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Distinguished speaker - Caroline A. Jones

Caroline A. Jones, Professor of Art History (Department of Architecture, MIT) will be leading a special grad student seminar at 15:00 on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 in room EV 11.705 of the EV Building, Concordia University at 1515 Ste Catherine Street West. The seminar is entitled “Invisibilities, or, How Not to See the Anthropocene.” Two papers will be circulated in advance of the seminar, both co-written with Peter Galison (Pelegrino University Professor, History of Science, Harvard). The first is the essay that got the whole conversation started around how something as diffuse as “the environment” comes to be seen (and at the same time obscured), entitled “Unknown Quantities,” published in Artforum November 2010. The second is “How Images Obscure the Anthropocene, or How Not to See” (a work in progress). To receive the papers, please register by clicking on the button below. A link to download the papers will be sent to your email address.

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Graduate seminar : Invisibilities, or How Not to See the Anthropocene
May 2nd 3PM @ EV 11.705

Abstract: Collaborating across our domains as historians (of science, of art), we inquire into the intellectual, technical, and cultural histories of recent operative images of environmental disaster. We are interested in how something as diffuse as “the environment” comes to be seen, and how contemporary images also obscure. Just as every statement requires a silence to render it audible, so regimes of the visible require invisibilities: blanks and voids that shadow and adumbrate what we see and “know.” Contemporary images necessarily call on cultures of seeing and traditions honed through centuries of landscapes, summoning genre and the aesthetics of the sublime. We pursue specific case studies to assess how the visibility operates to produce specific kinds of knowledge, and functional ignorance. Under water, on the ground, and in the air, images proliferate; states and corporations attempt to control the visual narrative, even as activists and scientists rely on images as never before. Inevitably, we encounter the special challenge presented to humans by new “senses” of planetary alteration. How can humans make visible global systemic effects, which transcend normal registers of visual culture in their temporal and spatial scales? Ultimately, we argue for a mesh of cultural and technical operations that feed imaginaries, incorporating olfactory, haptic, microbial, ethical, and data-driven modes of being. Visibilities alone are not enough.

Plenary address : Sensing Symbiontics, or, being with archaeo-bacteria
May 3rd 6PM @ EV 1.605

Abstract: “Symbiontics” is a portmanteau for a polemic: let us set a new goal for our cultural evolution, in collaboration with the earth systems and multiplied species on which we utterly depend. Symbiosis, in my polemic, is that which is, hence “ontic” in the terms of technical philosophy. Symbiontics is thus how life is organized into its reality, whether or not we humans can perceive that “given” with our partial system of consciousness. Thinking with a range of contemporary art works that lead us in the right direction, I explore how sensory studies can serve as the opening wedge for a critique and an awakening, through which the obsessions of Western philosophy (privileging the phantasmagorical “individual,” his “rational mind,” and his “internal representations”) might finally be set aside. In the clearing thus produced, we might glimpse, touch, taste, smell, and hum with that which is, (ontics). Sensing the message of evolution, we might be able to resonate with the fact that we are cooperative amalgams of anerobic single-celled organisms and other archaeobacteria, further porting a swarm of bacteria that monitor our mood, digest our food, and provide a constant stream of information to our immune system. Knowing that our sensory cells derive from ancient partnerships formed with spirochetic bacteria, whose wriggling chemical and electromagnetic sensitivities give us our haptic, auditory, olfactory, and retinal access to the world, informs symbiontics’ polemic. It also deepens aesthetic understandings of contemporary bio-art in a variety of new media installations. Can we use our strange tools of art (Noë) and cultural discourse to open ourselves to these resonant frequencies, these ancient collaborators within? I argue for a collective imaginary: to feel symbiosis as the truer order of things, letting sensory studies lead us to new visceral certainty about our interspecies dependencies.

Followed by a “A Feast for the Senses” reception.




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