Boston: Cabinet of Curiosities

During a Pre-Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Boston I was taken to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and it was a unique and pleasurable experience.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City and Married Bostonian John Lowell Gardner. Influenced by their travels Isabella became passionate about art. A passion that after receiving inheritance after her father’s death transformed into art collection. After accumulating a remarkable collection she began the planning for the building to house it. In 1903 the Fenway Court (name with which it opened) opened it’s doors.

It is remarkable that it was conceived and executed by a woman on her own terms with no constrictions and that it still functions and is managed as she had instructed. There is a lack of order, a mélange of objects lacking clear classification. It’s honestly a bunch of stuff thrown together, as you would organize your own home. All objects are displayed as she saw them and in relation to her hearts desires.

There are rooms so packed with paintings that you can barely appreciate due to the lack of breath between them, yet even this gives you a different experience, ironically of freshness. We are so used to super curated spaces that this saturation triggers a distinct response. From a curatorial view is very interesting, and in an archival sense I would assume challenging in terms of making your archive cohesive through time to keep the collection going and to contextualize it for the audience.

Interesting facts of the museum are: On March 18th 1990, a pair of thieves disguised a police officers stole 13 works of art. This remains to be the biggest unsolved art theft in world history. Also, in her will she stated that everything must remain as is and that nothing can be acquired or sold form the collection.

If your name is Isabella or if it is your birthday, entrance is Free!

On a same note, I also visited the Institute of Contemporary Art that currently has a Mark Dion exhibition that is pretty awesome.

This is how the exhibition is described in the ICA website: “Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist, the artist’s first U.S. survey, examines 30 years of his pioneering inquiries into how we collect, interpret, and display nature. Since the early 1990s, Mark Dion (b. 1961, New Bedford, MA) has forged a unique, interdisciplinary practice by exploring and appropriating scientific methodologies. Often with an edge of irony, humor, and improvisation, Dion deconstructs both scientific and museum-based rituals of collecting and exhibiting objects by critically adopting them into his artistic practice.”

All the pieces were so interactive and just fun and interesting. You can open the cabinet’s drawers and walk through the space as if t were your own. Hope some of you can go and experience it!

17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™

A little late to the party, but there’s a really interesting project at the Queens Museum based on the el paquete media distribution network in Cuba. For the exhibit in Queens Museum, you’ll be able to access and surf (but also copy a selection of) a whole year’s archive of el paquete content curated by the artists – Julia Weist and Nestor Siré. (P.S. if you’re at the museum, don’t miss Patty Chang’s wonderful The Wondering Lake show too.)


For the project 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™, American artist and 2016-2017 Queens Museum-Jerome Fellow Julia Weist collaborates with Cuban artist Nestor Siré to analyze creative social strategies in Cuba that have developed in place of internet connectivity. The most significant of these phenomenon, El Paquete Semanal or “the weekly package,” is a 1 terabyte digital media collection, aggregated weekly and circulated across the country via in-person file sharing.

Since 2015, Siré has been curating art into El Paquete through a project called !!!Sección A R T E (!!!A R T Section), a series of folders updated monthly with original artist projects. The folder follows the rules of the Paquete: it can be no more than 5GB, and must contain no pornography and no political issues. In early 2016, Siré invited Weist to contribute an artwork, the beginning of an ambitious partnership. Over the subsequent year, the pair met with Paquete distributors or matrices in every province in Cuba. In these talks they gained an understanding of current trends and processes on a national and local level, including who and what was popular. Weist and Siré also came to know the depth and intricacy of the Paquete networks, including the extent of its economic impact; the Paquete also includes a form of media that has been largely absent in the country for the last half-century, amidst a political regime of aspirational socialism: advertising.

For !!!Sección A R T E, Weist envisioned a conceptual and political insertion, an original video featuring quotidian internet browsing that captures the aesthetic and habitual norms of contemporary internet culture. To conform to the strict “no politics” regulations of the Paquete, Weist and Siré sought out celebrities to star in the piece, including the actor Mark Ruffalo, well-known to American audiences for both his wide-ranging roles and his political activism, and in Cuba for starring as the Hulk. Beyond capturing the attention of Paquete consumers with an iconic blockbuster film star, the choice to feature celebrities rendered the content chiefly pop cultural and thereby acceptable for inclusion. The circulation of the artwork throughout Cuba is also explored in the exhibition: how the project was promoted by the creators of the Paquete, the edits that accompanied its national distribution, and the response from the Paquete audience.

The centerpiece of 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ is a 64 terabyte server containing 52 weeks of El Paquete Semanal from August 2016 to August 2017. It is the only formalized archive of the Paquete and its construction and deployment was designed around the legal and logistical restrictions of the changing US-Cuba relations over the last year. Weist and Siré contacted every copyright holder represented in the Paquete from the week of August 8, 2016, in an attempt to legalize its contents. Where possible they secured the rights to distribute the same material circulating in Cuba to Queens Museum visitors, free of charge.

Weaving in and out of contrasting political, geographic, economic, cultural, and technological circuits, 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ represents a complex examination of the invisible and visible forces that shape our contemporary cultural perspectives.


Image: Julia Weist with Nestor Siré, Still from Holguin (BABALAWO), 2016. Digital video, 00:49 minutes, sound. Included in ARCA, 2016–2017. Mixed media installation. Courtesy the artists

Nov. 12: Rick Prelinger’s Lost Landscapes of New York @ NYU

See the NYU Skirball website for schedule + tickets  and Rick’s list of relevant readings

Co-presented with the Museum of the Moving Image

Since 2006, film historian and archivist extraordinaire Rick Prelinger has presented twenty participatory urban-history events to enthusiastic audiences in San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Oakland, and at festivals throughout the world. For the first time, he is bringing his Lost Landscapes project to New York City.

Lost Landscapes of New York (approx. 85 mins., HD video transferred from 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film) mixes home movies by New Yorkers, tourists, and semi-professional cinematographers with outtakes from feature films and background “process plates” picturing granular details of New York’s cityscape. The combination of intimate moments, memories from many New York neighborhoods, and a variety of rare cinematic perspectives forms a 21st-century city symphony whose soundtrack will be provided by the audience. Viewers will be invited to comment, to ask questions and to interact with one another as the screening unfolds.

Lost Landscapes of New York will span much of the 20th century, covering daily life, work, and celebration, and including street views of the Lower East Side, Harlem, Williamsburg, and Bensonhurst; a ride from the Bronx to Grand Central in the 1930s; old Penn Station before its demolition; the Lincoln Center area pre-redevelopment; street photographers in Times Square; 1931 Times Square scenes in color; Spanish Harlem in the 1960s; Manhattan’s exuberant neon signage; firefighting in the 1920s and 1930s; garment strikes in the 1930s; Depression-era “Hoovervilles”; crowds at Coney Island in the 1920s; Italian Americans in Brooklyn in the 1930s; and a visit to both 1939-40 and 1964-65 Worlds’ Fairs.

October 23: Interested in DNA + Biopolitical Data?

Monday October 23, 6-7pm
GIDEST Room (Room 411), University Centre.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a transdisciplinary artist and educator who is interested in art as research and critical practice. Her controversial biopolitical art practice includes the project Stranger Visions in which she created portrait sculptures from analyses of genetic material (hair, cigarette butts, chewed up gum) collected in public places.
Heather has shown work internationally at events and venues including the World Economic Forum, Shenzhen Urbanism and Architecture Biennale, the New Museum, the Centre Pompidou and PS1 MOMA. Her work has been widely discussed in the media, from the New York Times and the BBC to TED and Wired. Heather has a PhD in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is an affiliate of Data & Society.

November 2: Tactical Tech in NYC

How are communities and activists in New York City using, misusing, and inventing technologies to confront social injustice and structural inequality? This event will bring together local organizers, technologists, and scholars working on mesh and alternative networking, cryptography, and practical privacy to discuss strategies, tactics, and shared challenges and opportunities in DIY and ground-up communication and organizing.

How are communities and activists in New York City using, misusing, and inventing technologies to confront social injustice and structural inequality? This event will bring together local organizers, technologists, and scholars working on mesh and alternative networking, cryptography, and practical privacy to discuss strategies, tactics, and shared challenges and opportunities in DIY and ground-up communication and organizing.

Dabriah Alston, Red Hook Wifi
Finn Brunton, New York University
Grey Cohen and Sam DiBella, CyPurr Collective
James Grimmelmann, Cornell Tech; Cornell Law School
Brian Hall, NYC Mesh
David Huerta, Freedom of the Press Foundation
Matthew Mitchell, CryptoParty Harlem
Dhruv Mehrotra, Eyebeam; Courant Institute for Applied Mathematics
Dan Phiffer, Artist

For more info, and to register, see the NYU website.

Re: the NYPL Surveillance Exhibition We Saw @ the Municipal Archives

An article in the Times regarding the exhibition we saw at the Municipal Archives:

To Thomas A. Reppetto, an author and police historian, the very fact of the exhibit — “Unlikely Historians: Materials Collected by NYPD Surveillance Teams, 1960–1975” — is evidence of how much times have changed. Years ago, he said, a city agency would have been hard-pressed to stage an exhibition that resurrected the memory of provocative police practices.

“The police would not have wanted to do it,” Mr. Reppetto said. “The police would never have agreed to it, and if the police didn’t agree, it wouldn’t be done.”

Mr. Reppetto is no fan of the exhibit, suggesting that making intelligence material public can often reveal sensitive tactics. But curators say they received no objections from the Police Department or City Hall while they were putting the exhibit together. In fact, among the visitors to the exhibit has been Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill. (A police spokesman did not respond to a question seeking the commissioner’s thoughts on the images.)

The show, which opened last month, includes 30 photographs and seven film segments created while the police Photo Unit was working with investigative bureaus like the now-defunct Special Services Division, whose members monitored groups they deemed to be dangerous or subversive.

Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes (2017); US Premiere at NYFF55

A feature film made essentially with (found) surveillance footage in China collected and uploaded onto the cloud, Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes (2017) will have its US premiere at the New York Film Festival in October. Working through 10,000 hours of surveillance footages publicly accessible online, the artist and his assistants edited the excerpts into a 81-minute feature. A trailer of the film is available on YouTube.

I had the amazing chance to preview excerpts from the film during Xu Bing’s visit to Parsons as part of the Parsons Fine Arts Visiting Artists Series. Xu talked about the sheer ease of publicly accessing an entire database/archive of surveillance footages in China, how the proliferation of surveillance cameras has essentially turned the world into a studio set, and (rather than simply regurgitating the typical image of an Orwellian police state in China) what he thought about the emergence of a “post-surveillance” China where people are themselves reclaiming and using the surveillance tools and infrastructures to produce their own footages.


Sunday, October 8, 2017, 9.30PM
Monday, October 9, 2017, 8.45PM

55th New York Film Festival 2017
The Film Society of Lincoln Center
70 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023

Oct 20: Ideathon for Adult Learning in Public Libraries

Join us to explore adult learning in public libraries! [more info here]

Over the next year, we’ll be hosting three ideathons in partnership with public libraries located around the country. These half-day events are designed to surface and document ideas, input, and feedback from library administrators and frontline staff – reference, adult education, and technology librarians – as we build and iterate on the Reading List for Life.

Ideathons will ensure that both the technical and social architecture of the Reading List will be guided by the public library community and designed with different library needs and workflows in mind.

Ideathons are hosted by the Reading List for Life, The Open Syllabus Project, Columbia University, the Metropolitan New York Library Council, and Project Information Literacy, and funded by the Sloan Foundation. If you’re interested in joining an event, or would like to suggest a library venue, send us an email!

Date: Friday, October 20, 2017
Time: 9 AM – 1 PM
Location: Metropolitan New York Library Council
599 Eleventh Avenue
New York, NY

Tentative schedule:

9:00 – 9:30 – Coffee and light refreshments
9:30 – 10:00 – Welcome and introductions
10:00 – 10:45 – Project background and discussion
10:45 – 11:00 – Break
11:00 – 12:00 – Small group breakout sessions
12:00 – 1:00 – Lunch, sharing ideas, and discussion

Artist and the Archive: Deconstructing Racial Imagination

Founded by poet and McArthur Fellow Claudia Rankine, The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII) is an interdisciplinary cultural laboratory of writers, activists, scholars, and artists, dedicated to the work of engaging the concept of the racial imagination, specifically critiquing the costs and means by which whiteness and institutional racism have shaped cultural production, politics, and memory. This program will feature a discussion with Rankine and scholars, artists, and writers on art, activism and the archives. They will also explore how TRII’s new online archive will be used by artists and writers seeking to examine important conversations on race in the U.S. and across the globe through artistic practice.


Tue, September 26, 2017

6:30 PM – 8:30 PM EDT


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

515 Malcolm X Boulevard

New York, NY 10037


Nov 27-28: Conserving Active Matter @ Bard Grad Center

November 27-28, 2017
38 West 86th St

This symposium launches “Conserving Active Matter,” the research project at the core of the second phase of Bard Graduate Center’s “Cultures of Conservation” initiative, generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Scholars will explore the meaning of active matter through the lenses of materials, history, philosophy, and indigenous ontologies.

You’ll need to check the website for more details and to register.

Yet the Mellon grant supporting this project offers some insight into what might be addressed:

“Conserving Active Matter” aims to reshape conservation thinking and training by creating new expectations for the intellectual contributions of conservators and the kinds of discussions in which their presence will be required. In a world of active matter—the way in which organic materials are intrinsically active and therefore constantly change—the conservator’s scientific training is essential as is a philosophical understanding of the long history of the issues given new form by the challenges of modern materials. “Conserving Active Matter” will focus on the consequences of taking into account the highly mutable, dynamic, and active character of objects and images, which pose challenges not only for exhibiting but also for conservation, and even, for the museum itself.

Nov 3: Filmmaker Bill Morrison @ TNS’s GIDEST

Friday, November 3, 12noon – 1:30pm
University Center, Room 411
More on GIDEST’s website

Bill Morrison‘s films are instantly recognizable for their meticulous combination of rare archival material and commissioned contemporary music. With his detailed meditations on impermanence, visuality, sound, and often on film itself, he is producing one of the most distinctively coherent bodies of work in contemporary American cinema.

Among his most notable works, Decasia (67 min, 2002), a collaboration with the composer Michael Gordon, was added to the US Library of Congress’ 2013 National Film Registry; Spark of Being (68 min, 2010), a collaboration with trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Best Independent Film of 2011; The Miners’ Hymns (52 min, 2011), a collaboration with Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, was described as one of “the best and most beautiful films of the year” by the Huffington Post; The Great Flood (78 min, 2013), a collaboration with guitarist/composer Bill Frisell, won the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award of 2014 for historical scholarship; and the recently-released Dawson City: Frozen Time was described as “an instantaneously recognizable masterpiece” in The New York Times.

Recently honored with a mid-career retrospective at MoMA, Bill is a Guggenheim fellow who has received the Alpert Award for the Arts, an NEA Creativity Grant, a Creative Capital Grant, and a fellowship from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. His theatrical projection design has been recognized with two Bessie awards and an Obie.

Sept 22: Do A Number: The Facticity of the Voice, or Reading Stop-and-Frisk Data

Friday, September 22, 12noon – 1:30pm
GIDEST @ The New School
University Center, Room 411

Appropriating the form of mysterious short wave radio stations known as numbers stations, Mendi + Keith Obadike perform a charged erotics of data in their incantatory recitation of numbers from slave ship manifests, lynching statistics, and Stop-and-Frisk data. The crux of Soyoung Yoon’s inquiry is the contradictory nature of these numbers-as-documents: the irreconcilable gap between the abstraction of the numbers and the histories of violence that would account for the accumulation of these bodies: a gap that both separates and binds. As Ian Baucom argues in his analysis of the insurance contract for the slave ship Zong — as the privileged document of the 1781 massacre, the captain’s drowning of 132 slaves to claim compensation for these “goods” under the salvage cause of the ship’s insurance policy — the numbers of the contract are haunted not only by the specter of slavery but also by the specter of financial protocol, the practice of converting history into bookkeeping, of substituting “evidence” for the imaginary, speculative knowledge of “credit.”

Soyoung Yoon poses the problem of a doubling of violence: how to speak to the violence not only in the content of the history but in the form of its telling, the story that is told but through a litany of numbers? How to give form to this abstraction as a “silence” that also functions as an index, a document, of the very process of accumulation through which persons became a people, a population, a race, the object of a particular regime of knowledge and system of exchange? How is the silence “heard”?

Soyoung is Program Director and Assistant Professor of Art History & Visual Studies at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School. She is also Visiting Faculty at the Whitney ISP. Her current research focuses on the re-definition of the “document” and the shift in its claims to the real from the post-WWII period to the present.

Sept 15: Radical Technologies Book Talk

Friday, September 15 @ 1pm
Columbia GSAPP, Avery Hall, Ware Lounge
More info here

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life

Writer and urbanist Adam Greenfield in conversation with Laura Kurgan, Director, Center for Spatial Research, Columbia GSAPP

Everywhere we turn, our everyday experience of the world is being transfigured by the advent of startling new technologies. But at what cost? In this urgent and revelatory excavation of the Information Age, leading technology thinker Adam Greenfield forces us to rethink our relationship with the networked objects, services and spaces that define our lives, as well as the Silicon Valley consensus that is determining the shape of our future.

We already depend on the smartphone to navigate every aspect of our daily lives. The technologies that follow in its wake, from augmented-reality interfaces and virtual assistants to autonomous delivery drones and self-driving cars, are offered to us with the promise that they will make life easier, more convenient and more productive. 3D printing promises unprecedented control over the form and distribution of matter, while the blockchain stands to revolutionize everything from the recording and exchange of value to the way we organize ourselves in groups and polities. And all the while, fiendishly complex algorithms are operating quietly in the background, reshaping the economy, transforming the fundamental terms of our politics and even redefining what it means to be human.

Having successfully colonized everyday life, these radical technologies are now conditioning the choices that will be available to us in the future, and most of us haven’t even begun to think about what it all means. Just how did they claim such a prominent place in our lives? How do they work? What challenges do they present to us, as selves and societies? In answering these questions, Greenfield orients us to the circumstances we now confront — and prods us to the thought and action necessary to ensure that our values will survive the years to come.


Previously a rock critic, bike messenger and psychological operations specialist in the US Army, Adam Greenfield spent over a decade working in the design and development of networked digital information technologies, as lead information architect for the Tokyo office of internet services consultancy Razorfish, Independent User-Experience Designer and Head of Design Direction for Service and User-Interface Design at Nokia headquarters in Helsinki.

Selected in 2013 as Senior Urban Fellow at the LSE Cities centre of the London School of Economics, he has taught in the Urban Design program of the Bartlett, University College London, and in New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. His books include Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous ComputingUrban Computing and Its Discontents, and the bestselling Against the Smart City.

Free and open to the public.
Presented by the Center for Spatial Research at Columbia GSAPP.

Sept 21-24: NY Art Book Fair

More here 

From Shannon: I’ve gone every year but one, and I’ll sadly miss this year’s event. But I can tell you: it’s awesome.

Printed Matter presents the twelfth annual NY Art Book Fair, from September 22-24, 2017, at MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens.

Free and open to the public, the NY Art Book Fair is the world’s premier event for artists’ books, catalogs, monographs, periodicals, and zines.

The 2016 NY Art Book Fair featured over 370 booksellers, antiquarians, artists, institutions, and independent publishers from twenty-eight countries, and was attended by over 39,000 visitors.

This year’s NY Art Book Fair will include an ever-growing variety of exhibitors – from zinesters in (XE)ROX & PAPER + SCISSORS and the Small Press Dome representing publishing at its most innovative and affordable, to rare and antiquarian dealers offering out-of-print books and ephemera from art and artist book history, plus the NYABF-classic Friendly Fire, focused on the intersections of art and activism.

NYABF17 will host an array of programming and special events, including: The Classroom, a curated engagement of informal conversations, workshops, readings, and other artist-led interventions, for the eighth year running, as well as The Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference (CABC), in its tenth year, featuring two full days of conversation on emerging practices and issues within art-book culture.

Sept 13-26: Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris @ Film Forum

More @ FilmForum 

Frederick Wiseman cracks open institutions: the military, the insane asylum, the high school, the police, the welfare system, the Paris Opera Ballet, the National Gallery of London, and now – in his 43rd film in 50 years – the New York Public Library, an institution eminently worthy of his immersive style. If you thought libraries are just repositories for books, you’re in for a big, wonderful surprise.  The NYPL owns (and makes accessible) millions of images; sponsors lectures by people like Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, and Ta-Nehisi Coates; circulates a growing collection of e-books; maintains a vast archive of materials not available online; and gives classes in digital technology. The magnificent Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (and 5th Avenue at 42nd Street) is the spine of the film, but equally vital is the role of branch libraries that act as community centers for civic life. “Libraries are the pillars of our democracy” says Toni Morrison – as Wiseman’s opus, EX LIBRIS, makes abundantly and fascinatingly clear.


Sept 8 – Oct 21: Trevor Paglen’s A Study of Invisible Images

@ Metro Pictures, 519 W 24th St

Trevor Paglen will present public walk-throughs of the exhibition at 3:00 p.m. on September 9 and 23. On September 16 at 1:00 p.m., he will be joined in discussion by leading computer vision and artificial intelligence researcher and AI Now Initiative co-founder Kate Crawford.

Trevor Paglen’s A Study of Invisible Images is the first exhibition of works to emerge from his ongoing research into computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI) and the changing status of images. This body of work has formed over years of collaboration with software developers and computer scientists and as an artist-in-residence at Stanford University. The resulting prints and moving images reveal a proliferating and otherwise imperceptible category of “invisible images” characteristic of computer vision.

Paglen’s exhibition focuses on three distinct kinds of invisible images: training libraries, machine-readable landscapes, and images made by computers for themselves. For Machine-Readable Hito, for example, Paglen took hundreds of images of artist Hito Steyerl and subjected them to various facial recognition algorithms. This portrait of Steyerl presents the images alongside metadata indicating the age, gender, emotional state and other signifiers that the algorithms have interpreted from the images. For other portraits in the show, Paglen trained facial recognition software to read the faces of deceased philosophers, artists and activists. Ghostly images of Frantz Fanon, Simone Weil and others show the facial signatures—the unique qualities of faces as determined by biometric recognition software— that are used by computer vision to identify individuals.

To make the prints in Adversarially Evolved Hallucinations, Paglen trained an AI to recognize images associated with taxonomies such as omens and portents, monsters, and dreams. A second AI worked in tandem with the first to generate the eerie, beautiful images that speak to the exuberant promises and dark undercurrents characterizing our increasingly automated world.

The video installation Behold These Glorious Times! brings together hundreds of thousands of training images routinely used for standardized computer vision experiments and pairs them with visual representations of an AI learning to recognize the objects, faces, expressions and actions. A loose narrative begins to emerge about the collapsing distinctions between humans, machines and nature. Electronic musician Holly Herndon composed a soundtrack using libraries of voices created to teach AI networks how to recognize speech and other acoustic phenomena.

Nov. 3-4: Vera List International Biennial Prize Conference: Maria Thereza Alves’s Seeds of Change

Tentative itinerary via the Vera List Center for Art + Politics:

Signature event for the 25th anniversary of the founding of the VLC, with artists, curators and scholars hailing from twelve countries in celebration of Maria Thereza Alves’ prize winning project Seeds of Change, and five prize finalists.

Friday, November 3
Conference Day One

Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street
12:00-2:00pm   Maria Thereza Alves Panel Discussion I: The Ground We’re Standing On
Participants:       Seth Denizen, University of California, Berkeley, Department of Geography; Josette Kehaulani Kauanui, Professor of American Studies and Anthropology, Wesleyan University; Tomaz Mastnak, Institute of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana

Unpacking the co-production of land, plants and peoples in the research for Seeds of Change, this conversation challenges our assumptions about how and what we think we know about a site. In Maria Thereza Alves’ words: “The earth you think you’re on is not, it is someplace else. The only way you would know the place is from the flower.” By looking at human-instigated histories of soil movements – and plants as evidence thereof – we examine radical forms of geography that help uncover obscured histories of sovereignty and oppression, and consider the potential of interspecies co-operation. In this talk we reframe our relation to place as well as what we risk when we do so when the “local” or so-called native is elsewhere. The New School faculty who guides this conversation considers who and what can call a place home and the means necessary of elaborating on that definition in order to move it beyond exchange.

2:30-4:30pm      Maria Thereza Alves Panel Discussion II: Seeds as Storyteller/Witness
Participants:       Jane Bennett, Professor, Department of Political Sciences, Johns Hopkins University; Marisa Prefer, art and Horticultural Advisor; Radhika Subramaniam, Assistant Professor, School of Art and Design History and Theory, Parsons

Moderator: Lara Khaldi, Curator, Palestine

In their narrative and expository role seeds collude with human actors and fertile ground to tell a story, sometimes a different story than expected, about the history of a place. Alves’ work takes up the narratives carried by dormant seeds that endure in ballast, i.e. the soil that was used to balance trade ships as they crossed the ocean. These dormant seeds have the potential to activate alternative ways of knowing buried and obscured histories of oppression that are “flashing up,” as Walter Benjamin wrote, in the present. As such, it is our, very necessary, job to grasp these stories in those moments. An environmentalist, a playwright/writer, and an art historian guide this investigation about the illustrative agency of seeds, and elaborate on and bolster the conceptual tools Alves has developed in regards to their own research and practices. The New School interlocutors and respondents, a botanist and a historian, elaborate on these interpretations to further consider how the sciences, humanities and design collaborate to imagine tangible alternative pasts and futures, and what is lost when we choose not to consider them in concert but select one over the other.

4:30-5:30pm      Meet & Greet with conference participants
Prize Presentation & Keynote Conversation

The Auditorium at 66 West 12th Street
6:00-6:45pm      Keynote Conversation with Maria Thereza Alves and Saidiya Hartman

Prize presentation

Introduced by Executive Dean Mary Watson, Maria Thereza Alves receives the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018 and the prize object, Yoko Ono’s sculpture The Third Eye, for her project Seeds of Change.

Seeds of Change explores the social, political and cultural history of ballast flora in port cities and reveals patterns, temporalities and instruments of colonialism, commerce and migration going back many centuries. In the conversation that follows, Maria Thereza Alves discusses her prize-winning project and its repercussions in the current political moment with Saidiya Hartman, Professor at Columbia University and author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth Century America and Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. 

Exhibition Opening

Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York—A Botany of Colonization

Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
6:45-8:00pm      Exhibition Opening & Reception
For the exhibition Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change –A Botany of Colonization, the artist, in association with students at The New School, has been mapping the artifacts and entities that trace the proliferation of foreign flora that travelled to New York and the surrounding region via trade ship ballast over the past two centuries. The installation includes a verdant collection of propagated ballast flora that will fill the Aronson Galleries in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons School for Design. A new series of watercolor drawings supplements this botanical collection and its cultivation, and shows the artist’s reflection on these historical ciphers through text and images. In addition, Alves has hand-drawn largescale maps on canvas that further highlight those areas in historical New York harbor sites that have been filled in with ballast over the past few centuries. In anticipation of the exhibition three partner organizations have sourced, potted and germinated the documented ballast flora at their outdoor locations to which they will be returned after the exhibition to create actual Ballast Flora Gardens in the spring and summer of 2018.

Saturday, November 4
Conference Day Two

Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street
12:00-2:00pm   Prize Finalists Panel Discussion I: The House We’re Building
Participants:       Doris Bittar, Nitasha Dhillon and Greg Sholette (Gulf Labor), Hannah

Meszaros Martin, Colombia (Forensic Architecture)

Try as we might, the materiality of structures and infrastructure still determines much of how we interact with others. Finalists for the Vera List Center Prize, Forensic Architecture and Gulf Labor are artist research groups dedicated to reassessing and activating the visible and invisible aspects of infrastructures. Forensic Architecture has established a form of history writing that skips over the historical significance to architectural forms, to focus instead on architecture’s performance as material witness. Gulf Labor has focused on the Guggenheim Museum’s labor practices to propose that artistic practices entail ethical positions. Representatives of the two groups discuss the visibility of markers of absences, and how alignments between organic and non-organic matter can result in an affirmative acts of community building.

2:00-4:00pm      Prize Finalists Panel Discussion II: Languages For Us(e)/Ways of Knowing
Participants:       Irene Agrivina, Indonesia (House of Natural Fibers), Gabriela Gamez, Mexico,

(IsumaTV), Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho, South Africa (MADEYOULOOK)

In light of rampant skepticism towards democratic forms of political representation, media platforms have recently been positioned as the new commons. But in the struggle for social justice, visual and discoursive media languages can only be effective if they enact as much as they convey social justice values shared among their members. This panel is informed by current debates in the U.S. on self-representation and protocols of accessing images, words and other culturally specific narratives. IsumaTV is a collaborative multimedia platform for indigenous filmmakers and media organizations in Canada; House of Natural Fibers (HONF) is a new-media arts laboratory in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; and MadeYouLook uses Johannesburg’s public transportation system in order to stage performative interventions that jolt different relationships among commuters. Here, representatives of all three groups elaborate on the specificities of visual and discoursive languages and the dynamics of media production that seeks distinct and different audiences and co-producers especially when addressing trans-local environmental challenges.

4:00-5:30pm      Festive Closing Reception with music, dance and song