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AHCS Speaker Series

The lecture series would like to thank the Dean of Arts Development Fund at McGill and a generous anonymous donor for contributing to the series.

Unless otherwise noted, the events will take place at the Department of Art History and Communication Studies, Arts building, room w-215 at 5:30pm.

Please Join us online: The Art History and Communication Studies department invites you to subscribe to our Events list so that you can stay up to date on a wide variety of upcoming art and culture as well as policy-oriented lectures, seminars, forums, conferences, thesis and dissertation defenses, performances, and public presentations sponsored or co-sponsored by our department. To subscribe, follow this link.


Winter 2015

January 29: Brian Larkin

Associate Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University

Techniques of Inattention: Religion and the Mediality of Loudspeakers in Nigeria.
This paper examines the use of loudspeakers in Nigeria, particularly their implication in religious violence, to examine the technologizing of everyday life in Nigeria. It draws on loudspeakers to show how the operation of technology forms a medial base that organizes urban experience. But I argue that technology operates through a reciprocal set of exchanges with other domains from religious practice, to urban violence, to political rule.  Loudspeakers produce cultural techniques of attentiveness. For media theorists these techniques are the aftereffect of the "dispositif" of technologies.  For scholars of religion, by contrast, attention is a religious act, a form of self-cultivation enjoined by traditions of religious discipline.  I seek to explore this reciprocal interaction to open up questions about technology, religion and urbanism.

Brian Larkin is the author of "Signal and Noise: Infrastructure, Media and Urban Culture in Nigeria" (Duke, 2008) and the co-editor of "Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain" (California, 2000). He writes on issues of media, infrastructure, urbanism and religion in Nigeria and is currently completing the manuscript, "Secular Machines: Media and the Materiality of Islamic Reviva". Larkin teaches anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University.

February 5: Anne Dunlop

Associate Professor, History of Art, Tulane University

Italian art, transcultural exchange, and Marco Polo's tomatoes

February 12: Kyle Stine

Media @ McGill 2014-2015 Post Doctoral Fellow

Circuits of Reproduction: Toward an Archaeology of Machine Perception

March 24: Kara Keeling

Associate Professor, Cinema Studies, University of Southern California

On “Digitopia”: Blackness, Technology, and the Digital Frame
Otto Maass Chemistry Building, Room 217, 801 rue Sherbrooke W., 5:30pm

Questions concerning technology have long been part of Black film studies. Indeed, as John Akomfrah points out in “Digitopia and the Spectres of Diaspora," the extent to which anti-black racism is inherent in the film apparatus itself has been of concern to those film and media scholars and makers who have sought to craft theories, analyses, films and videos capable of transforming existing race relations by revealing another organization of things within the cinematic.⁠ For Akomfrah, the history of debate, analysis, experimentation, and failure within analogue media forms, such as film and video, that raise the possibility that those forms might support anti-racist and/or Black media practices point towards what he calls a “digitopic desire” or a “digitopic yearning” that haunts the history of analogue media praxis.  Akomfrah argues that such a “digitopia,” perceptible throughout film history, anticipates today’s digital media technologies and is fulfilled by them. In this talk, I consider Akomfrah’s proposition concerning the potential of digital media technology. While Akomfrah reads the preoccupation with the technologies of media making within the history of Black film praxis as the presence of a yearning for today’s digital technologies, I argue that digital media technologies, like the analogue ones to which they are related, raise a series of issues about the ongoing centrality of technology and technē to Black existence. Rather than fulfilling a promise made and broken by celluloid and other analogue media technologies, digital media intensifies elements constitutive of the cinematic by making them more broadly perceptible. As Akomfrah points out, digital media technologies make the mode of production of audio-visual images more accessible to filmmakers whose access to image-making has been structurally limited. New possibilities for creative exploration and imaginative experimentation, including new strategies for improvisation with audio-visual images, open up for those filmmakers because the barriers to production are less formidable than with the more capital intensive technologies. At the same time, the greater accessibility of digital media technologies makes it possible to renew an interrogation of historical relationships between technology and Blackness in ways that, perhaps, reach beyond any digital frame.

April 2:  Kimberly R. Moffitt

Assistant Professor, American Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Acting While Black in Disney's Land

Fall 2014

October 3: Don Thompson

Emeritus Nabisco Brands Professor of Marketing and Strategy, Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art
Co-sponsored with the Art History & Communication Studies Student Association
Arts Building, Rm W-145, 853 Sherbrooke W, McGill University, 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

October 7: Walter Benn Michaels

Professor, Dept. of English, University of Illinois at Chicago
Media@McGill Scholar, 2014-2015.

Diversité, egalité ou théâtralité? From Mallarmé and Meillassoux to Arthur Ou and Mabou
Arts Building, Rm W-215, 853 Sherbrooke W, McGill University, 5:35 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

October 9: Jamel Shabazz

"Pieces of a Man": The life and work of a New York street photographer
Arts Building, Moyse Hall, 853 Sherbrooke W, McGill University, 6:00 p.m. Reception to follow at 7:30

October 21: Rachael Z. DeLue

Associate Professor, Dept. of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University

Arthur Dove’s Things
Arts Building, Rm W-215, 853 Sherbrooke W, McGill University, 5:35 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

October 23: Glenn Greenwald

Beaverbrook Annual Lecture
Pollack Hall, 555 Sherbrooke W, McGill University, 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

November 14–15:  Media@McGill International Colloquium: Sound, Vision, Action

McCord Museum, 690 Sherbrooke W, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

November 26: Vicki Mayer

Professor, Dept. of Communication, Tulane University

Almost Hollywood: The Cultural Dimensions of US Film Policy
Education Building, Rm 624, 3700 McTavish, McGill University, 5:35 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Winter 2014

January 23rd: Joanne Latimer

For Love and Money: How to Turn Your Fine Arts Degree into a Paycheque

January 30th: Glenn Peers

Associate Professor, University of Texas, Austin

Thinking with Things in Byzantium
The first preposition in the title matters to the degree that it not only indicates some mutual work humans and things can do together, but it also supposes agency and determinacy for objects themselves in that culture.  So, if objects thought (as this talk will argue), little separated them from human subjects that ostensibly acted on their things. Objects spoke, moved, bled, and acted like humans, though less predictably and perhaps in the way rocks act: without much speed for the most part, but undeniably. By examining some Byzantine things closely, from the point of view of materials, crafting and independent afterlife, this paper tries to reclaim the spread of thinking in that world that our own assumptions have led us to overlook.

February 6th: Cornelius Borck

Professor of History, Theory, and Ethics of Medicine and Science at the University of Lübeck in Germany

The index card as thinking machine: Media, memory and writing in Hans Blumenberg

February 20th: Amy Slaton

Department of History and Politics, Drexel University, Philadelphia PA

Go/No-Go: Measurement, Inscription, and the Legible Industrial Worker
The visual and tactile efforts that constitute modern industrial labor reproduce famously durable social structures. From around 1880 onward, the shop-floor workers, supervisors, and design engineers employed in North American manufacturing increasingly deployed rulers, gages, calipers, bevels and other standardized instruments. Those acts of measurement and comparison, described in this paper, subjected raw materials and finished products to inspection in a sweeping positivist linkage of perception and certainty. They also enlisted workers into the capitalist rationality of stratified wage labor, with variable “capacities” for vision or touch ascribed to each occupational level. Industrial instruments, inscriptions, products and bodies made perfect sense of one another. We follow these layered technical, representational and social processes through to the current day, as they prove themselves now exquisitely suited to emergent neo-liberal ideologies of labor, talent, and privilege.

March 27th  Mechthild Fend

University College London

Body to Body: The Dermatological Wax Moulage as Indexical Image
The lecture will focus on a very particular kind of medical imagery: dermatological wax moulages, casts taken from the body of people infected with diseases of the skin to document their condition. The talk will explore the ways in which these images – made by contagion in the most literal sense – engage with the body of the sick. It will query what kind of images these medical wax casts actually are and why they were so popular as a medium of dermatological visualisation from the middle of the nineteenth century until the 1960s. The talk will explore the nature of these impressions based on the contact between the somatic symptom and the plaster which was used to make the moulds from which the wax casts were then taken.

While much of the diagnostic utility of the dermatological casts relies on the re-working and colouring of the moulages by the wax modeller, their claim for truth and authenticity is based on their quality as mechanically produced images. This links them structurally to photography, and the latter medium was indeed introduced into dermatology at the same time as the wax moulages. This is particularly striking the case of the Hôpital Saint Louis in Paris (the first clinic dedicated entirely to the treatment of skin diseases): Alfred Hardy and A. de Montméja published their Clinique photographique de L'hôpital Saint-Louis published in 1868 and Jules Baretta, hired as a mouleur for the hospital in 1863, finished his first moulage in 1867. I will discuss the preference for these mechanically produced images in relation to Daston and Galison’s notion of “Images of Objectivity”. At the same time, I would like to stress the traditions of an animist believe in the lifelikeness of images at work in both of these media and discuss the similarity between the display of the wax moulages at the Musée des Moulages at the Hôpital Saint-Louis and religious votives. In this respect I would like to argue, adapting Bruno Latour, that these images have never been entirely modern.

April 10th:  Natasha Schull

Time on Device: Slot machine design and the turn away from risk in gambling



Fall 2013

September 12: Janez Janša 

Performance Artist

Name Readymade is a project presentation dealing with a wide range of
issues related to the “name changing” gesture perpetrated by three
Slovenian artists who, in 2007, legally, and with all the papers and
stamps required, changed their names and assumed the name of the
Slovenian Prime Minister at the time, Janez Janša. Ever since, all their
works, their private and public affairs – in a word, their whole life –
have been conducted under this new name.
It is a parcours through different stages and aspects of the act of name
changing and its consequences, including public, relational and intimate

September 26: Michael Cole

Professor, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University

"Leonardo Against Nature"
Leonardo da Vinci’s investigations of nature led him to reflect on the “counter-natural,” a category revived from antiquity that identified art with violence. This paper will examine Leonardo's redefinition of the counter-natural, looking both at his sources and at the significance of his thinking for the understanding of painting ca. 1500.

October 3: Steven Shapin

"'You Are What You Eat': Historical Changes in Ideas about Food and Identity"

The D. Lorne Gales Lecture in the History of Science
6PM Tania Schulich Hall, Faculty of Music

October 13: "Spaces of Hacking" Symposium

2-6PM Notman House, 51 Sherbrooke West


October 25 & 26: “Liquid Intelligence and the Aesthetics of Fluidity" Conference

Théâtre J. Armand Bombardier, McCord Museum, 690 Sherbrooke Street W 


Winter 2013   

March 14: Lisa Nakamura

Professor, Department of American Cultures, Professor, Department of Screen Arts and Cultures, University of Michigan.

“I Will Do Everything That I am Asked:” Spambaiting, Dogshaming, and the Racial Violence of Social Media”

Abstract: The “trophy room” of 419eater.com, a site with over 48,000 registered members, is full of images of African men and women holding signs penned with demeaning slogans or engaged in ridiculous acts, such as men wearing women’s bras and posing with a fish held near their heads. While some of these are humorous, such as “I can’t believe it’s not butter,” many are designed to render their holder abject, such as “I will do everything that I am asked.”  These images were contributed by "spambaiters," Internet vigilantes who trick would-be Internet scammers as punishment for their crimes. This paper will explore the genealogy, distribution, aesthetics, and visual history of this “shaming” meme across Tumblr, image trophy rooms, and other image and discussion boards. The root of the shaming meme in social media’s visual cultures of racial abjection reminds us of the digital pillory’s hidden history.

Co-sponsored with History and Philosophy of Science.

March 18 (Monday): Fred Turner

Associate Professor of Communication, Director, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Standford University.

"The Family of Man and the Politics of Attention in Cold War America"

Abstract: In 1955, the Museum of Modern Art mounted one of the most widely seen – and widely excoriated – photography exhibitions of all time, The Family of Man. For the last forty years, critics have decried the show as a model of the psychological and political repression of cold war America. This talk challenges that view. It shows how the immersive, multi-image aesthetics of the exhibition emerged not from the cold war, but from the World War II fight  against fascism. It then demonstrates that The Family of Man aimed to liberate the senses of visitors and especially, to enable them to embrace racial, sexual and cultural diversity – even as it enlisted their perceptual faculties in new modes of collective self-management. For these reasons, the talk concludes, the exhibition became an influential prototype of the immersive, multi-media environments of the 1960s – and of our own multiply mediated social world today.

Co-sponsored with Media@McGill.

April 11: Hannah Feldman 

Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Northwestern University.

"After Decolonization: Commemorative Aesthetics and the Politics of Remembrance and Recuperation in Paris, Algiers, and Paris again."

Abstract: This paper examines the cultural agendas and visual strategies developed and deployed by Algerians and non-Algerians from the 1960s to the 1980s in order to mobilize the memory of the War of Independence (1954-1962) for various and often contradictory purposes both within Algeria and without. Drawing attention to the ways in which such commemorative projects are complicated by contemporary events, I aim to further challenge the visual narratives developed to communicate Algeria's decolonization by comparing these earlier projects to more recent efforts to commemorate Algeria's subsequent civil war (1991-2002) by diasporic artists who have come to enjoy celebrity and prominence in the international art market.


Fall 2012

Bart Beaty

"What If Comics Were Literature? Why Comics Weren't Art, and Why They Might Be Now"

Historically, the relationship between comics and the traditional “high” arts was a simple one: comics were the degraded “Other” of the fine arts. Artists like Roy Lichtenstein might mine comic books and strips for inspiration, but they were not legitimate art objects in and of themselves. In recent years, this distinction has begun to erode. With major exhibitions of comic book art taking place in art museums around the world, it is clear that the traditional distinction between fields has begun to unravel, producing new opportunities for critics, curators and artists alike. This talk will consider the past and future of comics art, tracing the vexed path that has led cartoonists to museums and galleries in order to situate the place of comics in the hierarchy of contemporary arts.

Monday, September 24, 2nd floor seminar room at 3463 Peel Street, 5:30pm.

Co-sponsored with The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC).

Sarah Banet-Weiser

“I’m Like Totally Saved”: Branding Religion and the Moral Limits of the Market

Branding in the contemporary era has extended beyond a business model; branding is now both reliant on, and reflective of, the most basic social and cultural relations. Brand cultures are spaces in which politics are practiced, identities are made, art is created, and cultural value is deliberated.  One example of a brand culture is religion, where branding religious lifestyles represents a new marketing and business opportunity, where there is not one specific product, but rather a politically diffused notion of religious identity, that is re-imagined and reframed not only within consumer items, but also within the ways in which religion is organized, institutionalized, and experienced in everyday life.  Here, I examine two religious brand cultures, Prosperity Christianity and New Age Spiritualism, as a way to address such questions as: what is at stake in the fact that we are increasingly comfortable living in brand culture? What might be gained, and what is lost, through
this kind of living?  

Tuesday, October 2.

Co-sponsored with Media@McGill.

Janet Vertesi

"Seeing like a Rover: Images and Interactions on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission."

How do you work with a robot millions of miles away to make  scientific discoveries on a planet you have never set foot on? While the  team of NASA scientists and engineers rely on Spirit and Opportunity to  do science on Mars, working with the Mars Exploration Rovers  also requires that team members learn to "see like a Rover". On the one  hand, I show how this enrolls a particular visual fluency with the  hundreds of thousands of images that return from  the Martian surface, producing new representations with image  processing software to inform Rover operations. On the other hand, I  argue, this visual connection to the Rovers' "eyes" on another planet  produces a deeper connection to the robots too: one that  ascribes human characteristics to machines, teaches humans to see, move  and feel like their robots do, and develops an intimate and embodied  understanding of the vehicles' experiences on Mars.

Thursday, October 4.

Co-sponsored with History and Philosophy of Science.

K. Dian Kriz

The Military Artist in Jamaica and India: Abraham James and the Production of Knowledge “In-between’”

Some of the most vivid and biting satires of life in colonial Jamaica were produced onsite by an ensign in the British army, Abraham James, and published in London in the early 1800s. This “military caricaturist” was later stationed in India and a produced very different type of printed image—of British solders and Sepoys performing stock military exercises. In this lecture Dian Kriz will examine James’s Jamaican caricature, “Martial Law in Jamaica” in tandem with images from his Indian exercise manuals in order to consider how a pan-oceanic print culture attempted to fix certain ideas about the colonial martial body. These ideals had consequences for imaging British martial masculinity in the metropole as well as in its most important eastern and western colonial centers.

Thursday, October 11.

Daniel Margocsy

The Well Temper’d Engraver: Newtonian Optics, Theories of Proportion, and the Invention of Color Printing

This paper examines how a select group of Dutch scientific practitioners around 1700 used artistic anatomy, and especially theories of human proportions, as a model for developing a unified theory of science. The amateur philosopher Lambert ten Kate, the entrepreneurial printmaker Jacob Christoffel le Blon, and, to a lesser extent, the classicist painter Hendrik van Limborch collaborated on an experimental research program to reform the sciences and the arts, and came to believe that the same, Pythagorean harmonies governed the structures of human body, the diffraction of white light, and all other branches of knowledge. The culmination of their research program was Le Blon’s invention of color printing, an artisanal technology based on scientific principles. This talk examines why these practitioners decided to reduce all types of knowledge into one unified theory, and how such a development influenced the intellectual property regime of the early Enlightenment.

Thursday, October 25.

Susan Silton

"She Had a Laugh Like a Beefsteak"

Los Angeles-based artist Susan Silton activates the multivalent space of the voice in this performative lecture, drawing from diverse artistic, theoretical, and anatomical sources to contextualize her multi-disciplinary practice.

Tuesday, November 6.

Co-sponsored with the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Media@McGill, and the Department of English.