UC Berkeley History of Art Department

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Transversal Methods in Everyday Death-Worlds

Jill H. Casid, Professor of Visual Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison


What electrifies, what makes palpable the disavowed filaments of connection between the death-worlds over there and right here? Taking Guantánamo (and its phantom closure) as its improper object, this lecture offers an alternative in action to those engrained habits of method that partition death and life in ways that make illegible the extent to which we inhabit, in this extended period of endless war, a terror-zone in which the making of death-worlds of the living dead ostensibly “over there” in the occupied territories and extra-legal limbo zones of the “black sites” of unseen incarceration are also “right here” as the limits not just on right but also on the sensible. This lecture finds its opening provocation in U.S. artist Laurie Anderson’s installation Habeas Corpus (October 2-4, 2015) that cast a projection of former detainee Mohammed el Gharani from an undisclosed location in W. Africa into the interior of the Park Avenue Armory in New York City and cast his live-feed image onto a colossal white plaster rendering of a seated figure in an uncanny and virtual reversal of the Lincoln Memorial in which the imprisoned takes the grand seat, white turns to black, and the history of slavery returns as the present condition of the carceral. The projection and magnification trick of the single and massive beamed-in figure converts the over-there into the unavoidably here. But the device of the story-telling projection also, at the same time, points to the limits of the figure of the solitary witness to address the complex diagram of competing virtual, material, plant, and animal powers that proliferate the unruly necro-landscape of Guantánamo. Reckoning with the death-worlds in which we lose ourselves demands a recognition of the contaminated mixtures of affect and the development of a capacity for an improper geometry, one committed to drawing lines that connect not just the parallel but also and especially the non-reciprocal and incommensurable.

A historian, theorist, and practicing artist, Jill H. Casid is Professor of Visual Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Sowing Empire: Landscape and Colonization (Minnesota, 2006) which received the College Art Association’s Millard Meiss award and Scenes of Projection: Recasting the Enlightenment Subject (Minnesota, 2015) as well as the coedited volume Art History in the Wake of the Global Turn (Yale, 2014). Recent articles have appeared in Women and Performance, TDR, and the Journal of Visual Culture. She is currently completing a two-volume book project on Form at the Edges of Life and co-editing a volume of essays, The Deaths and Afterlives of Queer Theory with Michael Jay McClure.

This event is co-sponsored by the History of Art Department, the Department of African-American and African Diaspora Studies, the Townsend Working Group in Contemporary Art, and the Black Feminist Epistemologies of Afro-Pessimism Working Group.