2013 MRPS AND THESES
WINNER OF THE CADN OUTSTANDING WRITING AWARD 2013
Why Look at Dead Animals? Taxidermy in Contemporary Art
Vanessa Mae Bateman
Current artists who engage with the historical traditions of taxidermy are producing works that comment on the ways in which animals are regarded and used. This MRP specifically focuses on “natural taxidermy” in art: animal objects that blur the boundaries between art and nature. Artists using taxidermied specimens in their work ask the viewer to think about institutional framing of “nature” and animal life in the discourse of natural history, museum display, and our contemporary relationship to the animal specimens that often remain forgotten or neglected in the back rooms of institutions. The Marvelous Museum by Mark Dion (2010) reclaimed “life” in the forgotten “orphans” in the storage rooms of the Oakland Museum of California through museum intervention. The project Nanoq: flat out and bluesome (2001-2006) by artist duo Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson sought to find all remaining taxidermied polar bears in the British Isles and attempted to renegotiate these “animal things” through photography and installation. The interventions these artists make through the use of taxidermy point to our changing historical relationship with animals, and the history of the production of the specimen by regimes of taxonomy, collecting, and display.
G.I. Jane Doe: Witnessing War in the Exhibition Overlooked/Looked Over
The 2012 exhibition Overlooked/Looked Over at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago presented the work of eight female veterans and provided an opportunity for viewers to bear witness to the trauma experienced by women in the United States Military as well as a place for the viewer to observe their trauma in ways that did not spectacularize the women’s experience or the art it self. Through an analysis of the exhibition this MRP explores how art practices can enact and facilitate new modes of testimony and witnessing, and argues that the works in this exhibit do so in relation to both the testimonies of the survivor and the role of the viewer as listener. To illustrate the survivor/listener framework this MRP concentrates on two works in particular: the Fatigues Clothesline by Regina Vasquez and Uncovering My Crime Scene by Erica Slone. Art, as observed in this exhibition, creates a site to enable testimony and witnessing that exposes the trauma experienced by women in the United States Military.
WINNER OF THE CADN ACADEMIC MERIT AWARD 2013
Canadian Graphic Design in the 1950s and 1960s: The Shaping of a Profession
This MRP explores the growth of a professional design community in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s by focusing on two collaborations among graphic designers in the postwar period: the Canadian Typography exhibitions (1958-1964) and the international typographic exhibition Typomundus 20 (1963-1966). These exhibitions helped to produce and publicize a new discourse that allowed Canadian typographers and communication designers to think of themselves as belonging to a unified, distinct community of “graphic designers.” Specifically, the exhibitions encouraged professional cohesion by promoting reflection on the status and role of graphic design with respect to high art, mass communication, and society at large, by advancing a set of professional standards through expert judging and education, and by facilitating an exchange of ideas between Canadian professionals and the international graphic design community. Finally, this MRP clarifies the important role played by Marshall McLuhan’s ideas in these developments.
Now You See Me, No You Don’t: Lorna Simpson and a Pin-Up’s Photographs
This MRP examines the complexities of identification and historical representations embedded in African-American contemporary artist Lorna Simpson’s work LA-57 NY-09 (2009). I argue that this work challenges the ways in which photography has been used since the nineteenth century to fix African-American women as racial types such as Mammy, Jezebel and Hottentot. I propose that because black female bodies are marked by these historically constructed racial stereotypes, both Simpson and the anonymous model can only perform an inevitably unsuccessful masquerade of (white) femininity, in this case, represented by the pin-up genre. By employing the masquerade, Simpson also engages with self-portraiture, which is expected to reveal a subject’s inner and coherent self. But the artist thwarts this expectation through the masquerade, troubling the fantasy of a unitary self and instead revealing black female subjectivity to be a complex and multi-layered set of constructions.
WINNER OF THE CADN ACADEMIC MERIT AWARD 2013
Crafting Modern China: The Revival of Yixing Pottery
Chunmei Li (Jessica)
The revival of Chinese pottery tradition from Yixing (I-hsing) after the Chinese Cultural Revolution raises a series of questions on cultural production, history, and cultural identity in post-Mao China. The study of Yixing pottery reveals China’s transformation from a mode of production dominated by communist ideology and planned economy to a new era marked by a type of hybrid ideological and economic system. This essay argues that Yixing pottery is a politicized artifact, in which the politics of value and the politics of identity arise from the commodification and ideological appropriation of revitalized traditions. Yixing pottery is culturally informed; socially practiced; politically charged; and commercially contaminated. The contemporary cultural significance of Yixing pottery reveals an irony: the destruction of traditional culture in Mao’s red China is redefined by the reconstruction of socialist culture in China’s rise as a new world power.
Performing (Inter)Nationalism: The Restoration of the Český Krumlov Castle Theatre
This MRP positions the restoration of the Czech Republic’s Český Krumlov Castle Theatre as a politicized site upon which UNESCO’s internationalism and the State Party’s (the term given by UNESCO to the local interests that govern the restoration) competing nationalism are played out. Through the histories of the Castle Theatre’s imperial origin, the development of contemporary Czech nationalism, and UNESCO’s post-WWII internationalism, this MRP explores the roots of UNESCO and the State Party’s respective political positions, and how they are performed on the site of the Castle Theatre. These political performances are illustrated through the two parties’ debates over tourism and the Revolving Theatre, and complicated by UNESCO’s recent acceptance of intangible cultural heritage.
Seduced by Form: Aesthetics of Spectacle in Contemporary Art Museum Architecture
This MRP examines strategies behind the radical structural reshaping of contemporary art museum architecture in the last three decades. Focusing on exemplary art institutions such as the Pompidou Centre, the New Stuttgart National Gallery, the Bilbao Guggenheim, the Graz Art Museum and the New Hamilton Wing at the Denver Art Museum, a new paradigm shift in architectural aesthetics is being interrogated that positions contemporary art museum buildings (such as these) in an idealized state as objects of art; atmospherically enhanced and theatrically staged masterpieces.
Immaterealities of Dematerialisation in Contemporary Art and Finance
This MRP is an in-depth examination of two artworks: Crisis in the Credit System (2008) by Melanie Gilligan and Inventory (2007) by Carey Young. These works are positioned as successful critiques of contemporary speculative capitalism. This criticality stems from the work’s ability to engage the institution and the economy as a network, which itself functions through language. With Crisis in the Credit System, art acts out finance. Gilligan’s film takes the familiar signs and symbols of capitalism as it script, yet with narrative exposes the abstraction of this vocabulary. With Inventory, art acts as finance. Young’s work assigns a value to the artist’s body based on a chemical breakdown of the body’s constituent elements, which then become the offer prices of the artwork. The artist and the work thereby adopt the role of financial products. Through irony, these two works question processes of signification and meaning in the financial capitalism.
Borders in the City and the Cosmopolitan Imagination
This MRP explores the ways in which Ayesha Hameed and Anita Schoepp’s performance project Borders in the City engages with colonial difference in Quebec, as well as how it pursues a cosmopolitan agenda. The description of the artwork draws on the published information about the work, as well as an interview with Ayesha Hameed, conducted by the author. Themes of French-Canadian identity and racism are explored by analyzing the public forums and final report of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission. Identity and difference are then explained as products of colonial difference, which can be overcome by working towards Walter Mignolo’s critical cosmopolitan. Finally, a connection is drawn between aesthetic and cosmopolitanism, and Borders in the City is used as an illustration of the ways in which artwork can be used a means of re-imagining the social ecology in order to pursue critical cosmopolitanism.