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Conference explores "The Visual" across epochs and cultures

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor 
(217) 333-2177;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A unique gathering of cutting-edge artists, videographers and producers, cultural theorists, museum curators, scholars and other students of the visual media culminates Tuesday (March 7) at the University of Illinois with a series of unusual presentations aimed at exploring the phenomenon of “the visual” across epochs and cultures.

While the gathering – a conference on “Institutions of the Visual” – begins Saturday (March 4) with scholarly talks and presentations, Tuesday’s fare “will be fireworks,” said Michael Bérubé, director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, the conference sponsor.

British author-producer-professor Sean Cubitt kicks off Tuesday’s events with a discussion of “Taking a Pixel for a Walk:  Animation and the Critique of Play.”  His talk is set for 9 a.m. in Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., Urbana, site of many of the presentations.  Cubitt’s talk, like all conference events, is open to anyone who registers for the conference.  Registration is $10; $5 for students. 

UI art and design professors Nan Goggin and Joseph Squier follow Cubitt at
10:30 a.m., with more digital fireworks:  an exhibition on their path-breaking work in digital art, also in Levis Faculty Center.

IPRH’s conference is sponsored in part by the Madden Initiative in Technology, Arts and Culture.  A year ago, UI alumni Dean E. and Marilynn A. Madden of Decatur announced a $2 million gift to the UI to support people and programs aimed at bridging the gap between technology and the arts, humanities and social sciences.  Among other things, the Madden initiative will promote the exploration of ways in which technology can enhance teaching and learning, of the effects of technology on society and the philosophical, ethical and moral issues raised by technological advances.

Cubitt is a reader (professor) of video and media studies at Liverpool John Moores University, and author of the highly acclaimed books “Digital Aesthetics” and “Videography: Video Media as Art and Culture.”  He also is the producer of several media productions, including “Organic City,” a yearlong program of public arts across York, England.  In his paper, Cubitt will argue that “the institutionalization of play, anarchy and the carnival is an important element of contemporary capital.”  Other Tuesday events:

Noon, lunch and discussion, “BIPED and Virtual Dance,” Paul Kaiser, digital artist, Riverbed, a New York City-based digital production company that has designed motion-capture technology for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Bill T. Jones.
1:30 p.m., talk and discussion, “Re-Imagining the Art Museum,” featuring Leslie Brothers, curator, UI Krannert Art Museum; Steve Dietz, curator and director of New Media Initiatives, Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; Kaiser; David Prochaska, history professor, UI; and Fred Wilson, installation artist, New York.  Linda Duke, UI Krannert Art Museum, will serve as moderator.
3:30 p.m., presentation, “The Unrepresentable:  The Concept of the Sublime in Contemporary Painting, Physics, Genetics and Astronomy,” James Elkins, art historian, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Fred Wilson, an internationally exhibited New York artist renowned for his museum “interventions,” will give the keynote talk at 8 p.m. Saturday on “The Silent Message of the Museum” in the Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign.  Wilson’s interventions have been described as “often surprising and controversial additions and alterations to conventional museum displays that attempt to challenge ideas about the traditional role of the museum,” according to conference material.

Other invited speakers include Douglas Crimp, author and professor of visual studies, University of Rochester; Eduardo Kac, artist, author and professor of art and technology, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Lawrence Rinder, incoming curator of contemporary art, Whitney Museum of Art; Kaja Silverman, film studies, University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The Threshold of the Visible World.”

Bérubé expects heavy attendance for many of the presentations, including an art class from the University of Illinois at Springfield and attendees from universities across the region.  For more information, contact Christine Catanzarite, IPRH associate director, at (217) 244-7913.