Annie Dell'Aria and Shawn Rice

The editors' introduction to the first issue of the journal.

The Eye of Hubble: Framing Astronomical Images

Evan Snider

This paper examines images of deep space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in terms of the aesthetics and the rhetorics attached these images.  Hubble images distributed to the public—often called “pretty pictures” by astronomers—employ an aesthetics of shock and awe that works to efface the production practices that result in finished distributed images.  In this paper, I investigate the framing of Hubble images in one particular type of popular artifact: the coffee table book.  I begin by theorizing and historicizing what I call a rhetoric of objectivity.  I continue by discussing the aesthetic and rhetorical decisions made by astronomers in the construction of images for both scientific and public purposes.  Finally, I present original research in the form of textual analysis.  I analyze the textual framing of Hubble images in printed anthologies, especially high-quality glossy anthologies known as coffee table books.  I focus on “The Pillars of Creation,” one of the most immediately recognizable Hubble images, as paradigmatic of the ways images are contextualized.  I conclude that coffee table books, because of the constraints of their audience, tend to perpetuate simplistic notions of Hubble images as photographic, as direct representations of visual reality.

From Metaphysics to Metadata: Aesthetics and Politics of Interface

Nicola Bozzi

This work is a conceptualization of stereotype circulation in contemporary society, emphasizing its globalization and mass-mediation. With the premise that people and space are increasingly read and interpreted as data, I address stereotype in the form of metadata, pointing out the protocological (Galloway, 2004) and asymmetrical (Pasquinelli, 2008) dynamics of its production and categorization. Metadata consists of imaginary symbols shared in a collective imagery and “attached” to individuals and space to facilitate their interpretation on a global scale. It is channeled by infrastructure – the technologies and regulations enabling global flows - and filtered through interface -the filtering systems that mediate them behind the illusion of free choice. I discuss the compromising nature of metadata in terms of identity imagination (Appadurai, 1996) and urban polarization (Castells, 1992), by analyzing the examples of four emerging stereotypical figures: the Nerd, the Hipster, the Comedian, and the Gangster. While discussing their relationship to four main types of metadata (structural, textural, body, scale), I touch issues of identity, gentrification, and social segregation. In the conclusion I propose a mapping of subversive uses of stereotype, in order to phrase new strategies to reclaim real agency within the realm of interface.

Exotic Follies: Sanderson Miller’s Mock Ruins

Lauren A. Kaplan

In 1740, the gentleman architect Sanderson Miller began building sham ruins--new structures built to look as if they were already deteriorating--on the estates of his wealthy patrons. Over the next thirty years, he constructed approximately thirty faux ruins, or follies,in the style of thirteenth and fourteenth-century castles and towers. Various scholars have argued that Miller and his clients wanted to conjure associations with medieval chivalry or political independence. While some contend that Miller’s castles stood as nostalgic evocations of politically decentralized feudalism, others assert that his “gothick” ruins represented opposition to Catholicism and the papal power of the past. 

In truth, it seems that Miller’s follies embody layers of contradictions--old and new, medieval and enlightened, nostalgic and critical.  Each structure must be examined as a separate entity, replete with its own style, intentions and associations. Using anthropologist Peter Mason’s notion of the exotic as a temporally composite being which is incapable of attribution, [1]this essay problematizes the prevailing reading of Miller’s follies as merely picturesque and political to insist upon their indeterminate, itinerant exoticism. In so doing, this paper rereads the follies through an interdisciplinary lens, as subjects of both anthropology and visual culture.

[1]Peter Mason fleshes out this idea and others in his book Infelicities: Representations of the Exotic, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998). 

You Marxist, I Clean Toilet: Racism, Labor, and the Bathroom Attendant

Tara Atluri

Slavoj Zizek writes that “It is easy for an academic of a round table to claim that we live in a post-ideological universe but the moment he visits the lavatory after the heated discussion, he is again knee deep in ideology” (Zizek, 2004). Zizek cites Hegel who was “…the first to see in the geographical triad of Germany, France, and England an expression of three different existential attitudes: reflective thoroughness (German), revolutionary hastiness (French), utilitarian pragmatism (English)” (Zizek, 2004). The Zizekian toilet is never just a toilet. Rather it reflects upon how our lives are governed by the ideologies of places in which we live, work, and well, shit. I am interested in other fixtures of the contemporary bathroom. Namely, I am troubled by the restroom attendant, a strange figure in urban Western public spaces. In an article titled “Who Would Be a Bathroom Attendant?” the BBC reveals that the job is often carried out by non status migrant workers (Cook, 2010). I am interested in the relationship between slavery which allotted black bodies `care’ roles and the current racialisation of undocumented workers. To paraphrase Sivanandan, the rest room attendant might speak to a time in which citizenship is the new black (Sivanandan, 2001). I further reflect upon what attendants can tell us about racism and academic labour. Drawing upon a case at Duke University where a student referred to a Black professor as “… a cross between a welfare queen and a restroom attendant” (Lawrence, 1990) and a performance art piece in which I played a restroom attendant, I return to Zizek’s assertion that once the debates are done, one can learn a lot in the lavatory.

Harold Edgerton and Complications of the 'Photographic Instant'

Kris Belden-Adams

Although much of our existing scholarship has marginalized Harold Edgerton’s work as popular illustrations of scientific/technical advance that held sway over a mass audience by offering visual proof of the fascinatingly unreal realism of everyday objects in atomized bits of time, a detailed look at exemplary samples of Edgerton’s stroboscopy reveals this body of work to be far more complex in its expression of time.

Through a case study of the image Milk Drop Coronet, this essay examines the means by which Edgerton’s famous photographs conjure faith in photography’s ability to surpass humans’ own unaided vision while offering a paradoxically innate abstraction of the atomized instant, with respect to the experience of lived time’s ongoing continuum.

A closer look at the series Death of a Light Bulb also evokes multiple possible collective narratives, each possessing a creative relationship to time, and often also conjuring subjective, changeable personal associations in viewers. As such, these fraction-of-a-second-exposure photographs express time in many more ways than as a brief view of a Barthesian temporal “that-has been.”

Thus, while our existing discourses tend to examine Edgerton’s work as a positivist scientific/technical milestone that reveals peculiar and wonderful views of the 1,000,000th-of-a-second, his stroboscopic expressions of time are far more layered and complex.

Women's Cinema/Artists' Cinema: Spectatorship in Nashashibi's The Prisoner

Gillian Sneed

Rosalind Nashashibi’s The Prisoner (2008) is a five-minute, continuously looped 16 mm film installation in which an anonymous woman is followed as she walks through an urban environment. As she traverses interior and exterior terrains, the camera acts as her unseen pursuer. The projection appears to be a split-screen film, but is actually two projections of the same film played side-by-side. To achieve this effect, Nashashibi has threaded the actual film strip in a loop through two adjacent film projectors, the delay between the two projections being the length of time it takes for the film to loop through the second projector. The film takes as a point of departure a scene from Chantal Akerman’s film La Captive (2000) — itself adapted from Proust’s The Prisoner — in which the main character stalks his lover through city streets. The approach to Nashashibi’s work is two fold: its content is examined through the lens of the legacy of “women’s cinema,” and its physical installation is investigated through an engagement with discourse around “artist’s cinema.” By focusing on the issue of spectatorship — from the perspectives of both feminist film theory and expanded cinema/installation art theory — it shows that both the film’s content and its installation are intimately linked in constructing its meaning.