C.2 Fire and Ice: Elemental Art and Its Histories, Part 1

Thu Oct 21 / 9:00 – 10:30 PDT
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chairs /

  • Siobhan Angus, Yale University
  • Ivana Dizdar, University of Toronto

At once sources of survival and destruction, of sustenance and danger, elements — broadly defined — have always been a point of fascination for artists and thinkers. This panel investigates how artists have represented, repurposed, and responded to elements, foregrounding their potential as materials, metaphors, mediums, archives, and frameworks. How, we ask, have aesthetic engagements with the elemental figured in our understanding of the world and our role in its transformation, especially in the context of settler colonialism, climate crisis, and geo/bio/necro-politics? What does elemental art tell us about temporality, endurance, disappearance, emergency, and disaster? How might we reimagine approaches to art history by thinking elementally and repositioning — or decentering — the human? This session features research by scholars working at the convergence of art, politics, and environment and across mediums, geographies, and time periods.

Siobhan Angus specializes in the history of photography and the environmental humanities. Her current research explores the visual culture of resource extraction with a focus on materiality, perceptions of nature, and environmental justice. Her scholarship also engages with the history of capitalism and labour, settler colonial studies, temporality and scale in the geological turn, and the relationship between art, science, and industry. She is currently a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Art and a visiting scholar at the Yale Center for British Art. She holds a PhD in Art History and Visual Culture from York University, where her dissertation was awarded the Governor General's Gold Medal. Her research has been published in Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, Radical History Review, and Capitalism and the Camera (Verso, 2021) and is forthcoming in Geohumanities and October.

Ivana Dizdar is an art historian, curator, and artist whose work examines art and geopolitics since the late eighteenth century. She is a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Fellow in art history at the University of Toronto, Curatorial Assistant of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada, and Guest Curator at the McMaster Museum of Art. She holds master’s degrees in art history and curatorial studies from the Sorbonne and Columbia University, and has worked on major exhibitions at MoMA, Qatar Museums, and the 59th Venice Biennale. Her papers have been published in Thresholds, Vistas, and exPosition, and she has presented her research at Princeton University, New York University, and INALCO Paris, among others. Her performances and videos have appeared in exhibitions and festivals internationally, including venues in Britain, Germany, and the United States.

C.2.1 Ice in Motion: Panoramic Perspectives and Moving Pictures

Isabelle Gapp, University of Toronto

The Arctic panorama has often been framed by conversations of the Victorian imperial imaginary and was originally conceived to showcase Anglophone exploration, heroism and settler colonialism. This paper explores the complementary and multifaceted visual representations of Arctic glacial ice, from the Victorian spectacle of the panorama to contemporary time-lapse photography and film. With this, I look at how glaciers have been depicted, documented and presented within panoramic media over the past two centuries. I draw particular attention to the work of Henry Aston Barker, Tyrone Martinsson, and James Balog as examples of how the panoramic image was used in its original form and subsequently adapted as a tool for communicating environmental change. This paper is not restricted by geographical or national concerns, but rather moves across landscapes around the Circumpolar North, from Svalbard to Alaska, and the ocean and seas in-between. I explore how ice moves through both time and space, confronting climate histories within physical and spatio-temporal ideas of movement. Alongside the materiality of ice, I consider the modes of observation involved in creating and viewing these panoramic pictures, from the rotunda at Leicester Square, London, to ships moving across drift-ice. This also recognizes the panorama as a form of entertainment, from the shock and awe of 'far-flung' lands to the spectacle of large-scale calving events. In making tangible and visual an Arctic environmental history, this paper does not simply seek to document ice loss, but instead looks to the panorama as a means of communicating ice as a substance, an aesthetic sublime, as an object of scientific study and as a symbol of climate change.

Isabelle Gapp is an Arts & Science Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Art History at the University of Toronto. She holds a PhD in History of Art from the University of York, UK (2020). Her research considers the intersections between nineteenth- and twentieth-century landscape painting, gender, environmental history, and climate change around the Circumpolar North. Her latest publications include A Woman in the Far North: Anna Boberg and the Norwegian Glacial Landscape, published in Kunst og Kultur in 2021. Additional forthcoming articles relate to Arctic map-making, panoramas, coastlines, and wilderness ideologies.

C.2.2 Idiosyncratic Approach to the Physical Properties of Matter in Arcimboldo's Allegories

Leman Berdeli, Sapienza Università di Roma

The Four Seasons is a set of oil paintings produced in 1563, 1572, and 1573 by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He offered the set to Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor in 1569, accompanying The Four Elements, which were attempted to express the creation of harmony from chaos to form anthropomorphic godlike portraits praising Maximilian by suggesting that he is a ruler who controls even the four primal elements. Both series correspond analogously to each other as Fire to Summer and Water to Winter. This pairing creates linked themes of chaos brought into harmony and the glorification of the dynasty. The purpose of this study is to bring a different interpretation of depictions a scientific, metaphysical approach formed and placed on the tableau ground same as the interstellar matter formed by interstellar gas, dust, plasma, and dark matter.

Leman Berdeli completed BA in English Language and Literature at Yaşar University (2012), an MA in History of Art at Ege University with a thesis on 19th century Romanticism in Russian Romantic Paysage (2017), and received a PhD with a thesis titled: Fra creatività scenica e ritmo del disegno: Pietro Gonzaga e la sua relazione con l’Avanguardia Russa” (Between Scenic Creativity and the Rhythm of Design: Pietro Gonzaga and His Relationship with the Russian Avant-Garde). She participated in the 2nd International Culture, Art, and Literature Congress held on 4–5 May in Ankara with a paper titled: Pietro Gottardo Gonzaga’s Synesthesia Experience: The Music of the Eyes and at IMAEC 2nd International Congress on Mathematics, Engineering, and Architecture Congress held June 6, 2021, in Rome with a paper titled: An Unrealized Project of 19th Century: Seats of Sensation in Opera and Ballet House. Two other papers by Berdeli were accepted, through peer review, to be presented at the 6th IC on Social Sciences VI, July 9–11, 2021, Paris, and IC on Innovative Studies of Contemporary Sciences, July 29–31, 2021, Tokyo. Berdeli's research considers the interrelation of aesthetics and psychology as Synesthesia, relations among art, music, and architecture, and interpretations of historical data with correlative Gestalt patterns in music and the visual arts.

C.2.3 Carbon Copy: Jill Magid's Proposal

Georgia Phillips-Amos, Concordia University

In 2016, the American conceptual artist Jill Magid created a rough-cut 2.02-carat diamond from the exhumed ashes of the deceased Mexican architect Luis Barragán's body. Magid worked with a company that offers a chemical process allowing the extraction of carbon from human remains. Once siphoned, the carbon is exposed to extreme heat and pressure, which crystallize ashes into diamonds. With blessings from the architect's family, the artist had the diamond set in a wearable silver engagement ring and presented it as a proposal to the Swiss head of the Barragán Foundation, Federica Zanco. The foundation is notorious for carefully guarding the Barragán archive, going to lengths to censure reproduction of any images of the late architect's work and keeping original materials stowed in a private vault in Switzerland. Following a three-year-long epistolary and artistic negotiation with Zanco, and the institution that both protects and restricts his legacy, Magid hoped the ring might serve as a trading chip in exchange for greater access or as a prompt to have Barragán's work returned to Mexico. The artist is engaged in a near-decade-long portrait with an absent center. Though both Barragán and his oeuvre remain out of reach, Magid's material transformation of his remains shifts the narrative of his archive. By extension, the artist carves an opening to reconsider the ethics and legalities of any body of work held in private or institutional hands. This paper will explore how Magid's work raises elemental questions around the nature of extraction, preservation, restitution, and institutional control.

Georgia Phillips-Amos is a writer and PhD candidate in Art History at Concordia University in Montreal. Her writing on art and literature has appeared in Artforum, BOMB, Border Crossings, Canadian Art, The Drama Review, Frieze, and The Village Voice. Her academic research is funded by a SSHRC Bombardier Graduate Scholarship.