Graduate Work

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    Doing surveys...in Kalamazoo

    As part of our NEH grant to investigate an early digital humanities project, Images of Medieval Art & Architecture, my research colleagues and I conducted usability interviews at the 2016 International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our team arrived on the campus of Western Michigan University around 2:15 pm on a Thursday, and had started interviewing by 3 o'clock. Fortunately, there were adequate supplies of coffee and ice water to keep us afloat through three days and approximately 115 interviews. We mostly avoided the boxed wine. 

    Although we have yet to thoroughly analyze the data we collected this weekend, initial analysis indicates that we sampled more women than men (approximately 68% female and 32% male), and that scholars are generally reluctant to admit that they use Google in their image research. We also discovered that only a small percentage of survey participants had ever seen the website before (only 17%), and although we were attending a conference on medieval studies, only about 22% of survey-takers stated confidently that they were "Extremely Familiar" with medieval art and architecture. Certainly, context had a part to play in this outcome, but it was nonetheless surprising.  

    Stay tuned for further reflections and updates...

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work

    From the archives: The Arizona Desert Group

     

    Assembling a Project

    PhD Student in the School of Computing and Information

    Over the coming months, Colleen O'Reilly and I (and other guest bloggers) will be posting updates about our project, Dioramas in Context: using digital display to unveil the cultural history and artistic development of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Botany Hall. Through these posts, we hope to document our research process, including the rewards and challenges of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional collaboration. A more thorough introduction to our project is forthcoming, but in the meantime, please enjoy a couple of photos from the Botany Hall archives at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  

    Categories: 
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
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    Usability Research Commences!

    This week, my advisor, three courageous graduate students, and I will be attending the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There, we will be conducting interviews as part of our ongoing research on the NEH-funded Sustaining MedArt project. We are primarily interested in how users currently engage with the site (created ca. 1995), and how their interactions with the site might inform the task of creating a sustainability roadmap applicable to this project and beyond…I created this little poster to advertise the work we’ll be doing next week!

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    VMW Spring 2016 Update!

    The Visual Media Workshop has continued to be a thriving hub for the department’s Graduate Students and Faculty Members. Lead by Dr. Alison Langmead and a crack team of interdisciplinary participants, the VMW (known colloquially in the department as “The Lab”) has initiated several new and exciting ventures in the Digital Humanities over the past year. Alongside our ongoing lab-centered projects (Decomposing Bodies, Itinera, Sustaining MedArt), the VMW-led workshops and discussion groups have been a near weekly occurrence. Alison and Kate Joranson, Head of the Frick Fine Arts Library, offered a VMW toolshop series to assist graduate students with thinking through their academic and research projects in the context of online digital platforms. In a two-part conversation over Fall 2015 and Spring 2016, the Computational Visual Aesthetics group brought interdisciplinary faculty and students into dialog on the topic “10 Things That Computer Scientists Need to Know about Art Historians and That Art Historians Neet to Know about Computer Scientists before Beginning a Productive Collaboration.” While these conversations were only a few of the many highlights this year (see below for more updates), the VMW is striding forward towards more cross-disciplinary dialogues between the humanities and the digital world.

     

    Visiting Scholars in the Digital Humanities

    This spring, the VMW and the Digital Medial Lab in the Department of History hosted Matthew Lincoln as the inaugural Visiting Digital Graduate Scholar speaker. Lincoln’s public lecture “Continuity/Discontinuity: Network Dynamics in the Golden Age of Dutch Printmaking” discussed the importance of formal network concepts to understanding artistic print production of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Lincoln demonstrated how multiple analytical perspectives, including both descriptive analysis, as well as some simple simulation modeling, suggest new ways of thinking about both continuity and discontinuity in our histories of printmaking. This was followed by an open workshop that examined Lincoln’s pipeline from downloading public data to finished visualization, with particular attention to the process and tools useful for cross-disciplinary projects. 

     

    Graduate and Undergraduate Activities

    The Digital Graduate Scholars Working Group began to meet in Spring 2016. This is a student-led interdisciplinary working group in which digital pedagogy and research methods are explored.

    First Experience Research students Maureen Borden and Christopher Babu spent Spring 2016 working on Decomposing Bodies (see below). After reading about the Bertillon system and its implementation in Ohio, they spent the early weeks of the semester transcribing information from the Bertillon cards into Omeka. Through the transcription process, each student became familiar with the data, and was able to develop an original research question based on their observations. The resulting research projects were presented at the Celebration of Research in Alumni Hall on April 22.

     

    Decomposing Bodies

    In November 2015, Dr. Langmead traveled for a final time to Columbus, Ohio with graduate students Aisling Quigley and Chelsea Gunn to photograph Bertillon cards at the Ohio History Connection. One of the major activities associated withDecomposing Bodies (DB) has been the continued transcription of Bertillon cards in the project’s Omeka website. As of the end of Spring 2016, just over 2,500 cards have been transcribed. Behind the scenes, extracting the dataset from Omeka and making it accessible in a more flexible spreadsheet format has been another significant task in the VMW. This process is intended to increase eventual access to the DB dataset for researchers, including First Experience Research students and students and faculty involved in the upcoming “Data (after)Lives exhibition. A public-facing DB website is currently in development, and can be found at http://sites.haa.pitt.edu/db. This website will be a resource available beyond Pitt’s campus, and will provide information about Bertillonage in general, and the work of the DB team specifically. While images and transcribed data will not be publicly hosted on the site, information about how interested parties can contact the VMW to gain access will be.

     

    Itinera

    Itinera, another of the lab-centered projects, is entering its third year of existence and continues to be a point of interdisciplinary interest. As project manager for the past year, Meredith North recorded the travels of many, many more European intellectuals. This has primarily centered around the German author and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his circle of acquaintances during his travel in Italy. Undoubtedly, Goethe’s The Italian Journey: 1786-1788 is an important work of non-fiction, but as a travelogue it is also an ideal work for Itinera data. Even though Goethe’s Italian journey represented only a fraction of his life, travels, and acquaintances, this document has provided a significant source of information for the cultural life and social relationships of the late-18th century. Agents like Angelica Kauffmann, Wilhelm Tischbein, and Jacob Philipp Hackert have emerged as important artists during this time, and their network relationships have assisted greatly in expanding Itinera’s existing connections. With the addition of some clear interface navigation instructions, Itinera has also become a little more user friendly.

     

    Sustaining MedArt

    Dr. Langmead and Aisling Quigley received an NEH Research and Development Grant in December 2015 to conduct further research on the nascent project, “Sustaining MedArt.” This project, initially presented as a poster, gained traction at iConference 2015, and has developed into a long-term study. Integral to their investigation of Images of Medieval Art and Architecture (http://www.medart.pitt.edu/), a two-decade-old “time capsule” digital humanities project, is usability testing. This term they have focused on creating a Qualtrics survey in anticipation of a forthcoming trip to the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There, they will survey conference attendees on a volunteer basis in the hopes of learning more about how individuals with varying degrees of experience may engage with this unique website. 

    Categories: 
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • Spaces
    • VMW
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    Digital Graduate Scholars Group

    It has been a couple of years in the making, but we've finally arrived…. the Digital Graduate Scholars Group!! As a cohort of PhD students, we are primarily concerned with providing a safe and non-judgmental space to discuss our experiences with and/or questions about digital methodologies. Although we come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines (Art History, Composition and Rhetoric, Information Science, and beyond), we share the essential desire to share and interrogate digital methodologies and the discourse surrounding them.

    Activities: We propose to critique, or “workshop,” our own digital projects, analyze projects published by others, review relevant blog postings and other “light” readings of interest, and to provide a forum for sharing events (both in person, and through our collaborative blog). We also invite each other and scholars from outside our group to lead workshops or provide mini tutorials about different tools of interest. Our primary concern is that the work we do actually relate to the interest of group members and reflect and respond to the needs of our community.

    Does this sound like something that you, as a PhD student, would like to learn more about? If so, either email me at aoq1@pitt.edu or Chelsea Gunn at cmg100@pitt.edu.

    Our next meeting is this Friday, March 25th at 10 am in the Visual Media Workshop at Frick Fine Arts. 

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
    • Photo: Nicole Scalissi
    • Photo: Nicole Scalissi
     

    Covered in Rust, Paint, and History: The Carrie Furnace Graffiti Project

    Once a heat-swollen, record-setting producer of iron for US Steel, Pittsburgh’s Carrie Furnaces is now a bony relic of the American steel industry, a salvaged monument to the sweat that built the region, and – amazingly – an expansive collection of graffiti.

    Starting in 1978, the furnaces were turned off, cooled down, and dismantled – piece-by-massive-piece – for sale, scrap, or theft. When the access roads to the time-clocks were shuttered and no one was looking, Carrie would accumulate not just dust and oxidation, but aerosol paint, Sharpie, and oil stick – the colorful images, throw-ups, initials, and characters composed by daring graffiti writers who slipped through the gates and trees to paint the remaining structures, the behemoth and bizarre architecture of industry. Rustic and discreet, the site became a popular site for local and national graffiti artists looking for open, challenging spaces for their work. Their early window-breaking, quiet-sneaking, and furnace-scaling efforts resulted in a “collection” of spray-can art that would never have survived the publicly accessible walls and doors of any city.

    With the Monongahela along one side, and raised train tracks up the other, the once-industrious furnaces were cut off from Pittsburgh. Preserved by this geographic obscurity, the accumulated paint tells not just the story of Pittsburgh’s graff culture, but of an artistic community that ducked (necessarily) quietly under the official radar across the United States. No public audience, they wrote for themselves – to each other, to themselves, for the sake of doing. No “buffing” squad regularly visited the site to remove tags from the forgotten site, and with relatively low police supervision, pieces could take longer to paint and remained on the wall for longer. With expansive surfaces uniquely shaped for producing molten metal, little supervision once inside, and the security that once your work was up the only threat it faced was the tag of another writer: what would be possible?

    Not just a set of blank walls, or a “gallery” of and for graffiti, Carrie was a lab, a space of experimentation for local and traveling artists. The paint on Carrie, then, is not just a history of the furnaces, or Pittsburgh’s industrial heartbreak, but a story about how the graff community developed as a larger, integrated phenomenon. Carrie is the setting; the coast-to-coast network and the artistic developments they initiated here are the story.

    To tell the narrative of Pittsburgh’s oasis for spray-can experimentation and production, and to reveal how the city was part of a larger network of graffiti artists, researchers in the History of Art and Architecture department at the University of Pittsburgh are dusting off old photographs, tracking down graff artists, and talking to former steelworkers. This small team of undergraduate and graduate students are collecting oral histories and researching this extraordinary history in partnership with Rivers of Steel, the artists, and the workers who made the site what it was in the first place.

    Now about one-third of her original hulk and sprawl, Carrie rests in the shade of the trees lining the bank of the Monongahela. The access roads have been reopened to visitors who come to see the 92-foot blast furnaces on tours led by former steelworkers. The overgrowth has been pushed back, the collapsed structures secured. Some of the graffiti she accumulated over the 80s and 90s remains, but writers no longer tumble over the train tracks to paint without permission. Rivers of Steel, the preservation and community history organization that has operated the site as a protected National landmark since 2006, continues to embrace this layer of Carrie’s history by preserving some of the historical graffiti and by inviting international contemporary artists to paint legally in designated spaces. The wall on Carrie’s riverside is less a barrier and more of a gallery, a growing sample of diverse work of artists from around the world.

    As we conduct this research and develop an online exhibition over the coming months, keep up with our progress here on Pitt’s Constellations Blog.

     

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Oral History Workshop

    A very big hearty thanks to Mary and Ron Zboray from the Department of Communication for taking two and a half hours of their day to walk a group of us art historians through the methods, protocols, and intellectual & ethical issues involved in the practice of oral history.  A lot of us are already doing oral history -- with artists or curators or others -- blissfully unaware of the professional and ethical and legal considerations that will arise. I'll share their powerpoint when I get it, but in the meantime let me mention a few points that will give you some idea of why you need to explore this further.

    • Ron Zboray over 10 years ago negotiated with Pitt a blanket exclusion from IRB review for oral histories undertaken in dissertation research.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll need to read the powerpoint and get acquainted with the IRB.

    • In an oral history, the person you interview is a "narrator," a co-creator, not an "interviewee" or a "subject."  This distinguishes oral history from human-subject research, on the one hand, and journalism, on the other.

    • The narrator has the authority to withdraw from the process, to edit the transcript, to change their mind and alter it, to subject it to final approval, or to any number of permutations of all of the above.  The narrator is an agent in other words, in charge of her narrative.

    • If you intend to quote from any interview you do, i.e. to reproduce the person's actual words, then you are in the territory of professional oral history.  Copyright, authorship, and ethical considerations come into play.  The standard procedure for dealing with these considerations is to draw up a "deed of gift" signed by the narrator which allows you to share and publish the interview, subject to whatever restrictions the narrator may want to impose.  This sounds like a terrible hurdle but in fact students and scholars in Communication and other fields have routinely used deeds of gift even in subcultures where people would ordinarily be suspicious of signing anything.  Cristina Albu in our department (PhD, 2009) is one example of a PhD student in art history who went through the process.

    • If you want to avoid all this, or don't feel you have the time, then you really can't quote from your own interviews.  You can only paraphrase in more general terms.

    Again, there's much more to be said, and I will be be back in touch when I have some documents to share.

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Current Projects
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    Visual Knowledge Affinity Group at SECAC

    This semester the Methods Visual Knowledge affinity group attended the South Eastern College Arts Conference (SECAC) held this year in downtown Pittsburgh. At the conference our group members attended a variety of panels and presentations that directly related to our class discussions of Visual Knowledge. 

                A two-session panel was organized by Professors Rex Koontz and Luis Castaneda and titled “Theories of the Object in the Art of the Americas.” Both sessions included papers that offered in-depth analyses of objects from North, South and Central America. Professor Koontz chaired both sessions and made a point in his introduction to explain that the word ‘object’ as opposed to ‘artwork’ was a deliberate choice on his and Professor Castaneda’s part. Although they did not reference the work of George Kubler or David Summers, the specific use of the term object clearly suggests a broader consideration of what art historians can and should study regardless of whether or not the object is seen as art. This line of reasoning relates to our group’s discussion of how to write about objects as both visual forms and didactic tools. The first panel’s objects were: a graphite drawing-covered whale skeleton, greenstone sewing tools, 20th century Peruvian retablos, and an 18th century portrait of George Washington. As the objects were so varied, the approaches taken in this panel were similarly diverse. Jodi Kovach, in making sense of Gabriel Orozco’s Mobile Matrix, the aforementioned whale skeleton, built her argument of the object on the question of whether or not it could be considered a new symbol of Mexican nationalism, as perhaps intended by the Mexican government that commissioned it. She referenced Benjamin Bochloh’s interpretation of Orozco’s art as being subconsciously asserting Mexican identity while framing the making of Mobile Matrix in the social and political climate of Mexico in the mid 2000s. The title of her talk, “Remotely Mexican: The Critical Reception of Gabriel Orozco’s Whale Skeleton, at Home and Abroad,” played on how Orozco’s national identity as Mexican is somewhat fraught, heralded globally as a Mexican artist yet having lived and reached prominence outside of Mexico. The ‘object’ in this case was intended as art, specifically for installation in a prominent library in Mexico. Kovach considered the materiality of the object, but by referencing critical reception and Mexican politics, her argument was much richer.

                Continuing within the trend of visual knowledge were two groups of speakers speaking within digital humanities methods. The first of these speakers were Duke University’s Timothy Shea, and our own University of Pittsburgh professor Alison Langmead and graduate student Clarisse Fava-Piz. Between their respective talks, (“Digitizing Athens: Reconstructing the Urban Topography of Athens with GIS,” “Sustaining MedArt: Assessing the Persistence and Longevity of a Pioneering Digital Humanities Project,” and “Mapping Spanish Sculptors in Paris 1880-1914, or How Digital Technologies Enhance Traditional Visualizations in Art History,”) the digital and methodological tools they used manifest into themes within the Visual Knowledge constellation. These projects exemplify not only compelling arguments of community, identity, and mobility, but also present and future trends of digital tools used in the humanities. Clarisse’s project that traces Salon catalogs of Spanish sculptors in early 20th century Paris combines data visualization that poses its own argument on community-building and its mobility through time. Shea’s mapping of ancient Athens helps us better understand tomb-makers’ stylistic trends within ancient Athens through ArcGIS mapping. Langmead’s media archaeological approach helps us better understand Gothic architecture through website and media analysis and the pedagogical tools used in the 1990s and early 2000s. Through these visualizations, we can better see and understand vast argumentation through visual methods that do not rely on text alone.

            Continuing along this vein was Saturday morning’s panel entitled “Art History and Science,” which did not rely so much on science as it did on computer engineering and “hacking” tools of the digital variety. In fact, two of the three projects could have been presented with Langmead, Shae, and Fava-Piz’s. University of North Carolina Wilmington’s art historian Vibeke Olsen and environmental scientist James Rotenburg presented an art historical and computer engineering project entitled “When Art and Science Meet: Revealing Patterns of Artistic Transmission using Geo-Spatial Technology.” Their research program traces limestone capital styles in the southern-France Romanesque using ArcGIS (and scans limestone with neutron-activation analysis), with the intention of working with the tourism industry to better help present their findings within their current information architecture. This is to say that their findings, that could not be otherwise exemplified in simple text and traditional maps, are to help visitors better understand the stylistic history of Romanesque cathedrals, so that the visitors can maximize their knowledge of that period through the use of contemporary, up-to-date, technologically sophisticated mapping.

                This last digital humanities project encapsulates the themes of visual knowledge in a robust yet light-hearted visualization. Again we see Duke University’ Wired Lab bring to the forefront an outstanding project, Alexandra Dodson and Mariano Tepper’s “Projecting Polychromy: The Art and Science of Displaying Medieval Sculpture.” Here, archeological models are brought to life through re-visualizing pre-Modern reliefs of the apostles: while passing through an otherwise looked-over exhibit, patrons (and especially young adults and children) can play with a screen interactive that projects possible color schemes onto the relief. In bridging and blurring the art museum with science-museum-like interactives, patrons can engage with otherwise ignored or passed-over objects. In learning through playing, knowledge is not simply visual, though that is a compelling and interesting outcome; but they also learn the history of color use in pre-Modern objects. And because this team is expanding their scope to employ these technological and digital methods to other exhibits of the Nasher Museum at Duke, they’re hopeful that other exhibits can come alive with new iterations and knew knowledge of the past.

    Lily Brewer

    Marina Tyquiengco

    Krystle Stricklin

    Yijing Wang

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
  • Maxo Vanka Murals, Millvale

    Image from www.vankamurals.org

     

    Identity Affinity Group goes to SECAC

    On October 24-26, 2015, we had the pleasure to participate as presenters, panel chairs and attendees in the Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC) annual conference, held in Pittsburgh this year. Among numerous interesting presentations, the following in particular caught our attention due to their detailed references to the topic of identity, which is the common ground of our affinity group for the class Methods of the History of Art and Architecture: “Transplanted Croatian Works in Maksimilijan Vanka’s Millvale Murals” by Heidi Cook, “The Confluence of Art and Identity” chaired by Scott Sherer, “Art-Making as Cultural Translation” chaired by Sasha Crasnow and Elizabeth Rauh, and “Manuscript Studies” chaired by Robert Tallaksen. In addition to the relevance of some of these interventions for our independent projects, they help us to refine our understanding of ‘identity’ as a lens through which we analyze a work of art.

    Given the resurgence of nationalist and ethnic violence in the 1990s and the more recent increasing popularity of nationalist parties in Europe in the light of the mass migration of peoples from the zones of conflict to the European Union, Heidi Cook’s paper on “Transplanted Croatian Works in Maksimilijan Vanka’s Millvale Murals” was particularly interesting. Cook’s research reveals that today's interpretation of the Vanka's murals focuses primarily on the works’ social justice and antiwar messages, in effect discouraging visitors thinking about nationalism in a positive and constructive way. In fact, Ms. Cook argues that while works like the Vanka's murals can be misinterpreted and misappropriated for support of reactionary nationalism, Vanka’s murals are actually about the modern art and culture of Central European and Croatian American immigrants, and the relationship of local imagery to a whole spectrum of local identities.

    From the panel “The Confluence of Art and Identity” chaired by Scott Sherer, the papers on artists J. Yoo Hyun Lee, by Nogin Chung and on Eleanor Antin, by Jennifer Kruglinski were of particular relevance for our interests. According to Chung, J. Yoo Hyun Lee challenged the spectacle and tourism of traditional South Korean art that makes locals feel like “the other” in their own communities. To accomplish this, J. Yoo Hyun Lee created a communal experience that was wholly driven by the town members with no political agenda, reference to nationality or race, or intended audience other than the community itself. From a different angle, Kruglinski presented the work of Eleanor Antin as a visual and individual challenge to imposed identity categories, such as gender and the behaviors usually associated with it. Through iconography, Kruglinski analyzed identity as a major topic in the work of Antin, understanding it as a subject of permanent reflection and questioning. While Chung considered the work of Yoo Hyun Lee for its long-lasting impacts and its temporal existence as a work of art in relation to the identity of the community where it took place, Kruglinski offered an encompassing analysis of Antin’s work emphasizing on the mutable representation of the self as presented in her artworks.

    In the panel “The Medium is the Message: Art-Making as Cultural Translation”, Elizabeth Miller’s paper, “Muhammad Nagi: The Promotion of the ‘Dictator-Aesthete’ through Pen and Paintbrush” discussed how the art of Muhammad Nagi both corresponded and rejected the shifting ideas of national identity in Egyptian modern art in the early 20th century. She argues that although Nagi’s work has often been considered part of a nationalist art movement that aimed at portraying a unified Egyptian nation, in his art and writing his vision for the nation was not unified with others in the movement. He rejected the populist direction that the School of Fine Arts in Cairo encouraged, and through an analysis of his writing and art she argues that he wanted his work to help develop an elite-controlled “Dictator-Aesthete” which would serve as a proper cultural base for the art of the new Egyptian nation. Miller pointed out that this individual articulation of nationalism changes the meaning of Nagi’s work, from something that stands for the nation to a single part of a spectrum of opinions on the nation and art. Her paper questioned how we characterize artworks that are both statements of collective belonging and the individual creation of a particular artist, and what aspects of the work we choose emphasize in our conclusions. When do we see a work of art more as a statement of collective identity or individual identity, and why?

    In “Manuscript Studies,” chaired by Robert Tallaksen, the panel chair presented a paper at the end that had a surprising relationship to our affinity group. Through analysis of written documents, Tallaksen discovered that in the middle of his career, Michelangelo Buonarroti made a deliberate change in his handwriting script. Instead of an evolution or progressive alteration in style, Michelangelo abruptly shifted from one form of script to another. Tallaksen then explored how this change could be seen as a way of intentionally affiliating himself with others who wrote in this new way – namely humanists and those deeply involved in the philosophies of Neo-Platonism. This paper revealed a unique consideration on how one formulates his public identity.

    ‘Identity’ was a well-represented and widely discussed subject at SECAC, and the conference transposed many different methods with one another, revealing interesting and essential differences in their approaches. An undercurrent in all the talks attended was the negotiation between context and biography as the locus for identity. Some speakers focused on art as something that defines identity beyond that of its original creator (Cook, Chung), while others focused specifically on the artist and his biography as the center of identity (Tallaksen, Miller), or on the possibilities of a changing, individual identity as expressed through a created object (Kruglinski, Tallaksen).  In other talks not expounded upon here, presenters focused on identity entirely defined by the environment by looking at portraits in relation to other nearby works of art (Winter, Morse in “Cross Canvas Conversations”), and on innovative readings of an artist’s personal identity as the result of a detailed visual analysis of a particular work of art (Adler, Mazzola in “Currents of Transformation: Geography, Identity, and Ideology in U.S. Art”).  Together, the juxtaposition of these varied and impressive approaches to defining identity will undoubtedly influence our group’s scholarship as we seek to understand identity in our chosen objects of research.

    Paulina Pardo, Lindsey Woolcock, Aleksandra Carapella, and Andrea Maxwell

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Graduate Work
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    Environment Affinity Group at SECAC

    This blog post was created in the context of our Methods class in which we (Sarah, Jackie, Clarisse) are working on the notion of environment. At SECAC we were exploring the ways in which current scholars are approaching their subjects through this methodological lens.

    On Friday morning, we as a group attended a panel called “The Perils of Periodization, the Simplifications of Style: Revisiting Border Crossings in Medieval Art and Architecture”. Inspired by Ethan Matt Kavaler’s book Renaisance Gothic, the panel confronted the limitations of period labels based upon styles, and pushed for a deeper exploration of the specific geographic and temporal boundaries of a particular piece. Sarah Dillon, of Kingsborough Community College, presented a talk, “Italian Stained Glass of the Trecento: Late Medieval, Gothic, or Early Renaissance”. This talk in particular struck us as a particularly effective exploration of the impact of environment within art history. Her talk centered around three Italian stained glass windows from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: The Duccio Rose window in the Siena Cathedral, the Simone Martini window in the Chapel of St. Martin, and Taddeo Gaddi’s Baroncelli Chapel at Santa Croce. Critically addressing their origins in late Medieval Italy, Dillon argued that these windows represent just a small part of Italian works that defy traditional classifications of ‘Medieval’ or ‘Renaissance’.

    Her analysis of the Duccio window was particularly exciting for our own academic pursuits dealing with the theme of environment. Analyzing the window and its location within the church, Dillon critically addressed the way that this window would have been visible to the thirteenth and fourteenth century viewer. Dillon drew compositional and iconographical connections between the window and the altarpiece situated below it (also a work of Duccio), and she further emphasized the relationship by addressing their specific locations within the church. The altarpiece and window not only iconographically inform one another but the window additionally illuminates the golden altarpiece, highlighting it with its many colors during the day.

    The panel “Casting the ancient World for the Modern World” chaired by Carol Mattusch, from George Mason University, took a different approach to the notion of environment. Presenters discussed the plaster cast as a work of art itself, with its own history, and its complexity that is often overshadowed because of its devalued status of copy for which it has long suffered. Until recently, plaster casts were destroyed or lost because of this reception. Annetta Alexandrinis, from Cornell University, presented two recent exhibition projects: “Firing the Canon! The Cornell Casts and Their Discontents” (http://www.cornell.edu/video/firing-the-canon-cornell-plaster-casts ), and “Cast and Present: Replicating Antiquity in the Museum and the Academy,” (http://museum.cornell.edu/exhibitions/cast-and-present-replicating-antiquity-museum-and-academy )and demonstrated the documentary, as well as artistic, values of these objects for students who worked on these collaborative exhibitions at the university.

    The plaster cast is particularly interesting in our discussion about environment: conceived by 19th century collectors as substitutes of the originals, plaster casts were praised for their pedagogical values in academies and museums, like at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Francesca Torello, from Carnegie School of Architecture, presented a paper on, “Exhibiting Architecture: Plaster Casts in Pittsburgh between Instruction and Professional Debate” which focused on the history of the creation of the collection of plaster casts by Andrew Carnegie between 1904 and 1906. His goal was to bring artworks from across the Atlantic to people in Pittsburgh who could not travel. The original environment of a façade of a church, or a specific architectural element, become lost. However, it allows for the selection of the most representative architectural and sculptural “marvels” that contribute to the creation of the encyclopedic museum. Art historians today can learn from these objects about the history of early 20th century taste, and conceive the plaster casts as works of art themselves, now that the idea of the fragmentary is well accepted.

    Another aspect of environment we noticed at SECAC was present in the session entitled “Reconfiguring Knowledge: Making the Digital Humanities Visual”. Timothy Shea, of Duke University, presented his work “Digitizing Athens: Reconstructing the Urban Topography of Athens with GIS”, which stood for its methodology focused on notions of environment. The focus of this project on graves in Athens was rooted in the understanding of the original markers and their ancient environment, and how the roads would have informed the original viewer experience. There were similarities between Timothy Shea’s methods, and those found in a reading we completed earlier in the course by Lauren Hackworth Peterson. In “The Baker, His Tomb, His Wife, and Her Breadbasket: The Monument of Eurysaces in Rome” (http://www.jstor.org/stable/3177343), Peterson highlights the importance of context through the relation of urban cemeteries to the roads leading to and from the city. Similarly, the mapping project “Digitizing Athens” overlays the locations of known cemetery sites with their contemporary roads and emphasizes the relevance of funerary marker location.

    Given our own research interests, it was informative for us to see how contemporary scholars are using the notion of environment in their work, implicitly or explicitly, through a variety of approaches. The viewer experience and the relationship of the object to its context provide a deeper understanding of artworks, and will inform our current research projects.

    Sarah Conell, Jackie Lombard, and Clarisse Fava-Piz    

     

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Graduate Work
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