R. Imagined Encounters: Historiographies for a New World

Organizer: Roland Betancourt, Yale University

Sunday, May 8th
9:30 – 12:30
Ida Sproul Room


In José Saramago’s História do Cerco de Lisboa (1989), a transgressive proofreader alters the course of history with the insertion into a text of a single word, not.  Negating a crucial statement in a text on the siege of Lisbon, the proofreader sets out to rewrite history. Archaeologists and art historians by reconstructing objects and audiences produce narratives on visual encounters. Through excavations, primary texts, and artifacts, cultures of reception are articulated and experiences with objects are extrapolated.  Similar to the proofreader’s transgressed ethical code, archaeologists and art historians operate with an infinite list of assertions and negations that define the possibility of certain inquiries and narratives.  The scholar knows, for example, that a twelfth-century Byzantine viewer did not use an iPad for worship.  Despite understanding the visualities of a Byzantine beholder and the workings of the iPad, the extrapolation of this encounter is verboten as a scholarly narrative. Nevertheless, the scholar engages in the same process of imaginative and discursive reconstruction when they produce any historical narrative.    This panel encourages the suspension of disbelief, the negation of historical givens in order to construct imaginary historiographies that displace and perform the processes of socio-archaeological research.  Papers should study impossible encounters between past audiences and contemporary visual culture.  The panel’s aim is to articulate how this new historiography could be used to further current methodologies, such as archaeological ethnography and phenomenology, that embrace scholarship, as “a form of social and political action in the present with emancipatory potential” (Christopher Tilley, 1989).

Papers Accepted:

The Iconic Subconscious: Reinscribing the Russo-Byzantine Artistic Tradition into Kandinsky’s Abstraction

Maria Taroutina, Yale University, maria.taroutina@yale.edu

Instead of the traditional catalysts for Kandinsky’s non-objectivity — Monet’s art and Wagner’s music — my paper proposes an alternate one: medieval icons. In 1910-1913, Andrei Rublev was rediscovered in Russia, right as Kandinsky was forming the central ideas of “On the Spiritual in Art.” Yet, the dates of the most astounding resonances are frustratingly out of sync. Nikolai Tarabukin described the visual-musical rhythms of icon-painting only in 1916, while Pavel Florensky called for an abstract, mystical modern art in 1919. My paper re-inscribes these lesser-known narratives into Kandinsky’s legacy in order to generate a richer array of interpretative possibilities.

Narrating Ryan Trecartin

Megan Voeller, University of South Florida, voeller@gmail.com

In this paper I adopt a series of narrative personas that respond to the video Sibling Topics (Section A) by Ryan Trecartin, in which the artist portrays four identical sisters. Across these narrative sections, I introduce interpretations of Trecartin’s work framed by both familiar and unfamiliar art historical methodologies and reflexively invite readers to consider my inquiry qua narrative and qua performance. In one section, I craft a historiographic metafiction of sorts in which 17th century Dutch painter Jan Steen (as depicted by art historian Mariet Westermann) encounters Trecartin’s video and compares it with historical representations of fools.

Inventing the Codex Mendoza: Inventing the New World

Jorge Gomez-Tejada, Yale University, jorge.gomeztejada@yale.edu

One of the most important manuscripts of 16th century New Spain, the Codex Mendoza has been at the forefront of Mexican studies since 1553. Throughout its life this manuscript has been considered one of the most authoritative sources for Ancient Mexican history, greatly through the link that Francisco Clavijero established in 1781 between the manuscript and Viceroy Mendoza. My paper will explore the role that the aforementioned link between viceroy and manuscript played in the creation of the Codex Mendoza, as object and idea, through a retrospective process of invention, as well as its role in shaping an image of Ancient Mexico for modern scholarship.

Cartographies of History in Rapa Nui: On Rock Art and the Performance of Memory

Jacinta Arthur, University of California, Los Angeles, jacinta@ucla.edu

By examining the phenomenological process through which “space” becomes “place” in the performance of memory, this presentation will discuss the strategies through which senses of place are alternatively written across the landscape of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) configuring spaces of knowledge. Proposing the ritual of kai kai and rock art as metonyms of history rendered by the Rapanui people as messages from the ancestors, this presentation will read them as emic historiographies— mnemonic marks displayed or evoked across the landscape, mapping the history of Rapa Nui.

Victorian Ideals Applied: Charles Eliot Norton Encounters Art in the 21st Century University

Oliver O’Donnell, Stanford University, c.oliver.odonnell@gmail.com

In 1875 Charles Eliot Norton was appointed the first professor of art history in the United States.  He would go on to develop a course of instruction for his students that came to be known as the Fogg Method: defined by its hands-on studio art training for Harvard’s burgeoning art historians.  Today, Australian and UK universities have instituted what might be called an inversion or reversal of this method.  There, Studio Art PhD programs train their burgeoning artists in the historical and theoretical skills of art historians.  What would Norton think about this modern PhD in Studio Art?

Nada Dada: The pseudo-Dionysius as Spectator of Hugo Ball’s “Magical Bishop”

Gregory Bryda, Yale University, gregory.bryda@yale.edu

In a 1921 entry from his diary, “Flucht aus der Zeit”, Hugo Ball insinuates that the 6th century Christian theologian DIONYSIUS AREOPAGITA was the spiritual inspiration behind his artistic campaign in Zurich and was, therefore, its privileged namesake: dada was the patron saint’s initials, twice instantiated. How would Ball’s “Magical Bishop” have struck the pseudo-Denys? Would he have sympathized with Ball’s own apophatic treatment of the logos, his entrapment in the mechanistic, “Created” nature of the semantic domain? This paper aims to problematize the structural limitations of apophaticism, and how both Ball and the pseudo-Denys ultimately fail in their linguistic enterprises.

‘Purposive Juxtaposition’: A Method for Images (of Christ in Late Antiquity)

Adam Levine, Oxford University, adam.levine@ccc.ox.ac.uk

Most theories that explain the origins of Christ’s image suggest that depictions of Christ had Roman models; but in a Roman world, how could an image of Christ be differentiated from its prototype? A method of contextual analysis termed ‘purposive juxtaposition’ is introduced to address that question. The basic premise of purposive juxtaposition is that if an image can be identified as Christ using either scriptural context or scriptural symbols, then all similar images in the area likely depict Christ as well. Several case studies are used to illustrate the utility of purposive juxtaposition in iconographical analysis.