Strategies of Vision: Mellon Creative Resident Riva Lehrer

"Zora: How I Understand," self portrait by Riva Lehrer, 2009.

“Zora: How I Understand,” self portrait by Riva Lehrer, 2009.

I walked into a small Stokes classroom and discovered an unexpectedly busy hustle and bustle of students setting up extra chairs around the table. Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on Mellon Creative Resident Riva Lehrer’s talk “Strategies of Vision: Artists, Impairment, and Disability Culture.” Riva is an artist, writer, teacher, and curator, and the recipient of many awards, including the 2009 Critical Fierceness Grant—an award that Riva assured us was real and comes from an organization that mostly does “dance raves.” Riva’s work focuses on the physical identity and the body, and she has been curating images of impairment for over twenty years. The course that I sat in on—Disability, Identity, Culture—taught by Prof. Kristin Lindgren, is part of a 360 program this year titled “Identity Matters.” Last week, past students of the class and other professors joined current members of Prof. Lindgren’s class to hear Riva speak.

Riva speaks directly and with humor, and is unafraid to bring up controversial topics. She prefaced her talk with the warning, “there’s nothing I’m gonna show you that is not problematic, including my own work.” The millennia of negative descriptions of disability weigh heavy on current representations of disability and impairment, so Riva told us all to maintain a “both and” state of mind, in which the negatives and positives of a work do not negate each other. When she first started curating art related to impairment, Riva recalls an almost universally negative reaction. Twenty years ago, there were almost no positive portrayals of disabled people, “unless,” Riva added, “you count Catholic saints, and I don’t actually count them because most of us don’t get an automatic halo in our disability kit.”

"Mirror Shards: Tim / Owl," portrait of artist Tim Lowly by Riva Lehrer, 2011.

“Mirror Shards: Tim / Owl,” portrait of artist Tim Lowly by Riva Lehrer, 2011.

Riva showed us slides from a slew of different artists working with impairment in a wide range of styles, media, and concepts. Among many topics, Riva’s talk touched on the use of fragmentation to represent disabled bodies, the complex relationship between impairment and sexuality, and how disability can affect gender identity. I came away with a richer understanding of the intersection between art and physical differences, plus a huge list of interesting artists to look up. For those of you who weren’t in this class, do not fret! Riva will be back for a public lecture on Thursday, November 20th, so stay tuned.

Find out more about Riva and the other Mellon Creative Residencies here.

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Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

portrait of the author with nachos

portrait of the author with nachos

My self-summary: I’m Katy and I’m the Hurford Center’s new Digital Media Assistant! I’m a sophomore studying English and Gender and Sexuality Studies. I love cities; I’m from NYC and I love exploring Philadelphia. I’m an enthusiastically bad dancer. I love all forms of art and I believe they are all connected, as well as connected to other disciplines! My biggest celebrity crush is Poussey from Orange is the New Black.

I’m really good at: Reading, writing, figuring out directions, and getting dressed.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, food: Books: anything by Margaret Atwood, Feminism is For Everybody by bell hooks, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Zami by Audre Lorde, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, Sexing The Cherry by Jeanette Winterson Movies: Fantastic Mr. Fox, 20 Feet From Stardom, Pulp Fiction TV: Twin Peaks and Orange is the New Black Music: queer women rappers! And women rappers in general. Women and queer people in general. Missy Elliot, Kelis, Beyonce, Angel Haze, Santigold – stuff I can dance to. I also love Mal Blum. Food: anything made by the residents of ehaus, where I live.

On a typical Friday night I am: dancing!

The most private thing I’m willing to admit: I always skip the duck pond part, but I tell people, “Oh yeah, I just ran the nature trail.”

You should message me if: You want to know more about the Hurford Center! my e-mail is and I can usually be found in ehaus, Lunt, where I work on Thursday nights, and the Women*s Center, where I work on Tuesday nights, or the duck pond fields, where I play frisbee. 

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Everything you have wondered about WAKE

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, spilling 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Four years later, WAKE, a 23-minute documentary, meditates on the continued presence of the oil industry in southern Louisiana. Created during summer 2014 by Haverford’s Interdisciplinary Documentary Media Fellows Hilary Brashear ‘14, Dan Fries ‘15, Gebby Keny ‘14, and Sarah Moses ‘16, in collaboration with Artist-in-Residence Vicky Funari and Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies Helen White.

For those who attended last week’s screening of WAKE, Sarah Moses’ insight will add to experience; and for those who did not attend, her perspective is illuminating. Enjoy!

a still from the film

a still from the film

1) What perspective did you bring to the filmmaking process? How familiar were you with the spill before working on this film?

I remember following the spill when it happened, but in a pretty distanced manner. So I definitely did weeks of research for this film. Coming into the project I initially had a focus on the political consequences of the spill, but working with the other fellows and having hours and hours of discussions led to us all blending our ideas together into something that I think is far superior to what we would have dreamt up individually.

2) Have any of your personal consumer decisions or habits changed because of the film?

I like to think that I’ve been relatively conscious of the widespread effects my decisions can have. Consciousness and awareness are definitely the first steps to any change. Obviously we live in a very energy-dependent world and I have no intentions of going off the grid any time soon. But I believe that thinking about your actions and their consequences, and meditating on how to change them, is an important part of being a citizen of the world.Also, and this is a little embarrassing but, I can’t drive so I guess I have that going for me.

3) Do you think the purpose of the film is indeed to change consumer habits? Or is that secondary to another aim? Is this a film with an agenda at all?

Our main goal from the start of the project was to attempt to approach the subject in as holistic a manner as possible. The debates that were ignited after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill have never been exclusively about the spill itself, and to present these issues as such an isolated incident would be false. The oil industry influences the lifestyles, economies, and environments of people all over the world, and this is not a new phenomenon. The environmental degradation and socio-political issues along the Gulf have a long history as well. Everything truly is connected, and although we did not have the time nor the resources to portray all of the factors and perspectives involved, our goal was to take the voices we did have and meditate on how they resonate with each other. It’s very easy to say “we need oil” or “we need to switch to renewable energy”, but the truth is it’s always more complicated than that.

4) How did you work with Prof. Helen White? What was the “interdisciplinary” part of being an Interdisciplinary Documentary Media Fellow like?

Working with Helen was such a gift. She is so lively and charming and just lovely to be around, which really kept us going on those early morning trips along the Gulf. And, of course, she has so much knowledge to share. The interdisciplinary aspect of the fellowship was so valuable to the making of the film, and without it a very important perspective (the scientific one) would have been largely lost. With the limited time we had, we could only conduct so much research. But Helen and her chemistry students, Alana Thurston and Chloe Wang, really grounded our understanding of the spill in a scientific perspective that I don’t think we would have had otherwise.

5) How would you like to continue studying film at Haverford? Are there any programs or classes you would recommend to Haverford students interested in film?

I’m majoring in Film and Media studies through Swarthmore’s department, but I’ve had some great opportunities through Bryn Mawr as well. There’s a wide range of course offerings, and looking through the course catalog will give you a good idea of what theory-oriented and production-oriented classes are available. However, nothing can beat the amazing learning experience I had with Vicky Funari, and I would fully endorse any class that she teaches. Even if you don’t think documentaries are your thing, give it a shot. I didn’t think I would ever be focusing on documentary film, but taking a class with Vicky completely transformed my perspective. Bryn Mawr also has a great screenwriting course with Nancy Doyne.

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“The Spiritual Garden” opens at the CFG

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 3.11.56 PM

Courtney Lau, HC 2017, reads the introductory wall text

For weeks Haverford students have been running into the powerful red posters for Hee Sook Kim’s exhibit at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, “The Spiritual Garden”. The exhibition opening proved to be just as beautiful and impactful as the poster. Wandering through the gallery – sadly, I missed the artist’s talk – I was absorbed and pleasantly overwhelmed by the multitude of colors and textures in the pieces.

Hee Sook Kim teaches printmaking at Haverford. I would love to be able to take her class and hear her insights on contrasting colors and materials. In addition to more “traditional” canvases made with acrylic paint and rhinestones, she also displayed Beosun, Korean traditional socks. The variety of works was wonderful: she displayed paintings, multimedia works, prints, installation, and video. 

The opening was well-attended and festive. “I was the only person wearing sports clothing,” said junior Abby Fullem I spotted Abby browsing a catalogue on the couch. I would encourage everyone pick up one the beautiful catalogues that accompany the exhibit. Visiting the Gallery is a wonderful experience – I will be back many times, in order to try and absorb the colorful, lush beauty of the exhibit.

Find out more:

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Ze comiques are ‘ard to translet

As everyone is moving back in to Haverford and gearing up for a new year, it is pretty weird to see it all happening from far, far away, in my little world of panels and speech balloons in Paris. Despite how far away I am, though, I’ve been doing a lot of work recently with English an American publications–and I think I would have to say that the work I’ve been doing in English has been more difficult in most ways than the work I’ve done this summer in French. I’ll start by talking about that.
Science fiction is a weird genre. And it adds a whole new level of weirdness when you read it in another language. There’s nothing like translation to really force you to think about the words that are on the page you’re reading–you can’t just let the meaning of each sentence wash over you and past you, allowing yourself to focus on the coherent whole, the way you do when you read. (At least when you’re reading for your own enjoyment). And when you really dig into science fiction words, you sometimes have to laugh when thinking about how they were come up with.
For instance, in the Star Wars universe there is a rubbery, tentacled species of alien called the “Mon Calamari” from the planet Dac. If you were to put that into a French Star Wars production without any attempt at transforming it, the species name is essentially “My Squid”–or “My Squiddy” if you want to get picky–but they’re both equally silly. And as soon as you realize that, you can just see the writer in the LucasArts studio going “Hmm, this alien I came up with looks like a squid. It’s lunchtime and I said I’d have this file done by 11… Let’s just call it My Squiddy in French, no one will notice.
That’s obviously a slight exaggeration; Mon Calamari is a decent alien name, but it shows how dangerously close to breaking the 4th wall of fiction you can get, if you don’t translate carefully.
So when I was asked to do a correction of the translation of an upcoming English edition of Barbarella, a classic French sci-fi comic series from the ’60s made famous by Jane Fonda, I had was excited. She’s an intergalactic hero who vanquishes her enemies with love and love alone. Lots and lots of love. Enough love that one of the translation issues was wondering how much of what was OK in France in 1968 is OK for a young US audience in 2014…

Barbarella image
But besides that there’s a whole slurry of weird vocabulary: there’s the “Archivèpre,” ruler of the planet Spectra; there’s Big Bug the Astronef, Barbarella’s (awesome) spaceship; there are the “Bornes,” a bizarre, cultish Spectran species that walks around in army-like ranks and files, staring across the space-time barriers on the surfaces of mirrors, into a parallel universe; there’s “space-time” itself, which is sometimes “espace et temps,” sometimes “temps et espace,” sometimes “espace-temps,” it goes on and on and on.
How it usually goes is I make a pretty liberal correction of the original translation, and send it to our anglophone editors in London and L.A., both of whom are comic-book experts, only one of whom speaks French. Then we have long, detailed Skype conversations going one-by-one over the corrections that we don’t all three of us agree on, which is most of them. At least initially. Often, where I wanted to make a change to erase a French-ism to make Barbella more believable, the London editor wanted to conserve the original because old fans who read the comics in the ’60s will appreciate the authenticity. And I say, “but in the ’60s, they were pumping out a translation every two weeks and they didn’t have the time to spend on quality translations, but we do.” “And then he says to me, “Nick, this is supposed to be sent to the printer today…”
And then the L.A. editor creatively comes up with some new term that conserves elements of both perspectives, and we move on. It’s a constant compromise. I’m not too happy about some of my corrections that were vetoed, but I think that the editorial team we have has probably made for a more holistic, better translation than we would have had if any one of us had done it alone.
This week, I’ve started correcting a translation of a series that is written in French, about a boorish, caveman-like Belgian zombie-hunter and a pimply guy named Carl who has a thing for lady zombies. It takes place in an apocalyptic L.A. in 2064, in which both George W. Bush and Jesus have risen from the dead. It’s filled with French caveman speak, crude Belgian humor, crude L.A. humor, just straight crude humor, lots of post-apocalypse terminology. One of the worst parts: Sean Hannity STILL runs a radio show… In 2064… Wish me luck…



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Click here to begin

Screenshot 2014-08-26 12.25.59


Now, with four days between myself and Carleton College’s HumLab, with time to process my work and to admire mine and my co-collaborators’ final products, I feel ready to assess!

Although I am biased, I’m very happy with my own piece of our larger project.  (Which can be found here.)  I feel like the 50+ hours I put into my map show; creating it was truly a labor of love.  I’m also vicariously proud of everyone else’s products, as I understand how tedious and difficult using a world-mapping software can be for mapping mythological places.

Having finished this project, I’m now contemplating how Neatline could be used in classroom settings.  Because the software is so, so specific, unless you’ve used Neatline before, the program requires several hours to learn.  Unless a professor has room in their syllabus to devote at least one class to learning the software’s nuts and bolts, I feel that Neatline needs to be relegated to the realm of final projects: if a professor enjoys assigning more creative finals, outside of papers or exams, making a Neatline map could serve as one option for students.

Would I encourage the proponents of this summer’s HumLab to do another, maybe next summer?  Yes–I very much enjoyed my lab and being able to “take home” a “tangible” product.  Would I encourage students of Classics and other disciplines to attend the next HumLab?  Yes–especially humanities students, who don’t often get that “tangible” result from semester courses.  Usually, our products are reformed ideas, the takeaway of conversations between our peers and professors and between ourselves and texts, formalized in papers and exams.  Neatline provides a viable means of creating a more “tangible” product, one that is still a result of those aforementioned and ever so important conversations.

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An Interdisciplinary Lab

I have spent the last couple weeks at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. Along with 5 other students, I have been part of a humanities lab exploring classical mythology through maps using digital tools called Omeka and Neatline. First we found artifacts and entered them into a database with Omeka. We then made Neatline maps incorporating many of these images and exploring the lives of specific heroes (I worked on Herakles, also known as Hercules).


A portion of my map showing various locations relevant to Herakles


Part of my exhibit exploring the 12 Labors of Herakles

I have taken many classics courses, but I’m a computer science major and have focused on math and computer science for most of my time in college. When I arrived at this program, I felt a little out of place. What’s a computer science major doing at a humanities lab? Everybody was excited about the opportunity to work on a hands-on project, because in the humanities that opportunity doesn’t come up very often. I was pretty open to whatever our time together would bring, and I didn’t necessarily know what I was expecting to get out of the experience.

One of the things I have really appreciated about this lab is the potential for people from very different backgrounds to learn something. My favorite part of our project was working on the technological side: thinking about user interface and map design. However, we also learned how to search for ancient artifacts in art databases and wrote up exhibits exploring interesting things about our heroes. Everybody had their own preferences about different phases of the process. There was little background knowledge expected coming in, which made collaborating much easier. We were all starting from scratch on our projects. It also meant that students from many different backgrounds ended up coming, which ultimately made our final projects richer.

I guess from this experience I gained an appreciation for how technology and the humanities can work together in valuable ways. I have never really had the opportunity to explore that before, because most college courses focus exclusively on one or the other. As a computer science person with an interest in classics, this program was a great opportunity for me to explore how the two can work together.

It was also really fun to come out of the program with a completed project – here is our website if you would like to explore: Mapping Mythology

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The Art of Connecting Artifacts and Maps

Kristine Mallinson, Denison University Class of 2015

When I first heard about the 2014 Alliance for the Advancement of Liberal Arts Colleges Humanities Lab at Carleton, I was not exactly sure what the program was going to be like. I knew that  there was going to be a group of students from different liberal arts schools examining Classical mythology in different ways. One group was going to be focusing on masks and the other on maps. I was particularly interested in the mapping mythology program. To my delight, I was accepted into that program. So, on Sunday August 10th I arrived in Minnesota for the first time excited to get started and learn more about what we would be doing. The first morning we discussed Euripides Heracles and different aspects about the play. Then we split into our different groups. In my group, Dr. Bryan Burns (our director) taught us how to use several different databases and explained that we would be using Omeka and Neatline. Now, I have never used these two programs and one should know that I am pretty bad with technology, however he said that they were simple programs.

Omeka is the artifact database, or at least that is how I like to think about it. Working at the Denison Museum during the school year and interning at the Toledo Museum of Art for a couple weeks this summer provided me with a good amount of experience working with different databases and  artifacts. I  was immediately interested and fascinated with the idea of using artifacts on a digital map to examine literary accounts.

The Journey of Theseus: the map on Neatline

The Journey of Theseus: the map on Neatline

The Life Travels of Theseus: exhibit page on Omeka

The Life Travels of Theseus: exhibit page on Omeka

I have decided to work  on mapping out the life and death of Theseus. I have used Plutarch’s  Theseus as the main historical source for his adventures. I mapped out his six deeds on his way to Athens as well as several adventures he partakes in after becoming the heir to the Athenian throne.  I am also interested in connecting him with different mythological figures and displaying this through an Omeka feature, exhibits.

Overall, I have learned a lot about online databases for artifacts as well as how to use Omeka and Neatline. All of these resources will be beneficial in my further study of the Classics. While I am still perfecting how I want to display the life and death of Theseus, it is safe to say that this is an interesting way of moving the humanities into a lab and that I have learned a lot. At the end of the week, I am excited to see what each person has created and how they decided to display different myths.

Click here to view the map of Theseus

Click here to view the exhibit about Theseus 

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It’s All in the Details

This weekend, we each floated in and out of the Weitz Centre for Creativity to toil away on our own masks. By Friday we had followed our research curiosities to their limits, chosen our particular questions and scenes to test them with, and begun the detail work on our masks. In addition to taking part in the group scene from Euripides’ Herakles, I chose to stage the climactic scene in the Bacchae, when Agave is loosed from the grips of Dionysos’ madness. I’m attempting to test the legibility on a static mask of Agave’s shift from mad pride and joy to shock, horror, and disgust. Agave
Today, as Kat, Olivia, and Clara worked on elaborate headdresses, I moulded my last of four masks, Pentheus’s decapitated head. Tomorrow, Pentheus will be painted, and lines will be memorized…we perform for the maps section on Thursday, so the pressure’s on!Pentheus

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Mysk and Math – A Carleton Experience

Hey folks. I am also part of the two week long Myth and Mask Colloquium that has been flooding this blog with posts recently. They’ve all done a pretty good job of explaining why we’re here, so I’ll keep that part brief. We eleven college students (or in my case, recently graduated college student) have come together at Carleton College for two collaborative workshops. What that means is that we’re doing school stuff, except it’s different because we’re not paying anybody money to do it. Our respective schools are funding our time here, and in exchange we have to make something interesting that they can show people.

This is going to be an image-heavy post. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures to document the process because I just got my first smartphone, and people with new phones like to wave them around at other people.

I am in the workshop group that is investigating the role of masks in ancient Greek theatrical performances. I’m glad about that, because I don’t understand maps or computers, which is what the other group is dealing with, bless their hearts.

We began the first week by embarking upon general research into the subject of masks and myth. We learned a lot.


“Heracles as an old man, naked, raising the club against his phallos ending in seven snake-heads.”

We engaged with the material according to our individual interests. Since I had the opportunity to perform in mask last semester (in the Aaron Cromie-directed Bi-College Theatre Program Mainstage Show, The Serpent Woman, in the style of Commedia dell’Arte), I focused on the performative aspects of mask. Body movement, acting technique, that sort of thing.

Believe it or not this taught me a lot (that's me on the left, photo credit to Paola Nogueros).

Believe it or not this taught me a lot (that’s me on the left, photo credit to Paola Nogueros).

Once we built some context for our task, we set about the mask construction process. I don’t really understand how materials interact in the physical world, but the process involved putting wet bandages all over our faces–the kind that harden into casts. The process also involved Vaseline, as many awkward processes do.


I won't tell you it wasn't weird.

I won’t tell you it wasn’t weird.

Even Haverford’s very own Laura McGrane participated in the terrifying process! Now we all have disembodied versions of our own faces that we can gaze upon whenever we want.

But that wasn’t enough for us intrepid explorers of antiquity. Next we poured plaster into the faces so as to make molds that would let us replicate the experience of making masks without using our own tender faces over and over again.


Jesus approves.

We have since been using the molds to make masks with the hopes of using them for live performance. The masks are supposed to represent different characters from The Heracles of Euripides. We’ve been using clay to alter our casted features into different emotional registers. To do that, we had to learn about emotions.

This is what 90% joy looks like.

This is what 90% joy looks like.

The above app is called Grimace. It lets us adjust that face’s emotions on a sliding scale and note how the positions of his features change. Those six options apparently represent the complete range of human emotions. We’ve been using the app on the very nice iPads that the very nice people at Carleton were very nice to supply.

I also took an online quiz and learned that I am not a sociopath when it comes to recognizing human emotions.

It’s pretty weird to be touching our own faces all day.

This is Clara. The human emotion on her face is called "Explaining".

This is Clara. The human emotion on her face is called “Teaching”.

Clara has been instructing guiding motivating inspiring urging helping us. I’m so hesitant to select a specific word choice because this model of making-learning-doing is very much experimental for the humanities, and our roles are not exactly clear in a lot of ways. That lack of clarity allows us more freedom than traditional academia, though it also allows us more confusion. That being said, Clara has been a fantastic mentor in the process, and I appreciate her willingness to engage with all of the materials alongside us. This sort of active professor-student collaboration is one that I think should be cultivated much more in a collegiate environment. It’s good to have a professor as a partner in our task, rather than an overseer. One thing is for sure–the folks who are running this colloquium are motivated and eager to provide us with anything that we might need. For example, they let us have a big ol’ projector for two weeks, and we’ve been using it to host group movie nights in the on-campus townhouses that we call home.

We watched World's Greatest Dad to honor the memory of Robin Williams on the day of his passing.

We watched World’s Greatest Dad to honor the memory of Robin Williams on the day of his passing.

Anyway, the making of the masks has been fun. We pour things, peel things, paint things, and stab things.

Contrary to appearances this is supposed to be Heracles not Oedipus.

Contrary to appearances this is supposed to be Heracles not Oedipus.

We also got attacked by a bat, but we’re okay.

It was a learning experience in that I explained to people that Batman did not become Batman by being bitten by a bat.

It was a learning experience–I had to explain to my fellow collaborators that Batman did not become Batman by being bitten by a bat.

Before I end this post I want to give you a taste of the kind of concepts we’ve been exploring. There has been a lot of talk about ambiguity of expression (think the Mona Lisa), and a lot of debate about just how much range of expression an ancient Greek mask could have embodied. I think after making our masks, we’ve come to the conclusion that they can portray quite a range indeed, depending on the angle at which they are viewed. I imagine that range will widen even further when they are worn by embodied performers, but for now, here are five pictures of my (unfinished) masks at different angles.

angle 1

angle 2

angle 3

angle 4

angle 5

Pretty neat, huh? Aside from the fact that my Heracles appears to have spent too much time in the tanning salon, the range of expression is evocative. This coming week will be spent putting the masks to the test in our best attempts at performance. So that’ll be funny.

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