Micro-Symposium: Art / Science / Spectacle

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How do immersive artworks, such as those created by Olafur Eliasson, play upon our attraction to the spectacular and a fascination with the mechanics of how things work? This afternoon program features presentations by three internationally renowned speakers who trace the history of this phenomenon in art and science, and relate it to wide-ranging developments in consumer culture, optics, psychology, philosophy, and technology. Madeleine Grynsztejn, MCA Pritzker Director and curator of Take your time: Olafur Eliasson, introduces the program.

About the Speakers

Using as a starting point his own early experiments with fire and sculptural film and light installations, Anthony McCall's (keynote) presentation addresses the shifts and relationships between phenomenological work produced in the 1970s and works produced by a newer generation of artists, including Olafur Eliasson. He contextualizes these shifts within the massive changes that have taken place since the 1990s in the production, consumption, and presentation of culture.

McCall is known for his "solid-light" installations, a series that he began in 1973 with his seminal Line Describing a Cone, in which a volumetric form composed of projected light slowly evolves in three-dimensional space. Existing in a zone between sculpture, cinema, and drawing, his work's historical importance has been internationally recognized in such exhibitions as Into the Light: the Projected Image in American Art 1964-77 at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2001–02); The Expanded Screen: Actions and Installations of the Sixties and Seventies at Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna (2003–04); Beyond Cinema: the Art of Projection at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2006–07); The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality and the Projected Image at Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC (2008); and The Geometry of Motion 1920s/1970s, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2008).

Paola Bertucci's talk explores the fascination with science and its objects from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment. It examines luxurious scientific artifacts, eclectic naturalistic collections and sensuous experimental demonstrations. With a focus on the places where science, nature and art conjured together to amuse and educate, it highlights the passions and the cultures that made science spectacular.

Bertucci is Assistant Professor of History of Science and Medicine at Yale University. Her work focuses on various aspects of science and medicine in the age of Enlightenment: the involvement of the human body in electrical experiments, the history of natural disasters, the material culture of science. She is currently writing a book on science, secrecy, and spectacle in 18th-century France. She has organized several museum exhibitions, including two new permanent installations from the 18th-century collections of the new Galileo Museum (formerly Museum of the History of Science) in Florence, Italy: The Spectacle of Science and Science in the Household. She received her DPhil in History of Science from the University of Oxford.

Barry Ptolemy's new film, Transcendent Man, chronicles the future of technological innovation. At one point, its protagonist Ray Kurzweil states "part of being a futurist is looking back." The same could be said of Olafur Eliasson's singular artifacts featured in the exhibition, Take your time. These smart optical devices—referencing the ingenious imaging "machines" created during the Baroque era re-engineer the past for our age of artificial intelligence, nanodevices, interactive avatars, and mirror systems. Barbara Maria Stafford's talk reflects on the magic and metaphysics of this venerable interactive entertainment and educational technology.

Stafford is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor, Emerita, at the University of Chicago. Her work has consistently explored the intersections between the visual arts and the physical and biological sciences from the early modern to the contemporary era. An avowed imagist, her writing focuses on the history and theory of imaging and visualization modalities from the early modern to the digital era. Her books, in various ways, reveal the deep intersections connecting the arts, sciences, and optical technologies to one another. She also writes historically-grounded manifestos on the vital significance of the visual and sensory arts to general education as well as to society at large, and has curated influential exhibitions, such as the monumental Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen Show held at the Getty Museum (2001/02).

Her current research charts the revolutionary ways the neurosciences are changing our views of the human and animal sensorium, shaping our fundamental assumptions about perception, sensation, emotion, mental imagery, and subjectivity. Stafford's most recent book is Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images, University of Chicago Press, 2007. These interests inform several major programmatic and educational projects. These include efforts to establish a laboratory/studio-based PhD at SUNY/ Buffalo tying together the neurosciences with humanities/social sciences-based imaging. Yet another project involves the completion of a collaborative book, A Field Guide to a New Metafield: Bridging the Humanities-Neurosciences Divide (forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press).

She received her BA from Northwestern University majoring in Continental Philosophy and Comparative Literature. She also spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris and returned to the Chicago area to complete an MA in Art History from Northwestern and a PhD from the University of Chicago.

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Barbara Stafford


The Antje B. and John J. Jelinek Endowed Lecture and Symposium on Contemporary Art is made possible through a generous gift to the Chicago Contemporary Campaign.