Courses / Fall 2019

Fall 2019

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    Course Number: HA 236 | CCN: 31445

    Graduate Seminar: The Matter of Material: Towards Planetary Art Histories

    Sugata Ray

    Monday | 2:00 - 5:00pm

    The globe is on our computers. No one lives there. It allows us to think we can aim to control it. The planet is in the species of alterity, belonging to another system; and yet we inhabit it, on loan.
    – Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 2003

    Taking Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s notion of planetary inhabitance as a point of departure, this seminar aims to read the rhizomatic entanglements between matter (that is, the physical substance that constitutes our planet) and the material of art and architecture. This line of enquiry is certainly not new. From the millennia-old trade in lapis lazuli from Afghanistan to the circulation of American cochineal in the early modern period, art history has always attended to the material world that is at the center of art production. Our embattled ecological present, however, demands new histories of material that belongs to another register of thought, one in which the material of art (dyes, metal, fiber, rocks – the archive is inexhaustible) can be reconfigured beyond existing accounts of global trade and techno-aesthetic connectedness. Stone, in such a reconfiguration, can then simultaneously be a natural substance, a living being, and the material of architecture and sculpture. Rather than merely a natural resource, plants might reveal the unfolding of a vegetal aesthetic that offer a more capacious view of the planet that we share with other species.
    In this seminar, we will use specific case studies to explore how global histories of material can be overwritten by forms of planet thinking that are attentive to indigenous epistemologies, interspecies friendships, the desires of nonhuman life forms, and other minor ways of being in alterity that have been marginalized by colonialism, capitalism, and the economies of natural resource extraction. In tandem, we will turn to allied disciplines such as anthropology (Eduardo Kohn; Michael Taussig) and philosophy (Jane Bennett; Bruno Latour) to explore the transdisciplinary methodologies necessary to write art histories that disturb the rationalist imperatives of global histories of material.

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