Thursday, December 25, 2008

Art and Evolution: Kiki Smith's Lucy's Daughters

I've just posted a video essay on Kiki Smith's wonderful silk screened art work, "Lucy's Daughters" (1990), which I first saw in a show curated by Margarite Evangeline at the Rose Art Museum:

I'm especially struck by how the piece contrasts with the standard graphic framing of evolution in the popular imagination, typified by the unlinear "parade of man" visual trope, of the sort ridiculed by Stephen Jay Gould in his book "Wonderful Life.

Our hope is to get a kind of video dialogue going in advance of the symposium on art and evolution we're planning for "Darwin Day", the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin on February 12, 2009. I'd love to view some specific video responses to my video essay, as well as other commentaries about: (1)how artists have responded to evolutionary ideas, and (2) how, in turn, visual and other representational genres have helped to shape popular (and scientific) understandings of evolutionary processes.

I'm excited about YouTube's potentional for promoting stimulating video dialogues about problems in cultural theory and the interpretation of art, now that it is so easy for so many people to post video responses to videos that they encounter on line. I'm wondering how this kind of visual correspondence might itself evolve of over time. To be sure, quick video responses and counter-responses many not always encourage thoughtful reflection, but the medium does seem to have interesting "affordances" for the building of communities devoted to collaborative cultural analysis outside the bounds of the academy in a formal, institutional sense.

Beyond the general educational value of video essays themselves, I'm intrigued by the pedagogic possibilities of YouTube in the courses that I teach. Would it be a good idea to encourage or require students to post video responses to one another, perhaps pondering a specfic image, work of art, or other cultural phenomena? In small classes at least, one could initially limit the video dialogues to a closed group (the YouTube upper limit for closed access is 25 viewers) and then later go public with the video dialogue, I suppose, once we decided as a class that the video threads were ready to be shared with the wider universe. I still would want students to post carefully thought out written responses on line, but it does seem to me that the discipline of composing video essays (in which image, text and voice are thoughfully integrated) is a very useful one, especially if students were responsible to one another for crafting videos that responded to their peers' videos.

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