Recently at the Hurford Center: Hope Tucker

Nestled into the midst of this semester’s STRANGE TRUTH film series, Hope Tucker’s short filmic obituaries stand out. Hope spoke to a crowd of Bi-Co students and community members on Wednesday, March 30, alternating between showing videos and speaking about her work. In Hope’s video series, The Obituary Project, she creates short videos as obituaries for people or places. Originally, Hope planned to focus on the stories of women, though she later decided that this focus was too narrow. One of the first videos in The Obituary Project, and the first video Hope showed us on Wednesday evening, was an obituary for Bessie Cohen, a survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 145 workers. Hope’s obituary of Bessie Cohen explores the ways in which famous events such as the fire shape the time and perspective of an obituary and highlight what parts of life become historicized. Bessie Cohen lived to 107 years old, yet obituaries written for her tend to end at the age of 17—her escape from death becomes the story of her life.

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Hope pointed to her Bessie Cohen obituary as a project she hopes to remake using the same words, only this time in reference to a recent Bangladesh factory fire. This connection between the past and present highlights the social justice angle of Hope’s work. When I asked about the connection between the medium of film and social justice, Hope emphasized her desire to work in an accessible space beyond language. Through film and image, her message can move beyond the confines of verbal language. Especially, she added, as people increasingly learn to read images in school.

When discussing her current projects, Hope made sure to stress their status as in-progress, changing works whose futures she could not entirely predict. One such project focuses on the grocery store owned by one of Emmett Till’s murderers, and where Emmett Till bought candy before his murder. The grocery store is now an abandoned building, and marks a complex, unresolved history, and one that the community members don’t necessarily want to remember. Hope described a sign that appears and disappears in front of the building, memorializing Emmett Till and the history of his murder. Some members of the surrounding community put the sign up, others take it down. Hope explains that she is not interested in “ruin porn,” and that she is documenting not the building itself, but rather the space and how the community reacts to the space. Rather than make obituaries of individuals, Hope says that she finds it less problematic to make obituaries of how we function as members of a community and of what we give back to spaces.

Hope has gone back to her home at Hampshire College, but if you missed her visit, come to the future STRANGE TRUTH events! The next film screening is this Thursday, April 14, at 7pm in Sharpless Auditorium. Kevin Jerome Everson will screen and discuss his films that document the lives and gestures of working-class African Americans. More info here.

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An interview with Professor Kristen Mills by Lydia Gingerich ’19

Though spring has just begun, forecasting for Fall 2016 is rapidly approaching. We asked Professor Kristen Mills to talk a bit about the two courses she’s offering through the Hurford Center next year.

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Living with the Dead: Attitudes Towards Death in Medieval Britain

How have individuals and communities conceptualized their relationship with the dead? This course will examine changing attitudes towards death by considering entwined discourses about burial, the dead, and the afterlife, from the early Middle Ages to the early modern period, focusing on Britain. The medieval Church’s teachings about the place of the soul in the Christian afterlife vied with a range of popular beliefs about restless spirits and walking corpses. Topics to be studied include burial practices, the location of graves, saints’ bodies, the doctrine of purgatory, and tales of the restless dead.

Vikings: Facts, Fictions, and Fantasies

Horned helmets, dragon-prowed ships, goblets made from enemy skulls, magical hammers: In this course students will study depictions of the Vikings from the Viking Age to the present day.

The Viking Age spanned less than three centuries in the early medieval period, yet the idea of the Viking has been deployed almost continually in the intervening centuries. What is it about the Vikings that continues to fascinate successive generations?

We begin in the Viking Age, studying the Vikings through the scant textual records that the Vikings themselves left behind, as well as through the writings of the English who were continually attacked and invaded by Northmen until the Anglo-Norman Conquest in 1066. We will then read a selection of texts written in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, including Icelandic sagas about their Viking ancestors and the main sources for pre-Christian Norse mythology, to examine how medieval Icelanders used the idea of the Viking to construct a proto-national identity during the period of Norwegian colonialism. After this we turn to the idea of “the North” in the literature of Early Modern and Victorian England, and we will conclude the course by reading three recent novels that reimagine Viking history and mythology for a modern audience.

What inspired you to design these courses? Are they linked by any common questions, or are you imagining very different focuses and concepts?

The “Living with the Dead” course is tied to my research on medieval attitudes towards death and to the theme of this year’s Hurford Center faculty seminar, “Attending to the Dead.” “Vikings” grew out of my interest in Old Norse literature and its reception. I took a fantastic course on Icelandic sagas in translation, taught by Tom Hill, when I was an undergraduate at Cornell, and I’ve been wanting to teach a similar course for a while.

How are you planning to structure these classes?

Both classes will be structured chronologically. “Vikings” will begin (naturally) with Viking Age sources; we’ll be reading Anglo-Saxon texts, including selections from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Battle of Maldon, and Asser’s Life of King Alfred, that depict the Viking incursions into England, and we will also look at runic inscriptions and read Old Norse poems that are thought to have been composed during the Viking Age (although it is often difficult to be sure). We will then read a selection of sagas composed in medieval Iceland that are set during the Viking Age, along with the two main literary sources for pre-Christian Norse mythology: the PoeticEdda and SnorraEdda. We will then turn to the literature of the so-called “Viking Revival,” a post-medieval period of intense interest in, and imitation of, recently translated medieval Scandinavian texts, that peaked during the Victorian era. The course will conclude with several recent texts, including Neil Gaiman’s  American Gods and A. S. Byatt’s Ragnarok, that draw on and rework Norse mythology.

“Living with the Dead” will begin around 500 AD, and proceed forward chronologically from there. We will be examining textual sources alongside archaeological evidence and funerary art. As I’m currently imagining it, the course will extend slightly beyond the Middle Ages, in order to allow us to consider the effects that the religious and societal shifts that occurred toward the end of the medieval period had on ideas about death and dying.

What departments are these courses in?

“Living with the Dead” is being offered through the English department, and “Vikings” is being offered through Comparative Literature.

What are the texts you’re most excited about examining in each course?

In both courses there is an abundance of sources from which to choose, and I’ve selected those that I’m most interested in, and which I think will be the most illuminating for the students. It is hard to pick favorites, but I’ll try!

In “Living with the Dead” we will have a section on what happens when things “go wrong,” as it were, and the dead hang around pestering and/or terrifying the living. We’ll be reading about walking corpses, incorporeal ghosts, processions of the damned, and all manner of unquiet dead. I’m planning to teach those texts in the weeks leading up to Halloween. For “Vikings,” Laxdælasaga is a simply gorgeous text, and I’m also very excited about the Eddas. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which will be one of the final texts that we read in the course,  should also be a lot of fun.

Death is a (if not the) defining, universal human experience. Why is medieval Britain in particular a compelling lens to look at death and the living through?

Studying death in any culture would be compelling (at least to me!), but I am a medievalist who works on Britain, so that is the material that I am most familiar with. That said, there are other reasons why Britain makes a good subject for study. Britain went through tremendous social and cultural changes during the Middle Ages. The Anglo-Saxons arrive after the Romans leave, but there were already a number of Britons peoples living on the island, so you have cultures colliding and borrowing and clashing at the very start of what we consider the medieval period. The Britons would have been Christian, for the most part, and the Angles, Saxons and Jutes were pagans, so clearly there were very different attitudes towards what death meant, how one should think about the dead, what constituted proper burial practices. Medieval Christianity  forbade cremation, because the idea was that the body would rise whole from the grave at the end of time, so you needed a corpse, and ideally you wanted it in one piece in one grave. There are exceptions, particularly in the cases of kings or saints, whose bodies might be divided up and placed in different locations, but generally you wanted the corpse to be as whole as possible. The Plague hits Europe in the 14th century and wipes out a very large portion of the population—estimates vary, but we’re looking at between 30 and 60 percent—and this creates an impetus for art, both textual and visual, encouraging people to contemplate their own death and to make sure that they are prepared for it: memento mori, “remember that you will die.” Of these motifs, the one that is best known today is probably the danse macabre, “the Dance of Death,” which is the inspiration for the closing scene of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

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What is it about the Vikings that continues to fascinate people?

Well, medieval peoples were fascinated and frightened by the Vikings, and many of the cultures with which the Vikings had contact wrote accounts describing them. Scandinavians travelled more widely than any other European culture during the Middle Ages —they went to what is now Russia, they were in Constantinople, they sailed to Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland. Despite having a relatively small population, medieval Iceland created and preserved a large corpus of saga literature, much of it set in the Viking Age. At this point the Vikings are already exerting a strong hold on the imagination of the literati, and the world of the Viking Age depicted in the sagas is vivid and compelling (though not always factually accurate!).

After the Middle Ages, when medieval texts start being translated into modern languages, the Vikings again capture an international audience. When we think about medievalism and the Victorians we tend to focus on King Arthur and all of those lovely Pre-Raphaelite paintings of knights and ladies, but there was a very strong interest in “the North,”as well.

In the 1800s there were claims that the Vikings sailed to Boston and other locations in the US—there is a statue of Leif Erikson in Boston that commemorates his supposed voyage up the Charles River to what is now Cambridge. Catharine Wolfe of Newport, Rhode Island, operating under the belief that a local ruin was evidence of a Viking settlement, designed her country house around the theme of “Vinland,” complete with stained windows designed by the William Morris, himself a great enthusiast of medieval Scandinavian literature and culture.

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Among the Unburied: Interview with Curator Liz Park

How do we honor and mourn the unburied, the restless dead? The exhibition Among the Unburied, opening at Haverford’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery on Friday, March 18th, raises this question and more by juxtaposing the works of artists Mauricio Arango (Colombia/USA), Marianne Nicolson (Kwakwaka’wakw/Canada), and Park Chan-kyong (South Korea). We spoke with curator Liz Park for a sneak peak of Friday’s gallery opening.

Marianne Nicolson, Bax’wana’tsi: the Container for Souls, 2006. Glass, light, wood. Installation view. Photography by Scott Massey. Image courtesy of the artist.

Marianne Nicolson, Bax’wana’tsi: the Container for Souls, 2006. Glass, light, wood. Installation view. Photography by Scott Massey. Image courtesy of the artist.

How did you select these three artists and the pieces in the exhibition?

I have long admired and respected Marianne Nicolson as an artist. When the opportunity to work on this project came up, I immediately thought of the work Marianne made in 2008 titled The House of the Ghosts. Working on the exhibition allowed us to present a new work she created specifically for the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford. I was similarly aware of Park Chan-kyong and Mauricio Arango as artist-filmmakers, and have found their works very compelling. This exhibition was an opportunity to connect with all of them, and to think about their works in relation to one another. The pieces that share the gallery space resonate in a number of ways – the river and the light are the common transformative vehicles that carry the living from one state to another, and vice versa for the dead. The movement of light in Marianne’s installation is inspired by and mimics the ebb and flow of the river. In both Park’s and Arango’s works, the river plays an essential role in the development of the plot. And to note the obvious, the works all evoke the last rite. They unequivocally seek closure.

Your exhibition is described as “firmly planted in the complex geopolitics and cultural schisms of Colombia, the Pacific Northwest, and Korea.” Did you choose these regions specifically, or is the focus a result of the choice of artists?

I did not set out to pick an artist from these regions specifically, but I did think about geography once I had a rough idea of what kinds of artists and artworks I was interested in curating. Geography determines various cultural expressions, of which visual art is one. When dealing with such a universal topic, it is crucial to keep in mind how diversely we understand it. We all share joy of life and grieve death, but there’s a tremendous range of expressions.

The exhibition description mentions the artists working with the traumas and violence of their national histories. Do you see this work as political or activist?

I’ll default to the artists­—whether they’d consider their work to be a form of activism. In response to the first part of the question, however, yes, of course I see the work as political. But my definition of political may be broader than what you are suggesting. For me, politics is embedded in the fabric of the every day, and it is the fiber that binds us to one another in a complex web of social relations. Seen this way, of course, our actions and words carry certain politics. A man who wakes up in the middle of the night to retrieve the bodies of victims killed by the right wing paramilitary [as in Arango’s film] may not identify as being of a certain political persuasion lest he be targeted in retribution. In fact, he takes the cover of the night for anonymity. But it is political, in fact radical, to refuse the status quo, which, in that situation, is to let the bodies rot and infest the water.

Park Chan-kyong, Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits, 2013. HD Film, color, sound, 104 minutes. Production stills. Image courtesy of the artist.

Park Chan-kyong, Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits, 2013. HD Film, color, sound, 104 minutes. Production stills. Image courtesy of the artist.

All three of the artists’ works include river imagery. What do you see as the connection between rivers and the theme of the exhibition?

I believe Marianne addressed it best in the conversation we had for the publication. To paraphrase her, the river is what connects us in the present to those who came before us, and those who will come after we’re gone. The river is a conduit that cuts across multiple temporalities, occupied by the ghosts of the past, present, and the future.

How does curating an exhibition at a small liberal arts college like Haverford differ from curating at a gallery or museum? How much do you think about the audience and physical context of an exhibition while curating?

I’ve had such a great time working on this exhibition from start to finish. Everyone at Haverford has been an absolute pleasure to work with. The advantage of working within a post-secondary educational institution is that, at its core, everyone is invested in learning. Unlike in a gallery (that must consider the market), unlike in a museum (that must consider its collection), the purest objective and the highest ideal at a place like Haverford College is learning. I learned a great deal working on the project­—not only about the topic and the artists, but also how to work with others and how to relate to scholars and students of multiple disciplines, so that the view of the world as represented in the exhibition is as well-rounded and multi-dimensional as it possibly can be under the given circumstance.

When working with artists from regions other than the location of the exhibition, do you think that there are ways to avoid an othering or voyeuristic gaze on the part of the viewers? Do you think such a gaze should be avoided?

As I stated, my goal is to present as multi-dimensional a project as I possibly can, so that as a visitor is walking into the exhibition, there’s room to chart your own path, shift your position, consider the works from various angles. An othering or a voyeuristic gaze can very well be one of these many positions a visitor can take, but I try to create an experience that encourages multiple points of view.

Mauricio Arango, The Night of the Moon Has Many Hours, 2010. HD Video, color, sound, 12 minutes. Production stills. Image courtesy of the artist.

Mauricio Arango, The Night of the Moon Has Many Hours, 2010. HD Video, color, sound, 12 minutes. Production stills. Image courtesy of the artist.

How did you become involved with Haverford on this project?

As I was finishing off a fellowship at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Matthew Callinan, the Associate Director of Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford approached me and told me about the theme of the annual faculty seminar—Attending to the Dead. At the time, I was finishing off a project titled Traces in the Dark. It sought to address the things that are hard to see, hard to understand, hard to grasp. For me, attending to the dead entails straining to listen to the stories of those who are no longer around—it felt similar to the process of looking for traces in the dark, straining your eyes for glimpses of things. Needless to say, I was delighted to receive the invitation to guest-curate the exhibition.

Do you have a favorite part of curating an exhibition?

Ideas excite me. It’s thrilling to think of and to create a constellation of artworks that spark new ideas. I also love to connect with people—not just artists, but designers, editors, install crew, administrators. I learn so much from them.
More information on Among the Unburied, Liz Park, and the artists is available here. The Gallery Talk and Opening Reception will be Friday, March 18, 4:30-7:30pm in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College.

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El Velador: Interview with Filmmaker Natalia Almada

On Wednesday, March 16, Haverford students and community members will have the opportunity to view the documentary El Velador and speak with award winning filmmaker Natalia Almada. The quiet, mesmerizing film follows the nightwatchman of a “narco-cementary”, where some of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords are buried. For a sneak-peek into Wednesday’s event, Natalia Almada agreed to a brief interview on El Velador and filmmaking in general. Still from El Velador Icarus Films describes El Velador as “a film about violence without violence.” Do you agree? Why did you decide not to explicitly portray violence? Yes, that’s how I describe the film. In part it was a reaction to the mainstream media in Mexico, which is flooded with extremely graphic images of violence. The result of such images is that eventually they cease to touch us. We become numb to their horror and turn away. They also serve to support a discourse in which the perpetrators of these crimes are simply seen as monsters and therefore not human beings who deserve to have rights. It allows us to disassociate the violence from our social responsibility; we are no longer implicated. I believe that the violence we are experiencing in Mexico is a result of our unequal and unjust society—not only Mexican society but global society and we need to make media which allows us to see it, think about it and feel it. My hope I suppose was that the absence of violence in my film would actually allow for a reflection on violence. I was watching the trailer for El Velador on Youtube, and I couldn’t help but notice that many of the suggested videos were news pieces such as “Univision News – In Sinaloa, a Cemetary Dominated by Narcos”. Is this the context that you imagine viewers watching the film in? How did think about context while making the film? Once a film is done it has a life of its own and that is as it should be. The film has had an incredibly diverse life that ranges from Youtube to Cannes to museums all over the world and US public television. I think this is the power of film and I love the vast range of audiences and contexts in which the film can participate or ignite dialogue. I don’t make films for a given audience. I want my films to be seen by all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances. I understand that they will relate to the film differently and read the film differently and I find this immensely rewarding and a testament to the power of cinema. The notion that we must define our audience is a market driven notion, not an artistic one. The clips of El Velador that I have seen are very quiet. How did the silence or quiet of El Velador come about? I think that form should be born out of the film, not imposed onto the film. The silence in El Velador was inevitable in my opinion. The cemetery is a place of mourning and reflection, therefore a place of silence. The cemetery is also a site of violence and one of the first effects of violence is silence, people are afraid to talk. I needed to respect this in order to make the film. In documentary we tend to privilege the interview and testimony as a vehicle to” truth,” but when speaking can be dangerous and threatening, then the spoken work is no longer reliable and we must rely on gestures and other things to understand a situation. El_Velador_Capilla_construccion copy Do you think of subtitles as a deliberate choice in your films or as a practical necessity? How do you feel the presence or absence of subtitles alters your films? In my first film, All Water has a Perfect Memory, the subtitles are an integral part of the form of the film, but in my other films they are simply a necessity for any non-Spanish speaking audience. I believe that film, or rather, art in all its forms, has the capacity to cross borders. It is one of its greatest strengths and so if we are to share with others who speak different languages we must accept and embrace reading subtitles. It is an effort worth making, and frankly I think it is only in the US that this arises as an issue because Americans are spoiled by Hollywood. As a Mexican/American filmmaker, do you ever feel pressured to make a certain kind of film or present your films in a particular light? My bicultural background influences my work in that it shapes the way I see things. I think all creative endeavors are shaped by identity (culture, class, race, gender, sexuality…)—it is only that when you’re mixed, bi-cultural or simply not of the mainstream you’re asked about it usually because it makes others aware of difference. Perhaps another way of posing the above question—As a biracial person myself, I often feel that society’s intense fascination, perhaps fetishization, of people who cross racial or cultural boundaries can open up a space of conversation and yet restrict that space to very specific conversations and purposes. Do you feel this sort of double-edged gaze on you and your filmmaking? Of course what you describe is true, but I think it’s important to hold one’s ground and not only be reactionary. In other words, not allow oneself to be limited and constrained by the gaze that society imposes on those who are not of the dominant mainstream As both a director and editor, do you have a favorite part of the filmmaking process? I love that it has so many parts. Do you consider your art to have an activist or social justice role? It can. Right now there is a trend in activist, social documentary that I don’t feel particularly attuned to, although I make social issues films and believe that all my work is political. To view El Velador, join the Hurford Center at Bryn Mawr Film Institute this Wednesday, March 16.  For more info, contact hcah@haverford.edu

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ASIAN / AMERICAN NON / FICTION: An Interview with Kelsey Owyang & Catheline Phan

An interview with Kelsey Owyang and Catheline Phan on the Reading Group Asian / American Non / Fiction, its successes and new momentum. Interview conducted by Hurford Center students and staff Miriam Hwang-Carlos, Lydia Gingerich, and Christine Dickerson, photos by Elena Harriss-Bauer

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HCAH: What led you to create this reading group? What need or gap on campus did you see the group as filling?

Kelsey: I had just come back from studying abroad in China, and was coming to terms once again with the reality that Haverford offers few to no classes about the Asian American experience. I had taken one Asian American history course in my freshman spring, which was offered by a visiting professor who left at the end of that year. I was startled/disheartened/uncomfortable when I realized that even classes about racial and ethnic inequality — the classes for my Sociology major, for example — rarely had any material on Asian Americans.

I thought about this all the time, but had been unsuccessful in advancing any action to get faculty or administration to take notice and make structural changes to the curriculum. When I saw the advertisement for the Hurford Center reading group funding, I realized that I could take matters into my own hands and build interest and support from the ground up. I knew that Catheline had organized a reading group around Watermark, a collection of Vietnamese American-authored works, while I was abroad, and got in touch to see if she had interest in working together to build something with an even greater reach. From there, we received amazing support from James and Emily in the Hurford Center and a strong response from the student body, with 27 students and two staff signed up to participate.

Catheline: For me, this reading group was a continuation of the ideas I had from the previous semester. After I ran the Watermark group, I felt that I wanted to keep involving myself in discussion featuring Asian American identity and the various themes surrounding it. And since I had prior experience creating a space for that type of dialogue, I felt it was easier for me to engage in the conversation by prompting another event. I wasn’t sure what I exactly wanted to do, however, so it was perfect when Kelsey reached out to me with her ideas.

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HCAH: Can you unpack your title? Why was it important for you to make these distinctions, Asian and American, Fiction and Nonfiction, without necessarily separating these categories from one another?

Kelsey: The slash between Asian / American came from a piece I had read by David Palumbo-Liu, in which he argues for a critical consideration of punctuation: a slash at once indicates an equal status between the two terms on either side of it, and an element of incompatibility or indecisiveness. He writes that this conflict in status captures the sometimes powerful, sometimes futile efforts to describe those of Asian heritage in America. The term also helped us encompass the complex transnational identities we presented through our readings: a Hmong family in America reflecting on their refugee journey, for example, or a Taiwanese American making his first trip back to his parents’ home country.

Our reading list had a combination of short stories and memoirs — fiction and nonfiction — but we felt both types of writing were influenced by the author’s positionality, the romanticism of nostalgia, and the truthful mythiness of family stories passed down through generations and across languages. Also, we like parallelism! Thus, “Asian / American Non / Fiction.”

Catheline: Along with Palumbo’s excellent argument that Kelsey introduced me to, I was thinking of the visual elements that would go into poster design and advertising. “Asian / American – Non / Fiction” gets at the tension and gray ambiguous areas between both the identities and the genres. Plus, I think it’s catchy. It’s certainly made me very particular in writing out all the punctuation at least.

HCAH: How did you go about choosing your reading list? Were you influenced by classes you had taken at Haverford or were you looking to fill gaps in the the College’s curriculum?

Catheline: One huge draw for making this reading group for me was getting to read Linh Dinh’s Blood and Soap short story anthology. Throughout the fall semester I was planning on inviting him as a speaker (which coincidentally evolved into a larger speaker panel event this semester, but details!); when I contacted him prior to proposing the reading group, he suggested that I read some more of his recent works. Linh had a novel (Love Like Hate) and another poetry collection (Borderless Bodies), but Blood and Soap’s short story anthology format made it perfect for pairing with our other readings.

Blood and Soap

The other books on the reading list comprised mainly of memoirs. I think a big factor was that many of these were published recently, like Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off The Boat and Anchee Min’s The Cooked Seed (both in 2013), while other ones were seminal works like Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (first published 1997). Kelsey chose most of these, as I didn’t have that much experience with Asian American literature besides the bits I read for my own independent and class research. In the beginning I wasn’t wholly thinking of filling gaps in Haverford’s curriculum – instead, I was building off of my experiences in prior classes such as my freshman writing seminar “Monuments and Memory” (taught by Paul Farber) and my first class with Andrew Friedman, “International History of the United States.” But now my viewpoint has changed on that, and I would definitely like to address the curriculum gap in the future.

On another note, almost all of the books we chose were either a) unavailable in the Bi-Co libraries, or b) unavailable in the Tri-Co and Interlibrary Loans were necessary to get them.

Kelsey: Catheline pretty much summed it up here — she came in with Blood and Soap, and I added excerpts from three memoirs as well as an ethnographic piece (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down). Although the motivating factor behind my participation in the group was to address the lack of Asian American Studies at Haverford, like Catheline, it was originally more selfishness that made me suggest these specific texts. The Latehomecomer, a three-generation memoir by Carleton-educated Hmong American writer Kao Kalia Yang, is my favorite book — I just wanted to share it with others.

However, as the syllabus came together and our group took off, it became clearer that these works were simultaneously filling a student desire for more organized, academic takes on the histories of Asians in America. To that end, we tried to be intentional about including different ethnic and national backgrounds in the reading material, and encouraged our participants to share other texts and experiences that were not covered in syllabus.

HCAH: What were some of the key themes you addressed throughout the reading group?

Kelsey: Migration. Diaspora. Language. Power. Family. History. Inclusion. Exclusion. Memory. Identity. Belonging.

Catheline: Other keywords and ideas I’d like to highlight: Displacement, Colonialism, Empire, Perspective, Authority, and Teaching – how certain ideas are perpetuated through cultures, along with the social spheres and constructs which both build and constrict them.

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HCAH: What were the discussions that were most salient and engaging for you?

Catheline: Honestly, each meeting had its engaging points so it’s difficult for me to rank them. I think for both of us, co-running this reading group was also an exercise in how to smoothly facilitate discussions. Thus, we ended up experimenting with the format each time – things like breaking up into small groups, utilizing whiteboards to draw Venn diagrams, etc.

Kelsey: Yeah, that’s a good point. Because people are busy and the reading group is not for credit, the students in attendance varied from meeting to meeting. We were also reading small selections, so the vibe changed week-to-week: some topics were more serious, others lighthearted. I think the most salient takeaway for me was not a single conversation but the overall atmosphere of the group; it was a really pleasant mix of Bi-Co intellectualism, safe-space vulnerability, and chill snack time (thanks DC Catering!).

Catheline: Thanks Charles, thanks Bruce. Cheese and fruit platters are great.

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HCAH: What has been this reading group’s influence on you? Did the reading group evolve from your initial vision? If yes, how so?

Kelsey: It was powerful to see the number of students and staff engaged in our group, and gave me confidence to say that there is a demonstrated interest in Asian American Studies in the Bi-Co.

Catheline is building on the momentum of the group by inviting Linh Dinh, one of our central authors, to speak at Haverford this spring. She and I, along with ten other students, also applied to the Facilities Fund to establish an Asian American Resource Center on campus, to create a permanent physical space for groups of this kind. Four of the students in our planning committee were members of the reading group; I met two of those students (and Catheline!) for the first time through the group, so I feel very fortunate to continue working with them.

Catheline: Reading groups are always so generative for me, it’s great. One particular approach from this is that the final product evolves so much from the initial drawing concept – one thing Kelsey and I often did were pre-meetings after the group sessions (which also acted as post-reflections from the previous week) to reflect on points people brought up or other ideas we wanted to highlight. A lot of the content comes from what the other participants bring in; while sure, I have a lot of established ideas from the prior independent research I’ve done, these sessions helped to flesh out and expand those even more.

Another thing I can’t highlight enough is the connections that stemmed out of this process. Kelsey is a pro choice for a collaborator both in generating ideas and execution (thanks for taking care of the mailing lists so I didn’t have to fumble through those!) And like she said with the Asian American resource space initiative, it was cool to take this momentum we built up and push it towards new ways of manifestation. The committee was especially helpful; the synthetic dialogues and troubled discussions we had in formulating the proposal helped me focus my own speaker proposal, which I’ve now expanded into a larger speaker panel with co-organizational funding. It makes me happy that students like me and Kelsey can continue to get logistical and funding support for ideas in incubation – hopefully other people are inspired to do the same thing.

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Soft Fiction and Kristallnacht: An Interview with Irina Leimbacher

This Wednesday, the Hurford Center will head to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute for a night with the category-bending films of Chick Strand. Chick Strand’s films Soft Fiction and Kristallnacht are the latest installment of the Strange Truth film series organized by Haverford professors Vicky Funari, Hank Glassman, and John Muse. Film theorist Irina Leimbacher will lead a post-viewing discussion, and I was lucky enough to chat with her about what to expect at the event and about her relationship with film.

Soft Fiction

Soft Fiction, 1979, film still

Why did you pick Soft Fiction and Kristallnacht from Chick Strand’s body of work?

I was very excited about Soft Fiction because it had just been restored by Mark Toscano at the Academy Film Archive. I was asked to introduce a screening of a new print when it screened at the New York Film Festival last fall. Soft Fiction is a powerful film and embodies Chick Strand’s sensuous camera style and her ability to convey deeply felt experiences. Yet it is different from all of her other films in that it is structured around a series of interviews with five distinct women, and Chick used a tripod to film most of those interviews. In her other work Chick never uses a tripod and never incorporates sync sound dialogue — her shooting style is much more like the interstices that we see in Soft Fiction between the interviews.

Since the film is just over an hour in length it seemed like it could be good to show another short alongside it. Kristallnacht has no voice, no “stories” other than what we bring to it. It is one of my favorites of her short films, and I thought it would contribute to opening up the spaces in and around the verbal sections of Soft Fiction. I think the verbal Soft Fiction and the non-verbal Kristallnacht complement each other. Both films are, in their own way, about moving near to others’ embodied experiences for the duration of the film. And they both emphasize the power of fluidity rather than solidity.

You spent some time working in nonprofit arts organizations and are now  a university professor. What led you to make the shift to academia?

I always loved teaching, and taught part-time for several years while working as a film programmer at an organization dedicated primarily to the exhibition of experimental films. What ultimately pushed me more solidly into academia—if that is where I am—was a need for job security and stability! I miss programming for a general public very much, and I welcome opportunities like this one to come to different places to show and speak about some of the films I love.

How has your relationship to film changed since becoming a professor or academic?

Well, I’m not the best, or even a valued, kind of academic! I love the sense of wonder and enchantment that I feel about works that move me or that shift the way I think about things. That experience, and the ability to share that experience, is more important to me than the analytical and theoretical part of academia. And as academic writing is a very fraught activity for me, curating is definitely more the arena in which I would say I thrive.

Chick Strand

Chick Strand

What led you to study Chick Strand?

I saw one film of hers when I was studying at San Francisco State and felt like I had to see more, it intrigued me so much. But all her films were only on 16mm with rental fees exclusively for public exhibition, in the $60 to $200 range. So I organized a curatorial internship at the Pacific Film Archive and offered to organize a full retrospective of her work. That way I got to see and reflect on all of it! And I was also able to meet Chick, who came up from Los Angeles as a guest.

Reviews tend to describe Soft Fiction as an ethnographic documentary that pushes the boundaries of the genre. Would you consider the film to be ethnography?

I personally would not call it ethnography, no. Ethnography for me, for better or for worse, has to do with cross-cultural dialogue and exploration. For me this is a film about a few women’s experiences. The nature of those experiences, while mostly connected to crucial events in their lives, is still quite diverse. Part of the pleasure of watching Soft Fiction is that there isn’t any easy label under which one could place all these experiences or ways of recounting them. One of Chick Strand’s traits that I appreciate enormously is that she could connect things, images, experiences, in ways that remain open, that surprise, that provoke thought. The film also contains a reflection on how we recount stories that are difficult to tell, how things are put together in words and in films. There is a figure in the film that does not speak, and for me she embodies someone trying to “get inside,” to understand, others’ stories, others’ experiences. Like Chick she moves between places, between people, and finds there is no way to gather it all up in one neat category. She lets these stories and experiences simply speak for themselves.

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Fall 2015 Students Arts Fund Recap

During the Fall 2015 semester, the Hurford Center’s Student Arts Fund supported a variety of projects, ranging from stage performances to artwork pieces. Students described the overall concept of their project in a proposal, with which the Hurford Center’s staff, in conjunction with the Hurford Student Advisory Board, worked through the requested logistics to make the projects become realities.

One noticeable outcome came as a result of Katy Frank applying to the fund to bring burlesque performer Una Aya Osato, the “exHOTic other” to Haverford. On November 21st, a large crowd gathered in Stokes Auditorium to watch a performance that proved to be both provocative and political. Here, Katy Frank reflects on the experience:

This past semester (Fall 2015) I was thrilled to receive the support of the HCAH Student Arts Fund through the Women*s Center in bringing burlesque performer and actress Una Aya Osato, whose stage name is “exHOTic other,” to Haverford. She performed an incredible one-woman show (with some support from her sister, playing a zombie) that discussed topics including gentrification, zionism, dating, and education. The show was generally structured around individual skits, with Una providing monologues that brought the skits together in a larger storytelling structure. She was absolutely dynamic, and with an audience of 50+ people at the show and Q&A, brought an energetic and incredible story to Haverford.”

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Una & her sister Michi with some of the Women*s Center staff. Left to right: Patrick, Amelia, Una, Maddy, Michi, Katy

After the semester’s week-long Fall Break, Houhou Wang submitted a proposal to the Hurford Center Student’s Arts Fund, requesting financial support in order to further pursue her painting endeavors. Already an author of several books and a popular fashion blog, Houhou sought an opportunity to use her art experiences this past summer as one of many options to keep her cross-sectional blog operating and functional, including other art and culture forms such as singing, poetry, and illustration. The Arts Fund was able to provide Houhou with the necessary money for the supplies, tools, and transportation she needed to continue her independent work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the rest of the academic year.

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Here, Houhou explains how she used the fund to develop her craft:

Initially, I just wanted to learn more oil-painting techniques by copying the Greats at the PMA. However, after I copied a few paintings, I started to incorporate what I saw there into my own artwork. I painted “Bacon’s dogs” as a parody to Francis Bacon’s portraits of Lucien Freud this January (above), followed with this collage “What he likes” (below). I think this collage is one of my more mature and original work that’s made out of an old portrait of my black friend, Courtney, and photos of an innocent Barbie doll and dainty children’s hands, both cut out from US Weekly.”
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With a total of $5,000 available each semester, the Students Arts Fund is looking forward to supporting more projects! The application deadline for the Spring semester is February 28th. More information, as well as the application itself, can be found here: www.haverford.edu/hcah/center/programs-and-grants/student-funding/student-arts-fund.

-Matthew Ridley & Amanda Friedman

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New Wall in Our Heads film!

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Q & A with Professor Ben-Shai on his Spring 2016 Course!

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The Hurford Center is offering several amazing classes next semester, one of which will be Professor Roy Ben-Shai’s “Between Being and the Gods: Heidegger and the Art of Thinking.” We asked him some questions about the course and would like to share them with the tri-co community!

Who was Heidegger and why is he important to the study of philosophy and thought?
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher, born in 1889 and died in 1976. He is notorious for having been a member of the Nazi party (after the war he was suspended from teaching for a few years because of this), and for having had extramarital affairs, the most famous of which is with Hannah Arendt who was his student (she was 17 and he was 33).
Heidegger is also widely considered, along with Ludwig Wittgenstein, as the most influential, some would say “towering”, philosopher of the 20th century. He is certainly one of the most important philosophers in the continental tradition: his influence on phenomenology*, French Existentialism, deconstruction, and post-structuralism is definitive. Studying his work is therefore quintessential for anyone with interest in 20th century philosophy in Europe.
Besides this historical centrality, Heidegger is remarkable for his capacity to incite original thought. The list of his students includes some of the finest minds of the century, including Levinas, Leo Strauss, Arendt, Marcuse, Derrida, and Agamben. Most indicative is how different these philosophers are from one another and from their teacher. To put it simply: studying Heidegger makes one a better thinker, and that’s a gift.

*Professor Ben-Shai’s definition of “phenomenology”: The easiest way I can think of defining it is as a philosophical method that centers on lived-experience. To give “a phenomenological account” of something is to describe how it is or appears in experience. For example, a phenomenology of illness or disability describes these conditions from the perspective of the one who experiences or undergoes them – what it is like to be ill or disabled – rather than from a medical or sociological perspective.

Why is your course “Between Being and the Gods: Heidegger and the Art of Thinking” a useful or necessary addition to the Haverford community?
So far, I was fortunate to have truly wonderful students in very small and intimate classes. It is my impression that Haverford students – at least the ones I’ve had – are extraordinarily motivated, thoughtful, and engaged. This is the kind of environment in which we can get the most out of Heidegger, and in which his teaching has the most to offer.

What will be the structure of the class?
There will be a lot of discussion, and student presentations. Not too much reading (quantitatively speaking), since the reading is very dense and requires much thought and unpacking. The course is divided straightforwardly: we are reading seven essays, spending about two weeks with each. All essays are in a book called Basic Writings, which we will all buy. I expect the class to be small, and this is conducive both to discussion and to reflection. It’s very important for me to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable to speak, and not to speak.

How does the course fit into the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights curriculum? (In other words, how can the study of thought help a Haverford Student comprehend or think about human rights?)
In a way, this course fits everywhere: if you are a thoughtful person, or aspire to be one, then you are interested in learning how to think. While Heidegger himself was neither a humanist nor a political thinker, he was greatly influential on thinkers who were (e.g., Arendt, Levinas, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Agamben). Specifically, his work influenced critiques of the concept of “human rights”, since he makes us question the meaning and import of the term “human”. Yet Heidegger can also criticized from a perspective committed to the advancement of human rights, which can also be a useful exercise.

What are you most excited about for the course?
I am very excited about this course (unfortunately, my last course at Haverford), mainly because Heidegger marked my own entry into philosophy. I took a seminar on Heidegger in my senior year of college (Tel-Aviv University in Israel), and following it (in fact, in the process of writing my paper for this course), I made up my mind to dedicate my life to the study and teaching of philosophy. Who knows? Maybe the same thing can happen to one or more of the students in this class as well, in which case, I’d be very happy to be part of it! (now, whether falling in love with philosophy is a good thing or not is already a different question…)

Check out www.haverford.edu/hcah/center/courses for more information on our spring courses.

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A New Video and A New Exhibit

For all those who didn’t get a chance to see “The Past is A Foreign Country” at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, and for those who did see it and would like to revisit it – you’re in luck! Check out this new video featuring the work of Tuttle Creative Resident François-Xavier Gbré:

Though we’re sad to see this exhibit close, we are very excited about the show opening in one week! Curated by Paul M. Farber, a Postdoctoral Writing Fellow here at Haverford, “The Wall in Our Heads: American Artists and the Berlin Wall” opens on October 23rd. The evening starts with a blockbuster conversation between Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic at the New York Times, and Paul M. Farber at 4:30 in Sharpless Auditorium. Don’t miss it! 

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