VSRI Events

Method, Madness, and Montage: From Aby Warburg to A Beautiful Mind

W.J.T. Mitchell,
Professor of English and Art History, University of Chicago
August 29
DML 241

One of the central “image operations” in the practice of forensics, criminology, surveillance and targeting operations, and art history is the Bilderatlas, the structured array of images that allows a comprehensive overview of a situation. Typically, the “situation room,” the cinematic editing room, and the evidence wall deploy the same technique of assemblage and montage. Yet there is a thin line between the rational use of this technique and certain forms of madness, a line that is defined as the realm of “conjectural knowledge” (to echo Carlo Ginzburg’s phrase). This lecture explores that intermediate zone of knowledge with examples from spy thrillers, science fiction, and art historical practices inspired by the iconology of Aby Warburg.


Look Out!
Visual Culture and the Future of the Humanities

August 29-30
University of Southern California
View Website
RSVP to vsri@usc.edu

What place does visual culture have in the ongoing debates about the future of higher education that have generated fatalistic proclamations about the impending demise of the humanities? This symposium brings together early career visual culture scholars from across humanities disciplines and beyond academia to imagine an alternative, brighter future for the humanities with visual culture at its core.

Petrified Vision, Animate Wood: On the Photography of African Sculpture

Megan Luke
Assistant Professor of Art History, USC
Tuesday, September 9
Herklotz Room, Doheny Memorial Library
Please RSVP to VSRI@USC.EDU for pre-circulated readings

"Petrified Vision, Animate Wood” considers the photography of African sculpture and the role it played in the development of modernist sculptural theory, artistic primitivism, and conventions for museum display. I examine this topic through the short film by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, Les statues meurent aussi (Statues also die, 1950–53). Banned immediately upon its debut at Cannes for its incendiary critique of colonial exploitation, this film was not publicly screened in Paris until 1968. I will focus on how Marker and Resnais visualized African artifacts and staged arguments about their display in institutions such as the Musée de l’Homme and the British Museum, situating this work within a longer history of photographs that brought African art into the discursive spaces of modern art.

Comment: Britt Salvesen, Department Head and Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, LACMA

VSRI Back to School Graduate Student Lunch

Wednesday, September 10
SOS 250

Since antiquity, vision has been both celebrated and distrusted as a source of knowledge. Visual signs and systems are at once the oldest and newest means of communication and arguably the most crucial for 21st-century research and scholarship. Visual studies demands an interdisciplinary approach that addresses diverse media while critically examining the practices of seeing, showing, and knowing, whether in art museums or photo albums, in movie multiplexes or magnetic resonance labs, on desktop computers or in digital image libraries. There are few areas of study that form as much of a crossroads for USC's strategic interests in globalization, communication, and urbanization.

Celebrating New Publications from the VSRI

Tuesday, September 16
SOS 250


Join us as we celebrate four recently published books by scholars associated with the USC Visual Studies Research Institute. 

Meiling Cheng, Associate Professor, Director of Critical Studies, USC: Beijing Xingwei: Contemporary Chinese Time-based Art (Seagull Books, 2014)

Christian Delage, Director, Institute for Contemporary History, University of Paris VIII: Caught on Camera: Film in the Courtroom from the Nuremberg Trials to the Trials of the Khmer Rouge (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)

Megan Luke, Assistant Professor of Art History, USC: Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile (University of Chicago Press, 2014)

Laura Isabel Serna, Assistant Professor of Critical Studies, USC: Making Cinelandia: American Films and Mexican Film Culture before the Golden Age (Duke University Press, 2014)  

Depicting Spanish American Nature

Thursday, September 18
SOS 250

Please RSVP Here

This workshop will examine the role of visual materials for producing and circulating knowledge of Spanish American nature from the 1500s to the early 1800s, discussing notable works by European and American makers.

Valeria Escauriaza-López Fadul, Ph.D. Candidate, History, Princeton University

“Francisco Hernández and the Project of a Universal Natural History (1560-1587)”

Alejandra Rojas, PhD. Candidate, Art History, Harvard University

“A New Nature: Colonial Subjectivity in Sixteenth Century Botanical Illustrations”

Alicia Lubowski-Jahn, Independent Curator

“Alexander von Humboldt and The Tropical American Landscape: The Intertwining of Pictorial Representation and Humboldt's Science”

VSRI Postdoc Welcome Reception 

Wednesday, October 1
Doheny Memorial Library 240


Join us as we welcome new VSRI, EMSI and Digital Humanities post-docs and learn about their work.    

The Eternal Child: On Expecatations in the History of Photography 

Jan von Brevern 
Postdoctoral Researcher, Art History Department
Freie Universität Berlin

Tuesday, October 7 | 7-9pm
Doheny Memorial Library 240
Please RSVP to VSRI@USC.EDU for pre-circulated readings

 Until the late 19th century, photography was often said to be in its 'infancy' -- already producing great results, but capable of doing much more. Photographic treatises routinely included chapters about “The Future of Photography," in which the authors speculated about imaginable or unimaginable applications to come. For much of its history, the medium's appeal stemmed almost as much from expectations as from actual results. Where did this confidence come from, and how did it shape the way photography was used? And does it make sense for historians to take what could have happened as seriously as what actually happened? By looking at photography’s past futures, the essay explores the possibility to write a history of expectations.

Comment: Ryan Linkof, Assistant Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, LACMA

VSGC Grant Writing Workshop

Saturday, October 11
SOS 250


This workshop is intended to help advanced graduate students across diverse disciplines prepare effective CVs and craft compelling applications for outside fellowships. As a hands-on enterprise, the workshop enables students to engage and experiment with various strategies of writing and self-presentation in order to achieve a finished product that can win them external funding support for their dissertation writing and research.

Building Cinematic Worlds: Production Design in 20th-Century American Film 

Monday, October 20
Doheney Memorial Library, Herklotz Room


Jon Yoder, PhD, Associate Professor, Kent State University, College of Architecture and Environmental Design

“Ocular Futurism: Ken Adam, John Lautner and Second Machine Age Los Angeles”

Merrill Schleier, PhD, Professor, University of the Pacific, Department of Visual Arts

“Boris Leven and GIANT (1956): Location Shooting and Production Design in Post World War II Hollywood"

Of(f) Museums: The Presentation of Anthropological Photographs in the Open Air

Friday, November 14
SOS 250


Beatrice von Bismarck, Professor of Art History and Visual Culture, Cultures of the Curatorial Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig

The Gay Essay

Julian Cox, Chief Curator of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Anthony Friedkin, Artist

Tuesday, November 18
Discussion from 7-8pm followed by a reception from 8-9pm
Brown Auditorium, LACMA

A native of Los Angeles, Anthony Friedkin (b. 1949) honed his photographic skills at an early age and became a professional artist after he graduated from high school in the late 1960s. During the culturally tumultuous years of 1969 to 1973, Friedkin made a series of eloquent and expressive photographs that chronicled the gay communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Friedkin’s portraits, taken in streets, hotels, bars, and dancehalls, demonstrate a sensitivity and an understanding that has imbued the series with an enduring resonance. The Gay Essay was a self-assigned project and, although largely unknown today, it arguably comprises the most important set of photographs in Friedkin’s portfolio to date. Julian Cox, Chief Curator of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, has mounted the first exhibition to explore The Gay Essay in its full depth and range at the de Young Museum. Accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue, the exhibition coincides with the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. This conversation between Friedkin and Cox will explore the lasting impact of this remarkable series, and will be the only event in Los Angeles to celebrate this exhibition and Friedkin’s creative achievement. 

Summer Research Round-Up

Wednesday, November 19
SOS 250


Please join us for lunch to share war stories about summer research and to learn about the on-going funded research of VSRI grad students.  

Past Events


 The Art of Controversy
A conversation with Victor Navasky
and Jon Wiener

Thursday, September 12



The Rise and Fall of Cartoon Physics
Scott Bukatman, Professor of Art & Art History, Stanford University

Thursday, October 3

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