Sydney Silverstein

This summer I used my VSI grant money to self-publish a zine of sorts. This grew out of an academic project I began earlier in the year. With the VSI grant money I was able to publish 40 copies of my “anthropology zine,” each with a hand-screenprinted cover.

ISSUE I: ANTHROPORTRAITS

CONTENT:

In the first semester of my PhD program, Carla Freeman opened up a talk by asking us all how we conceptualized our individual trajectories as scholars, how we all came to land that day in that classroom. She told us not to worry if the narrative didn’t seem coherent, and that things would make much better sense in hindsight. Her story was full of twists and surprises and history and it was a comforting reminding that the messy pieces of my own life would some day come together. But it is strange to think about how much in academia we are all a product of a particular historical moment complete with its intellectual rockstars and political tensions and vogue theories and the parallel constellations that formed around our mentors when they were in the place I am now.

This project, ANTHROPORTRAITS, grew out of a small assignment from a course I took on ethnographic film. The assignment only requested that students experiment with photography as a means of asking questions. Since I had recently been reflecting on the myriad sorts of paths that lead people into anthropology, I decided to use photography to ask questions about these histories, as a means to ask and learn about what sorts of currents of theory were pulsing through the brains of my professors when they were graduate students, what were the cherished books of anthropology graduate students in 1969 and 1974 and 1982 and 1990 and 2008. So the coming pages are essentially this: photographs of professional anthropologists (who are all professors at Emory) posing with books that they held dear to them as graduate students, along with a commentary on why they chose that book, and what it meant to them at the time. That is the topic of ANTHROPORTRAITS.

FORMAT:

Thinking about scholarly and life trajectories and particularly the meaning attached to the books and objects that survived these harrowing journeys inspired me to put this in print form. I like the idea that this object, this pamphlet full of pictures and words, can come along with me and serve as a material marker for reflection. It felt to me like an object that deserved a social life in the world of things, something that wanted a life other than digital.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

Thank you the Emory professors who let me photograph you and who shared with me bits of your life stories, especially Carla Freeman whose talk planted the seed for this project. Thank you to Kwame Phillips for the midterm assignment that got me working on this, and particularly to Anna Grimshaw for the constantly inspiring teaching and mentoring. Shout out to Kyle Gowdy for patience and digital guidance, as well as screenprinting collaboration. Thanks to the Emory Visual Scholarship Initiative for the grant that is making this production possible!

Sydney Meredith Silverstein
smsilve@emory.edu

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Noemi Y. Molitor

How to do things with sculpture
Work-in-progress report VSI summer research grant 2013

Thanks to the VSI summer grant and to non-competitive PDS training funds I was able to engage in practice based research methods including sculpture making in Berlin, Germany, where I am currently engaged in dissertation research for my project ‘Re-Imagining Migration through Visual Art: Queer Movements through Time and Space as a Lens for Contemporary Struggles about Post-National Belonging in Germany’.

SUMMER TRAINING IN SCULPTURE MAKING
My methodological approach involves the making of visual art as a way to reflect on the techniques and strategies used by the artists I analyze, and as a way to explore prac-tice-based methodological and epistemological approaches for working on, with and through visual arts. As laid out in my application for the VSI summer grant, I set to work toward the installation/sculpture ‘King Midas of Germany,’ inspired by the Midas figure in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the sculpture, the gold Midas wishes to turn anything he touches into, and the gold of the German flag come to characterize (nationalist) hubris as a form of (self-inflicted) violence as gold takes over the figure’s body.
A workshop in sculpture making at the Schöneberg VHS / community school in Berlin included an overview over art historical developments of sculpture in the visual arts and introduction to different sculptural genres and creative techniques, such as sketching proportions, calculating size and mass and crafting the bust of a sculpture. Us-ing clay as the main material, I was able to do a small-scale study of a kneeling body in the moment of suffocating from gold. Another, larger study consisted of the head for the life-size sculpture. Working with clay is a helpful preparation for working with the lighter material of plaster the sculpture will eventually consist of. Skills I acquired included build-ing a wooden base, sketching proportions, calculating size and mass and then crafting a figure’s face, head, neck and shoulders, as well as carving the inside of the sculpture in preparation for baking the clay. During the workshop, I was able to experiment with vary-ing degrees of explicitness in the figure’s expression.
In my dissertation, I am concerned with the question of un/representing bodies and the use of different levels of visibility and opacity. My own artistic reflections thus serve as a basis for my discussions of representational strategies the artists whose work I analyze, as well as myself, employ. Questions that concern me here the most pertained to the symbolic representation of nationalism: the choice to personify nationalism, the expression of the figure, and working with the flag as an obvious symbol of the nation. Thus, the use of clichés, the deployment of over-explicit meanings and thus pedagogical gestures (a no-go in art?), and the question of what to do with violent discourse were constant questions during my working process.

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO

Figure-study
I started out with a miniature sculpture of a kneeling figure reaching for their neck and chest as if suffocating, the face a shocked expression with wide-open eyes. I turned one of the wooden sticks used to keep the clay in place into a flag pole/spine. Maybe the fig-ure won’t be waving the flag, but it will grow out of its back…‘nationalism’s spine.’

The figure appears quite literal – gasping for air, caught in a moment of shock – perhaps too explicit or obvious. I wonder if it would have that same effect blown up in size.

Head-study
Since the small sculpture’s mimics appeared quite explicit/obvious, I tried a more am-biguous expression when working on the study of a life-size head for the larger sculp-ture. The eyes became a central conveyor of affect; having them half open generated a more explicit/shocked expression, in the final version they remain closed, looking rather serene or perhaps melancholic.
In order to work on the notion of drowning in gold or suffocation from gold I wanted to have bubbles emerge from the nose and ears. This was difficult to realize since clay is a heavy material; I thus moved the bubbles into the mouth. A half open bubble with the inside carved out emerges from the mouth, another small bubble appears inside right above the tongue. I only put in a hint of teeth; the right lip is slightly torn from the protrud-ing bubble. Its rough inside and smooth, round surface is reminiscent of a flesh eating plant. It looks like something is coming out of the mouth rather than drowning the figure from the outside. The shoulders ended up deliberately smaller in proportion to the neck and head, the nose a bit bigger as if zooming in, creating a sense of vulnerability and solidity at the same time. My classmates saw a cigar, a speech bubble, a sleeping face, a face in pain…
In order to lighten the weight of the clay, we cut the pieces in half, carved out chunks to make even edges and stabbed air holes into the inside. There is violence to this process; the head cut open with a paper ball wrapped around the wood stick in the middle looks like a prop for a horror movie. The paper wrapped around the stand then sticking out of the cut-open head made me come back to the idea of putting things inside the sculpture as if the gold of the flag slowly fills up the inside. It appears as a violent process before my mind, an association of stuffing something down someone’s throat. Consequently, questions of planning ahead, sketching out or pre-conceptualizing a work of art came up consistently. During the sculpture making process I re-visited several of the ideas that I set out with. I had conceptualized a personified figure waving the Ger-man flag, the flag’s golden bottom turning into liquid gold that slowly drowns the figure. The flag itself could be ‘made out of discourse’, newspaper articles on migration, election slogans, etc. I wondered what might be coming out of the nose and ears in the actual sculpture and what the flag could be made off – just gold liquid or wrapped up newspaper articles, quotes, etc.

What to do with violent texts or discourse, how can they be read against themselves, perhaps appropriated, transformed? By creating a textual/paper-trail-density of newspa-per headlines, laws, and articles forming the flag? – Re-working textual materials into sculptural ones might be interesting, but I also wonder whether this might be too literal/ pedagogical a gesture in the sense that I would identify ‘bad’ texts. Might having a dumping space for ‘evil’ discourse even become a gesture connected to NS book burn-ings and the attempted elimination of ‘degenerate art’ when nationalism is precisely what I am trying to problematize?
I also ask myself what it means to personify ‘the nation’, to depict it as gender-ambiguous or male, in contrast to the tradition of feminizing the nation (as for instance in Lacroix’s ‘La Liberté’). A reversal might be too much in line with ascribing violence to masculinity or to essentialist notions of maleness.

Material
I experienced material as a powerful factor in the work. Working with clay allows for leav-ing my own bodily marks and traces on the figure, unlike for instance working with a cut-ter to manipulate Styrofoam. I enjoyed letting my hands follow the material, leaving finger marks on it that become part of the structure and expression.
Working in direct contact with the material versus employing strategies that are more removed from the material became interesting points of reflection. Abstract painter Katharina Grosse who figures prominently in chapter one of my dissertation, for instance emphasizes how the use of a spray gun creates a distancing that lets her work with her eyes first and foremost, which is then followed by moving through the painting field with her body.
Another interesting caveat that came up regarding material versus the content was the tendency to get carried away with smoothing the clay when working up close. There was a moment in the working process when I started to ‘beautify’ – as my instruc-tor put it – the back of the head. A figure capturing a violent experience seems to call for a rougher exterior, but the smoothness of liquid gold might also form a welcome textural juxtaposition in the final piece.

Future Artistic Work
In order to work toward creating the full-size sculpture I would like to gain further training in the practice-based, artistic genres relevant to my work, including life-size sculpture and illustration. I aspire to taking more workshops in sculpture making, including working with Styrofoam and sandstone, to add to the basic skills I was able to acquire this sum-mer. I would also like to engage in visual narrative (illustration as visual essay; comic and graphic novel writing) as another practice-based genre, specifically toward the sec-ond chapter of my dissertation. Petja Dimitrova, one of the artists figuring centrally in my analysis, uses illustration and visual narrative in her depictions of migrant rights strug-gles and the institutional practices involved in citizenship and asylum procedures. Train-ing in this genre would thus enable me to explore this artistic technique, to more fully understand its impact and efficacy for my analysis of Dimitrova’s work, and eventually to incorporate it in my own artistic practice.

I would like to thank the Visual Scholarship Initiative for enabling me to conduct artistic research toward my dissertation by awarding me a summer research grant.

 

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Amy Elkins

Marcel Duchamp once wrote, “It’s not what you see that is art. Art is the gap.” My research explores this gap and the attendant ways in which it shapes our understanding of art in culture. In my dissertation, I ask questions about how visual art and material culture shaped literary aesthetics in the early 20th century. To answer these questions, I read modernist literature through the lens of unseen art and craft processes in order to illuminate new circuits of visuality, social and political activism, and aesthetic patterns. I explore how various processes, designs, and media surface in and around modernist literature. As a result, my project demands a hands-on research plan for direct contact and practice with the visual and material cultures I study. This type of research extends interpretive insights in new directions by rooting them firmly to creative materials and processes.

Supported by Emory’s Visual Studies Initiative through a travel grant, my summer research project took me to the Isle of Wight, a beautiful, rugged island off the coast of England, former home to Lord Alfred Tennyson, Lewis Carroll, and Julia Margaret Cameron—quite a cast of neighbors! The current thread of my project examines Virginia Woolf’s late fiction. I show how her use of glass (as with other modernist writers) can be linked to modes of late-Victorian photographic vision, process, and aesthetics. In particular, I suggest that Woolf manipulates glass as a visual medium, which connects her work to Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs made from glass plate negatives. I recently presented a version of this project at the Modernist Studies Association conference at the University of Sussex on a panel entitled, “Sight Unseen.” Cameron (Woolf’s great-aunt) has reentered the public imagination lately as a result of her incredible life, art, and legacy (see this New Yorker piece: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2013/09/02/130902crat_atlarge_lane?currentPage=all, and an impressive Cameron exhibit currently at the Met: http://metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/julia-margaret-cameron).

The Emory VSI travel grant allowed me to consult materials at Dimbola, Cameron’s home and gallery on the Isle of Wight. I learned about her wet collodion process—not through books as I’d previously done—but through hands-on encounters with cameras, negative holders, and a detailed albumen photo development exhibit. Most importantly, I was able to work with an assortment of glass plate negatives. By handling them, peering through their aged surfaces, and studying their precise aesthetic affects, I was able to better understand how crucial medium-specificity is to my work at the intersection of art and literature.

The Isle of Wight is home to many talented, knowledgeable, and unbelievably gracious makers and artists. Since I also have a passion for textile arts of various kinds, I connected with Barbara Philo, a renowned lace maker on the Isle. Using only traditional bobbin lace techniques, Barbara creates masterpieces; it was incredible to watch her work and learn about the history of lace and design across cultures. I even got to try my hand at learning to bobbin weave, which gave me a tactile intuitive sense of the process of lace-making. The result of this lesson a primitive square of “lace” of which I’m rather proud! Textile arts form the second branch of my dissertation project, so this additional component of the trip was an incredibly generative and instructive addition my summer research plans.

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