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Visual Culture in and out of Crisis

Two-Day International Symposium, Fall 2017 (Thursday, October 19 - Friday, October 20) 

Rutgers University - New Brunswick, College Avenue Campus

Sponsored by the SAS J&R Pane Fund and the Department of Italian 

Co-sponsors: AMESALL; Art History; Cinema Studies; Comparative Literature; English; French; German, Slavic, and East European Languages and Literatures; SAS Honors Program; Spanish & Portuguese; Center for African Studies; Center for European Studies

FINAL Visual Culture Symposium Poster 1Contact: Rhiannon Noel Welch

"Crisis is an omnipresent sign in almost all forms of narrative today; it is mobilized as the defining category of historical situations, past and present. […] [W]hen crisis is posited as the very condition of contemporary situations, is it not the case that certain questions become possible while others are foreclosed?"
--Janet Roitman

"[A] dialectical concept of visual culture cannot rest content with a definition of its object as the social construction of the visual field, but must insist on exploring the chiastic reversal of this proposition, the visual construction of the social field. It is not just that we see the way we do because we are social animals, but also that our social arrangements take the forms they do because we are seeing animals."
--WJT Mitchell  

Today, crisis abounds. From the US presidency to ecological disaster, state violence, economic collapse, and the mass migration of millions of vulnerable people, we are living in what Paul Rabinow has called a “crisis epoch.”

In times of crisis, access to catastrophic national and global events is overwhelmingly sought with recourse to the visual. Photography, film, video, and other visual media are called upon variously to authenticate experience, elicit belief, and/or mediate tensions between presence and absence. And yet, visual culture also necessarily exceeds its status as mere evidence, engendering additional forms of knowledge and experience. 

The goals of this symposium are first, to ask about the ubiquity of crisis narratives, about what demands they make and what sorts of temporalities and ontologies they posit, and about how and when such narratives stumble or fall short; second, to explore how a variety of ‘crises’ are depicted, problematized, and/or elicited through visual culture (photography, film, video, public art, multimedia installation, etc.); and finally, to address the numerous theoretical and ethical questions that arise from our daily encounters with the visual in times so persistently characterized by crisis.

Among the questions the symposium poses are: what concrete work does ‘crisis’ as a category perform? What sorts of expectations, interests, and subjectivities does crisis produce? What experiences and ontologies exceed the register of crisis? What is the ‘time’ of crisis, and how are its temporalities inscribed in visual media? How is crisis made visible, and which aspects of crisis resist visualization? What sorts of knowledge do visual narratives of crisis both enable and foreclose? What sorts of viewers are produced—implicitly or explicitly—by crisis? Are there ‘proper’ boundaries between aesthetics and politics, or between art and documentation, when depicting catastrophic events? Is the documentary the most apt mode for ‘capturing’ crisis? What sorts of access to events do narrative, abstract, or aesthetic forms provide that a strictly documentary mode might eschew? Where are the lines between documenting injustice and aestheticizing suffering, or between ethical looking and voyeurism?

KEYNOTE: Janet Roitman, Anthropology
New School

Symposium in conjunction with Interdisciplinary Honors Seminar (Fall 2017): Visual Culture and Crisis (Prof. Rhiannon Noel Welch)

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Department of Italian
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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New Brunswick, NJ 08901

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