Tour of "Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia" with Faculty Curator Dr. Drew Armstrong

    In Spring and Summer of 2014, Dr. Drew Armstrong worked with a group of graduate and undergraduate students in History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh to organize an exhibition that explored relationships between images and knowledge. As part of the Debating Visual Knowledge weekend, Dr. Armstrong gave a tour.

    More on the exhibition can be found here.

    • Debating Visual Knowledge

    "The Representation of Intersex Bodies in Klonaris/Thomadaki's Multimedia Practice" by Laura Giudici

    “The representation of intersex bodies in Klonaris/Thomadaki’s multimedia practice”
    Laura Giudici

    The core of my research is centered on the body, identity and visual representations of intersexuality. Where medicine and art meet, this topic is inevitably involved in delicate philosophical, social and cultural issues. These images are challenging to the art historian, opening a wide spectrum of methodological questions. From which perspective should these pictures be analyzed? How is it possible to develop a suitable interdisciplinary approach?

    The multimedia practice of the duo artists Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki is a very good example of how these issues can be integrated. Two series of works – Cycle des Hermaphrodites (1982‐1990) and Cycle de l’Ange (1985‐2003) –, are focused on intersexuality, both of which question in different ways the problem of the migration of images and ideas. The starting point for the first series was the famous sculpture of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite and, for the second, an anonymous medical photograph of an intersex person. Using different media approaches, the artists metamorphosed these pictures in many ways, combining them with other elements to create immersive visual and sound environments, thereby evoking links between the past and the present, as well as imagination and reality. The result is a work which not only addresses concerns of gender and (post‐)identity, but also technological, intermedia and interdisciplinary issues related to artistic practices. Another interesting aspect of Klonaris/Thomadaki’s projects is their reflection on an alternative understanding of performance and perception.

    The concept of “Nachleben” as investigated by Aby Warburg and the anthropological approach theorized by Hans Belting seem to offer efficient instruments for analyzing these two series of works. It is nevertheless necessary to combine them with other methodological points of view and the theoretical assertions made by the artists themselves to arrive at a thorough comprehension of their visual world.

    • Debating Visual Knowledge

    "Drawings from the Other Side" by Alicia Puglionesi

    “Drawings from the other side”
    Alicia Puglionesi

    Researchers in psychology and the cognitive sciences often look to the production and analysis of drawings to reveal the mental processes of their subjects. This talk presents three episodes that trace the emergence of drawing as an instrumental practice in the study of the mind. Between 1870 and 1950, the drawings of psychological subjects gained currency as a form of scientific evidence – as stable, reproducible signals from a hidden interior.

    This story begins with the use of drawings as data in the child-study movement, established by G. Stanley Hall in the 1870s, which aimed to produce an “inventory of the child mind.” It then moves to the telepathic transmission of drawings in psychical research, which adapted Hall's simple drawing activity as a tool for the scientific investigation of telepathy. Psychical researchers hoped to determine whether “impressions from the minds of those about us [can reach] our own minds by channels distinct from those of the senses.” Finally, I link this practice with the development of drawing as an experimental tool for studying neurological impairment. Drawings elicited from neuropsychiatric patients in the mid-twentieth century were understood to reveal particular breakdowns in the internal communication pathways of the brain. When the drawings of brain-injured patients appeared as figures in the scientific literature, they formed a taxonomy of lesions and a topology of communication failure.

    Thus, in the twentieth century, the same drawing exercises that once illustrated the universality of concepts and the porous boundaries of the self had become a tool for diagnosing the fragmentation of individual cognitive functions. In exploring these three cases, I link the role of drawing in investigations of the mind to the rhetoric of scientific images: where and how visual information can travel depends on our understanding of the seeing, thinking, and representing self.

    • Debating Visual Knowledge

    "Stripped Bare: Dissecting Wax, Print, and Paper Bodies in Antebellum America" by Juliet Sperling

    “Stripped Bare: Dissecting Wax, Print, and Paper Bodies in Antebellum America”
    Juliet Sperling

    The visual culture of 1840s Philadelphia was teeming with dissected bodies: sliced open, disassembled, and peeled apart layer by layer. As a popular anatomy craze swept the United States, crowds of thousands swarmed to public dissection lectures that featured life-size papier- mâché manikins. In emerging medical museums, visitors watched more delicate demonstrations on the lifelike wax forms of imported Anatomical Venuses. At home, curious viewers rehearsed their own procedures with “dissected plate” anatomy books, illustrated with intricately layered flaps that opened to reveal the body’s hidden depths. Movement dominated these new visions of the body—a soulless animation that living forms could never sustain, marked by excavations, expansions, and penetrations.

    This paper explores how these seemingly discrete aesthetic experiences converged on the stage of an emerging mass visual culture. I argue that movement—witnessed, remembered, and reenacted—was the crucial common feature that allowed audiences to suture otherwise disconnected perceptual experiences. In order to reconstruct these imaginative processes, I examine the intersection of two types of mass engagement with movable images of the human form: first, America’s first public exhibitions of lecture manikins and Anatomical Venuses, life-size demountable beauties with medical knowledge hidden beneath their wax flesh; and second, anatomy books with movable “dissected plate” illustrations, printed and distributed widely in the United States beginning in 1846. By tracing how visual knowledge was transmitted between separate media encounters, I identify an important shift in understanding bodily surfaces as increasingly unreliable sites of empirical knowledge. 

    • Debating Visual Knowledge

    "The World, as it is Written on the Wall" by Patricia K. Guiley

    “The World, as it is Written on the Wall”
    Patricia K. Guiley

    Throughout history artists have incorporated or used graffiti as a mode of social expression and artistic exhibition. When analyzing graffiti, from the earliest inception of cave drawings spanning up to current graffiti works, it is necessary for the viewer to conceptualize graffiti as a body which can assume two forms, that of text and that of image. Graffiti art frequently employs depictions of obscured text in effort to communicate a social message and illustrate artistic prowess creating a synergistic bridge between text and image vocalizing the rebellious spirit involved in much of its production.

    In the 20th and 21st centuries, graffiti writers have employed various techniques in order to communicate dense social messages with their art. These techniques frequently involve appropriation of existing images and maintain staunch social messages. While examining the social messages conveyed in both the text and pictorial images in graffiti, some of the world’s most prolific (sanctioned and non-sanctioned) graffiti art of the past two decades, will be outlined and used as examples. Included in this lineup will be works from: Banksy, Obey, Gajin Fujita, Princess Hijab, and Blu. It will be illustrated that intensely controversial social messages are communicated in a fluidly artistic manner uniquely found in graffiti’s voice, which reaches further than language alone.

    The final argument will show that these works are the platform for uncensored global conversations and serve as the only form of free speech in many parts of the world, thusly maintaining a unique and sharp historical perspective on political and social climates within the cities in which they appear.

    • Debating Visual Knowledge
  • National Soldier Lot, Allegheny Cemetery


    Actual decomposing bodies

    I am gearing up to do a DH project which has some interesting parallels with Decomposing Bodies, the Bertillon project about which Jen and others have been posting.

    My project will analyze the federal soldiers lot at Allegheny Cemetery, which, it turns out, is part of the national soldier cemetery system initially established during the U.S. Civil War.  This was the first time in the modern world that a nation-state assumed responsibility for its war dead and established a national system for burying and protecting its dead soldiers.  To my knowledge no national cemetery in the U.S. has been systematically studied – not as an archive of bodies in any case. 

    The soldier lot in Allegheny Cemetery was first established during the Civil War as a local initiative and then federalized in 1875.  It’s a hybrid – an interesting intersection of local and national space/authority.  The graves are laid out on flat ground in a neat grid, with nearly identical white headstones, around an allegorical monument to the Union in the center.  The strong impression of uniformity and unity around a common cause contrasts starkly with the family plots on the hillside nearby, which are individualized and laid out in deliberately irregular patterns.

    But this landscape of unity in death is deeply misleading.  The tidy national “plot” or storyline overrides the local plots – the messy, often heartbreaking stories of the individual men (and one woman) whose bodies migrated to this small patch of ground.  My preliminary spot research is suggesting that many, if not most, of the soldiers who were buried here died in local camps or hospitals or soldier homes and ended up in this lot because they had nowhere else to go.  Of course the project will help confirm or revise this hypothesis, but it’s safe to say that in the process of tracking these soldiers in life and death we will be tracking an often tragic history of displacement, in both its physical and metaphysical dimensions.

    So what does this have to do with Bertillon cards?  The Bertillon cards were a system for attaching metadata (measurements) to photographs (of faces).  The instrumental purpose of the metadata was to organize the photographs into retrievable files, but in a larger sense the metadata and image worked reciprocally to create a unique personal identity.  Similarly the headstones in the soldier lot attach metadata to the graves – the metadata being a number, a name, and a regiment (if known).  The headstone points to the grave, just as the measurements pointed to the face. Headstone and grave work reciprocally to perpetuate a unique identity after death; if one or the other is removed, the person is lost.  In both the soldier lot and the Bertillon card collection, the constructed identity is drastically reductive, with the person’s life shrunk to a narrowly defined set of data collected or manufactured by the apparatus of the state.  A major difference between the two systems is the visibility of the body: the body materializes in the head shot on the Bertillon card, while the body quite literally disappears into the grave.  The headstone is a “card” of sorts but by necessity must also serve as an image, a sign that combines contiguity (at the “head” of the body) and substitution (the upright stone “standing in” for the upright person and for the portal through which the person must pass). 

    In this open-air archive of unseen bodies, the headstone is essential but remarkably fragile.  Witness the nearby veterans lot, created under the auspices of the Union veterans organization the Grand Army of the Republic, where the once upright headstones have been pushed flat into the ground and their metadata have become unreadable.  Identity is perpetuated in the soldier lot only because the headstones have been replaced and reinstalled several times, made to look original by the intaglio style that mimics the first federal stones.

    If the data are robust enough, I hope to track the bodies, graves, and headstones – and illuminate how and why they have come to intersect in this peculiarly liminal space, poised between death and life, the national and the local, the abstract and the concrete.

    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Current Projects