The 2012 Visual Studies Conference of the University of California, Irvine
The Aesthetics of Austerity
The current historical moment is dominated by arguments over the continued aftermath and threat of recession, rising deficits and spending cuts. In a word, "austerity" governs the tenor of our times. Although the term is traditionally equated with economic policy, austerity is articulated in a multitude of different ways across culture. That is, austerity speaks to creative practices and forms of living that—while sometimes intimately connected to capital—constitute alternative approaches and theories within extreme economies.
This conference is concerned with austerity not only in its traditional economic sense, but also in terms of its other usages: What are the implications of shrinking budgets for art institutions and the humanities in general? How is the threat of debt mobilized in various venues (political, religious, aesthetic)? In what ways is economic uncertainty reflected in popular culture? How are "cuts"—both those from outside and/or those that are self-imposed—explored in the visual arts, as well as everyday practices? Do alternative techniques and strategies present substantive challenges to prevailing notions of austerity or do they function as the other side of the same coin? What shape(s) does opposition to state-led austerity measures take, both in the political and aesthetic spheres? Just as austerity is immediately representative of the contemporary moment, the notion of exploring possibilities within the limits of dwindling resources, of "doing something with nothing," has a longstanding history. This conference welcomes papers on present concerns, as well as works that address different historical moments and forms of austerity. We hope to receive submissions from across the humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural and technological sciences which engage issues of vision, visibility, and visuality, including (but not limited to) gender and sexuality studies, critical theory, ethnic and cultural studies, history, anthropology, sociology, environmental studies, literature and language studies, information and technology studies, philosophy, political science, classics, art history, and film and media studies.
Abstracts—of no longer than 350 words—are due on January 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm to email@example.com. Please include a one-page CV that demonstrates your research interests.
DEADLINE HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO FEBRUARY 1st, 2013.
"End Times"/Dystopia: threats of economic apocalypse; political mobilization of fear; uncertainty as dread; conspiracies; representations of riots and/or protests; a return to nationalism and/or the resurgence in extremism.
Communalism/Communization: cooperative living/production/consumption; political accusations of communism/socialism; Occupy Movements and student protests.
Local Ecologies/Localization: a return to environmental stewardship; urban vs. rural poverty; erotics of urban decay; community development corporations; community supported agriculture (CSA) and localized sourcing.
Accumulation/Waste: hoarding; transnational circuits of garbage; minimal living; unconsumption; cultures of collecting; archive fever(s); storage (digital and/or analog).
Preservation/Decay: Aesthetics andfetishization of ruins; wasteland as tourist site; preservation versus progress; "creative destruction"; data loss/recovery; object ethnography; life cycle(s).
Self-Imposed Limitations: Austerity driven by a shared set of principles (e.g., formalism/minimalism/functionalism); medium specificity and sensory deprivation in art and art criticism; the aesthetics of information; communication versus silence and noise.
Currency: The role of symbolic representation in systems of economic exchange; the cache of timeliness; self-promotion and upward mobility; “buying in” versus “selling out.”
Romanticization of Poverty: issues of visibility/ventriloquism; blue-collar chic; the creative class and urban policy; popular imagination and simpler times/nostalgia; representations of the poor.
Cultures of Lux: the Gilded Age; the fetishization of wealth; hoarding; contemporary Horacio Algers myths; reality TV and celebrity culture.
Amateurism/Do-It-Yourself Movement: democratization of skill; urban homesteading; amateur marketplaces; low mediums and creative practices; templated creativity; the lure of the handmade and the artisanal.
Alternative Institutions: navigating shrinking funding; institutional critique; pop-up/temporary spaces; crowd-sourced funding; collaborations between established and emerging spaces.
Octopus is back for a new academic year! Stay tuned for new posts and content from the graduate students in the Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine. In the meantime, join us for some "Visual Thinking."
by Erik Watschke, University of California, Irvine, Visual Studies
Hugo (2011) is the story of an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) who hides out from authorities in the superstructure of a Paris train station circa 1930. When not winding the clocks of the station, the boy spends his time attempting to bring to life an automaton piece by piece. Hugo, it seems, is convinced his father left some profound final message encoded within this mechanical man, but Hugo's efforts come to a halt when a mysterious old toy maker (Ben Kingsley) intevenes and sets him on an adventure of discovery. The more Hugo learns about the toy maker, the more their destinies intertwine, and—as a result—the more the film drifts into an overt fascination with the silent cinema.
During the course of Hugo's investigation, the essential message of Martin Scorsese’s film becomes clear when a film scholar (Michael Stuhlbarg) remarks to Hugo that “time has not been kind to old movies.” Indeed, what Scorsese’s film presents is the most explicit self-reflexivity encountered in Hollywood cinema in recent memory—even film scholars and the most casual entertainment-seeking filmgoer are confronted here. A lingering question remains: what is the ultimate effect of framing reflexivity in this way?
In comparison to The Artist (2011), the film that, to some, “robbed” Hugo of its prize this February, the self-reflexivity in Scorsese’s film takes him out of the proverbial three worlds of the cinema (production, distribution, exhibition) and into the lair of the archivist. And, in so doing, he stands philosophically neutral on the actual processes of the entrepreneurial industry and merely chastises the museum in its stead. The filmmaker is still adamant to prove, as if any still had doubt, that no one loves cinema as he does.
But this is not the problem. Though I have previously argued that The Artist amounts to formal and narrative mastery without a soul, an opposing force emerges here: Hugo is all soul, no mastery—a veritable two-hour infomercial for the Scorsese film foundation. This message is brought in through the back door, however, as the first act of the film meanders around the boy and his robot, only subsequently (and abruptly) changing subjects to “the movies.” Only film historians who are immediately struck with familiarity upon seeing the toy maker might experience the first section of the film otherwise. The film might actually have been better—all other things being equal—if it had been titled “Georges” rather than “Hugo”.
A difficult premise arises: ‘movies are so magical that they are worthy of intense, explicit celebration, yet this is more than most audiences will be able to handle up-front.’ While such a problematic argument might indeed warrant consideration in a critically reflexive film, its counterpart in the serenely cinephilic text is absurd. People who have paid money to sit in a theater and watch a film are doing so because something about the art of film is appealing to them; they like movies, they do not need to be tricked into accepting this notion. And if this is really your end-game goal, then perhaps there is higher striving to be done.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson, in consultation with Scorsese, certainly understands how to fully exploit deep space in conjunction with 3D technology in virtually every shot. Nevertheless, some traditional cinematographic wisdom fails them both here. For instance, racking focus, so as to draw attention to something in the extreme background, becomes ineffective when a gigantic blurry object protrudes off the screen into the faces of the audience simultaneously.
One of the most troubling conceits is the 3D conversion of several silent cinema works presented in the film’s finale. Up to this moment, the movies watched by the characters have been graciously presented in their unadulterated 2D form—is this is not, after all, the point of showing the films? That, for these films, there is something magical that needs to be preserved in its original form? In this vein, the only error more egregious than these formal alterations of the presented diegetic films is the revisionist history of filmmakers’ lives that further corrupts the cinephilic message. If the argument concerns championing a forgotten history of silent filmmakers, then the least the film can do is get the history right. Instead the historical development of early cinema is warped to better suit the tragic beats of Scorsese’s fantasy tale.
Unfortunate is the way in which the industry elevated Hugo (in a manner that only the most stubborn apologist could resist as anything except shameful self-promotion) to the level of absolute greatness. Or, conversely, critics and insiders lowered Scorsese to the level of their usual preoccupations: typically, the most attention around Oscar time revolves around artists working ‘out of their element,’ as if that alone should suffice to warrant acclaim. Hugo is no exception to this treatise. But, in the Hollywood cinema of the last thirty years, Martin Scorsese has never tried to be Robert Zemeckis, and such an ambition should not be so disingenuously supported by the Academy. In the quest to determine whether the violent and gritty Marty can pull off a magical, enchanting, feel-good movie of the year, critics might stop to ask whether he should.
Ultimately, no one has done more for (and spent a hundred and fifty million dollars in the creation of a blockbuster motion picture simply to raise awareness of) film preservation than Scorsese. This is what makes Hugo a noble endeavor. Not its writing, acting, editing, or cinematography, but its overwhelming passion for the cinema—a passion that cannot be contained by the explosive contrivances of the film itself.
2012 Visual Studies Graduate Student Conference
The Graduate Program in Visual Studies at UC Irvine is pleased to present a two-day conference on constructing worlds. The conference program includes work that addresses constructed worlds in all their visual manifestations, taking into account the introduction of various technological, philosophical, and political developments in our contemporary cultural discourse which contain the power to not only construct new worlds, but also to redefine and destroy existing ones.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
LOCATION: HG 1030 (UCI)
WORLDING SHOWCASE (PechaKucha Night)
6:30pm Opening Reception
7:00pm – 8:30pm Presentations [6 minutes, 40 seconds per presentation]
- Anna Kryczka (Visual Studies, UCI) and Robbie Kett (Anthropology, UCI) - Learning by Doing: Embodied/Material Encounters at the Farm
- Diego Costa (Interdivisional Media Arts and Practice (iMap), USC) - Planeta Xuxa: Notes On The Sexuality of Brazilian Children
- Sam Close (Visual Studies, UCI) - Out of Character: Traces of the Real Spider-Man
- Meredith Goldsmith (Visual Studies, UCI) - What is a Global Body?
- Ellie Harmon (Informatics, UCI) - Smartphone: Entangled Stories of Users and Technologies
- Flora Kao (MFA, UCI) - Topophilia
- Kristen Galvin (Visual Studies, UCI) - Downtown
- Janny Li (Anthropology, UCI) - Spectral Science: Into the Experimental World of Ghost Hunters
- Jennifer Gutierrez (Comparative Literature, UCI) - Rambling in the Coatlicue State
- Marcel Brousseau (Comparative Literature, UCSB) - Cowboys, Indians, Posthuman Dynamos!: Machinic (other)Worlding in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West
- Jaclyn Simon (Comparative Literature, USC) - Gómez-Peña: Poetic Communities Inhabiting the Terrain of the Imagination
- Christina Spiker (Visual Studies, UCI) - "When My Clothes Came to an End I Did Without Them": Going Native in Hokkaido, Japan
- Shane Breitenstein (Visual Studies, UCI) - Cruising the Suburbs: Public Sex in Disciplined Spaces
8:30pm – 9:00pm Q&A
Friday, April 6, 2012
LOCATION: HG 1010 (UCI)
CONFERENCE: Constructing Worlds: Making and Breaking Order
9:45am Opening Remarks
10:00am - 12:00pm Panel I: Encounters
- Jessica D. Kaplan (Anthropology, UC Santa Barbara)
Entanglement and ideologies of landscape: responses to a Wari presence in Nasca, Peru
- Hannah Goodwin (Film and Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara)
Between Maps and the Marvelous: Geographies of Outer Space in the Hubble Space Telescope’s Images
- Ksenia Fedorova (Cultural Studies Graduate Program, UC Davis)
Media Art Worlds. Strategies of Immersion
- Philip A. Lobo (Comparative Literature, University of Southern California)
Modeling Modernity: Word Building Practices in Nostromo and Tropico
Respondent: Bert Winther-Tamaki, Professor of Art History
12:00pm – 1:00pm Lunch Break
1:15pm – 3:00pm Panel II: Regulation
- Jennifer Grayburn (History of Art and Architecture, University of Virginia)
Constructing Power: St. Magnus Cathedral and the Medieval North Sea World
- Nick Welcome (Cultural Anthropology, UC Riverside)
The Smell of Petroleum: Signs of Contamination and the Un/Making of Toxic Worlds
- May Ee Wong (Cultural Studies Graduate Program, UC Davis)
Targeting Theory: Criticality and the City
Respondent: Lucas Hilderbrand, Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies
[15 minute coffee break]
3:15pm - 5:15pm Panel III: Breakdown
- Steven A. Malcic (Film & Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara)
Toward a Filmic Cartography of Spatial Practice: Separation and The Locative
- Steven G. Anderson (History, UC Riverside)
The Digital Ether: Deconstructing the Historical (Im)materiality of the Digital World
- Eric P. S. K. Morrill (Visual Studies, UC Irvine)
How To (Fail to) Build Meaning in Performing “Life”: Allan Kaprow’s Household (1964)
- A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz (Media Arts and Practice, School of Cinematic Arts,University of Southern California)
Minecraft Memorials: Deconstructing Virtual Worlds Through Artistic Interventions
Respondent: Peter Krapp, Professor of Film & Media Studies
[15 minute coffee break]
5:30pm – 7:00pm Keynote Address
- Lisa Parks, Professor of Film & Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara
The World from Above: Networked Visions of the US Drone War in Pakistan
Respondent: Victoria E. Johnson, Associate Professor and Chair of Film & Media Studies
7:00pm - 8:00pm Closing Reception