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2005 SIAH

Becoming Strangers: Travel, Trust, and Collaboration

Most of us depend on habit to get us through our daily lives. We presume that the food bought in a grocery store won’t poison us; we take for granted that other cars will make space for us when merging on the highway; we trust our employers to pay us for our services rendered; we believe that classes ought to start at the time listed in the course catalog. Habits so thoroughly saturate what we do and how we do it that we tend to forget about them – until we find ourselves in situations where outpilot doesn’t suffice. Then we can feel uncertain, betrayed, or on occasion exhilarated. And, in our globalized, mobile, hybrid, networked world, these moments of vertigo are ever more common. Only hermits can thoroughly insulate themselves from the shocks and eddies of new experiences, from other ways of thinking and presuming.

This institute will be pondering occasions when everydayness gives way to oddity, strangeness, and unfamiliarity. More specifically, we will be examining scenarios in which people deliberately venture beyond their comfort zone, risking vulnerability in quest of novelty. We will be inquiring into what modes of knowing, what kinds of affect, and what sorts of dangers characterize the dis-ease of encountering the truly unforseen. Travel will be central to our discussions, insofar as movement through space can serve as a paradigm for leaving behind the familiar, but we will also be discussing how the artistic process itself can serve as a model for “making one’s home strange,” that is, a means of doffing habit and newly, freshly perceiving the world around us. Finally we will be exploring the interpersonal dimension of these voyages into the unknown: what kinds of relationship – of trust, of fear, of rivalry, of welcome, of longing – characterize interchange between “strangers”? Can one truly learn to see (or see oneself) through another’s eyes?

This eight week intensive institute, taught by an artist (Ellen Garvens), a scholar in poetics and literary criticism (Brian Reed), and a historian of science and technology (Phillip Thurtle), provides an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the important of “strange encounters” as a literary, artistic, and critical theme. We will begin by developing an understanding of what constitutes “strangeness”: how it has been defined and conceptualized by academic researchers, practitioners, artists, and laypeople. Through an innovative mix of plenary, seminar, and tutorial style sessions the institute will encourage co-operative learning, project-based exploration of materials, and the development of individual thought and expression. Readings will be chosen from the disciplines of cultural studies, art, art history, literary criticism, and social theory. Students will be encouraged to use their experiences in lecture and discussion to come up with a conceptual and practical “toolbox” for exploring the rich critical theoretical terrain of trust, travel, and cooperation. Finally, working on their own, in small groups, and with individual faculty members, institute participants will use this toolbox to develop an exemplary piece of research that will allow them to demonstrate their full talents to postgraduate or professional programs. Possible projects might include but are not limited to: representations of travel (in art, literature, critical theory); the role of the stranger and the act of welcoming; becoming strangers for strangers; betrayal as a literary, artistic, or historical-political event; the relationship between habit and technology in contemporary society; and trustful openness toward an unknown future. The Institute will culminate in a series of presentations and in the publication of an anthology of student research in the arts and humanities.

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Teaching Team

Ellen Garvens

Associate Professor, Photography, School of Art,

Ellen Garvens is an associate professor of photography in the UW’s School of Art. She received her MFA from the University of New Mexico in 1987, and her BFA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1979. She has had more than 21 solo exhibitions and is the recipient of a Fulbright-Hayes scholarship, a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists’ Fellowship, a Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship, and UW Royalty Research Fund Award. Garvens’ photographic work maintains a careful balance between visual power and critical analysis. She combines visceral images of living things in states of decay and degeneration with austere industrial remnants: a mummified bird is paired with copper tubing, a discarded mop with an image of a child’s ear, wads of lint and what looks like an old sock are sandwiched between layers of transparent mylar. The works seem faulty and precarious. Bodily fluids appear outside their containers; fleshy remains dry out and disintegrate. By literally turning bodies inside out, Garvens turns traditional notions of beauty and ugliness upside down.

Brian Reed

Assistant Professor, English,

Brian Reed is an assistant professor of English at the UW. He received his PhD from Stanford in 2000, a B.A. from the University of Oxford with first honors in 1994 and an A.B. summa cum laude from Harvard in 1992. Brian Reed is a recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship, a Mellon Fellowship, and recently received a Royalty Research Fund grant from the UW. He specializes in 20th century poetry and poetics. He is currently at work on a book about the intersections between post-World War II American verse and visual art. His research interests also include international modernism; the avant-garde; postmodernism; experimental fiction; electronic literature; New York of the 1950s; and art music from John Cage onwards. He has written articles on the American poets Robert Grenier, Susan Howe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, and Rosmarie Waldrop. A volume of essays co-edited with Nancy Perloff, Situating El Lissitzky: Vitebsk, Berlin, Moscow, was published by the Getty Research Institute in 2003. His first book, After His Lights: Hart Crane Reconsidered, is forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press series on Modern and Contemporary Poetics.

Phillip Thurtle

Assistant Professor, Comparative History of Ideas,

Phillip Thurtle is an assistant professor of the Comparative History of Ideas program. He recently returned to the UW from Carleton University where he was an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology. He received his PhD in history and the philosophy of science from Stanford University. He has co-edited with Robert Mitchell (English, Duke University) the volumes Data Made Flesh: Embodying Information (Routledge, 2003) and Semiotic Flesh: Information and the Human Body (University of Washington Press, 2002). His research focuses on identity and biology in the American eugenics movement, the use of new media in the representation of popular science, the material culture of information processing, comics and the affective-phenomenlogical domains of media, and the role of information processing technologies in biomedical research. His work has appeared in the Stanford Humanities Review, the Journal of Immunology, and the Journal of the History of Biology as well as as well as the Oxford University Press Handbook of Science and the edited collection Shifting Groud: Transformed Views of the American Landscape. He formerly worked with tissue culture, genetic manipulation, and functional biomolecular characterization as a molecular immunologist.

Ariana Russell

Graduate Student Instructor, Photography, School of Art,

Ariana Russell is a graduate student getting her Master’s degree in Fine Art at the University of Washington in 2005. In 2003 she received her BA in psychology and BFA in photography at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is an artist working in photography, sculpture, digital media, and installation. Her work deals with aspects of skin: human skin as well as how objects and spaces have a covering resembling skin, such as wallpaper and shellac. Human skin reveals internal states through blushing, blanching, and bristling. Ariana shows the reactive capabilities of skin through her own skin’s hypersensitivity and how it communicates/indicates a sort of bodily memory. Her MFA Thesis show will open May 27 at the Henry Art Gallery and she has also shown numerous times in Washington and Nevada. She is currently a member of the UW graduate student-run art organization Strange Company. Strange Co. facilitates a dialogue between UW art students and the greater Seattle art community by pairing students with working artists to collaborate for a show called Coupling . Ariana is co-curator for this year’s Coupling at the Center on Contemporary Art.

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