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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hauntings and Traces

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Front Matter

Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal

Hauntings and Traces | Volume 3 | Issue 1

Letter from the Editor

On behalf of the editorial board, I would like to thank the department of History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC) and the Arts Division at the University of California, Santa Cruz for their financial support. We are particularly grateful to the former director of graduate studies of HAVC, Professor Boreth Ly, for advocating on our behalf and to the amazing staff in the HAVC department, including Ruby Lipsenthal and Meredith Dyer. Thanks also to Professors Carolyn Dean, Derek Conrad Murray, and Kyle Parry for serving as our advisory board. Thank you to the team at eScholarship for answering our many questions and for making our open access mission a reality. We also appreciate all the peer reviewers for their time, and Paula Dragosh for copyediting. We are thrilled to include in this issue guest contributors whom we invited to participate in this volume, and we are so grateful for their participation: Christina Maranci; Boreth Ly with Catherine Ries, Michelle Yee, and Christina Ayson-Plank; and Katerina Martina Teaiwa. We are also hugely grateful to Michael Conlee, our amazing intern, and to Porter College at UCSC for funding the internship. Thanks to Kate Korroch, the founding managing editor, and all past editorial board members at Refract for ensuring our project has lasting power. And finally, we wish to thank the numerous colleagues and mentors who engage with visual studies and have encouraged this project from the start, as well as the amazing thinkers and makers who contributed to this volume.

Refract and the University of California

Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal was established in 2017 to create a space for diverse voices across academic disciplines and institutions. To this end, we, the editorial board (EB), chose to not explicitly associate ourselves with theHistory of Art and Visual Culture Department (HAVC) at the University of Cali-fornia, Santa Cruz (UCSC), or with the University of California (UC) more broadly.This was done in an effort to act autonomously as graduate students, who, as the future of academe, sought to work without the direct input, influence, or affiliationof the larger institution in which we work. Stating that we are autonomous was an ideological position meant to provide us with expanded possibilities for experimentation within both visual studies and the world of academe writ large.

Introduction to “Hauntings and Traces”

This volume of Refract investigates the power dynamics of (in)visibility through “haunting” and the “trace.” A form of way making, the trace offers itself as an object, subject, and action, as both a remnant and a becoming. Haunting similarly defies legibility in that it occupies a discomforting space between something/somebody and nothing/nobody—not simply a vestige of previous realities but an active force that unsettles life-and-death worlds. As a journal of visual studies, Refract is drawn to the power dynamics inherent in the zone between the visible and the invisible: a zone that the haunting and the trace both inhabit. This introduction does not seek to define hauntings and traces per se, but hopes instead to offer spaces for their forms to emerge. One starting point is the tension between absence and presence instantiated by the terms haunting and the trace.

My Love to Be Defused: Beginnings of an Ethics of Belonging through Negotiations of a National Socialist Image in Daily Life, from Infancy to Adulthood (Excerpts from Diaries Now Titled, The Responsibility of Being That Sort of Baby, March 24–July 25, 20

This little piece—consisting of minimally tweaked diary entries and a preface that is “finished” only as an ethical articulation of its historical moment—originally claimed to imitate cinema: by leaving you to your own anticipation of effects and application of references. It also was meant to elicit your tactile and temporal responses as a booklet on paper, for which you would control the pace of realizing its associations with your present surroundings, memories, and received knowledge (surely you have the time!). The format seems less important now, however, for those aspects of experiencing media are as important as always, so I remind you just in case.

In the Traces: Reflections on Fieldwork in the Region of Ani

I study the medieval Armenian monuments—churches, monasteries, fortresses, palaces, and more—in what is now eastern Turkey (what many call western Armenia). For me, this region is at once the most beautiful, and most painful, place on earth. I am the grandchild of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915–22, in which Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire suffered mass deportation and extermination: a crime that still goes unrecognized by the Turkish state. Scholars have characterized the Armenian monuments in Turkey as physical traces of their lost homeland. While my scholarship addresses these sites as historical and architectural/artistic phenomena, that work does not often capture the moods and emotions I feel when I am there. I hope to offer here a sense of the more personal dimensions of firsthand work with the buildings and their landscapes.

White Shoals, White Shrouds: Reflections on the Ethics of Looking at Captive Bodies

In the winter of 2018, I presented a conference paper on a set of nineteenth-century photographs from the national archive of the French colonies. The series, titled “Types Comoriens” (Comorian types), comprises seven photographs commissioned by the French École Coloniale between 1890 and 1896. The École Coloniale was a French colonial school created in 1889, and dedicated to the recruitment and training of French colonial administrators. The school was instrumental to both the institutionalization of colonial knowledge and the development of French higher education. The images are full-length portraits of seven young Comorian natives, naked, standing in front of a white background. My paper looked at the beaded strings that the indigenous islanders wore  around their waists, which I traced back to an East African puberty ritual called unyago. Subsumed in the minutiae of my anthropological analysis, I did not register the violence that had been folded into the photographic frame. Nor did I realize that I, myself, was reenacting the voyeuristic gaze of the colonial photographer by re-producing these images in my conference presentation. For the purposes of my presentation, I cropped the subjects’ naked bodies but decided to show their faces. Even then, this timid gesture seemed insufficient, uncomfortably incomplete.

Traces, Fragments and Voids: An Artist Representing Detroit's Vanishing Homeland

Homesickness Series, an ongoing series of monochromatic ink paintings modeled after tintype photography, frames the façades of individual homes in Detroit as a form of portraiture. If individual depictions of lost or endangered homes can be seen as portraits of the residents they once contained, and if homes are sites and containers of memory, then rendered windows and doors serve as both literal and psychological passageways into the interior of the home and the interior sites of the mind with its associated lived experiences and memories. As a corrective measure in representing Detroit, my practice uses visual or written means to provide the audience of my work with oft-overlooked historical contexts to illuminate the ways corporate abandonment, housing segregation, highway construction, and white flight led to the city’s present day challenges.

Mere Image: Caravaggio, Virtuosity, and Medusa’s Averted Eyes

The Medusa (Fig. 1) is the only one of Caravaggio’s works to which the writer Giovan Battista Marino dedicated an ekphrastic poem. It is thought that Marino saw the work on a 1601 trip to Florence; by that time, the painting had been received in the armoury of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando de’ Medici. Collecting a painting in an armoury makes sense, of course, when the painting counts as arms––Caravaggio painted his Medusa on a convex shield, and Marino’s madrigal engages with just this aspect, addressing the Grand Duke:

Now what enemies will there be who will not become cold marble in gazing upon, my Lord, in your shield, that Gorgon proud and cruel, in whose hair horribly voluminous vipers make foul and terrifying adornment? But yet! You will have little need for the formidable monster among your arms: for the true Medusa is your valor.

It's Like She Had Never Existed: The Family Story and the Assembly of Disability

My work explores how disability is conventionally represented and daily experienced, as well as the differences and gaps between these two. The leading threads of my work are disability and narratives. I am interested in contributing to a growing field that compiles the particular experiences of disability in the Latin American territories with languages and realities that are different from the ones that mainstream English-based disability studies portray. My research focuses on my country, Mexico, and on the relationship between history and ways of seeing and naming: how we identify disability by visible markers, how we relate to it, how we name it, how the words and actions towards it have changed. The goal of my work is to raise awareness of how the words and actions perpetuate oppression, so that the need for counteractions in the everyday becomes clear.

Douce Mélancholie: Sonic Negotiations of Absence in the Works of Susan Philipsz and Félicia Atkinson

On July 5, 2019, French composer, poet, and publisher Félicia Atkinson released an experimental album titled The Flower and the Vessel. On September 16, 2019, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, opened the exhibition Susan Philipsz: Seven Tears. By reflecting on these two contemporary sonic events through the lens of affect theory, this essay aims to explore the embodied experience of absence.

Floodplain (126)

In Floodplain (126), I investigated the paleo-flooding of Wiang Kum Kam in the Chao Phraya River Basin in Northern Thailand. I am interested in the diverse human activities that have existed on floodplains since antiquity. Made of bricks with the very silt and sediment, mud and earth of the floodplain below, this archeological site offers a deeper sense of time, of the dynamic cycles of river systems, and of the movement of civilizations. The brick itself is as much a temporal object as it is a spatial one, suspending the alluvial material that took thousands of years to break down, only to become subsumed once again by the river. I exhume these histories as a way of reconstructing the fleeting passages of natural phenomena and the built environment, with the dynamic anthropogenic changes of the Mekong River Delta today.

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Mining Things: Confronting Loss and Flux in the Slate Industry Ruins of Northwest Wales

Returning to a familiar environment after a prolonged absence has a strange way of pulling features out from their habitualness. This was my experience during a visit to the ruins on level 9 of Rhosydd Quarry, which formed part of a walk with friends on the mountain, Cnicht, and surrounding Cwm Croesor, while on a visit back to the area of northwest Wales where I grew up. The physical traces of the slate industry that had occupied a seamless place among my everyday surroundings now seemed to demand a recognition of a certain out-of-placeness. What I previously understood as the idiosyncrasies of a landscape shaped by a formerly world-leading national industry, I now saw as geological scars that stand as monuments to an industrial capitalism that exited as aggressively as it imposed itself, testifying to its remarkable ability to reshape environments both physical and social.

Interview with Boreth Ly on Her New Book, Traces of Trauma

Boreth Ly’s latest book is Traces of Trauma: Cambodian Visual Culture and National Identity in the Aftermath of Genocide. This is a complex book, to say the least. It is not the type of book just anyone could write. Ly explores how the artistic practices of contemporary Cambodian artists at home and in the diaspora—including installation artists, painters, photographers, filmmakers, poets, and court dancers—give voice to a culturally specific understanding of trauma and how they found ways to live after the civil war, US secret bombings, and Khmer Rouge genocide. Her background, experiences, and intellectual fortitude make her uniquely capable of formulating discreet and meaningful connections across different art forms and objects. We admire the way Ly can intellectualize and theorize but not erase the emotional anguish that grounds the creation of these works of art. She is not afraid of her humanity. Moreover, she is not afraid to make it personal.

Power Geometry in Urban Memory: Reading Taksim Square Through the Concept of Representation of Space

Can memory be manipulated? How far can the will to remember resist the manipulation of the hierarchy? Isolation and exclusion are still useful as disciplinary tools of power. Since this is the case, what role do so-called public spaces serve in memorializing certain isolated histories while separating and thus excluding others? If memory spaces exist in correlation with loss of memory, can searching for traces underneath the layers be the worst enemy of forgetting? How can the search for traces in official spatial histories reveal whose memory is being prioritized as truthful historical account and whose memory has been forgotten? Official spatial histories demand that certain memories are forgotten and thus delegitimized; does this render the readings of spaces as alternative memorialization meaningless? If so, does trying to create memory spaces cause monumentality independent from memory? Does the very act of formalizing spaces of memory create a certain monumentality independent from those who remember it? How will urban geographies, condemned to be symbolic spaces of politics, resist this?

Bloodlines, Kinship

Bloodlines is a 228-inch-long installation made horizontally in Microsoft Excel and then rotated 90 degrees to create a dripping or oozing effect down the wall. It began as an inquiry into naming and the organizational hierarchy of the family tree. The tree serves as a symbol of nature, an inherited organizer used to display relational hierarchies of time and power, enacted subsequently through myriad metaphors. If the medium is the message, the tree is the medium that validates the family as a natural hierarchical entity positioned in linear time. The tree is, and has been, an omnipresent symbol for how we order and understand relationships—tying together “nature” and “order” in our collective understanding of the family. Contemporary genealogical practices carried out on websites like uphold hetero status markers of the family vis-à-vis patrilineal threads while privileging records of white lineages. Documents, or “records,” serve as archival evidence in this online database—thus archival evidence reflects social ties and social hierarchies. In this way, using to gather family data and Excel to hold said data is revealing what was always there—the tree as disassociated from, but disingenuously carrying forth, our belief that nature is unquestionable.

The Trophy and The Appeal: Colonial Photography and the Ghosts of Witnessing in German Southwest Africa

To work with images of atrocity is a fraught project. Sedimented constructs shaped through racist and settler colonial violence continue to define the production and consumption of the visual, as well as memory practice and scopic politics. These retinal sedimentations must be looked at plainly and addressed openly, to name the ways in which history and identity shape the function of the eye. I turn to the understudied visual archive of German colonialism in South West Africa, with an emphasis on colonial photography, with the aim of tying the visuality of colonial violence in German South West Africa to broader studies of colonial photography, images of racial violence, and the ways in which these images circulated as discourse. I am particularly concerned with the location of witnessing, and the ways in which things look differently from different positions—what I refer to through the concept of parallax—and the effects of this on visual consumption. Images of violence travel, through a visceral witnessing that can be grotesquely pornographic—in the words of Claudia Rankine, “the dead body as an object that satisfies an illicit desire”—or evidentiary. I use viscerality in this context to think about a methodology of witnessing that attends to embodiment, experience, and feeling. The resignification of images, however didactic and captioned, depends on the eye and the gut of the viewer—the transhistorical viewer is not a passive or innocent witness. This is especially important in the context of the pornotroping tendency of white supremacist culture to fetishize the image, particularly of Black injury and death, and the ability of images of violence to re-traumatize survivors.

Photogrammetry and Zhongshan Pavilion: Reconstructing Urban Memory of the Wenxi Fire

In accordance with the government’s scorched-earth policy, on November 12, 1938, a devastating fire was started in the city of Changsha, China. This military strategy calls for the intentional burning and destruction of all valuable resources, such as buildings, food, and transportation infrastructure, to prevent the invading enemy from utilizing them. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), the governor of Changsha followed instructions from the Nationalist government to execute this scorched-earth policy. Yet officials mistakenly initiated the fire too quickly and destroyed the more-than-three-thousand-year-old city. In this fire, thousands of people lost their lives, and the majority of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Referred to today as the Changsha Fire of 1938, or the Wenxi Fire, this event left Changsha one of the most damaged cities during World War II, alongside Stalingrad, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Zhongshan Pavilion is one of the few architectural structures that survived the 1938 Wenxi Fire. As technology widely applied in cultural preservation, photogrammetry can play a significant role in preserving this structure for future generations. Yet this project intends to further the conversation about the role of photogrammetry in memory preservation by considering the Zhongshan Pavilion as a heterogeneous site. The resulting virtual 3-D model opens new potentialities in challenging historical narratives that are told in the singular voice (the state’s) as presented at the physical site in Changsha. Rather than following the path of criticizing digitalization as an extension and magnification of fragmentedness and rootlessness, the constructed virtual 3-D model of Zhongshan Pavilion may expand the fixed and structured memory preserved in the physical location and bring vitality to the preservation of multiple memories in a new kind of public space.

The Televised Apocalypse

This paper argues that Jean Tinguely’s Study for an End of the World No. 2 and the television episode which the auto-destructive sculpture appeared on, “The End of the World” on David Brinkley’s Journal, should be viewed as a single, synthetic artwork which seizes upon broadcast television’s medium-specific lack of closure to allegorize the persistent duration of nuclear fallout which is elided in other media’s attempts to capture and represent nuclear detonations. This paper argues that this joint artwork/television episode also comments on an epistemological and spectatorial shift that is exemplified by the format of broadcast television, insofar as the ideology of electronic presence which surrounds the television medium is reflective of an anxiety about the dissolution of the critical distance of the rational spectator (i.e. the Enlightenment subject). This paper suggests that the artwork/episode ultimately reflects on the anxiety of the potential loss of textuality as such that is unique to the nuclear epoch by suggesting that discrete texts are ultimately insufficient means of making sense of the world.

The Face of an Empire: Cosmetics and Whiteness in Imperial Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I

When Queen Elizabeth I entered her fifties, she grew reluctant to sit for any more portraits. The final three portraits that she sat for – the Armada Portrait, The Ditchley Portrait, and the Oliver Miniature – painted between the mid-1580s and her death in 1602, portray the Queen with a smooth, white face, and bright coral lips and cheeks. The style of painting the Queen’s face as seen in these last portraits were canonized as a pattern for future artists to follow when painting the Queen during and after the last years of her reign. In the Elizabethan era, the English government often attempted to control how the Queen was depicted in artwork; in 1596 the English Privy Council drafted a proclamation that required portraits of the Queen depict her as “beutyfull [sic] and magnanimous” as “God hathe blessed her.” In both art historical scholarship and popular culture, the Queen’s whitened skin and rouged lips and cheeks in her official portraiture are often cited as evidence of her vanity and waning looks. However, as I will explore in this paper, the use of cosmetics in the early-modern era was associated not only with narcissism, but with England’s colonial efforts. By considering discourses regarding both her status as a symbol of natural beauty and the racist associations that were associated with makeup application, I argue that the legibility of makeup on the Queen’s face in imperial portraits and preservation of this motif as a pattern can be read as a symbol of her imperial and racial domination in the Americas and in England.

Voices of Visual Studies

Visualizing Banaba: Art and Research about a Diffracted Pacific Island

My book, Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba , about the impact of British, Australian, and, New Zealand phosphate mining on one of my ancestral homelands, felt like a mission to Mars. Prolonged sitting, writing, reading, rewriting, and editing are static embodied processes unnatural to human design. And while I’m so pleased the book has been taken up in several anthropology, history, Pacific studies, and Indigenous studies classrooms, the chapter I love most is the one that reviewers and editors had almost nothing to say about. Titled “Remix: Our Sea of Phosphate,” it consists of textual and visual fragments from books, journal articles, ethnographic film, and archives. Elsewhere, I have written about my interest in Indigenous remix and how apt it is for Banaban lands, choreographies, histories, and displacement. My goal has never been to produce a neat and well-synthesized master narrative of what happened to Banaba, also known as Ocean Island, but to appropriately present our two-and-a-half-square-mile (six-square-kilometer) ancestral island that was broken, crushed, dried, bagged, and hauled off in ships “in pieces.” The remixed forms of research and storytelling about Banaba are in line with the multisited, multisensory, empirical, material, social, and political elements marking the interaction and mutual interference between Banaba and twentieth-century British, Australian, and New Zealand colonial, imperial, agricultural, and food security projects.

Full Issue

Refract Journal, Volume 3: Hauntings and Traces Full Issue

Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal

Hauntings and Traces | Volume 2 | Issue 1