Speakers Aria Dean, Amanda Beech, Steven Shaviro and Michael Stone-Richards, look to tackle humanity’s entanglements between the visual and political.
In 1955, New York's Museum of Modern Art opened «The Family of Man,» a seminal photography exhibition curated by Edward Steichen. The exhibition took the form of a photo essay celebrating the universal aspects of the human experience, and then went on to tour the world, triumphantly declaring the existence of a single humanity undergoing a process of universal healing after the calamities of World War II. Yet, funded by the U.S.-state apparatus, this allegedly universal photographic tour was conspicuously aligned with the United States' own goals in the context of the Cold War. Since then, cultural production around the image has had to grapple with universal humanity's inextricable entanglements between the visual and the political.
This symposium will focus and expand on such critiques of the humanist ideal of ‘Man’ as the universal representative of humanity. Already decades before Steichen's MoMA show, photography and images were playing crucial historical roles in defining what it means to be 'human,' be it through the production of archetypes found in advertising and political propaganda; the imposition of institutional labels on certain types of bodies through the visual mechanisms of state power, like passports, demographic data, and criminal records; or the production of docile behavior through corporate surveillance and control in the factory, the school, or the city.
As we move away from such universalist claims—always engulfed in the particular context and power relations from which they emerge—how do we engage in image-making without recuperating hegemonic figurations of 'the human?’ Indeed, as a technical art, photography has always been a post-human practice involving the synthetic integration between machine and human. How can we make work that creates potentials for non-human-centered thinking—and is this even possible? How might, in turn, a 'post-human' art re-frame the classical figurations of political subjectivity—whether they be nationalist, as in the aesthetic production of fascist regimes organized around white supremacy; commercial, as in the production of capitalist societies that glorify the entrepreneur; or revolutionary, as in the work of the historic avant-gardes? This symposium will ask the question, what is the role of the artist in a post-human future? After the human, how do constituencies of human and non-human actors get represented—by whom, or by what? Can contemporary photography cut—or re-assemble—the apparent Gordian knot between the visual, the human, and the political?
Sponsored by Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Photography department and organized by Photography Artist-in-Residence Danielle Dean.
The symposium will be live-streamed. Visit our website to watch the conversation on December 8.
Symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition «Danielle Dean: A Portrait of True Red,» at Cranbrook Art Museum. We will also screen the film «Donna Haraway: Storytelling for Earthly Survival» the night before the symposium on December 7 at 7 pm at Cranbrook Art Museum.