All posts filed under: Reviews

My East Is Your West

Review by Sophie Knezic, University of Melbourne. Shilpa Gupta and Rashid Rana, My East Is Your West. 56th Venice Biennale. May 5 – October 31, 2015. A satellite exhibition of the 56th Venice Biennale, My East is Your West was presented at the Palazzo Benzon, whose interior architecture of adjoining rooms, narrow corridors and cordoned-off, dimly-lit spaces suggested a mise en abyme of thresholds and crossings. Commissioned by the Gujral Foundation, conceived by its Director Feroze Gujral, and curated by Martina Mazzotta and Natasha Ginwala, the exhibition juxtaposed Pakistani artist Rashid Rana and Indian artist Shilpa Gupta’s respective explorations of geographical divides and subcontinental tensions. As nations locked in postcolonial conflict for much of the second half of the 20th century, neither India nor Pakistan has had the privilege of a permanent national pavilion at Venice, making this a particularly pointed curatorial pairing. Choosing to deploy a method of appropriation, Rana covered two walls with pixelated digital prints of two canonical works from Western art history: Caravaggio’s Judith Slaying Holofernes (1598-99) and Jacques Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii (1784), …

Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone

Reviewed by Kristin Flade, Free University Berlin Hochberg, Gil Z. Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. Paperback. 224 pp. “There is, in other words, no war without the spectacle of war.” In Visual Occupations, Gil Hochberg, Professor for Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at UCLA, sets out to examine what it is to see, what it is to be seen and what political potentials acts of vision might carry if brought into focus sharply enough. She “explores various artistic (cinematic, photographic, literary) attempts to expose and reframe the conditions of vision that underlie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (3), contextualizing and connecting Palestinian and Israeli artistic interventions with readings of specific military technologies, architectural forms, and mechanisms of control and resistance at different points in time since 1948. Through which visual configurations does this conflict appear, she asks in her introduction, and cautions her readers a few lines later against taking the “conflict as our point of departure,” instead urging them to “explore the very making of the conflict—its …

Framing the Audience: Art and the Politics of Culture in the United States, 1929-1945

Reviewed by Elizabeth Eikmann, Saint Louis University Isadora Helfgott. Framing the Audience: Art and the Politics of Culture in the United States, 1929-1945. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015. 326 pages. 21 color plates. The culture wars of the years surrounding the 1930s are known for the many and well-fought domestic battles over high art, popular culture, and consumerism. During this era, the barriers between high and popular art upheld by centuries of tradition came crumbling down as leftist American artists worked to redefine the relationship between art and the greater society. Mass circulation of visual media gave 1930s Americans unprecedented access to art and, as scholars such as Michael Denning have argued, it would be during this decade that art gained a new power to create, challenge, and reinforce ideas about national politics, economy, and identity. While numerous scholars have focused their work on the art produced during this time, Isadora Helfgott’s Framing the Audience: Art and the Politics of Culture in the United States, 1929-1945 flips the focus onto the figures behind and beyond the …

Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image

Reviewed by Najmeh Moradiyan Rizi, University of Kansas Laura U. Marks. Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. Hardcover. 416 pp. In recent decades Arab independent and experimental filmmakers have presented the world with some of the most distinctive artistic works through their various cinematic practices. The scholarly and close readings of these works, however, have remained less-studied. Laura U. Marks’s latest book, Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image, is a singular contribution in this regard, providing a thorough analysis and a historically rich account of some of the experimental films and media arts coming from the Arab-speaking world. The significance of Marks’s study shows itself not only in the uniqueness of the subjects discussed, but also in its push of the notion of experimental beyond the medium of film to “low-end video formats to HD to mobile and online platforms” (2) in terms of materiality. This new perspective to moving images challenges the conventions of narrative in order to include “experimental narrative, essay films, [and] experimental documentary” (2) …

Migraciones (en el) arte contemporaneo / Migrations (in) Contemporary Art

Exhibition review by Caroline “Olivia” Wolf, Rice University “Migraciones (en el) arte contemporaneo / Migrations (in) Contemporary Art.” Centro de Arte Contemporáneo. Museo de la Universidad Nacional Tres de Febrero (MUNTREF), Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, Hotel de Inmigrantes. October 1, 2015 – December 31, 2015. Currently online as a virtual exhibition. A recent exhibit organized in the heart of Buenos Aires, Migraciones (en el) arte contemporaneo boldly tangles with discourses of immigration via contemporary art. The show, curated by Diana Wechsler with the support of MUNTREF Rector Aníbal Jozami, brought together an oeuvre of twenty-two artists from over a dozen countries. These works engage intimately with issues of identity, itinerancy, alienation, and belonging in mediums ranging from found objects and photography to video and sound installations. Emerging amidst the Syrian refugee crisis, the exhibit can be seen as one of a series of curatorial efforts tackling the topic of border crossings throughout Latin America in 2015. While the physical manifestation of the show closed on December 31, 2015, it remains viewable online today as part of a thoroughly documented virtual exhibition.[1] …

Mike Kelley: Educational Complex

Reviewed by Kirin Wachter-Grene, New York University Miller, John. Mike Kelley: Educational Complex. London: Afterall Books, 2015. Paperback. 124 pp. John Miller’s monograph Mike Kelley: Educational Complex is part of the Afterall Books One Work series, which claims, “a single work of art can literally transform, however modestly, the way we look at and understand the world.” Indeed, one of Miller’s crucial insights is the extent to which the late contemporary artist Mike Kelley was a master of institutional critique, inspiring his viewer to question the social order inherent to education and subject formation. Educational Complex, the centerpiece of Kelley’s 1995 show “Toward a Utopian Arts Complex” presented at New York’s Metro Pictures gallery—now residing in the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection—is an all-white 57 3/4 × 192 3/16 × 96 1/8 in architectural model. The form evokes institutionalism, and the ghostlike appearance implies forgotten spaces, memory, and trauma, real or imagined. The model is an amalgam of what Kelley could remember of the floor plans of the schools he attended from elementary through CalArts, as well as his …

The Rhythmic Event: Art, Media, and the Sonic

Reviewed by Eddie Lohmeyer Ikoniadou, Eleni. The Rhythmic Event: Art, Media, and the Sonic. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2014. pp. 136. Along with a number of Deleuzian media theorists who have sought to map the affective function of digital technologies in recent years and think through how our engagement with such media might spur new senses and temporalities beyond a subject’s well-constituted cogito, Eleni Ikoniadou asks us to rethink our perceptions of the auditory and the sonic in her book The Rhythmic Event: Art, Media, and the Sonic. Her purpose here is clear. Joining in recent dialogue regarding non-conscious, affective experience that results in the flows between digital media and surrounding bodies, Ikoniadou explores the concept of rhythmicity and its impingement upon the body through sonic occurrences in digital sound art. To Ikoniadou, rhythm mediated through instances of digital sound brings underlying sensory and temporal experiences to the surface of human perception. This occurrence operates at a remove from Western society’s presumption that the “auditory” must be heard modally as well as measured through …

The Intervals of Cinema

Reviewed by Zachary Tavlin, University of Washington Jacques Ranciére. The Intervals of Cinema. Translated by John Howe. London and New York: Verso Books, 2014, 154 pp. Jacques Ranciére’s The Intervals of Cinema, a loose collection of essays on film and filmmakers ranging from Hitchcock to Costa, opens with an excellent preface in which Ranciére writes about cinephilia and his experience of learning to love film through “a play of encounters and distances which can be discerned through . . . three memories.” These disparate memories are his first viewing of Rossellini’s Europa ’51; his obsessive reading of books and magazines on cinema from which he tried to learn (simultaneously) “cinema theory, Marxism and the Italian language”; and his experience in the back room of a pub in Naples where he watched Nicholas Ray’s Run for Cover “on a sort of badly hung sheet” (1). The uncomfortable relation between an innocent love of cinema and the ‘higher’ aspirations of aesthetics, politics, and theory that emerges from these recollections is the book’s primary tension, and it is …

The New Prophets of Capital

Reviewed by Lyle Jeremy Rubin Nicole Aschoff. The New Prophets of Capital. New York: Verso. 2015. Paperback. 160 pp. The only thing more treacherous than a satanic minion is a false idol. For radical critics of society, the latter functions as a craftier version of the former. While the social Darwinist on Wall Street isn’t doing anyone favors, it’s the “socially conscious” reformer who’s really mucking things up, especially if that reformer is a tech billionaire who shrouds her Protestant work ethic in a wardrobe of defiant feminism (i.e., the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg), an entrepreneurial grocer who sells his free market fundamentalism as “organic,” (i.e., the CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey), a rags-to-riches entertainer who preaches the bootstrapping gospel in a language of compassion and warmth (i.e., Oprah Winfrey), or a multibillionaire power couple attempting to save the world by showering various sectors of the global economy with the remains of their pocketbook (i.e., Bill and Melinda Gates). As the sociologist Nicole Aschoff explains in The New Prophets of Capital, …

Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience

Reviewed by Ryan Watson W.J.T. Mitchell, Bernard Harcourt, and Michael Taussig. Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2013. Paperback. 152 pp. How does one properly theorize and historicize a movement like Occupy that is inherently shape-shifting, leaderless, intimately tied to specific contexts and places, and still evolving? In Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience, three scholars from different disciplines, Bernard Harcourt (Law/Political Science), W.J.T. Mitchell (Visual Studies), and Michael Taussig (Anthropology), contribute to an emerging discourse about the role that Occupy might play as both a tactic and metonym for an inchoate type of political refusal—a form of “disobedience” that signals a new way of challenging entrenched forms of power. The text, comprising three interlinked essays, is what Mitchell refers to as a “stab at a second draft” of history that moves from the specificity of events in Zuccotti Park in the fall of 2011 to more general thoughts on the concept of occupation and the possibilities of revolutionary change. Mitchell’s thoughtful introduction elucidates some of the productive tensions that emerge from …

Pay for Your Pleasures

Reviewed by Kirin Wachter-Grene Cary Levine. Pay For Your Pleasures: Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2013. Hardcover. 211 pp. Cary Levine’s first book, Pay For Your Pleasures: Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon, uses three of America’s most transgressive artists to reconsider the concept of “transgressive” art. The first book to offer a sustained study of these Los Angeles artists, “bad boys” entering the art world in the 1970s and rising to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, is, on one hand, a deeply researched biographical account of Kelley, McCarthy, and Pettibon, respectively, reinforced by interviews between author and artist. Levine places their considerable bodies of work, through the 1990s, in sociopolitical context and considers the artists both individually and together, linking their work through critical frames of gender, sex, and adolescence. His book is also one of the first to engage with all three artists’ involvement in underground music scenes, the effect such sonic subcultures had on their work, and the themes and methods running across and through the …

Building Zion

Reviewed by Dai Newman Thomas Carter. Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 408pp. The standard narrative of the settling of the Great Basin by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts that the Mormons moved west to craft a radically different society. Polygamy, theocracy, and communal economics dominate an understanding in which Mormons only acquiesced to American norms after intense outside pressure. The railroad came in 1869, followed by a federal crackdown on polygamy, which swept through the territory until the practice was officially abandoned in 1890. In Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement, architectural historian Thomas Carter hopes to add nuance this story, showing that Mormons actually experienced Americanization rather slowly and were never really as far from the mainstream as the stories about them suggest. Mormons were building their “Zion,” but the material world of Zion’s cities looked similar to the rest of America. Carter openly admits he is not the first scholar to claim Mormon difference was never as stark …

Radio Benjamin

Radio Benjamin

Reviewed By Anna-Verena Nosthoff Walter Benjamin. Radio Benjamin. Edited by Lecia Rosenthal. Translated by Jonathan Lutes with Lisa Harries Schumann and Diana K. Reese. London and New York: Verso Books, 2014, 424 pp. In view of the overwhelming popularity of Benjamin’s theoretical writings on the artwork, technology, and cultural-political change, it is curious that so little is known about his radio works. In fact, Benjamin produced around eighty radio talks, dialogues, and children’s stories for Berlin and Frankfurt radio stations in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Fortunately, Radio Benjamin finally compiles Benjamin’s most important pieces in this medium. The relative absence of Benjamin’s radio works from scholarly literature on his work is understandable. This phenomenon is, first, a result of the relative inaccessibility of the written transcripts. Second, only parts of a single audio file have been preserved, resulting in a lack of essential information on the works’ auditory qualities. Third, Benjamin’s own comments on the works reveal his skepticism about their importance.1 One of the major achievements of Lecia Rosenthal’s carefully edited volume is that, …

Utopia or Bust

Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis

Reviewed By Lyle Jeremy Rubin Benjamin Kunkel. Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis. London: Verso, 2014. 160 pp. Benjamin Kunkel appeared in the news not too long ago. During the carnage in Gaza, the novelist-turned-“Marxist public intellectual” lay down on Second Avenue, adjacent to the Israeli consulate in Manhattan. Kunkel was one of two-dozen protesters, all of whom were awarded an afternoon in jail for their pluck. The scene could serve as the first act in a sequel to the writer’s debut novel, Indecision (2005), whose twentysomething protagonist, Dwight Wilmerding, gropes about life aimlessly before meeting a Belgian beauty on an eye-opening jaunt to the Ecuadorian Amazon. At her urging, and amid the wreckage of Latin American neoliberal “reform,” the antihero finally arrives at a decision, rejecting a life of apathetic self-indulgence and swearing an oath to democratic socialism. It’s at this juncture that the tale ends, and it’s hard not to see Kunkel’s public dissent in light of his protagonist’s imagined trajectory. Now, with the publication of Kunkel’s collection of political essays, …

Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art

Reviewed By Amanda DuPreez Jennifer Doyle. Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. 243 pages. How can we respond to artworks that make us downright uncomfortable? What kind of thinking allows viewers to make sense of art that comes in the form of emotionally challenging physical encounters? How might one engage with an artist who only wants to hold you, as Adrian Howells does in Held (2006), a performance piece where he spoons the audience one by one? Posing these questions in her recent book, Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art, cultural scholar Jennifer Doyle searches for the politics embedded in artworks that relay their message through emotion not as a means of “narcissistic escape, but of social engagement” (xi). For Doyle, emotional and difficult works do not operate under modernist pretenses or require specific expertises in order to unlock their meaning. On the contrary, such works mostly come in accessible and mundane guises. Therein lies their potency. Despite its accessibility, however, difficult art …

What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation

Nicola Mann Tom Finkelpearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2013. 388 pages. “Placing quotation marks around the everyday to both appreciate and critique it” is how critic Jon Davis describes the practice of interdisciplinary artist, Harrell Fletcher. Introduced halfway through What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, Davis’ quote serves as an anchor not only to Fletcher’s practice, but also to Tom Finkelpearl’s ambitious volume, and, more broadly, to the interdisciplinary field known as social practice art (152). The author’s commitment to social art practice is born out in his recent appointment as Cultural Affairs Commissioner for New York City after serving as the Executive Director of the Queens Museum, where he championed the everyday lives of local residents through community-focused outreach. Composed of 15 conversations conducted over the last 10 years with artists, curators, participants, art historians, and urban planners, the architecture of the book echoes the logic of the subject matter—it “quotes” the “quotes.” Like the schools, marketplaces and parades it …

A Box of Photographs

David Staton Roger Grenier. A Box of Photographs. Translated by Alice Kaplan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 109 pp. In this slender volume, writer Roger Grenier shares a life well lived, rich in memories, friendship, and historical touchstones. The 95-year-old Man of Letters offers A Box of Photographs as recollection and examination of histories personal, global, and cultural, and photography serves as the North Star in the telling of his story. Largely chronological, Grenier traces how photographs and cameras intersected with formative instances of his life. Using an economy of words in his vignettes—the shortest a slim paragraph, the longest several pages—he recounts the cameras he’s owned with the heartfelt fondness of someone reminiscing about an old love or a favorite haunt. For Grenier, this relationship began early. His parents were opticians and as a sideline to their business, they added a photo printing service. At age ten, he received his first camera, the 2 x 4½ Baby Box, a small handheld manufactured by Zeiss. In his later adventures, images and reflections are captured by an Agfa …

On the Animation of the Inorganic

Issue 20: Ecologies (Spring 2014) W.C. Bamberger Spyros Papapetros. On the Animation of the Inorganic: Art, Architecture, and the Extension of Life; Chicago and London; University of Chicago Press, 2012. 380 pages. Spyros Papapetros begins his study by breaking open the title, detailing and illustrating some of the myriad ways he will employ and lead us to understand the word “animation.” In the early pages of the book Papapetros moves from a case study of a wave of Pokémon episode-triggered blackouts, to Saint Catherine of Sienna’s collapse before a Giotto mosaic wherein stylized, curled waves suggest the movement of the sea, to Charles Darwin’s observations about his dog barking at a parasol animated by a light wind. Papapetros even investigates more oblique senses of the word that seem to veer far from the subject matter implied by his title. Examining Herbert Spencer’s analysis of Darwin’s dog, for example, Papapetros says that Spencer’s description “becomes more animated by the implementation of contextual details.”1 Papapetros’s book “is not only about the animation of objects, but also the …

FARM:shop

Issue 20: Ecologies (Spring 2014) Andrew Bieler FARM:shop. Something & Son. Curated and designed by Andrew Merritt, Paul Smyth and Sam Henderson. 20 Dalston Lane, East London, UK. October 2010 – Present. FARM:shop responds to urgent challenges of global food security by experimentally redesigning the vernacular architecture of an East London storefront to accommodate urban farming systems and demonstrate how edible materialities, from seeds to sprouts, might play a more active role in the design of our everyday dwelling places. It draws upon the critical and formal dimensions of what I characterize as the agricultural line, in the sense of the furrow or a thread of flax, by using living threads, such as rainbow chard roots, to design interior and exterior landscapes that illustrate attractive ways of growing food in the city. FARM:shop consists of an interconnected series of installation spaces that function as dining and working spaces, living walls and outdoor gardens that connect to a central café where one can purchase and enjoy food grown in the shop or from local partners. Eco-social design collective Something …

Systems We Have Loved

Issue 20: Ecologies (Spring 2014) Becky Bivens Eve Meltzer. Systems We Have Loved: Conceptual Art, Affect, and the Antihumanist Turn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 246 Pages. Pretend we are driving together. You are at the wheel while I direct you from the passenger seat. “Turn,” I say. “Which way?” you might respond. The action of turning, in both the ordinary and the academic sense, requires elaboration. The affective, feeling subject is the magnetic center of Eve Meltzer’s study Systems We Have Loved, with Meltzer carefully delineating the many directions towards which the subject can push—or be pulled. The subject might turn, as Meltzer does, toward a new academic vista. Affect, she points out, is “a very now theme.”1Meltzer, however, attends to the affective life of her central topic, conceptual art, not to be stylish, but in order to think beyond the more familiar sense of “turning toward” invoked by the subject that Louis Althusser famously theorized in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” of 1970. The subject is hailed, instinctively turning toward the anonymous …

Red Sky at Night

Issue 20: Ecologies (Spring 2014) Daniella E. Sanader Red Sky at Night, curated by Sarah Robayo Sheridan. Mercer Union, Toronto. 15 June 2012 to 29 July 2012. There is nothing like city air in the summer to remind one of how complex and heterogeneous our lived atmosphere truly is. Any inward breath can carry a smorgasbord of varied associations: car exhaust, sweat, park grass, hot garbage, pastries at a nearby café, or a cool breeze. The very air we breathe seems at once vastly unchanging–connected to an atmospheric system so large it eschews comprehension–and strangely immediate, peppered with the uncontrollable inconsistencies that constitute daily life. Taking up the “atmospheric” as a central theme, curator Sarah Robayo Sheridan’s summer 2012 exhibition at Mercer Union in Toronto titled Red Sky at Night is one that thrives on this dualism, engaging in a deliberate play between the stable and the unruly. Israeli-born Absalon’s video Proposition d’habitation (1990) exemplifies Robayo Sheridan’s curatorial vision: the inconsistencies of the atmospheric are made manifest through the artist’s bodily engagement with lived space. …

Aesthetics of Politics: Zero Dark Thirty

Issue 19: Blind Spots (Fall 2013) David Fresko The Bush Administration’s declaration of a global war on terror—a foreign policy imperative continued below Obama’s banner—inaugurated more than the attempted realization of a neoconservative “Project for a New American Century.”1 It amplified class power through the accumulation of dispossessed natural resources from foreign lands and the aggressive neoliberalization of economic policies.2 An all-out media blitz—“shock and awe”—established the aesthetic contours of these objectives and generated its unique visuality: soldiers’ video diaries, green-tinted night-vision footage, embedded journalism, and jihadi torture tapes. Documentary and fiction filmmakers mined this visuality in pursuit of aesthetics concomitant with contemporary politics. Documentaries such as Alex Gibney’s examination of extraordinary rendition in Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight (2007), which explored the invasion of Iraq, Errol Morris’ procedural re-enactment of prisoner humiliation in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Standard Operating Procedure (2008), and Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s depiction of combat in Afghanistan in Restrepo (2010) – to name only the most notable – were produced …

Two Exhibitions, Politics of the Invisible

Issue 19: Blind Spots (Fall 2013) Taisuke Edamura Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012. London, Hayward Gallery. 12 June – 5 August 2012 / Gallery of Lost Art, an online exhibition curated by Tate. 2 July 2012 – 2 July 2013. Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012 is a unique attempt to consider the meaning of “how to look at art.” The show, comprised of invisible artworks by twenty-six artists, foregrounds a notion that so-called invisible art has little to do with identifying the invisible with the ontologically absent. Its interest lies rather in the way to suspend ‘visibility’ as the most predominant condition for the production and appreciation of works of art. Granted, viewers still found some amount of the visible in the gallery space despite the presumable emptiness suggested by the exhibition’s title. Nonetheless, most of the presentations in the show recounted the absence of conventional art as a tangible object, particularly artworks that documented things and events no longer available or showed only themselves as empty containers rather than explicit content – …

Corn Palaces and Butter Queens: A History of Crop Art and Dairy Sculpture

Reviewed by Jennifer Rachel Dutch, York College, York, NE Pamela H. Simpson. Corn Palaces and Butter Queens: A History of Crop Art and Dairy Sculpture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. 248 Pages. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, local State Fairs and the great World’s Exhibitions tantalized eager visitors with stunning displays of American agricultural and technological advancement. Tucked amid the architectural wonders, unusual entertainments, and awe-inspiring mechanical gadgets, two forms of ephemeral food art may have piqued viewers’ interest: cereal architecture and butter sculptures. Constructed on a grand scale and decorated with a colorful array of vegetation, cereal architecture, like corn palaces, transformed ordinary crops into breathtaking architectural wonders as artists painstakingly grafted fruits, vegetables, grains and other plant materials to a wide variety of arches, columns, walls, and even entire buildings in eye-catching geometrical designs and beautifully detailed murals. At the same time, intricately designed and amazingly preserved for long periods of time, butter sculptures, ranging in style and subject from detailed carvings of Greek literary figures to scenes of daily …

Peoples on Parade

Reviewed by Radhika Natrajan, University of California, Berkeley Sadiah Qureshi. Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 392 pages.   Sadiah Qureshi’s Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain presents an empirical challenge to more theoretically-oriented studies of Victorian exhibitionary practices. Surveying a century of metropolitan encounters with ‘other’ cultures, Peoples on Parade troubles accounts of hegemonic Victorian ideologies of ‘race’ and argues for the ways contingent historic circumstances shaped nineteenth-century demand for ethnographic performances, and consequently, ideas of human variety. Rather than a simplistic fetish of the primitive other, Qureshi argues there was a widespread, articulated engagement with displayed people. Importantly, it was ethnicity based in culture not biological racial dichotomy that framed nineteenth-century British understandings of human variety. Qureshi urges her readers not to simply dismiss ethnographic exhibitions as exemplars of Victorian racism, but to understand both the contexts from which these shows emerged and the social worlds in which they circulated. She situates the emergence of human exhibitions in the cosmopolitan milieu …

Alien Phenomenology

Reviewed by Sandy Alexandre, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ian Bogost. Alien Phenomenology: Or What it’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. 168 pages. What does it mean to ruminate on and indeed end up insisting upon the limitations of human understanding, particularly with respect to what turns out to be the human impossibility of ever knowing what it must be like to be a thing? The approximation suggested by the word ‘like’ and that word’s simultaneous evocation of the figure of speech known as simile, in the book’s very title, offer something toward an accurate description of this human inability to apprehend in Ian Bogost’s pointedly circuitous Alien Phenomenology. According to Bogost, humans (who are also things, which are renamed “units” in the book) get closer to understanding these nonhuman units and their internal systems of operation through human manipulation of language. Metaphors, in particular, are used to facilitate and finagle the kinds of inter-unit relations that Bogost imagines can at least help remind humans that the world does not revolve around us. …

The Affect Theory Reader

Reviewed By Brent Strang, SUNY Stony Brook Melissa Gregg & Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2010. 402 pages. Two decades after the affective turn, critical theory’s incorporation of emotion and the body’s materiality has become something of an imperative. Lawrence Grossberg, who is interviewed by Gregg and Seigworth for The Affect Theory Reader, laments how our frequent appeals to affect’s nature as ‘ineffable excess’ have too frequently let us off the hook from close empirical labor (315). The editors have answered his call by theorizing affect in all of its particularity and context. As such, the anthology might best be conceived as taking up a crucial second stage in this turn, organizing itself around a central premise summarized by way of Bruno Latour: “The body becomes less about its nature as bounded substance or eternal essence than the body ‘as an interface that becomes more and more describable when it learns to be affected by many more elements’” (11). The emphasis, then, shifts away from affect’s problematization of discourse—a …

How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis

Reviewed by Christoph Raetzsch, Graduate School of North American Studies, Berlin Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. 280 pages. Since the 1970s, N. Katherine Hayles has been exploring the zones of contact between the cultural formations of technology and the technological basis of culture, working between what C. P. Snow called “the two cultures” of humanists and scientists.1 Hayles’ previous works include How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (1999), and Coding the Signifier: Rethinking Semiosis from the Telegraph to the Computer (2002), where she productively joined computer science, communication history and interpretations of classic and avantgarde literature. The common ground between these fields lies in the patterns, temporalities and structures that cultural forms exhibit to understand the neurological, psychological, and cultural impact of new technologies. How We Think is organized around the term technogenesis, by which Hayles means “the idea that humans and technics have coevolved together” (10). Putting an accent on the social dimension of developing and using …

The Right to Look

Reviewed by Sara Blaylock, University of California, Santa Cruz Nicholas Mirzoeff. The Right to Look. A Counterhistory of Visuality. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2011. 386 pp. Passionate and vigorous, Nicholas Mirzoeff’s The Right to Look proposes a novel critique of modernity. Linking the plantation to imperialism to today’s military-industrial complex, the author examines the role of “visuality” in modern history. As opposed to a perceptual definition, Mirzoeff’s use of the term relates to how authority self-authorizes by envisioning itself within a particular historical perspective. Authority’s visuality is a worldview––what Mirzoeff calls a “complex of visuality”––that seeks to naturalize and aestheticize its perspective in the classification and organization of the social order. The Right to Look describes the inherent instability of dominant visuality through a historical exploration of countervisualities. These alternatives position Mirzoeff’s “right to look” as a “right to the real.” This is to say, countervisualities confront authority’s narrow construction of reality by imagining and then asserting its alternative. The Right to Look is an exceptionally interdisciplinary text of impressive geographic and temporal …

Touching Photographs

Reviewed by River J. Bullock, University of Wisconsin-Madison Olin, Margaret. Touching Photographs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. 288 pages. Moving beyond visual analysis and materiality of photographic objects, Margaret Olin crafts a series of essays that traverse the intersubjectivities and interactivity of the tactile looking they spur.  Composed in six chapters, Touching Photographs contributes to theory of photography, visual studies, and art historical understandings of canonical projects, including Walker Evans and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James VanDerZee’s Harlem funeral portraits, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, and W. G. Sebald’s texts. She also constructs fresh analysis of recent 9/11 memorialization practices, the collective historicization efforts of Susan Meiselas’ akaKurdistan interactive web project, and Abu Ghraib prison photographs. Olin situates this provocative collection of material amidst concerns of the agential relationship to the photographers, subjects, collectors, and institutions through which they circulate, and is persistently reflexive on the possibility of empowerment, imaginative community, and poignant identification they can inspire. Touching Photographs insistently rejects a “systematic understanding of photographic or photo-historical methodology” that might shape …