Category Archives: Domain of One’s Own

Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva (Macedonia), “Silentio Pathologia,” 55th Venice Biennale 2013

The year is 1348. Europe is about to meet its worst enemy. Within a few years, nearly two-thirds of the population of the continent is dead. The cause? The Bubonic Plague. Rats were host bodies…where rats travelled, the plague followed. Cities, towns, rural areas all experienced horrific devastation and chaos. Those who survived the plague long-remembered this time as a period of sorrow, confusion, and absolute fear. In “Silentio Pathologia” the artist Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva considers the rapid movement of the plague in early modern Europe, and finds parallels to the transmission of viruses today.

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“Silentio Pathologia” encompasses the entire interior of the Scuola dei Laneri, the former confraternity of the wool workers in Venice. One might feel claustrophobic here were it not for the natural light streaming in from the expansive windows along the entrance wall. The location was a lucky find and adds a layer of meaning to interpretations of this work. Wool was one of the many products Venetians transported across early modern Europe, unwittingly playing a significant role in the transmission of plague.

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The visitor to the Scuola dei Laneri today also journeys. At the entrance of the Scuola one encounters the opening of a path marked by a metal wall about 10′ high at the left (two and a half tons of metal all told), and at the right a drape of silkworm cocoons threaded together. Here, one’s journey begins. The metal is imposing…most remains untouched but some areas show the effects of being worked in a circular motion by a grinder.

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The metal surface also receives the patterned shadows cast by the threaded cocoons. The visitor walks between the wall of metal and drape of cocoons in a vaguely circular journey that leads to new walls…one made of untreated black silk threads stitched together by Elpida…

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and the other wall a drape of albino rat pelts, also stitched together by the artist.

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In early modern Europe, rats were carriers of disease. Today they are among the most common living creatures in research labs for the study of disease. At the center of “Silentio Pathologia” are two cages with pet rats. As the artist explained, the rats need to be held and stroked every day, preferably by the same person because the rats become familiar with one’s scent and like it; this care insures that the rats remain tamed and do not revert to their wild state. At the heart of this journey we come face to face with a dilemma…taming our fears requires embracing them.

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Above:  Preston Thayer with the artist, Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva, at the 55th Venice Biennale, May 28, 2013, talking through the gauze of black silk thread.

Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva completed her MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London in 1998 and currently lives and works in Brighton, England. Her work was part of the 51st Venice Biennale in ArtSway’s New Forest Pavilion.  For more on Silentio Pathologia, see the artist’s blog at: http://blog.elpihv.co.uk/category/55th-venice-biennale/.

Silentio Pathologia was curated by Ana Frangovska, curator at the National Gallery of Macedonia, Skopje.

A expanded version of this post appears in The Art Section, (summer 2013, 7/6).

Online exhibits and digital art history

A way of thinking about online exhibits?  “The wind of commerce hit museums harder than many universities. In some instances necessity occasioned the creation of good websites as the public face of the institution (interest logged via hits per week); in others it provoked a rethink of the mission of museums and a dumbing down to a lower common denominator, in displays, special exhibitions, and websites. Museums are in a state of flux because of computers and the Web: can/should technology be applied to these dusty mausolea of out-of-context artifacts to provide a learned, multimedia, immersive context – the nearest thing now possible to reintegrating the works with the context from which they were removed? Or is the museum of the future to be a theme park, lacking any truly educational mission, with Web displays as part of the fun? Believers in culture should hope for the former; but, as the inscription on Wren’s tomb nearly has it, Si monumentum requiris, cinumclicke.

Indeed, should we extrapolate from the existence of the Web to the decline of campus-based universities and physical museums and galleries? If galleries can only display a small proportion of their collection at any one time, should not funding go into web-based image databases?”

Michael Greenhalgh, “Art History”

In A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.
http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/

 

Digital art history

Working now on digital art history.  Here are some resources:

Diane M. Zorich’s report to the Kress Foundation on the role of digital scholarship in art history;  “Transitioning to a Digital World:  Art History, Its Research Centers, and Digital Scholarship,” June 2012.

A post from Emory University’s Woodruff Library on Zorich’s report for the Kress Foundation.  Quick links here to digital art history projects cited in the report.

A post by Hasan Niyazi with references to recent discussions, December 2012.

Five participants in the Digital Art History Lab held March 5-7, 2013 at the Getty discuss the state of the field and the principles of networked scholarship:

• Hans Brandhorst, editor of the Iconclass system (http://www.iconclass.nl) and the Arkyves Web catalogue (http://www.arkyves.org/)

• Johanna Drucker, Bernard and Martin Breslauer Professor Bibliography in the Department of Information Studies and founder of the Digital Humanities program at UCLA

• Emily Pugh, Smith Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art, and Web developer for the online journal Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide

• Nuria Rodríguez Ortega, chair of the Department of Art History at the University of Málaga, Spain

• Moderator: Susan Edwards, art historian and digital humanities technologist, J. Paul Getty Trust

Digital art history

Here’s something I came across in the CAA News (May 22, 2013). “It’s time to rethink art history for the digital age,” by Nuria Rodríguez Ortega. It’s old news (March 5, 2013) from The Getty Iris, but something I need to think about now. Digital art history. Good references and questions, interesting comments. But it isn’t clear to me what “digital art history” looks like or how one does it. Anne Helmreich’s response resonates for me. “This points to another opportunity afforded by the multi-layered digital environment—that of including both one’s scholarly conclusions as well as the evidence on which these conclusions are based. This can be a daunting proposal—the equivalent, perhaps, of putting one’s file drawers out for public viewing. It also means making easily accessible a document that may have taken years of sleuthing to track down and identify. But it is also an exciting opportunity: such shared documentation can become a platform around which a robust and dynamic scholarly community can be formed. It also can help to push forward the development or adoption of intellectual argument in a more rapid (and global) fashion than was previously possible.” This is exactly the sort of thing we were discussing in the Domain workshop.

Here’s a great post on getting started in Digital Humanities by Lisa Sprio for the Journal of Digital Humanities (2011).

Digital Humanities

William Pannapacker’s article in today’s online Chronicle of Higher Education speaks directly to some aspects of our project’s concerns and what we’re presently developing.  He includes recommendations for building Digital Humanities (or Digital Liberal Arts for greater inclusiveness) at small liberal-arts colleges.  One area he discusses where I think we need more focus is informing administrators about our work.  His recommendation here:

“Seek the support of the higher-ups. Your administrators are probably pro-technology in general, but they may not know a lot about DH. Show them how digital methods enhance the college’s mission and can promote its image. Call attention to the value of encouraging faculty and staff members to use new technologies.”

What are our plans for highlighting the work of the Domain project?  How might we talk/write about it as central to the mission of UMW?  Images on the home page are an indication of some support or awareness.  But is that sufficient?  The fact that we have this Domain project at all clearly indicates support.  But here we owe our thanks to Mary Kayler and everyone in DTLT.  What, if anything, does the administration want to see come out of this?  That’s a conversation we need to direct.

Thinking about scholarship and discipline

In the history of art, “history” is generally foregrounded.  For the early modern period, artists respond to earlier artists, art-writers respond to earlier artists and to what has been written.  “The word” — both visual and textual — is nearly sacred.  It’s incomprehensible (irresponsible) to ignore what has been published, or what survives as a manuscript.  I really want my students to read “that article” published in the 1950s!  In many disciplines this is absurd.

The work of early modern art historians is generally solitary work.  There’s something really pleasurable in working through an idea on one’s own.  Maybe it’s like making bread.  Weller’s comments about archives rang true to me. I’ve worked in the Vatican Library — a collection of books and manuscripts, and now digital materials, that was organized in the 15th c.  That is a powerful environment of scholarship and home to a remarkable genealogy of scholars.  An online search doesn’t offer this experience of “being.”

The work in contemporary art can be almost entirely online.  The excitement is of a different sort.

I agree with Weller that discipline and area of research matter here.  I’m thinking particularly about data collection and data collecting, and what that data is.  There’s a difference between what’s available online (articles, primary sources, etc.) and what we do with it.  Many museums have done tremendous work in making their resources available, and this has been especially important for researching provenance of works in the 20th c.  For academics, digital scholarship is often what we do with students.  My project here (the online art exhibit) is work with students.

“Lack of relevance.” Really???

This quote from 2.3, Lack of relevance, struck me:

“Baby Boomers preferred some face-to-face encounters with their instructors; Generation X students reported substantial, pointless interaction in class, and the Net Gen students felt that the interaction mechanisms designed by their instructors were much less adequate than their personal technologies.”

Weller is suggesting here that f2f encounters are less relevant to our students now than they were to many of us as students.  Gosh.   Do we agree?  If so, are we willing to accept it?  I’ve taught online (ok…just once), and “even there” I worked to interact with my students, and I worked to develop strategies to get my students to interact with each other.  If students’ “personal technologies” are more “adequate” (and “adequate” for what, I have to ask), something is very wrong.  Does this have something to do children learning more from tv and computers because this is where parents put them?  Is the generation now in college less comfortable with interacting with people?  With adults?

I feel that accepting Weller’s statement as accurate (or as inevitable) is equivalent to dumbing down my classes.  I would be admitting defeat.  I want my students…and all college-age students…to become comfortable communicating f2f with others.  They will have to negotiate all kinds of things in their futures, quite possibly whether to wage war.  How viable are “personal technologies” in that situation when war is waged against human lives?

 

Working on an exhibit

What do students need to know before developing an art exhibit online?

Paragraphs on:

Function, purpose, goal(s)

Institutional requirements, restrictions, limitations

Professional development for students, particularly museum studies (minor)

How is this subject best explored in an online exhibit?

Technology — DTLT

How much does any one student/professor need to know about technology?

Collaborative teaching and learning

Collaborative curating — what models do museums offer?