Extinction And/As Visual Culture
Tuesday, Thursday: 11:00-12:30pm
This course brings the critical study of visual culture to the study and response to species extinction. What does the extinction of a species look like? Few of us see extinction happening right in front of us, in our own observations and experiences of species, but some of us do observe the severe loss of species and sometimes their utter disappearance. More often, we see the reality of extinction through the discoveries of archaeology and paleobiology, most famously in fossilized Dinosaur bones. We may see it in prehistoric human rock art representations of species that no longer exist and in more recent paintings of the Dodo, annihilated during Dutch colonialization of Mauritius in the late 16th c. There is taxidermy of extinct species, such as that of Martha, the last surviving Passenger Pigeon (d. 1914). And there are countless photographs of polar bears, elephants, and other species on the Red List of Endangered Species facing grave endangerment and future extinction.
How do photography, painting, film, sculpture, installation, and performance represent extinction events, extinct species, and species on the brink of extinction? How do artists signify disappearance, looming loss, and what “extinct” means for Earthʼs biosphere and for ourselves? How does extinction appear in museums, art spaces, and public spaces? What are extinction’s “visualities,” its social and political contexts and systems of visual expression and reception? Can visual images empower conservation and ethical response to species extinction and biodiversity loss, resist anthropogenic ecocide, and elevate and honor human practices of biodiversity regeneration and bio-ethical relationships with the environment? Do certain visual images hide extinctionʼs causes and obstruct efforts to reduce species loss? What about the visual images that accompany synthetic biology and genetic projects to bring extinct species “back to life” or appear in projects of “rewilding”? How do visual images address our efforts—individually and collectively—to cope with biodiversity loss and extinction, with “earth grief” and the fear of the extinction of our own species?
This course is open to all students in any college, major/intended major, and with diverse interests: visual/creative, STEM, historical, literary, legal, community-based, and beyond. We will learn and link key concepts, areas of knowledge, and modes of investigation—the science informing the visual and social, for instance, and the visual and social and philosophical informing the scientific.