Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bard Graduate Center's Gallery and Lecture (Updated)

Left: Image From the Bard Graduate Center's catalog on the Objects of Exchange exhibit
This week, instead of our traditional readings and discussion, we are attending the Bard Graduate Center's lecture on their Objects of Exchange exhibit. While this post will be updated after the lecture reviewing what was heard, I wanted to provide two areas of thought pertaining to the exhibit: the nature of a "Focus Gallery" and the use of media in the exhibit.

At the BGC’s gallery, there are two exhibitions being shown: Objects of Exchange and Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. The largeness of the Cloisonné exhibit with its variety of objects, both in size and style, emphasizes the intimate setting of the focus gallery. Additionally, there is a further separation between the two exhibits as seen in the use of captions. In the Cloisonné exhibit, the captioned titles are focused more upon the design elements and process of fabrication than the cultural importance of the piece. The Objects of Exchange captions encourage the reader to delve further into the cultural significance and construction but assume no familiarity with the topic. They refer to a multiplicity of objectifying angles, ranging from the materials, to the smell and noticeable wear indicating regular usage in distinct items, and the cultural and societal background from which the object was produced. The differences in captions can lead one to interpret the Focus Gallery as more academic, especially when observed in conjunction with the fact that this gallery
was the culmination of a research seminar with the professor curating the exhibit and the students providing the research.
  • What are some of the critiques or observations as to the display of the objects, the layout of the gallery, etc?

An Interactive Tag Cloud is located in the entry, and is one of the few media devices used by the Gallery. The screen with the Cloud is one of the first elements to emphasize the conceptual themes of the “Objects of Exchange” exhibit and the academic nature of the Focus Gallery by showing the objects and their thematic tags: Christianity, diffusion, English text, Hudson’s Bay Company, hybridity, indigenization, misidentification, models, mortuary, multiples, non-canonical, repurposing, ship imagery, souvenir, and transformation. Rather than rigidly defining the thematic purpose of particular objects, the curators explore the multiple themes each object can embody. In such a small, focused gallery, it was surprising to see the use of personalized media in both the form of the flat screen “Cloud,” as well as three small screens placed within the exhibit.
  • What does the increased use of different technologies bring to the exhibit? Are there any weaknesses or problems that are presented by such technologies?

Symposium Review:
To open the Symposium there were the traditional introductions about the exhibit and some of the people involved. However, there was a notable
difference from other symposia, the singing of a victory song by two of the participants. I thought it was poignant as it marked the inclusiveness and variety of view that the gallery presented being celebrated by two Native American participants as a victory in the portrayal of their people and their colonial history.

Throughout several of the speakers, the multiplicity of meaning, explanation and history was emphasized, namely the mutability of an object's portrayal in a museum or exhibitive space. Other themes that seemed repetitive were the reframing of perspectives on colonialism and assimilation, concepts of integrity/authenticity, idea of privileged knowledge. Having stayed for the presentations by Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Megan Smetzer, and Mique'l Askren, I will write a few words about each presentation.

Kathryn Bunn-Marcus, Heavy Metal: The Weighty Meanings of Northwest Coast Jewelry
  • "We wear our history"
  • In this presentation, we heard not only about the meanings of jewelry, but the experience of objects and their meanings within their culture. In this presentation we heard that objects aren't what they were made to be but what they become, they function in multiple contexts and create multiple, and sometimes conflicting, identities within a community, objects that become ceremonial, economic trade items, etc. Jewelry in the communities spoken about are tied to human effort, not only in their creation, but in the sustaining cultural meanings, social roles.
Megan Smetzer, Creating Beauty from Pain: The Ambivalence of Tlingit Beadwork
Below: Rebecca Belmore's Fringe




  • Beads are a symbol of both beauty and pain, they are a European good that created beautiful objects, however, with beads come European ideas of colonial assimilation and diseases. The indiginization of materials create objects that are worthy of collecting, becoming regalia, and later, subversive works of art such as Nadia Myre's Indian Act.
Mique'l Askren, Choreographing Photography : Issues of Practice and Praxis in Leading the Git Hayetsk Dancers
  • Praxis: Acts of transferring knowledge and history. Practice: not rehearsal, but the active engagement of cultural practices.
  • In this presentation we heard about a dance group, who preform their identity, politics and history. Dancing was not merely the movement of bodies to music but the assertion of ceremonial events, protocols and histories, dances can be used as gifts, a way of extending a culture's rights and privileges beyond their own land. The Dancers are continually extend themselves and write selves into new histories each time they perform.
  • One dance that was brought up was the Visual Sovereignty Dance

What concepts do you think were important to the symposium or in the presentation of Native American artworks? Were there anything that was interesting, disturbing, enlightening in the presentations given by the speakers? Anything you think ought to have been addressed?

1 comment:

  1. In my own personal opinion, I really enjoyed the Visual Sovreignity Dance. As a photographer, I found it fascinating that Mique'l Askren incorporated photography into her culture's history. In most museums, we see photographs, but those don't seem to be placed into context, we don't know what social place the photographer occupied in a culture, what was the photographer's identity and his or her own place in participating in that respective culture. I found this particular presentation really interesting because it not only combined two practices (photography and dance) but brought them into a modern understanding and interpretation of tribal history.

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