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Embodiment: Art, Space and Society – Tenth Annual Conference
February 20 @ 11:00 am - February 21 @ 3:30 pm UTC+0
20 February 2021
3-4:30pm – Keynote Lecture – moderated by Dr. Batraville, Assistant Professor Simone de Beauvoir Institute Concordia University (click to view)
Dr. Charmaine Nelson – “Ran away from her Master…a Negroe Girl named Thursday”: Examining Evidence of Punishment, Isolation, Trauma, and Illness in Nova Scotia and Quebec Fugitive Slave Advertisements (click to view abstract)
21 February 2021
11-11:15am – Opening Remarks
In the last year, the human body has become centered in popular discourse. A pandemic has changed our relationship to bodies. Feared and distanced, bodies have been sanitized through virtual communication lines. With the importance of inhabited space, phenomenology, and remediation in visual arts, new embodiment marks a permanent change in art history. Simultaneously, embodiment has been a fixture of political discourse. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has engendered discourse of the embodiment of systemic racism. Bodies, whether of flesh or stone, have become a category impossible to escape. At the Tenth Annual Undergraduate Art History Conference, we aim to present the work of artists, scholars, and students that elaborates on the role of the human body within art histories. We seek to understand how a rapidly changing definition of embodiment will affect art practices and visual culture.
11:15am-12:30pm – Student Panel
moderated by Sara Shields (MA Student)
Hannah Ferguson – Dirt, Borders, and Sanitation Reform: Picturing Disease and the Vulnerable Body/City in Victorian Illustration
Joel Young – Lo-fi Permanence: Shifting Subjectivities in Monique Moumblow’s erased and Kate Craig’s Delicate Issue
Dirt, Borders, and Sanitation Reform: Picturing Disease and the Vulnerable Body/City in Victorian Illustration
In the wake of a process of industrialization that radically altered the social and structural states of urban centers, widespread anxiety emerged in Victorian London concerning sanitation and cleanliness.1 Simultaneously, new developments in scientific inquiry and method, such as the emphasis on observation and the use of the microscope, at once made the world increasingly visible and yet infinitely more mysterious. I am interested in how sanitation anxiety and a desire for cleanliness intersects in visual culture with the Victorian preoccupation with, as Kate Flint has written, “the visible and the unseen.”2 I will draw a parallel between the quality Flint explores—the tension in Victorian visuality between “the act of seeing,” and with “the problems of interpreting what they saw”—and the simultaneous disgust and fascination felt in relation to the unsanitary: dirt, dust, and disease.3 In particular: how did these tensions relating to transgression, sanitation and visuality manifest in representations of the body in visual culture?
Steven Connor’s extensive exploration of the cultural meanings of skin—and the making of meaning through skin—provides a relevant point of entry to my interest in the body as a site of frustrated visuality. He notes that the cultural history of skin traces a transformation from conceptions of the skin as “a screen, [to] a membrane, and finally […] [to] what Michael Serres called a milieu: the skin becomes a place of minglings, a mingling of spaces.”4 The skin, then, forms what is not only a barrier between the eye and the mysteries of the body, but also a site of mediation between the world and the body. I find the use of the term “mingling” to be especially pertinent in relation to the milieu of Victorian London, in which borders between interiors and exteriors are transgressed: bodies of all classes, genders, and races converged on the streets, in addition to dirt, dust, and refuse. As I will demonstrate, depictions of disease and the vulnerable, unclean body in Victorian illustration present themselves as milieux which reveal not only fears about sanitation, but, more centrally, the profound anxiety surrounding the possibility of transgression: bodily, social, and geographical, inextricably linked to modern concepts of order and control.
1 Eileen Cleere, The Sanitary Arts: Aesthetic Culture and the Victorian Cleanliness Campaigns (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2014), 44.
2 Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 2.
3 Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, 2.
4 Steven Connor, The Book of Skin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 26.
Hannah Ferguson is a fourth year student in the Art History and Studio Arts program at Concordia University in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. Her writing has previously appeared in CUJAH XV and XVI, to which she also contributed as a copy editor, and she recently co-curated an Art Matters exhibition as part of the 2020 festival. Her research interests include the decorative arts and design, histories of sanitation, and decolonial methodologies. She is interested in trying to conceive of research as a process of listening and gathering.
Lo-fi Permanence: Shifting Subjectivities in Monique Moumblow’s erased and Kate Craig’s Delicate Issue
This presentation explores shifting relationships between digital images and the human body through the late Canadian artist Kate Craig’s videotape Delicate Issue (1979), and the video installation series erased (2019) by Montréal-based artist Monique Moumblow. What does it mean to present the image of a human through a series of screens, lenses, and projectors, using technologies that are constantly evolving and adapting to new human scenarios? Using a theoretical foundation of psychoanalysis and phenomenology, I try to answer this question by exploring different ways that video artists capture human experiences and translate them through technologies such as the camera, microphone, lens, projector, television, and videotape.
Different approaches to media can provide insight into the ways that we interface with the digital world, and how our gazes and bodies transform the images we consume. Vision is the sense most associated with images, but what about the rest of our senses? How does the way we consume an image have an impact on the way we think about it? Looking at the theoretical writing of media critic Laura U. Marks, Kaja Silverman, and contemporary artist and writer Hito Steyerl, my research explores how the multiplicity of actors at play when images are consumed. Although we live lives deeply saturated with technology and screens, there are still many questions left unanswered as to how we can use digital images to our advantage instead of drowning in a sea of hyper-visuality.
Joel Young is a Montréal (Tio’Tia:ke) based artist, writer and cultural worker. His research interests include material, language and politics in contemporary art and craft practices. Currently studying art history and ceramics at Concordia University, Joel is interested in the power that objects, patterns and materials have in our daily lives.
1:30-2:30pm – Professional Panel
moderated by Kanwal Syed
Dr. Sabrina Strings – The Art of Desirability: Black femininity & the sanctity of the white home
Deanna Bowen – Self-Reflection, “The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin” and “Black Drones in the Hive”
The Art of Desirability: Black femininity & the sanctity of the white home
Dr. Sabrina Strings
Scholars have long explored representations of “women” within the art field, while overlooking the centrality of race to said renderings. In recent years, some historians have pushed back against these kinds of colorblind revelations, pointing to the significance of anti/Blackness specifically to the composition of feminine aesthetic ideals in the West. Still, few have considered how the interplay of negrophilia & negrophobia drove changes in European aesthetic values. In this presentation, I will reveal how the transition from the voluptuous to the slender aesthetic in the West was prompted by the growing incorporation of Black women on the canvas. I argue that this unfolded in two acts: first, to incorporate lower-class Black women into the domestic economy of elite Europeans, and second to banish them from the sexual and romantic economy of this same space. I conclude that the titillating/terrifying specter of Black femininity within the art world served to fortify the colorline under slavery.
Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Sabrina has been featured in dozens of venues, including BBC News, NPR, Huffington Post, Medium, Los Angeles Times, Bitch Media, Vogue, and goop. Her writing has appeared in diverse venues including, The New York Times, Scientific American, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Her book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (2019), has been named an NYU Press Bestseller. It was awarded the 2020 Best Publication Prize by the Body & Embodiment Section of the American Sociological Association. Follow Sabrina’s latest moves at SabrinaStrings.com and on Twitter @SaStrings.
Self-Reflection, “The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin” and “Black Drones in the Hive”
My presentation involves self-reflection and presentation of two interdependent exhibitions presented at the 2020 Berlin Biennale and the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery September 18 – February 28, 2021. Respectively, “The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin” and “Black Drones in the Hive” extend critical interventionist research of the White nationalist ambitions that inform Canada’s cultural history and national narrative. Specifically, “The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin” is an off-site companion work to “Black Drones in the Hive” that examines the history of Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener) and Berlin, Germany during WWI as a means to reveal the familial, geographic, cultural, and colonial entanglements between the British Commonwealth, Germany, Canada, the United States, and Africa from the mid 1700s. “Black Drones…” is a solo exhibition that looks at the regional histories surrounding the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery and greater Southern Ontario.
The project looks at Six Nations history and the terms of the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784, which refers to Quebec’s Governor Sir Frederick Haldimand granting a tract of land to Mohawk Chief Thayendanegea’s (Joseph Brant) and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) for their alliance with the British during the American Revolution 1765-83. Accordingly, the American Revolution provides an opportunity to then reflect on a long, traumatic history of prolonged conflict that continues in the War of 1812-15, the US Civil War (1861-65), the Boer War (1899-1902), and World War I (1914-1918). “Black Drones…” is also an investigative process of production that works to excavate Black presence and erasure. Archival documents from the mid 1700s attest to African-American slave presence in both British and Six Nations communities. Other materials reveal a robust black presence in the region, with a population of 60,000 in 1900. The quandary of this growth is its extraordinary decline to 18,000 by 1920 and so my research digs deeper into regional Ontario history to trace the ways that this decline is commingle with local, national and global preoccupations with Eugenics and population control.
Deanna Bowen (b. 1969, Oakland; lives in Toronto) is a descendant of two Alabama and Kentucky born Black Prairie pioneer families from Amber Valley and Campsie, Alberta. Bowen’s family history has been the central pivot of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary works since the early 1990s. She makes use of a repertoire of artistic gestures in order to define the Black body and trace its presence and movement in place and time. In recent years, her work has involved close examination of her family’s migration and their connections to Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley and Black Strathcona, the “All-Black” towns of Oklahoma, the Kansas Exoduster migrations and the Ku Klux Klan in Canada and the US. She is a recipient of a 2020 Governor General Award for Visual and Media Arts Award, a 2018 Canada Council Research and Creation Grant, an Ontario Arts Council Media Arts Grant in 2017, a 2016 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and the 2014 William H. Johnson Prize. Her writing, interviews and artworks have been published in Canadian Art, The Capilano Review, The Black Prairie Archives, and Transition Magazine. Bowen is editor of the 2019 publication Other Places: Reflections on Media Arts in Canada.
3-4:30pm – Keynote Lecture
moderated by Dr. Batraville, Assistant Professor Simone de Beauvoir Institute Concordia University
Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson – “Ran away from her Master…a Negroe Girl named Thursday”: Examining Evidence of Punishment, Isolation, Trauma, and Illness in Nova Scotia and Quebec Fugitive Slave Advertisements
“Ran away from her Master…a Negroe Girl named Thursday”: Examining Evidence of Punishment, Isolation, Trauma, and Illness in Nova Scotia and Quebec Fugitive Slave Advertisements
Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson
Transatlantic Slavery was premised upon the strategic dehumanization and animalization of enslaved Africans. While histories of physical abuse and corporal punishment have been rigorously explored in tropical plantation contexts like Jamaica, Canadian Slavery (when it is acknowledged at all) is generally falsely identified as “kinder and gentler” because of an erroneous equation between the size of the enslaved population and the benevolence of the slave owners. This lecture takes up the comparative exploration of punishment, trauma, and illness of enslaved populations in Canada (Nova Scotia and Quebec) and Jamaica. I argue that the often overlooked experience of isolation would have been a grave source of ongoing trauma for the slave minority populations of Canada. Specifically, by reading fugitive slave advertisements as “portraits” (however dubious) of the runaways, I attempt to recuperate the signs of physical and other forms of trauma inflicted upon enslaved populations in order to better understand the ways in which the bodies of the enslaved came to bear the signs of enslavement and how they resisted such subjugation. Furthermore, I will attempt to distinguish between the types of corporal punishment and physical intervention that were legitimized in temperate (Canadian) as opposed to tropical (Jamaican) contexts.
Charmaine A. Nelson is a Professor of Art History and a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University in Halifax, CANADA where she is also the founding director of the first-ever institute focused on the study of Canadian Slavery. Nelson has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, and Black Canadian Studies. Nelson has published seven books including The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (2007), Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (2016), and Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (2018). She is actively engaged with lay audiences through her media work including ABC, CBC, CTV, and City TV News, The Boston Globe, BBC One’s “Fake or Fortune,” and PBS’ “Finding your Roots”. She blogs for the Huffington Post Canada and writes for The Walrus. In 2017, she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University.
1-2pm – Student Panel
moderated by Vania Ryan
Charlotte Perreault – Communicating Disabled Experience: Alternative Methods of Existing in Time and Space through the Art Object and Exhibition
Émile Phaneuf – Skateboarding and Art: Activism, Body and Space
Communicating Disabled Experience: Alternative Methods of Existing in Time and Space through the Art Object and Exhibition
Our society has been structured to function on a singular, normative system — built exclusively for able-bodied, “normative” persons. This structuring includes a singular, and very specific, conception of time and space, which behaves as a constructed barrier for members of the disabled community. An artists’ work has the communicative capacity to underline nuances pertaining to the artists’ mind-body-environment relationships, and speaks to the artists’ experience with their society and social circles. My research works to convey the communicative capacity of the art object and its exhibition space, in sharing differently-abled experience. It critically analyzes traditional understandings of the artwork and its surrounding atmosphere, working to expand the discussion to alternative considerations of time and space, as communicated by the artist and curator.
How can the art object and the art exhibition work as a body of activism for alternative systems/modes of living? What preconceived notions and patterns of artwork consumption and configuration of spaces must be challenged and more than anything, annihilated? In Joseph Grigely’s Exhibition Prosthetics, Grigely states, “…the body is not itself, it defines itself in relation to exterior circumstances that ultimately construct it.” (2010: 22) How does this pertain to the artwork and exhibition’s capacity to work together to communicate alternative experience? How do the works of artists like Joseph Grigely and Christine Sun Kim, break down past structures and transform the space with alternative conversations? In the introduction to Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, Jack Halberstam says, “we cannot say what new structures will replace the ones we live with yet, because once we have torn shit down, we will inevitably see more and see differently and feel a new sense of wanting and being and becoming” (2013: 6). In order to build a society in which disabled experiences are made space for, the ways in which everyday systems privilege a very specific body must be recognized and de-centred. The art object and its constructed space open an opportunity to centre disabled voices/experience, including alternative considerations of time and space.
Grigely, Joseph. Exhibition Prosthetics. Bedford Press Editions, 2010.
Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
Harney, Stefano and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe/New York/Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013.
Charlotte Perreault is currently completing her final year of the Art History BFA at Concordia University. She is a recipient of the Mitacs Research Training Award (2020), and is conducting research at the intersection of art and disability. Inspired by the writing of Professor Jack Halberstam, Charlotte is interested in the communication of alternative spaces through art, in relation to disability studies and disability justice, that exist just beyond our ingested societal lines. Upon graduation, she wishes to pursue a career in Art Theory and Criticism, with specific interest in Art Activism, and hopes to work within art publications. This year, Charlotte is working as an English Editor for Yiara Magazine, is a board member for Concordia’s Undergraduate Journal of Art History, and works with Concordia’s Fine Arts Student Alliance as a peer mentor.
Skateboarding and Art: Activism, Body and Space
Street skateboarding, considered a counter-culture since its popularization in the nineties, has recently earned an Olympic sport status. The extensive media coverage of skateboarding competitions like the X-Games and Street League Skateboarding (SLS) added to the long list of successful attempts to make skate culture digestible for the general public. Earning an Olympic status faded the sport’s tenacious rebellious aura. However, skaters’ playful use of public spaces continuously leaves an imprint in the city space. The voices of skateboarders cannot remain marginalized as more and more skaters-led activism campaigns gain momentum across the globe. This presentation argues that skateboarding is an art of the body that challenges the tight grip of architecture on one’s freedom of movement.
I will examine instances where street cultures actors raised their voices in urban planning debates. As examples, the Singapore-based street artist SKLO produced stickers against linguistic assimilation and the LLSB campaign in London protected a cultural site from commercial interests. Subsequently, this presentation explores minimalist sculpture theory to illustrate the artistic quality of the skater’s alternative use of urban elements; the American sculptor Robert Morris’s notion of the Gestalt sheds new light on the skater’s understanding of space and volume. Lastly, my research considers the political implication of deliberately risking one’s physical integrity. Finally, it revisits the overstated argument that skateboarding damages public property. The concept of the Index articulated by the art historian Rosalind E. Krauss in the seventies provides an alternative framing for the dark scribbles resulting from skaters contact with urban features. Instead of being labelled a de facto nuisance, these scribbles can be seen as equivalent to freedom of speech: freedom of movement.
Émile Phaneuf is a Concordia undergraduate sculpture student whose work focuses on street skateboarding’s relationship to the city. Under his stuntman persona: Guy DeBOARD, he creates skateable sculptures and uses them in performances. His recent works look at the mark-marking resulting from skateboarders’ (re)claimation of public spaces. He is fascinated by how skaters transform banal features of architecture into sites of cultural significance. For him, skateboarding appears to be a performance of place that successfully merges art and life. Émile’s work was featured in Art Matters, Art IC!, Open Action Night and various Concordia University student exhibitions. In 2018, he studied the Chinese language in Beijing on a Chinese government scholarship and was sponsored by the Beijing-based skateboard company Punk and Poet. As of September 2021, he will begin a Master’s degree in sculpture at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
2:30-3:30pm – Student Panel
moderated by Elizabeth Davis
Claire Sigal – Fashioning the Body: Anorexia Nervosa in the Victorian Era
Erin Galt – Gendering Authorship: The MWTH Project, Difference and the Anti-Monument
Fashioning the Body: Anorexia Nervosa in the Victorian Era
In the Victorian era, anorexia nervosa was discovered and proliferated–inextricably tied to the fashionable consumptive body, otherwise known as the body under the ravages of tuberculosis. Doctors at the time described the disease as even more serious than tuberculosis. This presentation explores the fashion and fetishization of this disease with the goal of understanding the advent of these troubling romanticizations. Drawing from art historical and psychological sources from then and now, this disease and where it hides will be brought to light. Other symptoms of the disease, such as the effects on the body and personality, will be dissected. These effects will be situated in their time and shown as the lethal relics of the bygone era that they are.
In Susan Sontag’s Illness as a Metaphor she writes: “Twentieth-century women’s fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of [consumption] in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.” (Sontag, 29.) Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness today–the romanticization of this disease came with the Romantic era itself, when disease and death were fetishized. This fetishization is a pathology in and of itself. We realize that we cannot truly understand a piece of art without its historical contexts–the same goes for many disciplines, yet this academically accepted practice has not been extended to the treatment of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders that idealize emaciation. Understanding the history of this disease can be crucial to its dismantling, yet this information remains vastly unknown or unconsidered.
Susan Sontag. Illness as a Metaphor, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1977), 29.
Claire Sigal is a fourth year Art History student at Concordia University. Her academic interests are interdisciplinarity, focusing on the overlap of textiles and literature in different contexts. She is a needle worker and writer, frequently mixing the two and more. She draws upon Jewish folk culture, queerness, womanhood, and fashion history, academically and otherwise. Since these topics are rarely touched upon in the art historical canon and its legacy in Art History today, she frequently finds herself immersed in independent research to fill in gaps, achieving this through personal, sociological, and art historical lenses.
Gendering Authorship: The MWTH Project, Difference and the Anti-Monument
In the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct conviction on February 24, 2020, the artist led MWTH (Medusa with the Head) Project erected a bronzed iteration of Luciano Garbati’s 2008 statue, Medusa with the Head of Perseus (on display Oct. 13, 2020-April 30, 2021) across from the New York County Criminal Courthouse in Manhattan. Garbati first produced this artwork as a reimagining of the persecution of Medusa: a beautiful woman, raped by Poseidon and punished for it by Athena. Later, Perseus beheads Medusa with the assistance of Athena. Immediate proponents of the monument criticized this misappropriation of the tale and its application to the rape culture in the US. However, as my research will demonstrate, the aesthetic implementation of appropriation in this artwork reveals layers of cultural capital that are explicably tied to the role of myth in the construction of knowledge, identity, and the body.
What role do monuments serve in negotiating representations of the body, when our understanding of the body and the historicizing of monuments are symptoms and remnants of a patriarchal society that is determined by the inherently oppositional nature of Western philosophy? Furthermore, classical literature, like the tale of Perseus and Medusa, as is told by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, directed mythology through the framework of one gender, man and the malformed man– woman. How do we consider retellings of gender-based violence and their impact on representations of the body in Contemporary Art? The MWTH Project provokes a national discourse surrounding the role of monuments, the body, and Appropriation Art. This statue is considered in the context of its creation in 2008 as Medusa with the Head of Perseus, and, again, in its appropriated iteration, hosted by the MWTH Project, outside the courthouse that condemned Weinstein amidst the #MeToo era, in 2020. This presentation analyzes the MWTH Projects’ placement of Garbati’s Medusa with the Head of Perseus in consideration of the influences monuments and the Male Gaze have on the questions of authorship, identity and the body, framed through the writings of Laura Mulvey, Lorraine O’Grady, Gilles Deleuze, Roland Barthes, and Michel Foucault.
Erin (she/her) is a fourth-year student pursuing an Honours B.A. with a Major in Art History and a Minor in Psychology at the University of Ottawa. This is her third year as a member of the Art History Students Association and her second year as President. She is an active member of her academic community and finds great pride in her student advocacy. She was presented with the Carole Girouard Award (2020) for demonstrating an exceptional and generous contribution to the life of the visual arts department at the University of Ottawa. She enjoys discussing most topics, but above all, Erin enjoys discussing theory and visual literacy. In her spare time, Erin is a visual and performance artist, social advocate, and singer for The Bees and Bones.