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Placing Space


Frazer Ward, Art
Maria Rueda, Spanish & Portuguese

People. Things. Buildings. Habitats. Ways of life. Species. Technologies. Reputations. Memories. Affections. Everything disappears.

Still, the forms, means, and valences of disappearance vary widely, as do the means of its representational capture. This yearlong project hopes to bring together faculty across fields whose work deals with the implications and the meanings associated with disappearance—its polyvalent quality and its power to transform consciousness. How does disappearance produce cultural forms and artifacts; how does it create effects that are both visible and obscure? How is disappearance represented politically, historically, scientifically, spiritually?

Clearly, the power of disappearance is central to many disciplines. Visual artists often play with disappearance as a tool for representation, whether in the disappearance of the image when painting meets photography in the work of Gerhard Richter, or in the aesthetic act of decay that characterizes the crumbling (disappearing) sculptures of Cai Guo-Qiang. Conceptual artist Tehching Hsieh built on the trope of disappearance by dropping out of the art world (and the world in general) for 13 years, living in obscurity and working a minimum wage job. His reemergence, greeted with enthusiasm and surprise, provided a negative form for the constitution of art as a category. The fact of disappearance became itself the artistic act.

In history and politics, what is disappeared often speaks more loudly than what is present. Victims of Spanish and Argentinean dictatorships, for example, have come to be known (perhaps perversely) as "the disappeared." Their disappearance—and the means by which they are remembered and memorialized—crystallize our understanding of the state's mobilization of violence. "The disappeared" limn a sense of the state as powerful and capricious, but also vulnerable. The violent disappearance of bodies inspires terror, but these disappearances also open a space of cultural fantasy about "what happened," yielding transformative intellectual work, activism, and again, art.

In biology, of course, the fact of disappearance is fundamental: Species disappear and become extinct. Fossil records, entombed in stone, document those disappearances. But here again, the idea of disappearance has proved porous: Some species, like the Coelecanths, are assumed to be long extinct only to reappear in other parts of the globe. In other cases, the permanent disappearance of some species inspires activism which then prevents the disappearance of others.

The same patterns can be seen in the social sciences. Anthropologists and sociologists chart the ways that traditional customs and social norms disappear in the face of colonialism, agribusiness, and development. Yet scholarship in these fields documents how disappearance gives rise to new, hybrid forms of existence (as in the lives of immigrants struggling with assimilation), complicating the concept of disappearance and affording it a kind of generative capacity. In the digital era, we’ve become accustomed to the rapid appearance and disappearance of forms of technology. Older forms of sociality have disappeared in the face of virtual relations begging the question of what is lost and what is gained.

Working across disciplinary boundaries, considering the ways in which disappearance is studied and described across fields, we hope to expand our understanding of how what has disappeared shapes and gives meaning to what is left behind.

The call for faculty fellowships in The Power of Disappearance project will be sent in the fall of 2013.


Regarding Images


Judith Cardell, Engineering
Alice Hearst, Government

Privacy is often referred to as a fundamental right. We see it as an inviolate characteristic of democracy, protected by the courts and celebrated as a core principle of American citizenship. As a constitutional concept, privacy means the protection of bodily integrity, private thoughts and actions, and the sanctity of intimate and familial relations. The right to privacy sets us apart from other societies where the boundaries between public and private are blurred.

In practice, however, the right to privacy is ambiguous and complex. Privacy can mean different things depending upon circumstance and context. One critical area in which privacy has emerged as complicated, for example, is in the realm of technology: In benefiting from the pleasures of social networking and the convenience of online shopping, we constantly compromise our right to privacy. Technology also impacts our leisure. Surveillance cameras, when installed throughout major cities, both protect and intrude. The health professions extol the benefits of personal tracking devices for patients while profoundly compromising their privacy. Government enacts new laws and regulations designed for counterterrorism, yet every one of these laws compromises our personal privacy—allowing for endless data gathering and the storing of private information about each one of us.

Historically, privacy was defined differently. In most 19th-century homes, for example, physical privacy was less available.  In correspondence—in the sealed, personal letter—it was more protected. Today, privacy as a constitutional concept is invoked to protect intimate and familial relations. Here again, though, the concept is fraught: We value the private right to raise our children as we see fit. Yet schools and government institutions place limits on what we teach our children and when they are exposed to certain ideas; similarly, we assume a private control over our own bodies, and yet we constantly debate that autonomy in matters of contraception and abortion. Privacy laws can create barriers to critical action, as when adult children are prevented from accessing the records of a sick parent.

This semester-long project will examine the controversial nature of privacy, our right to it and our ability to project it. We hope to build a conversation across disciplines about the pros and cons, the limits and definitions of privacy in the modern world. Should the historical and legal framework for privacy be changed in the face of technological transformations? What are the benefits and liabilities of maintaining corporate, governmental, and scientific databases of personal information? Are there particular kinds of human connections that require privacy, connections that would cease to exist in some future “open-source” world? How do changing notions of privacy impact the arts and the way we draw inspiration from the private mind? How have issues of privacy served as the basis for literary work?

The objective of the project will be to end the semester with a richer understanding of how we define our right to privacy and what it means to protect this right.

The call for faculty fellowships in the Privacy project will be sent in the fall of 2013.

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