Double Vision: Reconstituting Race, Vision, and Representation in Paul Pfeiffer’s Long Count Series
Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Design
California Polytechnic State University
In the three videos that constitute his Long Count series – The Long Count (I Shook Up the World), The Long Count (Rumble in the Jungle), and The Long Count (Thrilla in Manila), all 2001 – artist Paul Pfeiffer (b. 1966) removes an iconic scene from the field of vision. Working with footage of three renowned boxing matches in the 1960s and 1970s, Pfeiffer applies image manipulation technologies to digitized video clips of the sporting events and erases the bodies of the boxers from the scenes.
In particular, the erased bodies are not just any bodies, but black male bodies, engaged in physical combat with one another and staged and put on display as a public spectacle. In these respects, Pfeiffer’s artworks challenge the spectacular modes of looking and seeing that all too often frame and codify race as a hypervisible, commodified object of vision in the public sphere. Instead of a directly accessible and immediately recognizable image of racial and racialized bodies on view, Pfeiffer’s artworks thwart such scenes and turn viewers’ attention to the differential power relationships embedded in vision and looking.
Pfeiffer’s videos thus reconstitute conventional relationships between race, vision, and representation in the public sphere. More specifically, in their development of a politicized aesthetic, Pfeiffer’s artworks draw upon spectacular scenes but ultimately redirect vision and looking to engage with the artist’s counter-spectacular effects, giving rise to a series of critical, interventionist images in The Long Count videos that demand from their viewers a double vision. With this double vision, Pfeiffer’s Long Count series reformulates the visual field as not just a sight, but also a site of radical political engagement.
On Chto Delat/What is to be done? And The Politicization of Art Practice
Corina L. Apostol
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History
When the 1990s came to a close in the Eastern part of Europe and in Russia, it was not just the end of a chaotic decade, but the conclusion of a painful era of struggles, collapse and disappointment. Caught in the vortex of capitalist re-structuring that – despite rhetorical claims to the contrary – nonetheless preserved marked inequalities between workers and the wealthy minority, few artists began responding to prescient socio-cultural crises. Their interventions embodied questions of survival, resistance and reconstruction, faced with the lasting material failures of socialism and the onslaught of neoliberal renovation marked by alienation and decay.
Such is the case of Chto Delat?, a collective based in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow, Russia, who work at the nexus of art, philosophy, political activism and theory. The collective’s name translates to “What is to the done?,” the title of Nikolay Cernyshevsky’s mid 19th century novel that put forward an agenda of radical social reform in Imperial Russia – that for the collective resonates as a mnemonic for self-organization of the proletariat through political engagement.
Chto Delat?’s practice defies straightforward categorization. Concretely, the platform produces newspapers and artworks – video, radio plays and performances – staging artistic interventions in cultural domains and institutions, both locally and internationally. The collective’s bilingual newspapers (EN/RU) and video works are distributed free of charge at exhibitions, demonstrations, conferences and through their website. Their works are methodologically grounded in the principles of the Russian avant-garde and the Situationist International – and geared towards the actualization of instruments of knowledge that empower the audience to discern through the totality of contradictions governing the social domain of the economic and the political.
In my presentation I will focus on key developments in the collective’s aesthetics and working methods in order to illuminate contemporary strategies in political art that are relevant beyond the Russian context. Namely, I will show how the redefinition of the individual artists in Chto Delat? as cultural workers operating in a politicized collective opens exciting avenues between the merging of radical theory and practice - by building sustainable forms of artistic innovation, political protest and liberating education.
Community Organizing, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Styles of Politics in New York City, 1968-1980
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History
University of California, San Diego
This paper examines the relationship between community organizing, youth culture, and broader anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics in Harlem and the Bronx in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, arguing that these factors combined to shape the theoretical and aesthetic underpinnings of hip-hop during the early years of its development. Beyond hip-hop’s innovative styles of dance, music, fashion, and visual art, hip hop’s cultural politics should be considered in relation to a number of grassroots struggles in the Bronx and Harlem over race, space, and representation. I first examine various sites of resistance to private and municipal control over these neighborhoods, such as Columbia University’s expansion into Morningside Park, and United Bronx Parents’ efforts for local control of education. Articulating with broader movements for Black and Puerto Rican self-determination by the Black Panthers and Young Lords, among others, these mobilizations map a geography of struggle linking local resistance against racist policies to global Third World liberation. I then consider in this context the wild popularity of 1970s Chinese kung-fu films among youth of color during the early years of hip hop culture, and in particular the development of breaking. Often anti-imperialist themselves, these films provided a performative repertoire of resistance that black and Puerto Rican youth employed to engage with and elaborate in new ways the political efforts of their elders, as their dancing bodies dramatically claimed physical space in the city. Ultimately, an analysis of breaking’s kung-fu aesthetic asks us to broaden our notions of the politics of hip-hop culture, the global dimensions of local struggle in the 1970s, and the relationship between traditional organizing and popular cultural practices.
Landscapes of Necropower
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology
New York University
Last year saw the premieres of two feature-length documentaries that confronted the grim realities of organized crime in Mexico. El Sicario: Room 164, directed by Gianfranco Rosi, consists of a monologue delivered by an anonymous, veiled man. Shot entirely within the titular motel room, the film documents the confessions of a hit man who spent twenty years in the service of a cartel in Ciudad Juárez. El Velador, directed by Natalia Almada, addresses the vast fallout of President Calderón's war on crime with a somber portrait of daily life at a cemetery in Sinaloa. Her guide is a taciturn night watchman who safeguards the security of the ever more lavish mausoleums erected atop the cemetery's burial plots.
By fixing their gazes on the blind spots where state sovereignty has failed to penetrate, the directors of these two films enjoin us to rethink the vantage points from which to observe, understand and theorize the social, political and economic contours of the current historical conjuncture. If, in an earlier era, Michel Foucault urged us to be critical of prisons as key sites wherein disciplinary power was articulated with a pliable population, today Rosi's sicario reminds us that such unassuming places as roadside motels and empty warehouses have become the sites of a different kind of power. And if monuments are the pulpits from which the state sermonizes its history, Almada's mausoleums are shrines to a powerful countermemory. Taken together, I argue, these films offer an occasion to re-strategize the theaters of operation in which to situate the critical analysis of contemporary forms of power.
Fascism and Graffiti: Opposing Systems
Associate Professor, Lesley University
Resident Scholar, WSRC, Brandeis University
“Fascism and Graffiti: Opposing Systems” discusses a new ephemeral memorial project named Orte der Erinnerung/The Danube Memorial to be situated along the Danube Canal in Vienna in 2013. The date marks the 75th anniversary of the Anchluss, when Austria was taken over by Germany. Orte der Erinnerung/The Danube Memorial will be the first inclusive memorial in Europe to symbolically represent multiple groups of victims of National Socialism and the Holocaust within a given country, who were murdered between 1938-1945. Graffiti artists will spray the names of 100,000 victims and dissidents onto a 350 meter-long canal wall over a period of five weeks. Artists will use open brackets to allocate space for those who remain nameless.
Forging a dynamic relationship between three independent systems of knowledge: history representing the “academy,” education representing the “state,” graffiti representing the “street,” each discipline will embody a different sphere of influence. Developed as an anti-fascist, collaborative enterprise, the project will forge a dynamic and experimental relationship between the three disciplines, while preserving each discipline’s unique contribution to the overall project design.
Orte der Erinnerung/The Danube Memorial is envisioned as a “living” memorial based on a participatory model of engagement. Memory is measured through concepts of care and connection that foster systems of empowerment. Fresh ideas about change and vulnerability are brought into play, challenging current discourse regarding memorialization of genocidal memory as fixed and enduring, aligned with fascist ideology. Graffiti, personifying outsider status, becomes the medium of choice to confront the hegemonic history of fascism. The paper, “Fascism and Graffiti: Opposing Systems” addresses novel aspects of the memorial design, while attending to the unique interface of traditional scientific research and radical artistic innovation.
La Fabbrica dei Sogni: Italian Cinematography, Collective Memory, and National Identity
Ph.D. Student, Department of Anthropology
University of Toronto
Italian cinematography is not a culturally and, most importantly, politically neutral mean of artistic communication. Since the Fascist ventennio to the contemporary Republican historical bloc, a thick web of historical, political, economic and socio-cultural instances, as well as the specific technical features characterizing cinematography itself as a visual media, constantly modulated the production of national visual narratives and their fruition in the Italian movie theatres as the two generative poles of a constantly reiterated ritualistic process. This form of social drama historically aimed to the strategic construction of different (and often deeply contradictory to each other) forms of collective historical memories and national identities, which were time by time successfully promoted by the State’s hegemonic authority among the Bel Paese citizens. In other words, both Italian film’s aesthetics and plots, as well as their structural ownership by the State, are organic to the hegemonic reification of a politically driven feeling of Italian identity. My paper shows how and why Italian films are very means of cultural production, as well as powerful instruments of social and political mass control. In so doing, it theoretically reveals and ethnographically exemplifies the constant tension existing between power, aesthetics, and visual media technologies’ political control in the Italian historical and contemporary contexts.
Creatures Don’t Have to Work: Censorship, Imagination and the Films of Jack Smith
Graduate Student, Department of Philosophy
Stony Brook University
In the censorship of art it is all too easy to demonize the authorities and vindicate the artist. The result is a good-guy-versus-bad-guy, cowboy-and-Indian dynamic that fails the imagination of a good work. Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures is a case in point. In 1964 it was censored in New York by Mayor Wagner and denied its rightful place at the Experimental Film Festival at Knokke-Le-Zoute in Belgium. Yet claims that make Flaming Creatures out to be a champion of certain fringe sexual behaviors, for instance, have the same fundamental problem as claims that make it out to be pornography: both value the work for what it does. With the primary resources of the Film-makers’ Coop, I will develop a concept of censorship contemporary with the reception of Flaming Creatures. Taking my cue from Frankfurt School theory of aesthetics, I will situate the formal liberties of Jack Smith’s film as a point of resistance against the dichotomous relations of censorship politics. It is the freedom to strike such easy melodramatic poses that accounts for the film’s cheerfulness, and the freedom to so easily play false grandeur that accounts for its splendor. The leitmotif of the shaking cock and female breast offers liberation from the requisite consequentiality of these so-called private parts on the Hollywood screen. Flaming Creatures’ depiction of sex is opposite to that of the culture industry, which purports the illusion of sexual liberation and which, in the words of Adorno, “disciplines the diffuse pleasure principle that is harmful to the work ethic.” Flaming Creatures refutes the work ethic at the core of what the censor and the apologist alike expect from art. They want art to do things in the world; Flaming Creatures, like its outcasts, posers and transvestites, luxuriates in doing nothing at all.
Arquitetura Nova and the quarrels of Marxism, architecture and modernity
Princeton University School of Architecture
“Arquitetura Nova was a clear reference to the Cinema Novo: simple means and ideas in mind.” When the architect Sérgio Ferro entitled his 1967 manifesto “Arquitetura Nova” (“New Architecture”) he was retrospectively aligning the directions of what he proclaimed as a new architecture in Brazil with the thesis-manifesto “Uma estética da fome” (“An Aesthetic of Hunger”), a manifesto that the Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha signed in 1965.
Under the guise of Arquitetura Nova, Ferro together with the architects Flávio Império and Rodrigo Lefèvre took the idea of a “neorealist” aesthetics of poverty as far as it might reasonably be applied to architecture. It was baptized as a new “poetics of economy,” that should be defined from “the useful minimum”, the “constructive minimum” and from the “didactic minimum” for the formulation of a new language entirely established “on the basis of Brazil’s historical reality.”
In its texts and projects, Arquitetura Nova not only advocated the use of popular materials and techniques, in order to make architecture more accessible to the masses, but also the means by which the constructive process would be intelligible for all the protagonists involved. By opposing didactic handwork to what they considered an alienated industrial mode of production vis-à-vis the country’s accelerated process of modernization—the model that Brazilian modern architects preconized—Arquitetura Nova aimed to formulate an alternative strategy based on its claims about the ideology of the architectural drawing (representation) and of the construction site. This competing Marxism ultimately extrapolated the field of architecture after Brazil’s coup d’état in 1964, when Ferro and Lefèvre adhered to the Brazilian guerilla and armed struggle.
Can ideology be translated into architectural forms and building techniques? What is the place of both the artist and the intellectual in the class struggle? Before these questions, I will analyze the experience of Arquitetura Nova in order to understand the ways in which this tendency —often claimed by contemporary practices in Brazilian architecture —dealing with the legacies of Marxism attempted to face not only the problems of modernity and production in Brazil, but also issues of political engagement, ideology and false consciousness.
A Primer of Resistance: The Vietnam Comic Book
Amanda L. Higgins
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History
University of Kentucky
The Black Power Movement has been widely recounted by a variety of academics and participants to varying degrees of success. The popular understanding of the time is one of racial separatism, riots, and cultural nationalism. Often overlooked in the discussion of Black Power and African American activism in the mid to late 1960s is the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. Black men and women were vocal opponents to the war and often expressed their discontent through art. One particularly interesting medium was the production of a graphic novel/comic book in New York to aid understanding of Vietnam issues and how black men could avoid service in the U.S. Army. This comic book’s distribution and message provide an aesthetic example of the War’s influence on black life in America. More than that, I argue this comic book was an expression of black masculinity and a guide for young black men to find purpose and reason in avoiding service. While military service was often seen as a stepping stone to middle class life, by the Black Power Era many organizers, including Malcolm X and eventually Martin Luther King, Jr., saw American action in Vietnam as neither honorable nor right. Radicalized young men and women voiced their frustration with American policy in the third world and did so in creative, though often overlooked, ways.
this baggage of essentialist expectation: Race, Music, and the Kantian Aesthetic
Douglas S. Ishii
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of American Studies
University of Maryland, College Park
Since its institutional transformation to a post-national, transnational, and decentered American Studies, the interdiscipline has paid little attention to the aesthetic. However, given how the aesthetic has been used as a disciplining discourse of “merit,” “worth,” and “value” in the wake of attempts to radically transform the academy, perhaps aesthetic inquiry no longer readily lends itself to progressive movements. If American Studies as a field still understands its purpose as a connection between academic knowledges and community and social movements, the field can no longer ignore the productive force of the aesthetic. In this presentation, I will pair a reading of Immanuel Kant’s Third Critique of Judgment with efforts in Asian/Pacific American communities to develop a radical aesthetic of antiracism through music. In discussing the aesthetic, I am not interested in the specifics of “beauty,” but instead in revisiting Kant’s vision of sensus communis, the community of sense that functions without the state; in discussing antiracism, I am uninterested in facile stereotype critique, but a transformation of the valuation of humanity that racism legislates. Instead, I ask: what if we understood antiracism as an aesthetic process? What if we took seriously efforts to engage social justice through the aesthetic experience of music? By bringing aesthetic philosophy and Asian American studies together, I hope to facilitate a theoretical conversation that can orient the aesthetic towards radical politics, and can turn Asian American studies to the intangible dimensions of identity and difference.
World on a Wire: Towards a New Theory of Emergence in the Sonic Arts
M.F.A. in Electronic Music, Mills College
Adjunct Faculty, Conservatory of Music, University of the Pacific
In the mid-20th century a new conceptual paradigm rose to prominence in the sciences that captured the imaginations of the burgeoning counterculture and its most forward-thinking artists. Against the backdrop of the Cold War and the advent of computer technology, a branch of systems theory called cybernetics was presented as a way to study control and communication within complex systems. Although its origins are in mathematics and military engineering, the author will argue that cybernetics developed into an ideology that views the human mind as a machine, and in which organisms, organizations, and even "nature" are universally understood to be systems wherein homeostasis is preeminent. Cybernetic thought evolved as political and social concerns precipitated a shift in focus from control and stability towards agency and emergence, and eventually towards virtuality and embodiment. Nonetheless, the teleological strains of cybernetic thought have continued to exert a hegemonic, if unconscious, influence in the realm of experimental and technology-driven arts.
Owing to the research of Christina Dunbar-Hester, the author will trace the paths of influence and interest between cybernetics and the sonic arts. The author will also draw inspiration from a"listening" to R.W. Fassbinder's 1973 dystopic sci-fi miniseries Welt am Draht (World on a Wire,) a work that alludes to and critiques the precepts of cybernetics, delineating them with its inventive and audacious soundtrack. Referring to the work of literary theorist Timothy Morton and others in the field of Object-oriented Ontology, the author will argue that the idealistic and techno-utopian character of cybernetic thought, particularly the holistic concept of emergence, does not serve us in grave political and ecological times. Finally, the author will suggest new ways to understand emergence in sound art that are free of anthropocentric notions of intelligence, and in which sonic entities can be greeted as Morton's “strange strangers.”
The Unexpected Collectives: Experimental Assemblages and the Sogetsu Art Center
Ph. D. Candidate, Music Department
University of California, Berkeley
In an era characterized by high economic growth and political turmoil in postwar Japan, the Sogetsu Art Center (SAC) in Tokyo was a hub for experimental and avant-garde activities in the early 1960s. At the SAC, young musicians and artists who could not operate within traditional institutions such as concert halls, museums, and universities found a creative home. The SAC was a place where artists could form collectives and engage in experimental, genre-crossing artistic practices. In the first part of the 1960s, music and musicians occupied central places in SAC programs. Participants included composers and performers, such as Takemitsu Toru, Ichiyanagi Toshi, Tone Yasunao, Kosugi Takehisa, and Takahashi Yuji, who later became major figures in the history of experimental and avant-garde music in postwar Japan. In my analysis of the historical significance of the SAC, I frame the SAC as space of experimental collectives and an emerging musical avant-garde. Through a description of various activities at the SAC, I discuss the shifting meanings of collectivism. My analysis suggests that experimentalism was not just an aesthetic principle, but just as much, a social and political ideal articulated through collectivism. On a larger scale, this formative period of Japanese experimental music in the 1960s is also crucial to consider as a basis for the institutions of avant-garde music that remain in place to this day.
Fanta, Sprite and G.I. Joe: Depictions of Postwar American Military in Japanese Photography
Faculty, MFA Computer Art
School of Visual Arts
Since the end of World War II, the American military presence on Japanese soil has been a contentious, yet mandated component of Japan_s postwar political and economic landscape. Initiated and maintained through a series of treaties at the end of the war, large American military installations are concentrated on the islands of Okinawa and Honshu. Their presence is not a simple picture of occupier and occupied, but rather a controversial and complex issue in Japanese politics -- one that is complicated by a love-hate relationship in which both partners are responsible for the resulting tensions. As a layered subject that offers no easy answers, a number of Japanese postwar photographers have sought to unravel their often-conflicted feelings on the American military_s role in their country. Employing very different conceptual and visual approaches, their photographs and accompanying photobooks provide highly personal observations on this controversial topic.
Within the context of the multifaceted dialogue surrounding the American military presence in Japan, this paper will present three distinctly personal aesthetic investigations by Shomei Tomatsu, Mao Ishikawa, and Miyako Ishiuchi. As the oldest, Tomatsu was a founding member of the influential Vivo group and mentor to the successive generation that includes Ishikawa and Ishiuchi. His Chewing Gum and Chocolate series (late 1950s-60s) presents the gaudy bars and lounges that surround the military bases. Fascinated by the informality of the American military personnel, his images explore their subjects from a distance as they renounce photojournalism in favor of a more expressive and intuitive approach. Mao Ishikawa, a student of Tomatsu and a dramatic and outspoken native Okinawan, embraces her subjects full force from a position of central engagement. Gaining employment in the “Kin-Town” bars that surround the military base in her hometown, her Hot Days at Camp Hansen (1982) photographs are a raw view from an interior perspective. A bit more subdued and reflective of a conflicted identity, Miyako Ishiuchi’s Yokosuka Story (1978-79) explores her hometown Yokosuka, a city southwest of Tokyo, which has hosted two large American naval bases since the late 1940s. Possessing a quiet power, her images of deserted military base buildings and streets act as a container for her highly personal childhood memories of place as they also hint at the wider conflicted national sentiment and the complex range of emotions associated with the American military presence in Japan.
Listening and Event: Medium-Specificity in Christian Marclay’s Record Without a Cover
Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism
Gwen Frostic School of Art, Western Michigan University
This project concerns a theoretical reconsideration of the analog vs. digital debate through the terms of Adorno’s critique of the phonograph in his writings on industrial music of the 1930s. This line of inquiry pursues a sociality of music listening made possible by the physical life of the vinyl record—turning against themselves Adorno’s claims about recorded music’s fragmentation of performance, the function of repetition to act as a surrogate for immediacy and authenticity, and the alienating atomization of the listener. In the wake of the popularization of digital recording mediums, from the compact disc in the mid-1980s to the mp3 to streaming audio in the present, the vinyl record takes on a new experiential dimension as a medium whose recording “erodes” over time, making each play a unique listening experience.
I will examine Christian Marclay’s 1985 LP Record Without a Cover, whose release coincided with the birth of the CD as a widely disseminated medium. I argue that Marclay’s LP pursues a medium-specificity that is at odds with the transitive and format-crossing nature of most recorded music in the digital age. The LP was manufactured without a sleeve or album cover and came with instructions printed on its b-side to not store it in a protective sleeve. The idea here is to accelerate the deterioration of the LP’s recorded grooves into surface noise, the LP eventually becoming an indexical “record” of its previous listens (and physical handling). This strategy seeks to bring to recorded music the character of the event: a kind of listening experience that involves not only hearing the recorded music, but also engaging with the physical characteristics of the medium of dissemination and the conditions and situation of listening. The relevance of this album in the iPod and ear-buds era emerges from the sociality of the listening-event: the unrepeatable experience of each specific playing of an LP as a social occasion (as a unique “performance,” if you will).
A Soft Limp Key
Whitney Independent Study Program
This project, entitled “A Soft Limp Key,” is a four channel video in black and white. Based on the structure and logic of a symphony for orchestra, this video addresses theories of dependency and ethics of care. At the heart of “A Soft Limp Key” lie questions about social exclusion and inclusion of disability and difference.
“A Soft Limp Key” asks how the video camera and electric wheelchair are similarly cinematic. An artist operating a video camera while using an electric wheelchair achieves a very particular visual texture. In all cases, my seated position creates an understanding of my artistic subjectivity through height and angles legible onscreen.
Disembodied speakers add to this sense of subjective sensory experience. Different voices narrate the video, introducing each section’s theme: “Life,” “Intimacy,” “Power,” and “Guide”. Occasionally voices overlap one another, challenging a clear reception of each individual word or sentence. This layering of voices is revisited at the video’s end, when three voices sing a traditional German round, or canon. Here, the voices achieve harmony over dissonance. The entire video plays for 00:16:45. Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony No. 3 E-Flat Major weaves in and out of the video’s four parts: “Allegro,” “Adagio,” “Scherzo,” and “Rondo.”
Metafiscal Services in the Middle of Nowhere
Stephan Moore, Multimedia & Electronic Music Experiments Program, Brown University
David Ogawa, Department of Visual Arts, Union College
Scott Smallwood, Department of Music, University of Alberta
For the past several years, we have been a part of a collective of artists, activists, scholars, and engineers working on an interactive sound, light, and theatrical installation known as the KTM, or “Karmic Teller Machine.” This small booth has been installed annually in Black Rock City, site of the Burning Man festival in the remote Black Rock Desert, north of Reno, Nevada. Like an ATM, the KTM offers passers-by "interactivity," but the transaction is reconfigured into an experience of sound and light, a qualitative rather than a quantitative outcome. Raising questions about technological epistemology and causality, the KTM “banks” on a type of apophenia, or perceived synchronicity, that can be found in experiences as diverse as the dances of the Merce Cunningham dance company, the sound walks of Janet Cardiff, and the variety of chance operations inherent in the fortune cookie or the magic 8-ball. Conceptually, the KTM hovers in a space between the avant-garde, the pedestrian, and the oracular. Artistically, it hovers between the medium of music, theatre, installation, and visual art. At the same time, we have conceived the KTM as an opportunity for an interrogation of the Burning Man festival itself. Is Burning Man a counter-public, politically radical space? How do the stated principles of the festival, including “radical inclusion,” “gifting,” “decommodification,” and “radical self-expression” operate in practice? What kind of art-consuming public is called into being in such a space? Most important to us: what would a critical art practice look, sound, and feel like in such a context? Our paper will discuss the operation and effects of the KTM, situate it in the context of Burning Man, and explore ideas about the relationship between “radical” spaces, audiences, and artistic production.
Angels, Donors and Gifting: How Children's Books Frame Third-Party Assisted Reproduction
BA/MA Student, Department of Anthropology
Hunter College, CUNY
"Mary Duck said to Donna Duck, 'I would like to give you two of my eggs so that you can be a mommy […] I want to help you be happy [...]' Then Mary Duck took two of her eggs and gently placed them into Donna Duck's nest" (Cirisan, 2004; Italics mine).
The above passage points to an important issue surrounding the commodification of reproduction: the assumptions made regarding the motives of individuals who participate in the assisted reproduction market through egg 'donations' and surrogacy. By examining discourse strategies found in eighteen children's books, this research investigates how the production of a benevolent and altruistic persona relates to the commodification of reproductive and genetic material. Defining the exchange as a cherished gift of donor altruism through the use of narratives masks a complex system of biomedical advancements and a "baby market" driven by capital interests. These texts are illustrative of the ways advanced medicine and biotechnologies have incorporated reproductive and genetic material into capital markets through the rhetoric of gifting.
Such stories function as mechanisms for enculturation that aim to define a process of third-party assisted reproduction to children. Textual analysis can elucidate how representation may preserve dominant ideologies and justify inequalities. Investigating books currently popular among families that have participated in assisted reproduction reveals the wider social structures that govern the exchange, as well as the subjective involvement of participants. Consequently, the transmission of a particular hegemonic worldview—the textual and visual depiction of surrogates and 'donors' as benevolent—begs the question of whether these individuals are simply altruistic agents in the reproductive market. Literary and even real-life use of gifting language obscure the monetary impetus or financial need often driving the commoditization of one’s genetic material.
Mimesis, Metal, and the Politics of Doom
Ph.D. Candidate, Performance Studies, New York University
My paper, “Mimesis, Metal, and the Politics of Doom,” reads the music of Los Angeles-based drone doom metal band Sunn0))) in relation to the tropes of figuration that haunt Aristotle’s Poetics and Longinus’s On the Sublime. I argue that Sunn0)))’s performances draw upon a figurative legacy of the aesthetic that haunts these foundational philosophical texts—a legacy that situates mimetic pleasure and sublime transcendence in relation to a bodily practice, and to this end, is always already political. My paper begins with a close reading of Aristotle and Longinus, whom I understand as offering a subtle theory of the body: Aristotle through his concept of mimesis, which I read as a theory of aesthetic pleasure predicated on dynamics of recognition that depend on a visceral awareness of one’s own body; and Longinus in his concept of the sublime, which I read as a figuratively transcendent specter that emerges not necessarily above bodies, but between them. I then relate this figurative legacy of the aesthetic to the affect of metal that so many people find off-putting—the sentiment of suffering, the emotional investment in the painful and the heavy—and Sunn0)))’s extreme performances of heaviness (via their excruciatingly loud and long compositions). Through this auditory extremity, Sunn0)))’s music arrests the body in an unresolved reverberation between corporeality and subjectivization, returning representational ideology to the body and creating a feedback loop, which outlines a space for a subversive experimentation. By probing the limits of what the body can take, I argue that metal draws on the figurative legacy of the aesthetic to pose that primary philosophical and political question of what a can body can do. Through the intense and physically grueling noise they produce, Sunn0)))’s performances of drone doom metal forcibly postulate several suggestive answers: a body can find pleasure, and a body can endure.
Dance and the Performance of Politics in Depression-Era Los Angeles
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History
University of California, San Diego
This paper explores the nexus of anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, and anti-sexism as political imperatives in Old Left-era social movements through a study of the work of dancer and theater artist Si-Lan Chen. Born in Trinidad to Afro-Caribbean and Chinese parents, trained in Moscow, and an active supporter of China relief and Soviet Asian movements, Chen toured and worked in Los Angeles during the late 1930s and 1940s as a dancer, choreographer, and occasionally a film actor. As I bring into focus the range of influences on which she drew in the production of her own style and cultural politics, I highlight how Chen’s work defies traditional categorizations of aesthetic traditions, political ideologies, and racial and gender norms. Further, I propose that her contributions to both Los Angeles-based and larger national and transnational political movements challenge us to broaden our historical conceptualization of the Old Left generation as well as theoretical understandings of class struggle and social change.
Environment as Sociopolitical Spectacle: New Utopia Bubble for Reuse of Abandoned Diamond Mines
Anna P. Sokolina, Ph.D.
Executive Editor, Alternative Spaces
This study is an attempt at an alternative view on new environmental projects through re-evaluation of the notion of political and aesthetic representation, its characteristics and critical consequences to the reading of social space. By challenging the contemporary debate on boundaries of politics in art, architecture, and environmental studies we take an approach to examining a new dramatic environmental showcase of Eco-City 2020, the underground metropolis for 30,000 residents by AB ELIS architectural studio, to be constructed inside the exhausted diamond mine Mirny, the second largest excavated aperture on the planet. The massive bio-dome design proposal sealed by a glass roof containing thousands of solar panels providing energy for the entire structure and protecting the city from harsh seasonal climate change, is interpreted here as a potential matrix for adoptive reuse of abandoned mines. Our aim is to find the ways of commitment to environmental cultural evolution within the political climate of social transitions. In addition, the argument is suggested on visual representations through which identities are articulated by analyzing the artistic imagery of paper architecture. An insight into physical, social and political topography is constructed through an assessment of conceptual narratives, scale, and the uniqueness of the futuristic showcase.
The Resonating Voice: Sound and Community at Ground Zero
Pwyll ap Stifin
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology
University College London, Material Culture Group
This paper is an attempt to understand the forms of ethical community engendered by technologies of listening to testimony of 9-11 at Ground Zero. I discuss BroadcastR, an iPhone app which uses geo-mapping software to trigger audio recordings made by oral historians at the 9-11 Memorial Museum. Different voices narrate their experience of 9-11 as one walks around lower Manhattan producing a temporal palimpsest in the city, encouraging one to experience the the past event again (and again) in an extremely emotional, affective way. The paper is based on discussions with some of those responsible for producing the recordings, those who developed the technology and the experience of walking around lower Manhattan, listening to BroadcastR with a friend, part of a wider ethnographic project on the Post-9-11 Voice in New York.
I will discuss the technological underpinnings of this process of listening, particularly the nature of the mp3 as a format specifically designed to replicate the capacities of the human sensorium. This will lead to a consideration of the understandings of the voice's materiality at the heart of this technology, an understanding with strong theological underpinnings. I will discuss the technological manifestation of the human voice as an affective, resonating substance that passes between bodies, via the detour of technological mediation. The links formed are understood as more primitive than any semantic or linguistic meaning 'carried' by the voice – the affective, touching nature of the post-9-11 voice is believed to be irresistible. Discussing this in relation to Levinas' discussion of the distinction between the 'Saying' and the 'Said', I will attempt to elaborate on the nature of the ethical community which, it is hoped, will emerge from this process.
From Mammy to Oprah: An Historical Analysis of the “Fat” Black Female Body as Cultural Product
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History & Communication Studies
Many feminist scholars have explored the relationship between women’s bodies, culture and the promotion of a beauty ideal which promotes thinness. This debate has largely, implicitly or not, referred to white women’s bodies. Conversely, black women’s bodies have been differently constructed, depicted and visualized. The heavy-set, “fat” black female body as epitomized by the stereotype of the “mammy” also referred to as Aunt Jemima must be situated as a pivotal site of historical contestation. This paper explores the iconographic image of the “fat” black woman as cultural product, beginning with the nineteenth-century literary figure of the “mammy”, who is deeply rooted in Antebellum south mythology and cultural memory; to the rise and development of the advertising icon Aunt Jemima; and the filmic stereotype of the black Matriarch. I provide a historiography of the aforementioned figures to complicate the ways in which black femininity has been shaped through commodity culture. Why is the overweight black female body rarely positioned as a symbol of disgust, or as representative of a lack of control? Andrea Elizabeth Shaw (2006) writes that fatness and blackness have come to share a remarkably similar and complex relationship with the female body: both characteristics require degrees of erasure in order to render women viable entities by Western aesthetic standards. Differently stated, the more a black woman’s body conforms to the cultural ideal of slenderness and the better they are able to “perform” whiteness both physiologically and behaviourally, the more sanctioned her body will be; the weight struggles of Oprah Winfrey is a perfect example of this contestation. Ultimately this paper is also a discussion of black cultural icons and the complex confluence of race, body, and aesthetics.
L’allégoricité esthétique de la politique dans les sphères de la diffusion (publique/privée) de l’action (identité) morale et politique*
Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Master’s Program in Philosophy/Humanities
The human is alienated and humiliated within traditional aesthetic and political practices and theorizations; this work instead proposes a Rancièrian emancipation of the aesthetic through its union to politics. This proposal argues that the aesthetic and the political are not separate, but rather pursue the same goal. It takes the position of spectator as metaphorically the position of individuals in society, unconscious of their strength, removed from their power to act, separated from their ability to put into action their knowledge and will. To be individual and spectator has been constructed as a subjugated position. The political excellences of fascination and of domination are used within the aesthetic, for instance by Machiavelli. Kant’s disinterestedness of taste is the consequence of a long tradition of domination of the viewer/spectator, his ‘taste’ measured by distaste, repugnance, revulsion. With this aesthetic, the private and public are divorced. Yet when Rancière regards the encounter between the ignorant, alienated individual and the alienated, ignorant spectator, he relocates their active life as having a valuable place in society. It is as well the moment of encounter between the private and the public, the responsibility of the individual and his duty.
*Note: This paper will be presented in French, with a pre-circulated English translation. An English-French translator will be present during the discussion.
Remembering Through Forgetting: Stan Douglas's Abbott and Cordova and the Social Functions of Art-as-Monument
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sociology
The Graduate Center, CUNY
This paper will critically interrogate Stan Douglas's 2009 mural Abbott and Cordova, 7 August 1971, a 40-foot piece framing the main entrance to Simon Fraser University's new downtown Vancouver campus that has been called "the most extraordinary piece of public art in Canada". The mural depicts a police attack on a marijuana smoke-in in 1971 (the "Gastown Riot") -- a pivotal event in Vancouver history that led indirectly to the gentrification of the city's impoverished Downtown Eastside. Abbott and Cordova will be situated in relation to other historical monuments, including those that do not declare themselves "art" or that lack an explicit politics. At issue is the function of the public monument in relation to collective memory and trauma studies. To what extent do monuments prod collective memory by repeating complex events with difference? To what extent do monuments encourage forgetting in the name of civic pride? While Abbott and Cordova was intended, by the artist's admission, to evoke the neighborhood's fraught history and distress viewers, it will be argued that the mural in fact performs the opposite function: subsuming the riot beneath a project of civic betterment and servicing the gentrification narrative. While Abbott and Cordova has been celebrated by critics and advocates of gentrification alike and has contributed enormously to Douglas' status rising status in the art world, it will be argued that the function of the monument always exceeds the auteur's intentionality. Finally, some alternative models for memorializing political events will be suggested.
Towards a Radical Aesthetics of Kung-fu Cinema: Authenticity and the Pedagogy of Performing Bodies in Lau Kar-leung’s Shaolin Cycle
Lecturer in Visual Culture and History of Art and Design
High-brow culture – elevating narrative over spectacle, mind over body – has tended to pronounce negative judgments on the popular. Kung-fu cinema, based around the spectacular body in extremis, has thus often appeared to critics as little more than the pornography of violence.
Kung-fu films, however, also harbour politically radical possibilities. Like popular culture generally, they are replete with a counter-memory that, though not articulated politically, might nonetheless proffer resources for radical culture that would be lost to the left if it cut its ties to a popular culture with roots in the longue durée of cultures of resistance.
I here approach kung-fu films through the performing bodies of its stars. Concentrating on fight choreographer Lau Kar-leung’s ‘Shaolin’ cycle, which depicts Cantonese folk heroes who resisted Manchurian occupation, I investigate the politics of its performers’ physical “authenticity.” This authenticity involves more than physical ability: the styles in which Lau and his performers were masters can be traced back from teacher to teacher to the very heroes they depict. In martial-arts pedagogy (itself a theme of the films, which emphasise teacher-pupil relationships and the spectacle of kung-fu training) the “transmission” of a “lineage” is central, and as Lau’s films emphasise it is not only physical manoeuvres that are transmitted, but an entire ethos. The films thus set up Lau’s stars (also in effect his students) as, through their training, embodying the values of the heroes they depict, connecting them indexically to histories of resistance. I argue kung-fu cinema creates intense bodily identifications between star and audience, binding viewers into its master-pupil relationships.
To critically understand this pedagogy and its political vicissitudes, I draw on recent scholarship on Hong-Kong cinema and on debates around stardom and the body in popular cinema, and revisit Benjamin’s questions of aura and experience in modernity.
We come alive: making exilic spaces for remixing social life
This panel brings together four artist/activist/scholars who study and create sites of resistance, exile, refuge and release for people who cannot fit neatly into mainstream social categories. Focusing on nightlife as a common theme, the panel highlights examples of “exilic spaces” created by club culture in particular. When these physical and discursive spaces are carved out by particular acts, people create and share cultural/material resources on terms not dictated by mainstream society. In exilic spaces the uncivilized make the most of their independence from the constraints of “civil life”: the unruly and vulgar embrace glitz and glamour, playing with categories of gender, sexuality, race and class. Each speaker will present for 10 minutes and the remaining time will be a panel discussion.
In the cracks of coloniality: Jamaican street dances
In the cracks of coloniality: Jamaican street dances
DJ/Legal Anthropologist, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Dept.
University of California Berkeley Law
Larisa Mann will present audio and video from fieldwork in Kingston, Jamaica to show how the extralegality of the street dance, and the extralegal discursive strategies of sampling and imitation are both necessary to keeping authority and power in the hands of the urban poor.
LOOSE: Problematizing Documentary Practices & Explorations in the Nature of Being
LOOSE: Problematizing Documentary Practices & Explorations in the Nature of Being
D’hana Perry, a DJ, promoter and fine artist, will present and discuss a short documentary/video work that is equal parts personal exploration and ethnography about how “passing” can be a "disidentificatory" practice that provides a kind of exilic space one can bodily, physically and mentally inhabit, dodging pressures to explicitly conform or resist mainstream identity categories.
Brian Friedberg is a DJ, writer, producer and curator. Drawing on sociology and performance theory, he will discuss the “Ha dance,” a song popular in and calling out especially to dance music scenes dominated by queer people of color. He will demonstrate how the “Ha dance” subverts a racist popular culture artifact, transforming it into a tool for creating exilic space and authority for queer people of color.
Jazmin Venus Soto is a DJ, scholar, and producer. She will use a live musical performance to demonstrate DJing as social criticism, framed by a discussion of how her GHE20G0TH1K parties are currently building a movement through sound bridging communities across class, sexuality and social identification. She will also moderate the panel discussion.