All posts filed under: Dialogues

IVC Presents: William Kentridge at the University of Rochester

InVisible Culture has partnered with the English Department to present a digital extension of William Kentridge’s visit to the University of Rochester in September of 2013. Kentridge, the renowned South African artist, filmmaker, and theater and opera director, was this year’s Distinguished Visitor in the Humanities at the University of Rochester. His visit comprised of four main events: Wednesday, 9/18 at 8 pm at the Dryden Theater – a screening of the entire series of Kentridge’s works of experimental animation, “Drawings for Projection,” followed by a talk with the artist. Thursday, 9/19, at 9:30 AM, in the Welles-Browne Room, Rush Rhees Library – a conversation with William Kentridge, led by Nigel Maister, about his decades-long career as a director of theater and opera. Thursday, 9/19 at 1:30 pm, in the Gowen Room, Wilson Commons – a panel discussion, led by Leora Maltz-Leca, focusing on Kentridge’s work in visual arts and film, with some focus on its South African context.1 Thursday, 9/19 at 4:00 pm, at the Interfaith Chapel – a public lecture initially entitled, “Everyone …

On View: Nurturing Inquiry: Exploring Special Collections Research

I can’t speak for all academics, but personally I have a comforting little secret to air: despite the composed, jet-set, fellowship-laden, idea- and ambition-saturated veneer I might strive so desperately to affect for professional presentation, I often don’t know what I’m doing. This is especially true at the beginning of a major project, where I mostly don’t know what I’m doing. On darker days, it’s easy to get down on myself. On brighter days, I manage to remember that bringing genuinely interesting, well-developed new knowledge into the world is incredibly hard work—even for the pros. In the summer of 2012, following my second year of graduate school, I received a research grant from my alma mater, Oberlin College, to spend two months in Philadelphia laying groundwork for a dissertation prospectus. I had long been inspired by the exhibits and events hosted by the Visual Culture Program at the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the staff there in prints and photographs kindly let me take up residence in their study room for most of July and …

Rochester and Native Art in the 1930s

  When a young, pregnant woman fell through a hole near the uprooted Celestial Tree above the dome of the sky, no one knew where she would go. The world below was inhospitable to her, covered in water. As Sky Woman fell, duck-creatures carried her on their wings to rest on the back of a great turtle. A muskrat then emerged from the water carrying a bit of soil from the sea floor. Smearing it on the back of the turtle, the earth grew wider. Sky Woman walked across the expanding ground, beginning Seneca inhabitance of the earth.1 In 1936 when Ernest Smith completed his painting of the Sky Woman diving into a dark and watery world, many people believed Seneca culture continued a long fall. Centuries of encounter deeply affected pre-contact Seneca culture. The dispersal of land holdings, introduction of Christianity and flooding of Seneca world with new goods all impacted the character of daily life. Finding deep fault with the effects of settler society on the Seneca world, Director of the Rochester Museum …

Drift compatibility: “Pacific Rim” and the international blockbuster

Downplaying lackluster stateside box office earnings, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) has been touted for its international popularity, currently representing over seventy-five percent of the film’s worldwide gross. While its number one debut in China at the end of July registered as the sixth biggest ever for a Hollywood title, subsequent foreign openings were predicted as a measure of the likelihood (read “financial viability”) of a sequel. Surprisingly, however, box office returns from Japan’s August 13 release saw the giant monster/giant robot action film come in a disappointing sixth below international flop The Lone Ranger (2013), a Disney adaptation of the American radio drama widely regarded as promoting racist stereotypes of Native Americans. One of the year’s few aspiring summer blockbusters not directly linked to a remade or adapted studio property, Pacific Rim unabashedly embraces two distinct youth-oriented science fiction entertainment genres from Japan: the “kaiju” film genre of fighting monsters begun by Ishiro Honda’s Gojira (1954), as well as the “mecha” anime genre featuring human-piloted mechanical giants typified by Hideaki Anno’s sprawling Evangelion …

Bodies Under Re/view? Mediating Racial Blackness

“In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we constantly learn and re-learn racial codes. [. . .] In short, it was Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, who was put on trial. He was tried for the crimes he may have committed and the ones he would have committed had he lived past 17.” – Robin D.G. Kelley, “The U.S. v. Trayvon Martin: How the System Worked” In a 1995 keynote address titled “On Identity Politics,” critical race theorist Mari J. Matsuda cautions against assumptions “that racial identity is the cause of racial division rather than a product of it.”1 For Matsuda, critical race theory emerges “[o]ut of the struggle to understand the ways in which mainstream legal consciousness is white, male, Christian, able-bodied, economically privileged, and heterosexual.”2 That is, how legal consciousness itself signifies a type of whiteness that excludes and marginalizes difference, difference that is seen in opposition to this constructed whiteness – i.e. black and other non-white subjects, queer …

Panda: of Desire and Abjection

Short film production has become more popular in the Arabian Gulf region recently, when compared to the predecessors in other regions of the Arab World. Aspiring young directors are finally beginning to receive the support they need for their creations. What matters to me more as a postcolonial feminist scholar is not the availability of funding — however important that is — but the issues presented within the short films themselves. I will take for example Panda (2012), an Omani/Kuwaiti short film directed by Jassim Al-Nofally to discuss from my point of view the transformative concepts these films are adapting and bringing into the picture. Panda is an 8 minute film about Ziad, a young man about to get married and facing the emotional dilemma of having to get rid of his beloved stuffed panda bear. Ziad eventually murders his Panda friend and buries him in the desert, leaving him behind and heading towards married life. While this film may carry different impressions to Arabic and international viewers, I believe that the basics can be …

La Orquesta Sinfonica Infantil de la Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez

“My name is Angie. I’m eight years old and I am playing the bass violin. The bass violin has four strings. It’s a really big violin that can be used to do this,” as she demonstrates by playing. This is the first captioned line of a short documentary in Spanish titled Cornflakes: Desayuno en Juárez (Cornflakes: Breakfast in Juárez). In the scene that follows, we see Angie, Cornflakes’ protagonist, sitting against a green wall holding the bass violin, taller and wider than her eight-year old frame, telling us how many strings the instrument has. She looks down with concentration to pluck each with the petite fingers of her right hand. With each sound, she offers a description: “One is called ‘Sol,’ another ‘Rey,’ another ‘La,’ another, ‘Mi.’” The scene ends with Angie’s pronouncement: “that’s how my life began” [Fig. 1]. Angie is one of 195 youth musicians in La Orquesta Sinfónica Infantil de la Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ), the Children’s Symphony Orchestra of the University of Juárez. Over the course of an academic …

Interview with Ivan Gaskell

On April 5, 2013, Ivan Gaskell delivered the keynote address of the University of Rochester’s ninth Visual and Cultural Studies conference: “A Matter of Time: Temporalities of Material Culture.” In his whimsically titled speech,”Buds, Bugs, and Bird Skulls: Do Such Things Perdure?”, Gaskell offered a poignant reflection on the various mechanisms immanent to the museum, bringing attention to a number of objects, beautiful and initially mystifying, that challenged the entrenched conventions of curation. We at InVisible Culture had the immense fortune to sit down with Ivan during the conference weekend for a more intimate look into his thinking, and to conduct the interview you see here.Over the coming year, we plan on releasing a number of additional interviews, each featuring an exciting thinker who participates in a discourse different than that of the scholar before it. Special thanks are due to Ivan Gaskell for granting this interview, and our parent institution, the University of Rochester, for its continual support over the years. – Video produced by Paul Thomas Rubery Interviewer: Eitan Freedenberg Shot and Edited …

Erratic Copying: Consummate Memetics in the Year 2012

Perhaps the greatest delight in teaching is watching students realize that debates are often not what they initially appear. I relished this transition in particular this fall, when my freshman working on an argumentative paper about the future of journalism began (mercifully) to drift from her original question—echoing the panicked buzz of so many alarmist headlines—“is print dead?” towards the infinitely more sophisticated “what does it mean to digest journalism digitally and how does this readership mode both continue and differ from others?” Inspired by the impending election, she asked her classmates during a draft review clinic whether she might discuss how election coverage played out online through social media—moving beyond the articles on news outlets themselves to address the ways topic circulated via Facebook walls and even enjoyed a second life as memes. The class seized enthusiastically on this question and began referencing images they had seen “reporting” the campaigns’ myriad gaffs and malapropisms. Everyone giggled when I pulled up one of my personal favorites from the recent presidential debate entitled One Meme to …

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the Problem of the ‘Rape Scene’

Although somewhat late to the party, I recently viewed the American adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. Like many viewers, I found the unapologetically graphic and confrontational rape scenes to be troubling. Popular blogs such as The Stir echoed a commonly-held sentiment that the scenes were too graphic or too disturbing, making it difficult to enjoy the film as entertainment. My initial reaction to the scene was similar. It is difficult to participate as a spectator when watching the scenes in which Lisabeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is raped or coerced into performing sexual acts in return for government support. The revenge scene is equally disturbing. Although Lisabeth subjects her tormentor to the same torture she endured, there is no sense of triumph and the victory feels hollow. Moreover the passive audience feels implicated for “enjoying” a movie with such intentionally disturbing material. 1 Having never read any of Stieg Larsson’s novels, I cannot speak to the ways in which the text differs from its cinematic interpretations. However, …

Now (Exclamation Point) Visual Culture

Nick Mirzoeff’s choice to add the declarative, the imperative, the ambiguous shift-1 keystroke that turns the pinky on its side and flips the bird on the number pad (frankly a radical move in the usual topography of typing) requires a pause for consideration. Perhaps the uncertain terms of this punctuated provocation are metonyms for the larger ambiguity present in the “epistemological anarchy” (WJT Mitchell) that is Visual Culture/Studies. Mirzoeff’s ! is thus rightly undisciplined. The slammer remains decolonized, so let’s keep that “Now” likewise unbordered and, more importantly, out of time. So plead University of Rochester PhD student Abby Glogower, a student of histories whose subjects pre-date the Now in both the temporal and the imaginary. Where, she asked, is the place for the scholar of the past in a field that addresses and theorizes the nowness of the present. Whereas the present matters, Abby raised the important issue of making room for scholarship that challenges the foreclosure of history’s old hats. In any case, history is itself a theory. When Hamlet said to Horatio, “There …

Visualizing the Student Debt Crisis at Now! Visual Culture

The Friday morning sessions at the Now! Visual Culture conference this weekend in New York began with a timely wake up call:  a panel organized by Dr. Joan Saab of the University of Rochester examining the twin crises of academic labor and student debt.  Perhaps most compelling was New School and CUNY professors, Ashley Dawson and McKenzie Wark’s identification of the student debt issue as, at root,  a crisis of visuality.  Whereas the plight of underwater homeowners, our panelists stressed, became quite naturally embodied in the image of the evicted, gutted, foreclosed domicile–splashed lugubriously, on the nightly news and marked on real-estate site web searches–the student debt disaster has no analogous icon. It exists, afterall,  on the site of individual subjects: living, working, beings incapable of the evacuation and ossification of built structures. The Occupy Student Debt movement, presented in brief by fellow panelist Pamela Brown (activist and Sociologist at the New School),  has been one such effort to visualize and politicize what has been metastasizing into an invisible catastrophe: the shackling and indenturement of an …

The Other Woman: Joan and Peggy move up in the world

The title ‘The Other Woman’ is of course a reference to the angle the SCDP creatives originally take when brainstorming for their Jaguar pitch: positioning the E-Type as a beautiful, exciting mistress. However, it also brings to mind the inevitable comparisons the episode raises between Peggy and Joan. Following up on the diverging paths the two women have taken throughout the series, ‘The Other Woman’ focuses on sudden, unexpected progressions in their respective careers, and—more to the point—how those progressions are achieved. Peggy, after nearly an entire season of being passed over, under-appreciated, and now downright disrespected by Don, is once again encouraged by someone else to do something about it. Freddy Rumsen, her first champion all the way back in the ‘Basket of Kisses’ days, offers her a solution. Peggy wants to seek offers from other firms to metaphorically throw in Don’s face after he literally throws money in hers in an unwarranted fit of temper. Freddy feels that Peggy is being held back at SCDP and can really ‘shine elsewhere’, so suggests she …

We Are the Hollow Men: Mad Men and the Flatness of Representation

1In a recent article about Mad Men published in The New York Review of Books Daniel Mendelsohn settles the score with the show’s writers and creators.2 Startled by the unanimous global praise of the show, and horrified by what he sees as an uncritical mass following (exemplified not only by the audience ratings, but also by the commercial success of Mad Men-inspired commodities), he sets out to solve the mystery of the show’s popularity.3 Mendelsohn’s opinion about  the show is best summed by this dense and jarring quote, which sets up the scene for the reviewers’ interpretation of the popularity of the show: “The writing is extremely weak, the plotting haphazard and often preposterous, the characterizations shallow and sometimes incoherent; its attitude toward the past is glib and its self-positioning in the present is unattractively smug; the acting is, almost without exception, bland and sometimes amateurish.” Since Mad Men, according to Mendelsohn, doesn’t fulfill any  standards of a good TV show, standards, he as a critic is qualified to assess, there must be some other …

A Symphony in Plaid

Firmly ensconced in the middle of the 1960s, the fifth season of Mad Men has begun to reflect some of the “youthquake” that shaped much of our popular perception of this period.  Don and Harry tried to recruit the Rolling Stones for a Heinz campaign, and Don’s birthday party which started the season visualized the culture clash through the wardrobe of the revelers.   Pete and Trudy, whose masterful Charleston had once cleared the dance floor in season 3 (3:3 “My Old Kentucky Home”) at Rodger’s country club party, are no longer the center of the party.  They have been replaced by Megan’s distinctly inter-racial group of friends in their slim slacks, mod prints, boas, and mini-skirts. 1 Pete’s loud madras plaid sport coat speaks to the peacock male trend among young men, but in a distinctly conservative way (new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce employee Michael Ginsberg embraces the look more fully with his pattern on pattern looks this season).  Trudy’s bright flower mini-dress hints at psychedelia, but its flower print and modest cut make it down …

Reflections on Hip and Square

In this week’s episode each of the characters featured in “Far Away Places” have a moment where their self-understanding is challenged by a reflection of something else. Peggy listens to Ginsburg, but watches him in a window while he relates his hope that he is an alien, and not an orphan born in a concentration camp. She then decides to cling to at least some traditional femininity in her relationship with Abe in order to keep Ginzburg’s ghostly loneliness away. While tripping on acid, Roger speaks in a mirror with the Don Draper that lives in his head. He chooses to speak to his wife that night with only the truth in mind; they decide to divorce. Don looks out of the meeting room and sees the skyscrapers of Madison Avenue, which reflect back onto him. Don remains silent, implying that he must decide if the business will define him, or he it.     We came back to this season not knowing what to expect in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce family. Historically, 1966 …

All Finished With Her Pink Virgin Cocktail

At the outset of season five’s seventh episode, Sally and Glen have a phone conversation wherein Glen makes a sure-fire prediction: “You’ll see when you break up,” Glen says. “It hurts.” Instead of commiserating with Glen, Sally puts up a front. “Not for the girl,” she replies. Instantly, the show sets up its interest in emotional pain and, moreover, how that pain registers within the awkward transition from girlhood to womanhood. By the end of the episode, Sally is back on the phone with Glen, having just returned from the Cancer Society dinner where she accidentally discovers Roger, her pretend-date, receiving oral sex from Marie, Megan’s mother.   “How’s the city?” Glen asks. Shaken by the experience, Sally articulates her feelings metaphorically: “Dirty,” she replies. Cut to black, roll credits, leaving us wondering why she uses that word. “Dirty” doesn’t capture the look of horror on Sally’s face earlier in the episode, when she’s trying to process the image of Marie’s head bobbing up and down over Roger’s lap. Nor does it describe Sally’s dejected …

Home Is Where?

  Mad Men, of course, has always been a show about work. And although the characters seem to like one another, or at least many of them do, their connection, after all, isn’t so much friendship but a common pursuit – they work in an advertising agency together. Viewers have had pretty good access to the home of Don and Betty Draper during the first three seasons of the show, but Season Five of Mad Men has repeatedly taken us into the homes of its main characters in a way that it hasn’t before – as a means of delving deeper into their stories and giving us further refractions of their selves. What has been especially compelling about these at-home moments has been the tension between what we know of the characters from work and how we see them at home. From the very first episode, which began with Sally Draper awakening in an unfamiliar apartment and wandering into Don and Megan’s bedroom and culminated with its amazing set piece of Megan’s surprise party for …