By Claire Grady Smith
Like any milestone, from moving out of your parents' house to getting your first car, for a graduate student, speaking at your first conference feels like an arrival of sorts. Also, as with any milestone, you wonder what will change for you. Your future feels different somehow, like it will be more open or closed depending on this one moment.
These were my thoughts as I walked up to the podium at nine thirty in the morning on a Saturday in February, to deliver a paper to a room full of graduate students from McGill, the University of Toronto, Concordia, and Queen's. I wondered, momentarily, if I would sound as nervous as I felt. I stood facing the crowd, took a deep breath, and suddenly half an hour had gone by and the whole thing was over. By all accounts I spoke well, confidently and even interestingly! This, I guess, is how milestones occur suddenly, without your complete awareness.
The best part of the conference Context and Meaning IX, 2010, organized by Queen's Graduate Visual Culture Association's Ana-Joel Falcon-Wiebe and Theresa Huntley, were the people involved. The questions asked were intelligent, funny, and always supportive of the speaker's work.
The conference had the unexpected feeling of a large, unwieldy classroom. And for art historians, the presentations were anything but typical! Fake breasts, mobile phones, family photo albums, and Quebecois bad-boys were just a few of the many outrageous topics covered by this group of emerging scholars.
My presentation, about nationalist representation at the hip Venice Biennale, was one of the more conservative of the topics discussed! Queen's PhD candidate Julie Fiala, for example, discussed the fascinating connections between anarchist theory and community art projects, and Queen's MA student Michelle Bauldic gave an amazing account of how the life and death of Louis Riel has been re-conceived by the Canadian Government in order to claim him as our own national icon. Katherine Jackson, an MA from U of T, questioned how objects that signify the history of a people are staged in contemporary art installations to elicit certain emotions in the participant.
I came away from the weekend feeling both exhausted and impressed by the quality of experience possible here at Queen's. Grad school may be challenging but the rewards are worth the work.
Claire is a Master of Arts student in Cultural Studies at Queen's.
Photos taken at the Conference closing reception on Saturday February 6, 2010 at Etherington House on campus.
Image 1 (left to right) Ana-Joel Falcón-Wiebe, Hon. Peter Milliken, MP, and Theresa Huntley. (Conference Co-Chairs with MP for Kingston and the Islands)
Image 2 Group of presenters and attendees of the conference at the reception..
Image 3 (left to right) is David Mitchell (McGill university), Hon. Peter Milliken, MP, Michael Brannan (Queen's), Janina Knight-Brannan (Queen's), and Olenka Horbatsch (Queen's).