Black Mountain Experimentalism
Black Mountain College was an experimental educational institution that made a profound influence on American art and culture. Founded in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, it perpetually suffered from scarce resources and low enrollments. In order to survive, the community adopted a democratic ethos in which faculty and students alike were responsible for maintaining day-to-day operations, from the construction and maintenance of the grounds to institutional governance.
Likewise, the curriculum was guided by the pedagogical principle of “learning by doing,” a central tenet of American philosopher John Dewey’s theory of the progressive education. Dozens of significant artists, poets, and musicians attended or taught at the school before it closed in 1957, including Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, David Tudor, Buckminster Fuller, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, RuthAsawa, Stan VanDerBeek, Ray Johnson, Cy Twombly, Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Susan Weil, Robert Motherwell, Jacob Lawrence, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, and M.C. Richards. Hence, it would be difficult to overstate the influence of Black Mountain on postwar American culture.
This class will focus on two key dimensions of the College’s legacy: first, its profound impact on postwar American visual, performing, and applied arts; and second, its defining commitment to “experimentation,” in terms of both teaching and artistic practice, an approach that was rooted in Dewey’s Pragmatist philosophy.
By focusing on these two lines of inquiry, this class will aim to clarify, on the one hand, the stakes of the College’s curricular and cultural emphasis on experimentation and experience, and on the other, the tremendous impact of this approach on postwar American art. Readings will be drawn from classic histories of Black Mountain by Martin Duberman, Vincent Katz, and Mary Emma Harris, alongside the catalogues from two recent exhibitions Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957, curated by Helen Molesworth, and the Hamburger Bahnhof’s Black Mountain: An Interdisciplinary Experiment, 1933-1957, as well as a number of recent, in-depth scholarly studies, such as Eva Díaz’s The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and Jenni Sorkin’s Live Form: Women Ceramics, and Community (University of Chicago Press, 2016).
Waiting to Be Seen: Voyeurism, Surveillance, Cinema
Big Brother is watching, but so are we. From CCTV to reality TV, Google Earth to Facebook, surveillance and self-surveillance are increasingly pervasive features of everyday life that structures how we communicate, consume, travel, socialize, learn, and perhaps most importantly, view the world, and ourselves. This course will examine how surveillance, voyeurism, and scopophilia, or “the love of looking,” operate across a wide range of works in film and media, from the popular to the experimental. To begin, we will view key examples of classic surveillance cinema by prominent postwar auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, 1954), Michael Powell (Peeping Tom, 1960), Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up, 1966), Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation, 1974), Michael Haneke (Benny’s Video, 1992; Caché, 2005), and Abbas Kiaromstami (Ten, 2002). We will compare and contrast these films with works of experimental art, film and new media that similarly adopt and critique the surveillant optic, including examples by major postwar avant-garde artists like Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Michael Snow, Dan Graham, Yoko Ono, Shirley Clarke, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Vito Acconci, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Sophie Calle, Cindy Sherman, and Harun Farocki, alongside more contemporary artists like Walid Raad, Jalal Toufic, Wael Shawky, Hito Steyerl, Omer Fast, Trevor Paglen, James Bridle, Elisa Giardina Papa, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, William E. Jones, Rabih Mroué, Julia Scher, Natalie Bookchin, Sofía Cordova, Deborah Stratman, Jacolby Satterwhite, Amie Siegel, Sophie Calle, Ryan Trecartin, James Coupe, Candice Breitz, Amalia Ulman, and Doug Aitken.
Traversing a broad field of surveillance visual culture, from classical Hollywood to avant-garde cinema, conceptual photography to video installation, tactical media activism to selfies, class discussion will be anchored by critical texts by theorists such as Michel Foucault, Laura Mulvey, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, and Peter Singer; writers like Franz Kafka and Friedrich Dürrenmatt; surveillance scholars like Kelly Gates and Simone Brown, and writings by film-makers and artists. Throughout the semester, we will consider how experimental and artistic uses of surveillance, as both technology and dispositif, intersect with, challenge, or affirm the function of surveillance as an ideological and biopolitical technique. In particular, we will question whether the critical analysis of visual culture illuminates or recapitulates the constitutive role of surveillance in the discursive construction of gender, sexuality, race, citizenship, and national security.
Throughout the semester, students will acquire a firm grasp of critical terms and concepts that connect the study of surveillance culture with the critical analysis of contemporary art and cinema, including scopophilia, voyeurism, exhibitionism, fetishism, the gaze, spectatorship, panopticism, discipline, control, spectacle, and simulacra.
Sunshine/Noir: Minor Histories of California Art (travel seminar)
What would the history of American art look like if we turned west instead of east, and focused on artists living in Los Angeles and San Francisco instead of New York? This seminar asks students to examine art since WWII as it developed under the Southern California sun and the Northern California fog. Moving away from a traditional auteur-driven narrative focused on individual artists, curators, critics, or works, this seminar will also focus attention on pivotal exhibitions, events, performances, and catalytic encounters that happened on the peripheries of, and often, in opposition to, traditional institutional contexts like the gallery and museum.
Questions shaping our discussion will include: How have California artists responded to their environmental surroundings and cultural geography—for instance, the influence of automobile and surf culture, or close proximity to the desert, ocean, and to Mexico? How did major West Coast industries—such as Hollywood cinema, popular music and television broadcasting, military and aerospace engineering, and Silicon Valley—impact artistic production? How did West Coast artistic engagement with counter- and sub-cultures—from the Beats and hippie psychedelia in the 1950s and 1960s, to punk and hip-hop in the late 1970s—differ from its East Coast counterparts? How have artists associated with historically marginalized identities—African American, Latinx, Asian American, immigrant, queer and female-identified—taken advantage of California’s marginal position within the art world as an opportunity to chart new directions?
Utilizing the immense archive assembled by the Getty’s Pacific Standard Timeinitiative as both a foundation and a point of departure, this seminar aims to evaluate and question the relevance of established taxonomies, categories, and criteria emerging from New York-centric narratives—for instance, the modernist preoccupation with medium-specificity—for the study of West Coast art. Topics covered will include: Bay Area figurative painting, California assemblage; craft hierarchies in fine arts production; Finish Fetish and Light and Space; art & technology; art & political activism; the role of art schools and collectives; experimental film, video and music; and the emergence of post-studio practice.
OTHER COURSES TAUGHT
- Art Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Art
- Identification in the Cinema
- History of Narrative Cinema, 1945-Present;
- History of Silent Film: From the U.S. to Soviet Russia and Beyond
- Scholar in Residence, University of Colorado, Boulder, 2017-18
- Black Mountain Experimentalism, seminar, fall 2017
- Waiting to Be Seen: Voyeurism, Surveillance, Cinema, seminar, fall 2017
- Mellon Teaching Fellow and Lecturer, Columbia University, 2015-17
- Art Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Art, intro course, fall 2015, spring 2016, fall 2016
- Sunshine/Noir: Minor Histories of California Art, travel seminar*, spring 2017
- Adjunct Assistant Professor of Film & Media Studies, Franklin & Marshall College, Fall 2012
- Peeping Toms and Big Brothers: Surveillance, Voyeurism, and Cinema, seminar
- Teaching Assistant, Program in Film Studies, Bryn Mawr College, 2010-11
- Identification in the Cinema; History of Narrative Cinema, 1945-Present; History of Silent Film: From the U.S. to Soviet Russia and Beyond