Panoramic art can display history in a way that frames perceptions of historical events and their lasting sentiment to current times. On Feb. 25 and 26, Vance Byrd, associate professor and chair of German studies and Frank and Roberta Furbush Scholar in German Studies at Grinnell College, will host a lecture and workshop in the Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence (TAE) Material and Visual Worlds speaker series. The talks will be on public pieces that question how panoramic art itself influences historical thought and the emotions intertwined, specifically on the American Civil War.
Byrd, the speaker for this event, has been working on interdisciplinary research on art. In 2017, he published a book called “A Pedagogy of Observation: Nineteenth-Century Panoramas, German Literature and Reading Culture” that compares the impact of print culture and panoramas on 19th-century German society. This Thursday and Friday, Byrd will look at these aspects in the context of the United States through panoramas documenting two moments in the Civil War.
On Feb. 25, Byrd will be hosting a lecture called “Cut and Paste: Unearthing the Past in Mark Bradford’s ‘Pickett’s Charge,’” about acclaimed artist Mark Bradford’s new piece, which is an appropriation of Paul Philippoteaux’s 1883 panorama painting “Battle of Gettysburg,” currently on display at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. “Battle of Gettysburg” documents the Confederate loss to the Union, which marked a turning point in the war. Byrd said he appreciates the simple materials Bradford utilized in making his piece reach a deeper meaning. Bradford’s abstract presentation questions how people remember the past and that the original painting his is based on may have excluded important details.
“[The painting represents how] loss is transformed for the sake of heroism, valor as a way for the United States to find reconciliation,” Byrd said.
The workshop “Does It Sound Right Now? Narrating the Battle of Atlanta” on Feb. 26 was inspired by Byrd’s childhood growing up in Atlanta. During a school field trip, he experienced the “Battle of Atlanta” cyclorama painting at the Atlanta History Center in Georgia, spanning across the entirety of a room. The memory of the combined auditory and visual element of the cyclorama stuck with him when hearing a narration of the 1864 Battle of Atlanta during the Civil War. In the workshop, Byrd will look at how the Atlanta Cyclorama is currently being restored while reflecting on the evolving perspective Atlanta as a city had of the Civil War and its relevance. His workshop will also feature a discussion of the interdisciplinary approach of sound and visuals with the painting.
Carl Gelderloos, associate professor of German and Russian studies at Binghamton University, reached out to Byrd for the Material and Visual Worlds Speaker series, where a handful of speakers come each year. Gelderloos said he liked Byrd’s interdisciplinary approach and agreed that art can sometimes have a far reach on people’s understanding of history.
“Historians can uncover the facts, they can reframe narratives, but a visual artist like Bradford is able to directly intervene in the often unconscious ways that we remember the past,” Gelderloos said.
Byrd said he hopes listeners make connections to today’s conflicts and how crucial it is to contest those with art. With campaigns against monuments and statues that represent past injustices, Byrd wants to show how Mark Bradford’s “Pickett’s Charge” and the Atlanta Cyclorama are collaborating with those efforts.
“I think that we are in a particular movement within social movements around social and economic justice,” Byrd said. “Around art that is contesting what forms of supremacy have done to people in public space.”
“Cut and Paste: Unearthing the Past in Mark Bradford’s ‘Pickett’s Charge’” will take place on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. “Does it Sound Right Now? Narrating the Battle of Atlanta” will take place on Friday, Feb. 26 at 12:30 p.m. Zoom links to both events can be found on the BU Material and Visual Worlds website. Both events are free and open to the public.