Exhibition essay for The Liveliest of Elements, an Ordinary Extraordinary Material, Durham Castle and Woodhorn
The Laura Harrington full essay is now online at DRO
Annual lecture in Constructions of Knowledge: Photography and the Matter of Sensory Evidence: The Kansas Wind and Power Project
Centre for Visual Arts and Culture Public Lecture: Professor Lisa Cartwright ‘Constructions of Knowledge: Photography and the Matter of Sensory Evidence: The Kansas Wind and Power Project’, Tuesday 27 October 2015
A multi-year sensory ethnography by Professor Lisa Cartwright (University of California, San Diego), and photojournalist Steven Rubin (Pennsylvania State University), explored the transformation of the experience of everyday life and the agricultural landscape in the US state of Kansas, over a five-year period of technological changes and the emergence of new energy infrastructures.
Since 2009, Cartwright and Rubin have been documenting the interaction between community members and technology, in relation to the use of wind as a source of power to be “harvested” through a new energy infrastructure built on farmland that continues to be worked in conventional agricultural ways. Photography is therefore employed as a tool to document the negotiation of land crops and wind crops, and their respective technologies, allowing this study to explore the interrelationships between the energy industry and agriculture, but also reflecting on the power relationships between wind-rich and wind-poor towns, across farms and between farm owners and wind technicians, as they learn to adapt in a rapidly changing technological landscape.
The lecture was organised by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) and the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS), as part of their ‘Visual Evidence Series’.
Interview with Professor Lisa Cartwright
Q: Could you please provide a brief summary of what your paper will explore today?
A: The paper is drawn from a sensory ethnography that I conducted with photographer Steven Rubin, who is a former photojournalist and has worked globally on various human rights traditional photography projects, and who near the middle of his journalism career begun training in fine arts to bring a conceptual fine art dimension to his practice. We’ve collaborated since 2009, studying the technological transformation of the agricultural landscape of the American part land, where green and kettle region is being transformed into what is now being called the wind belt. The content of this study is to look at that social transformation and to try to get a sense over time about the impact on lives in the region, including the lives of people who were brought in to build the wind installations. We also have a formal interest in addressing the potential of photography as a form of documentation, so it is also a reflexive project.
Q: What innovation does this project allow in it involving an art form as a tool for research?
A: It is interesting that you use the word ‘innovation’, as part of our interest is to counter the focus of moving onto new forms and using cutting-edge forms of documentation. We are trying to go back to forms that are thoroughly conventional like the photo-realist approach of the new topographers from the mid century to the 1970s, who were documenting industrial changes in industrial transformation and reclaiming those approaches is a counter to the kind of documentation that ranges from film and video intervention and raises political issues to the use of digital technologies as well as digital storytelling and digital imaging.
Q: What are the underpinning ethical considerations regarding the use of such media as a research tool?
A: There are a number of different ethical concerns that we have regarding technologies of documentation. We are trying not to put forward the idea that the people in the region will speak the ‘truth’, so we are not using video clips of people telling their stories, rather we are trying to explore our focus of people and work, and to interpret that focus through the landscape and the impact on the land itself, as it functions as a register of changed lives. Hence we are trying to use and lean heavily on the genre of landscape photography to tell the story of the transformation of lives and to find evidence in the landscape about human experience, rather than turning to things like lined faces and struggling bodies.
Nelli Stavropoulou November 2015
CVAC and IAS Visual Evidence Series: Understanding Visual Evidence 1 Workshop – 27 – 28 October 2015
What constitutes “Visual Evidence”? In what ways do images, visual objects and visualizations help us to broaden our horizons and facilitate our understanding of the world around us? How do we define visual evidence and how do we relate to, employ and interpret it? These questions, among others, were addressed and discussed in the first CVAC and IAS workshop of the “Visual Evidence Series”.
The workshop series are facilitated by the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) and the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures (CVAC) at Durham. The workshops are offered in conjunction with the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) and provide an excellent framework for the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary exploration of the theme “Visual Evidence”.
Four panels addressing the fields of “medicine”, “environments”, “economics” and “history/documentary” were held, followed by a plenary discussion after each panel. A wide range of departments and staff members from the University of Durham were involved with stimulating presentations on such diverse topics as visualisations of sexuality and reproduction in biology teaching books; visualisations of weather and climate in meteorology; the socio-historical periodisation and aftermath of propaganda and commentary in political cartoon and caricature; and the “seductive powers” of visual and material evidence in archaeology.
Particular highlights of the workshop included the talks by external speakers Professor Mary Morgan (LSE and Amsterdam) on statistics and data used as visual evidence in economics and Professor Lisa Cartwright’s exploration of visual evidence in analysing and categorising viruses. Lisa Cartwright, who is professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, raised questions of intersectionality as well as drawing the audience’s attention to the performance and decision-making process that applies to the use and understanding of visual images. All panels reflected on the question of what constitutes visual evidence and whether we are able to distinguish between visualizations of evidence and visual evidence itself.
Following from this first workshop, awareness for key terms and the vocabulary we use to describe and interpret visual evidence has been fostered. Furthermore, the workshop has clearly contributed to our understanding of how evidence is understood and employed across a range of different fields and departments. Thus, the workshop has successfully given us a platform for future events as well as providing a basis for a continuous interdisciplinary dialogue on “Visual Evidence”. The series will be continued with the next workshop on “Visual Evidence, Museums and Knowledge” on 17th and 18th November 2015.
The Symposium was organised in relation to the Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal exhibition, which was created in collaboration with the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent.
This has been the first retrospective exhibition in the UK to present a display of the French fashion designer’s work and life. The exhibition offers an insight into the designer’s vision, his passion and unique sense of style, as well as shows the significant influence his work has had on fashion.
The ‘Filming Fashion: Fashion and Film‘ Symposium welcomed an eclectic selection of academics and postgraduate researchers whose work explores Yves Saint Laurent’s creations, the relationship between fashion and film, couture, costume design and fashion photography among other topics.
The symposium opened with key note speaker Stella Bruzzi’s (University of Warwick) paper on the collaboration between Yves-Saint Laurent and French actress Catherine Deneuve, drawing on examples from the films Belle de Jour (1967) and La Sirène du Mississipi (1969), while discussing the different ways of seeing costume and the performative relationship between clothes and the female body in movement. The keynote was chaired by Jo Fox (CVAC, Durham University).
The keynote was followed by a roundtable discussion ‘Fashion and Film’ including provocations by postgraduate researchers Alexis Romano (The Courtauld Institute of Art), Jo Stephenson (Queen Mary University of London), and NJ Stevenson (London College of Fashion), and was chaired by Caroline Evans (University of Arts, London).
Second keynote speaker Allistair O’Neill (University of the Arts, London) explored the cinematic world of Yves Saint Laurent, and in particular the interplay between reality and the realm of imagination, referring to iconic fashion photographs such as ‘Dovima with Elephants’ (1955), and the ‘Opium’ and ‘Belle Helaine’ perfume advertisements, as well as exploring the ‘private world’ promised by Yves Saint Laurent, and the notion of ‘gift’. The keynote was chaired by assistant curator Hannah Jackson (Fashion & Textiles, Bowes Museum).
The second roundtable discussion ‘Fashion and Film: New Directions’ addressed the changing nature of celebrity culture and the interrelationship between fashion and lifestyle, including provocations by Cheryl Buckley (University of Brighton), Pamela Church Gibson (London College of Fashion) and Tamar Jeffers McDonald (University of Kent), and was chaired by Janet Stewart (CVAC, Durham University).
The presentations were followed by a private screening of the French biographic film Yves Saint Laurent, directed by Jalil Lespert (2014), offering an honest look at the life of designer Yves Saint Laurent from the beginning of his extraordinary career in 1958 and his relationship with his lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé.
The day concluded with a private tour of the exhibition Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal, presenting a collection of fifty garments and accessories, including iconic dresses from the Russian Collection and the Mondrian Dress.
The exhibition unfolds across three different spaces, inhabiting most of the museum’s first floor, opening up a dialogue with The Bowes Museum’s existing collection, hence allowing a narrative exploration of the history of fashion.
The exhibition showcases the diverse influences of Yves Saint Laurent and his evolving creative style throughout his career as he experiments with different materials, colour palettes, designs and notions of transparency, simplicity, and the masculine/feminine.
“Fashion fades, style is eternal” Yves Saint Laurent once said, and this exhibition succeeds in communicating his eternal style and unique vision, experienced through each signature piece.
Nelli Stavropoulou October 2015