Agency

Art objects, makers, and users all have agency, the capability to do and undo, to transform their worlds.  Here we investigate art as a system of action. Agency in all its many variations mediates between the interests or intentions of an individual, group, or other form of organized social life and an audience, viewership, or community. Areas of inquiry include artistic patronage, collecting and cataloging, propaganda, idolatry and iconoclasm, cult and ritual, and performative spaces.

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Agency

  • Verplanck Room, Metropolitan Museum

    Verplanck Room, Metropolitan Museum

     

    Agency in and around the period room

    I visited the Met two days ago and found myself in the period rooms of the American Wing.  I was interested in the new interpretive tool, the screen with a menu of options, in place of the old static placard that listed all the objects in a horizontal format.  It puts a whole lot more information at the visitor's fingertips and seems to give us more agency as well because we choose to navigate: we can focus on "people" rather than "objects" and so on.  But the period room itself is still a bizarre disembodied space with fetishized objects absent of users.  In the Verplanck room, a re-creation of the luxurious mid-18th century Wall Street house of one of the old and wealthy Dutch settler families, I was most interested in the issue of the slaves, the house servants who probably handled the objects as much as or more than the owners themselves did.  Not only are they invisible from the disembodied space, but they are absent from the interpretive screen as well.  They don't qualify as "people" or as context in any other way.  And in the end this is hard for me to stomach: why should a chair or a bowl or a table occupy me to the exclusion of the slaves whose job was to keep these objects clean and pristine?  Aren't the social relations embedded in these objects more interesting than whatever motifs or "style" they might show?  Deprived of real human agency, these objects become...what exactly?  And what is the rationale for displaying them in the first place?

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    101 Women Artists Who Got Wikipedia Pages This Week

    At first I was like, that's cool, then I read the by-line: "The Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon was an international initiative to bring women's voices to the online encyclopedia--as editors and as subjects"  and I was like, nevermind, that's awesome! This project intervenes in a number of patriarchival social formations simultaneously: women become active and vocal as Wikipedia editors (who are predominantly men), they increase their representation in art history (also mostly written by, and about, men) and they engage technology in a collaborative way (when women are still underrepresented in STEM fields). Cool.

    Read more on Artnews.

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