School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Context and Meaning XV: Sensing Matter(s)

January 2016

by Karl Hardy

Emerging scholars from across Canada and the US will be traveling to Queen’s this weekend for the fifteenth annual Graduate Visual Culture Association Student Conference, Context and Meaning. This event is set to take place January 29 and 30, and will feature graduate students from across Canada and the United States, who conduct research in the humanities and social sciences with a focus on visual and material culture. In the past, conference participants have included students from Queen’s, Carleton, Concordia, McGill, Harvard and Pennsylvania State Universities. This year’s conference will include 21 graduate student presenters have been selected and the resulting panels are diverse in both subject matter and methodology.
Nicole Ensing, graduate student conference committee member says “Being involved in Context and Meaning is a great way to network with other graduate students from across Canada and the United States.”

The primary focus of the conference is the consideration of how material culture interacts with its context to produce meaning, provide an inclusive and broadly defined forum that facilitates academic discussion while encompassing an abundant range of topics. This year's conference theme is “Sensing Matter(s)”.

"We are students of the Department of Art History and Art Conservation, though 'Art History' has been traditionally concerned with fine art objects like a sculpture by Michelangelo, and not a piece of sanpuru (a skillfully created plastic representation of food found in Japanese restaurants)” explains Isabel Luce, a member of the graduate student organizing committee. “Using the terms material culture and visual culture opens up the discussion to everyday objects, craft, and images in popular culture that might not be considered 'fine art'.”

“When we sent out a call for papers, we weren't sure what the submissions would look like. The central question was "how might we as historians and theorists re-evaluate the way in which we examine art in order to move beyond solely a consideration of the visual?", which is quite broad!” adds Molly-Claire Gillett, another member of the graduate student conference committee. “We were excited to see trends develop in the submissions, especially in relation to museum/gallery/archival practice. Many of our colleagues are interested in how the human body interacts with these spaces. For example, we have a presenter speaking about the relationship between dance and the archive and two presenters discussing performance interventions within an art gallery. One of these was performed just last week at the Agnes (Brendan Fernandez "Lost Bodies"), so audience members will be able to tour the show after the talk. Another theme that has popped up is the use of new technologies in interaction with art, especially in the museum context, and how this engages with the senses - we have a presenter talking about Instagram! We also have presenters joining us from the Art Conservation program, which gives us a more nuanced view of visual and material culture in general.”  

Dr. John Potvin of Concordia University to present the keynote lecture, entitled “Off the Wall: Haptic Presence, Queer Resistance, and Interior Design.” Graduate student confernce committee member Lauren Bird explains, “Dr Potvin's work cuts across disciplinary boundaries in exploring both fine arts and the emerging fields of fashion and interior design, with a focus on how visual and material culture are shaped, experienced, and understood through the senses and subjectivity of the body. Dr. Potvin's work aligns perfectly with the conference's focus on the senses, and he also happens to be a Queen's alumnus.”  

Context and Meaning serves as an ambassador for graduate research at Queen’s. Undergraduate students are exposed to the exciting possibilities for research in the Department of Art, and are able to meet and network with current graduate students. Students from other institutions are often introduced to the Queen’s Department of Art through Context and Meaning. In fact, two of the conference organizers this year decided to begin or pursue further graduate studies at Queen’s after attending Context and Meaning in 2014, and one of the founders of Context and Meaning, on the initiating committee 15 years ago, is now teaching in the department.

Context and Meaning XV: Sensing Matter(s) takes place January 29 and 30 at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre on the campus of Queen’s University.

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