Anyone who conducts creative research understands what it’s like to be sitting on unanswered questions for an extended period of time. Often, these unresolved topics don’t see the light of day until they are deemed presentable by the researcher. Earlier this month, at The Center For Ongoing Research & Projects (COR&P), four artists and thinkers turned this concept on its head and gave performative lectures based solely on unsettled aspects of their practices. All presenters were given the theme of “Object/Non-Object.” The event was organized by and included CCAD’s own Carmen Winant, and was in collaboration with MOCA Cleveland, which featured Carmen in its exhibition, How To Remain Human.
First up was Danny Marcus, who introduced himself as “an art history person” (he is a PhD candidate in the History of Art at UC Berkeley). Danny presented on drawings by French artist Fernand Léger (1881 – 1955). He showed detailed slides of said drawings, all with endearingly concise titles such as “Quarter of Mutton” and “Fragment of Nut.” In these works, Léger chose only to draw segments of each object, therein weakening, and arguably eliminating, their ability to encompass total objecthood.
Figuratively, the next lecture broke down the objecthood of mutton even more so by focusing on what flows through it – blood. Carmen Winant (an active runner and athlete) presented on blood’s power in professional sports and the extremes some participants will put themselves through to get it. Blood doping is not uncommon in the world of athletic competition. As Carmen stated, “There is little dignity in doping, but often times for athletes, even less dignity in losing.” And although not many people get caught, there have been plenty of notorious cases that had news organizations running wild, and also gave Oprah some of her highest rated interviews (see Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones). The question of blood’s status as an object cannot be easily answered. But Carmen posed insightful questions and statements in her performance of the topic – “Can we define objecthood through utility? Can a medium be an object? Blood has volume but can take any shape and evaporate…our blood is neither and both and all of these things. It is invisible until it is not.”
The remaining two lectures were performed by Vera Brunner-Sung and Dr. Amr Al Azm. Vera, a filmmaker who specializes in documentary techniques, is an Assistant Professor at OSU. She posed the idea of traces (not necessarily physical) and ruins acting as objects. After her childhood home sadly burned down, she began reflecting on how memories attach to spaces, and what happens to those memories when the spaces disappear. For varying projects she has worked with relic hunters and paleontologists, all of whom agree that the beauty of time found in ruins brings civilization through history together. These ruins are not presented in a way that romanticizes the aesthetic gloominess of old remnants, but in a way that finds new joy in the act of discovery.
Amr Al Azm’s presentation also dealt with history and its importance to civilization. Al Azm, an Associate Professor in Middle East History and Anthropology at Shawnee State University, is active in the Syrian Heritage Initiative. This initiative has been created in order to provide protection, documentation, and preservation of the cultural heritage of war-torn Syria. This lecture was entitled, “To Save an Object or to Save a Life.” The “object,” in this case, is Syria’s heritage. Amr is fighting to end the binary of “saving people vs. saving heritage,” because he knows it is possible to save both. By tracking looted antiquities and performing sting operations, this Initiative is making huge strides in not only saving the cultural identity of Syrians in the present, but developing strategies to continue reconstruction with long-term preservation projects. Amr poignantly summarized this mission by saying, “Saving Syria’s past is about saving its future.”
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