this would still need further investigation, especially with the misspelling of a name or location. Certainly, this question can help in determining in what "castle on the hill" she stayed while in Budapest in January 1717, but even more importantly this specificity can shed light on her hosts' alliances and what hand they had in the erasure of other histories.
    • Also socio-politically: what historically significant meetings and events occurred while she was in that city that would indicate the location of a town center, assembly hall, or city center? This question could shed light on significant events in the history of the Habsburg Empire and could point to the location of other points of interest in uncovering other histories. For example, what effects, if any, did Montagu's epistolary criticism of the Imperial German Diet's assembly to other aristocrats (i.e., Alexander Pope) have on court life? Would the ramifications of her criticisms have any political or legistlative effect?

    Practically, if I'm able to piece together pieces of evidence that in some way answer questions such as these, I am able to narrow down a specific location with some degree of certainty. And if such details are not available, I do not take it upon myself to differentiate the location and will, as necessary, defer to others who specialize in these histories. I recognize at this point I am an interlocutor to interpret subjective data and place it into a flattened network of other data points on a map. In this case, if I name the site simply as "Rome instead" of "the north wall of the Colosseum," I leave the reponsibility of further specification to a future historian that may perhaps work with a new visualization and evidence.

    This attention to site specificity, of course, serves a worthwhile conceptual function as well. Although I am still working on this connection, attention to historio-politically mediated spaces in turn draws attention to the systems of power and the erasure of other histories. 

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Itinera
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  • Race-ing the Museum participants, May 13, 2016, in Braddock PA (minus Marina who had to leave to catch a plane)

     

    Race-ing the Museum: Some Afterthoughts

    Our workshop ended on Friday the 13th with a beautiful day at the Carnegie Library of Braddock with the artist collective Transformazium, after a packed week of field work and intense conversation with an amazing group of graduate students and faculty from across Pitt's campus.

    Over the course of the week we met and talked with various curators, educators, and archivists at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Teenie Harris Archive, the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, the Heinz History Center, the Allegheny City Gallery on the Northside, Pitt’s special collections and multiple archives, and the Art Lending Library in Braddock.  We interacted in various ways with objects on display and brought from storage, as well as curated selections of mixed materials from larger collections, and on the last day had a chance to do some speed-curating of our own in the art lending space at the Braddock Library.  In between, we talked a lot about what we had seen and heard and about what we should do to put ideas in practice and push the conversation forward in public.

    For me personally it was a revelation to move from one radically different collection to another and to ponder the structural differences that help determine their narratives, audiences, and engagements.  Each institution has its own criteria of quality and value.  These value systems in turn create communities around them.  Some systems are inherently more exclusive than others and therefore present particular challenges for an ethic of inclusion.

    At the Hunt Institute, for example, with the help of their generous staff we spent a couple of hours examining prints and books mostly against the grain: we looked through botany books and various records of collecting expeditions by European and Anglo colonizers to see how they represented the indigenous and enslaved peoples who actually supplied much of the knowledge.  Against the hierarchy of power and knowledge communicated by the materials themselves, we worked to recover the devalued voice and expertise of the peoples at the bottom of the hierarchy. At the Teenie Harris Archive, in the Carnegie Museum of Art, with the help of their equally generous curators, we had the privilege of entering a lost world – the largely African American Hill district before the destruction wrought by urban renewal – through the eye and lens of the maker himself, a man who did not self-identify as an artist and who rarely entered the art museum where his huge collection eventually found a home.  Here the institution has the good fortune to mine the knowledge of the community, because many of them from those days are still alive and come in to talk about their pictures and their world.  And so an archive of images has also become an archive of oral memory and of written history, all deeply interwoven into a still living community fabric.  A quote my co-facilitator Shirin read to us two days later keeps returning to my mind: If one no longer has land, but has memory of land, then one can make a map.

    And in Braddock, where Shirin read that passage – one of the poorest municipalities in our region – we thought about the value system of an art lending library in the context of a community whose resources, knowledge, and creativity tend to be ignored in a racialized master narrative of blight and distress.  Here is a public library that lends original art for three weeks to anyone with a county library card – art that includes work donated by every artist represented in the 2013 Carnegie International, black arts printmakers, emerging artists, and paintings by incarcerated men in a prison art program.  All of it surrounded by books on art and society in a light-filled room with salaried art and culture facilitators from the nearby community to discuss the art and its makers and stories.  From these artworks and books we curated our own multi-media displays on various themes which had emerged here and there in our week-long conversation.

    That conversation was simultaneously challenging, contentious, draining, and energizing.  But the big question we returned to all week was what can we do?  Many interesting ideas for real projects came out over the course of the week, and some initiatives have gotten started.  We are talking about exhibitions and websites and courses and new partnerships and pedagogical initiatives.  I’m sorry I won’t get too specific at the moment, because we are in the early stages and some ideas may blossom and others may not.  But, with a little patience and some more work, we’ll start to roll out ideas and proposals and solicit advice and feedback.  We promise to keep you posted.

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work

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