Please click on the seminar titles below to find out more.

If you’re interested in participating in a seminar, contact the organizer directly at the email address included with the seminar description.

Final seminar rosters are due May 22, 2017.

1. Impossible Times

Gloria Fisk, Queens College, CUNY

This seminar seeks formal responses to a set of theoretical questions: How do contemporary works of art suggest the possibility of inhabiting multiple time frames at once, with timelines that pile up, intersect, and conflict? Why do the tropes of temporal collapse recur so frequently across contemporary disciplines, media, and genres? What “political unconscious” do they represent, and where do their politics reside?

We pose these questions now with the hypothesis that multitemporality is the dominant cultural logic of the contemporary moment. It can be neurotic, and it can be pleasurable, and its politics are not self-evident. We see contemporary artists taking perambulatory routes through the past and future to arrive at the present, and we see this phenomenon working across the distinction between high art and popular culture. We are thinking of an array of texts, like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout; Octavia Butler’s Kindred; Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy; Ali Smith’s How to Be Both; the visual art of Kara Walker and Wangechi Mutu; the historical/futurist collisions of Beyoncé’s Lemonade; and the repetition compulsion of the reboot or remake in television and film of the last decade.

But we also suspect that the representation of impossible times—both in the sense of apocalyptic anxieties about the present and in the formal sense of imagined or alternate temporalities—is pervasive across media, and we hope to discuss a very wide range of texts. We invite papers that interrogate the trope of multitemporality from both formal and theoretical angles, and that seek to press more firmly on the motivations behind the desire to inhabit other presents, alongside our own.

Possible keywords include: multitemporality, simultaneity, contemporaneity, repetition, rememory, reboot, time travel, historical fiction, futurism, afrofuturism, deep time, prolepsis, flashback, déja vu, nostalgia, pastiche, dystopia, haunting, speculative fiction, counterfactual

2. How To Cut and Share the Global Pie: Transcultural Approaches to Collaboration, Participation and Activism in Art

Franziska Koch, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg/Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”, Global Art History

Birgit Hopfener, Visiting Professor for Contemporary Art, University Duisburg Essen

Our seminar (re-)visits current approaches to artistic collaboration, participation and activism that adopt a transcultural/transnational perspective concerning their chosen themes, strategies, institutional contexts, histories and particular constellations of artistic collaboration.

A transcultural critique that addresses the latest ‘global turn’ in art from epistemological and power-related perspectives agrees that Gerardo Mosquera’s claim to cut “the global pie not only with a variety of knives, but also with a variety of hands, and then share it accordingly” (Mosquera 2003) still poses a pressing problem. While the global technological, economic, and political connectivity dramatically increased since the late 1990s and also fueled (cross-)disciplinary debates on how to make art history global (e.a. Juneja 2011, 2013; Belting et al. 2013; Casid et al. 2014), the optimistic attempt to call the prevalence of Euro-American canons in art history to a close did not go uncontested (e.a. Ogbechi 2005; Simbao 2015; Gardner and Green 2013); particularly because the advocates of this stance are largely situated within Northern narratives and knowledge regimes of art and are “seldomly moving beyond the terms of their own art world” (Simbao 2015).

In this context and given the international growth of nationalist (right-wing) identity politics, artists, curators and scholars in different parts of the world critically engage with reductive, binary discourses of identity/alterity, when producing, studying and mediating the arts of the present. They propose(d) alternative modes of practicing art and art history in transnational or transcultural ways, i.e. exploring culturally, historically and discursively entangled perspectives. Their case studies serve to demonstrate the complex field of epistemological and socio-political tensions, in which the three key interrelated concepts – collaboration, participation and activism – are located.

The seminar includes eight presentations spanning different regions, disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. Each participant will respond to at least one aspects of the following questions, when examining individual artists or collectives who explore critical ways of how to “share the pie globally”:

  • How do artists make/raise alternative voices, narratives and practices of transcultural realities and how are they framing their practices to acknowledge and emphasize transcultural/transnational conditions of collaboration, participation and activism?
  • Is art always already conditioned by processes of cultural exchange, transfer, and translation?
  • Is the idea of one global pie a fiction and who claims stakes in its cutting and sharing?
  • What multiple and entangled concepts and histories of “collaboration”, “participation”, and “activism” (in-)form artistic practices in this field?
  • What are suitable methodologies with which to address the conundrum of global art (history)? What can scholars learn from collaborative, participatory and activist artistic practices in order to grasp the complexity of art in the global context and to overcome limiting conventions of a single author-centered research perspective?
3. Our Everyday Planet, or The Banality of Environmental Evil

Melissa Ragain, Montana State University

Lily Woodruff, Michigan State University

Eco-criticism has in the last ten years been grappling with problems of massive scale. Concepts like the “hyperobject” refer to spans of space and time that encompass entire systems of interconnectivity, while the quantity of data to be analyzed threatens to engulf environmentalists in an “infowhelm.” Such sublime grandeur helps to conceptualize the magnitude of the problems with which climate researchers contend, while combating right-wing efforts to raise doubts about global warming by demonstrating the complexity and thoroughness of available data. At the same time, these large-scale ways of understanding ecological crisis distance it from the everyday ways in which crisis is experienced and exacerbated—as Timothy Morton argues, hyperobjects are by definition “nonlocal” in the sense that they can only be represented in their holistic manifestations. The politics of exploiting and caring for the Earth play out at local levels as, for example, art historian Lucy Lippard shows by highlighting activity around gravel excavation in her recent book Undermining: A Wild Ride through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (2014). The international corporate mining and transporting of resources begins in the backyards of individuals seeking to survive on barren land. Similarly, debates over energy resources that risk having tremendously deleterious and wide-spread impacts are experienced by coal miners as a crisis in their own daily survival. Such is the outcome of our contemporary economy that pits the exploitation of workers against that of the environment. Meanwhile, global warming creates local situations of both drought and flood that compel millions of people every year to abandon their homes and livelihoods.

This seminar proposes to return to the question of the everyday as a way of understanding how quotidian decisions and experiences accrue to form our current climate culture. A vast body of work emerged after WWII that explored the concept of the “everyday” in order to understand how culture reinforced the politics of fascism, and examined how unexceptional small-scale experiences connected to large-scale social change. This literature ranged from Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, who confronted the specter of fascism and totalitarianism directly, to Henri Lefebvre and George Perec, who extended the analysis of the everyday to spatial experience and the life of objects. This literature—and Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism in particular—has experienced a resurgence in response to the habits of thought that have colonized our civic discourse. President Trump’s recent appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Project Agency highlights the way that ecological devastation today is imbricated with economic and racial discourses. What are the nuts and bolts of world-making? Does the everyday establish a presentism that is counter to the long-term mindfulness necessary for environmental action? How is environmental thinking bounded by banal conflicts, by clichés, or by material limitations? How are environmental decisions tied into issues of xenophobia and nationalism? We hope that participants will interpret the categories of literature, art, and performance broadly to include everyday utterances, actions, and images that populate the landscape of environmental thought.

4. Contemporary Girlhood in Words and Images

Laura Finch, University of Michigan

In the contemporary US, the idea of the girl is on the up. This panel will interrogate the question: why now? What structure of desire in the contemporary moment demands this uptick of interest in the category of the girl? Conversely, what about girlhood as a category allows it to be the object of this interest?

In the realm of the political #BlackGirlsMatter and #SayHerName have carved a rhetorical, representational, and material space for young black women subjected to police violence. At the other end of the political spectrum we can find the over-representation of certain kinds of girls in service of the global economy: the turn to investment in girls by the World Bank in the mid-1990s and more recently the launch of The Girl Effect by Nike in 2009, which finances girls in the global south under the belief that they are a good investment. Straddling both the political and the popular arenas the recent exponential interest in trans youth is another area where girlhood is brought into public discourse in new ways. The girl is also a rising trend in the cultural arena from Girls and Broad City to Beyoncé to the huge explosion of girl books in recent years: in 2016 a staggering 1% of fiction titles published in the US featured the word “girl” in the title. The theoretical spotlight has also recently been turned on girlhood where “girl” has become a floating signifier. Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (2012) tells us that “the Young-Girl is not always young; more and more frequently, she is not even female”; while Hilton Al’s White Girls (2013) includes Truman Capote, Louise Brooks, and Michael Jackson under the eponymous category.

Further areas of interrogation may include: how do representations of girlhood intersect with the material realities of young women? How is the attention paid to girls inequitably distributed along lines of race, class, and sexuality? Does this attention align with the inequities of material conditions or is rhetorical attention distributed differently in relation to the idea of girlhood? What is the relation of girlhood to the flexible subjectivity of neoliberal personhood? Are some girls not legible as girls? What is the role of social media in forming and interrogating ideas of girlhood?

Papers should address these intersections of the contemporary moment (for the purposes of this panel the last 10-15 years) and girlhood within any framework or frameworks: work on decolonisation and social uprisings; visual artists; film studies; literary studies; work on social policy, reproductive rights, and education; etc.

The seminar will bring together up to 15 activists, artists, and scholars for a 2-hour discussion of pre-circulated 5-7 page position papers on the topic of girls and the contemporary.

5. Senses of Partition

Emma Stapely, University of California, Riverside

This seminar will examine how the contemporary arts register the political lives and afterlives of partition. Our discussion unfolds from Jacques Rancière’s observation that “the essence of the police lies in a partition of the sensible that is characterized by the absence of void and of supplement.” Rancière posits that the ordering claim of partition is characteristically exhaustive: it purports to describe that which can be felt, seen, or heard without excess or remainder. Elaborating upon this claim, our seminar investigates the ways in which partitions can be meeting places for assorted connotations of judgment and value, perception, embodiment, affect and aesthetics that antagonize and explode the hegemonic logics of partitioning itself. In the divisions they enact, partitions generate new modalities of being and relationality. Our panelists investigate examples of such modalities in projects such as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s The Dream of the Audience, organized by the Berkeley Art Museum, which reflects the ongoing legacies of partition from Korea’s 38thparallel/DMZ; Olalekan Jeyifous’s Settlement and City Strategies (2008) series, which ponders global capital’s hierarchies of “development” in overpopulated urban spaces; and Amy Sara Carroll’s Transborder Immigrant Tool: Mexico/U.S Border Disturbance Art Project (2007-present), an initiative to give GPS technology to economic refugees from Mexico trying to enter the United States. Specifically addressing the call for ASAP 9, our panelists grapple with partitions as sites of spatial, sensible, and temporal displacement and migration which deliberate upon the “conditions of risk and precarity” that inform their subjects and objects of analysis.

We are particularly struck by the ways in which partition divides and reshapes “sensible” experience. For Rancière, the “partition of the sensible” is the essential function of the police, who work to “define the forms of partaking by first defining the modes of perception in which they are inscribed.” The alternatives to such compartmentalization tend to appear impossible for one reason or other: marked as criminal, anarchic, utopian, purely imaginary or indeed unimaginable. What modes of flight and fugitivity, then, are made possible through contemporary visual arts, performance, music, experimental writing? How do partitions produce affect that is reproduced and maintained spatially, temporally and geographically? How do artists, writers, playwrights, musicians individually and collectively encounter, endure, or disrupt a partitioned order of things? How do those who are made and unmade by partitions carry such divisions, and, in doing so, potentially reify and reproduce them? Or, how might the multiple energies held by the partitioned exceed and re-work partitionings on multivalent geographic, temporal, spatial and affective registers? Such questions are especially pressing if we imagine partitions as conduits of modernity sine qua non the production and maintenance of the state and state power.

In the spirit of interdisciplinarity, our seminar investigates and promotes collisions between disciplines, including contemporary visual and textual cultures, urban history/geography and performance.

6. Situating Formalism

Dorothy Wang, Williams College

This seminar will examine the global, material, and racial situatedness of contemporary poetic forms. We hope to bring together the disparate strands of new formalism and lyric studies with black studies and indigenous studies.

Recent “new formalist” criticism supposedly brings the political into the purview of formalist criticism for the first time. Yet such framing largely ignores the work of previous scholars and scholar-poets – in particular, leftist writers of color, such as Aimé Césaire and Édouard Glissant, not to mention more recent black critics such as Fred Moten – for whom the formal was never extricable from the political, especially the racial. Topics like “the lyric subject” or “lyric surplus” are discussed in defensive isolation from the material histories of those always racialized and globalized terms. Our seminar will take up the following question: Why have these various strands of criticism been viewed as incommensurate?

Our seminar participants propose a poetics that contains a strong
critique of poetry’s purported immunity from questions of race, class,
ability, and gender, as well as global historical phenomena of colonization, slavery, and economic dispossession. One of the most vital political projects of contemporary theory has been the continued critique of liberalism, frequently conducted on a global scale (Lisa Lowe, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Saidiya Hartman, Jodi Byrd). This project involves reflecting critically on the violent foundations of key discursive terms, and adumbrating the conditions under which a study of the theoretical and institutional “undercommons” of the Enlightenment might proceed. This critique has yet to be undertaken seriously in studies of poetry. But the terms that we use to think about poems are just as much products and producers of the liberal discursive frameworks of subjectivity, freedom, humanity, and intimacy. Poetry tracks closely, in unique aesthetic forms, the construction of liberal philosophical and economic theories, from the Renaissance sonnet’s investigations of subjectivity to the nineteenth-century inventions of lyric interiority and beyond.

As a group, we will argue that the making of disciplinary poetic enclosures reinforces the imagination of global capitalism and reproduces its destructive fantasy of inevitability. We hope that our critique of poetry will thus potentially open a utopian space for thought and agency. Short position papers, circulated before the seminar, will investigate the continued expulsion of race and political critique from poetic discourse and will look for contemporary theorizations of poetic form within the work of politically engaged poets.

7. The Beats and Their Afterlives

Steven Belletto, Lafayette College

The Beat literary movement had a profound effect on U.S. literature and culture after 1960. While the heyday of the Beat Generation was the 1950s, there are many Beat afterlives worth exploring, notably the counterculture associated with the anti-Vietnam War movement that flowered in the Bay Area. Our seminar expands the narrow definition of the Beat Generation to examine the wider Beat movement as it circulated in U.S. culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Participants might focus in particular on questions of gender, sexuality, race, criticism, or aesthetics in order to explore how the heterodox lifestyles and literary experimentalism associated with the Beats were ways to register political critiques of the most touted values of postwar American culture. As such, this seminar will ask how and whether the Beats encouraged the breakdown between the public and the private spheres, thereby shifting the notion of what might count as “political.”

8. Curating for Blackness: Towards Black Digital Study

Lauren Cramer, Pace University

In 2015, The New York Times delivered cardboard virtual reality viewers that fit over popular cell phone models with the paper’s print edition, giving subscribers a 360-degree view of the story “The Displaced,” about children in war-torn Ukraine, South Sudan, and Lebanon. The experiment in storytelling is just one example of the mainstreaming of VR technologies; it is also a reminder of the central position that black and brown bodies occupy in the demand for an increasingly “frameless” virtual experience. VR companies continue to pursue ‘presence’ (a sense of ‘being within’ an experience) as the apotheosis of the form and a possible corrective to racial concerns like implicit bias, at the same time Silicon Valley has swept away San Francisco’s diverse communities. What happens when the purported experience of digitally ‘being in’ a black body is produced in part by the analog erasure of black communities? This seminar proposes “digital black study” as a methodology for digital art, the “art of the present” par excellence, that addresses blackness as both object and method of study and is grounded in histories of blackness and image production in order to critique the remediation of black exploitation. Digital black study aggregates a variety of objects, from different historical moments and across the cultural spectrums of popular culture and high art, to express the formal linkages between the performance of blackness in digital and analog images and the intrinsically hyperlinked relationships among blackness, bodies, and media. This seminar argues the process of curating for blackness (i.e. positioning blackness as a curatorial principle we start from and work toward) can recover the frame that secures an ethical distance around black bodies.

The way digital black study performs this work is inspired by Stephano Harney and Fred Moten’s concept of “black study,” which is an adaptable, non-institutional mode of “thinking with others” around specific objects or questions. Originally inspired by the jazz ensemble, an ideal example of the open, flexible, and experimental social formations that are typically attributed to the digital space, “black study” invests in the idea that black freedom is expressed as formal law-breaking, elaborated in that context. Thus, in addition to the attention to form in art and visual culture, the concept of “black study” also inspires us to consider the forms of creative interaction that coalesce around these art objects when they are made widely available. As this seminar seeks concrete ways to elaborate a digital curatorial practice that combines the project of media archeology with the ethical imperative of Black Studies, it is also considering the spaces (classrooms, cinemas, and conference rooms) that are available for ethical encounters with the black art object. As a result, this seminar is also committed to imagining the re-organization of intellectual labor that defines the politics of research. The study of form becomes then a method for understanding art that attempts social interventions as well as art that reflects on their conditions of possibility.

9. Novel Discussion: George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (2017)

Rachel Greenwald Smith, St. Louis University

This seminar is devoted to the discussion of a novel that is arguably the most significant literary publication in the U.S. in 2017: Lincoln in the Bardo, by the American novelist George Saunders. We imagine this as a one-time meeting of a scholarly book group, providing a time for members of the ASAP to share their early ideas about a work that many of us will undoubtedly write about in the future.

Lincoln in the Bardo narrates the difficulty with which Abraham Lincoln bore his responsibility for the Civil War dead as he also mourned the death of his eleven-year son, Willie, from typhoid. Incorporating historical artifacts with fictional narration, Lincoln in the Bardo departs from the satirical forms that have dominated Saunders’ oeuvre, and it has left its reviewers as impressed by Saunders’ ambition as they are confounded by its effects.

Our aim in this seminar is to debate the best ways to interpret this novel that has excited many contemporary readers, even if those who don’t claim to understand it well at all. We hope to convene Saunders’ readers from a wide range of disciplines and theoretical orientations to hone our analyses of this novel that figures so prominently in literary discussion at present.

10. Revolt, Rethink, Retrench: Feminist Thought and Practice, Late 1970s–Mid-1980s

Sara Marcus, Princeton University

The late 1970s through the mid-1980s have long been a problem for U.S. feminist history, a knotted node where multiple stories about the history of the movement and ideas associated with women’s liberation clash and entangle. Although the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 is commonly cited as the nail in coffin for the women’s liberation movement, even the election of Ronald Reagan two years earlier was not so much a seismic alert to a changed political landscape, at least in relation to feminism, as it was a confirmation of trends that had already been evident for some time. By 1977—the first year of the Carter administration—essays, political writings, and periodicals issuing from the women’s liberation movement were already evincing a clear sense of a movement embattled, thrown back on the defensive, bereft of the momentum and optimism that by most accounts had characterized the movement’s inaugural decade.

Yet this period also marks a time of major developments in feminist practice and theory that remain influential on, even definitive of, feminism to this day. This period saw an upswell in feminist writing by women of color, the development of robust and far-reaching theories of sexuality, and the growth of feminist-influenced institutional locations such as social service providers and academic disciplines that have proved durable, even as many of feminism’s more ad hoc incarnations succumbed to external pushback and internal burnout. In the academy, the early wave of literary criticism was beginning to give rise to theoretical considerations, even as the meanings of the very term “theory” remained far from settled among feminists.

If we focus on the contrast that women of color feminism, pro-sex feminism, and what we would now recognize as feminist theory were flourishing or emerging just as feminism (so the story goes) was supposedly being defeated, what can we learn from this confluence? This seminar invites proposals on a range of feminist theories and practices from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, including but not limited to: Third World and women of color feminisms; pro-sex and anti-porn feminisms; early feminist engagements with poststructuralist theory, deconstruction, etc.; lesbian separatism; feminist publishing, retail, and social services projects; and iterations of feminism within the academy. In considering the interactions among these multiple concurrent strains, we will investigate whether it is useful to speak of such efforts as aspects of a single entity—feminism—at all.

11. "Cranes in the Sky": Surface, Style, and the Politics of Black Women's Contemporary Performance

Gayle Wald, George Washington University

The title of this proposed seminar comes from the breakout song of Solange Knowles’s third studio album, A Seat at the Table (2016), a musical exploration of black feminist political consciousness and ode to conscientious self-care in the era of #BlackLivesMatter. The seminar we propose uses “Cranes in the Sky”–Solange’s metaphor for the structures or monuments we erect in order to evade what is “right in front of us”–as a starting-point for an investigation of black women’s contemporary performance. Solange’s recent work is evocative and useful, we think, not only for its investigation of “structures” of oppression, but because of its highlighting of the role of surface and style in the production of political critique.

While the interests of the members of this seminar differ, touching on different artistic modes or genres across several decades of the late 20th and early 21st century, we’re collectively interested in the relation of style and surface to the notion of “precarity.” While it has become fashionable lately to use the term “precarity” (or “precarious”) to define the threatened subjectivity associated with neoliberalism, we are interested in how a vulnerability to violence, abuse, or public disgrace has always shaped black women’s artistic practice, and how black women have responded to such conditions in and through their art. In other words, while the election of Donald Trump in 2016 would seem to have ushered in an era of the “new”–new restrictions on mobility, new limitations on artistic agency, new modes of hyper-vulnerability–we are interested in thinking about this newness in relation to modes of social vulnerability that have long defined American life.

12. Coloring Queer Theory/ Queering Critical Race Studies

GerShun Avilez, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In the last two decades, we’ve witnessed a flurry of texts that take seriously the intersection of queer theory and critical race studies, though this critical convergence dates at least as far back as Audre Lorde’s pathbreaking work. While critics such as E. Patrick Johnson and David Eng view the compatibility of these two theoretical fields optimistically, others in the mold of Jasbir Puar have been less sanguine. While it is unclear as of yet whether queer theory and critical race studies share a sufficient number of priorities, wield compatible interpretive apparatuses, and represent constituencies sympathetic with each other’s struggles, it remains certain that there continues to be a need to think about the points of contact between the two fields.

In this seminar we will hope to take the temperature of this field, consider its horizon, and unpack some of its most pressing questions at present. Do queer subjects and racial minorities face disproportionate social asymmetries? If so, does this perception impede their ability to collaborate politically? What is the role of literature and visual art in navigating—when not merely depicting—this site of convergence? What role did—and does—the AIDS crisis play in either bringing these groups together or fracturing their alliance permanently? Does the Democratic left’s adoption of identity political rhetoric (if not policy) affect and enfranchise these groups unevenly? Can queer white artists—Keith Haring, to take just one example—incorporate black struggle into their work without appropriating it? Does their sexuality mitigate this risk or exacerbate it?

Participants in this seminar might look beyond these questions to focus on any of the following—though this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Hip hop
  • Homonationalism and/or gay liberalism
  • Trans-of-color critique
  • Gentrification
  • Community medical funding
  • Harm reduction pedagogy
  • HIV/AIDS in the global south
  • Down-low sexualities
  • Barebacking
  • Social death
  • Afropessimism
  • Afrofuturism
  • Crip theory