Graduate Seminar: Extinction and Visual Representation
This exploratory graduate seminar asks: how does visual representation (allowing it generous flexibility) come to terms with extinction as process and end? Not just death, not just the “end of the world.” Extinction, full stop. Astrophysical-caused extinction (asteroids, the eventual death of the sun). Evolutionary extinction, as it has taken place for millions of years in the emergence of new species and continues, in scales of time and being difficult to perceive and perhaps visualize. Anthropogenic extinction, from the decimation of Pleistocene megafauna, to colonialism’s ecocide and genocide, to extreme petro-capitalism’s expansion-extraction “logic” and biodiversity annihilation….
Which is to ask: What does extinction look like? How, when, and why do human visual cultures and other cultural forms represent/confront extinction? How does representation respond to, inflect perception and knowledge of species loss? Is there an “extinction visuality”? In premodern picturing of species loss? In relation to modern scientific understandings of evolution and extinction and on-the-ground evidence (Dinosaur, Dodo, Passenger Pigeon, other “icons of extinction,” as Adrienne Ghaly puts it)? How do we assess extinction visualities in environmentalism and advertising? In data visualization? In indigenous, postcolonial, ecosocialist, and other biodiversity-coexistence resistance movements? What are the visual “journeys among the lost and left behind” (Terry Galvin), the visualities of extinction mourning, on the one hand, and action beyond tragedy and elegy on the other? (How) do the arts and visual culture disclose, respond to the existential terrors of biosphere and societal collapse and multispecies extinction—including our own? How do they engage sustainability, resilience, justice, and regenerative practices in the face of collapse and extinction? What about anti-extinction transhumanism and extreme-tech immortality? Is there an extinction emergency (or rebellion) art history? How might the realities of extinction transform art historical method, ethics, and practice? Should they?
The seminar is open to graduate students in all disciplines/fields. Taken for 4 units, the course requires a research paper/project; for 2 completion of reading and small assignments and participation. The course structure and content may depend to some degree on co-construction in relation to varied literatures, visual cultures related to extinction and the ecocritical/ecological humanities.