For over a decade, the Binghamton University art history department, with support from the Harpur College Dean’s Office, has organized VizCult: The Harpur College Dean’s Workshop on Visual Culture. Visual culture — the complicated, interdisciplinary field of study that emphasizes cultural significance of visual forms — sounds inaccessible, but in simpler terms, the field simply engages with the images we find in the world around us.
VizCult is a workshop held every two weeks in which faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students gather to hear from speakers and discuss innovative ideas in visual and built culture studies. The series aims to encourage dialogue both within the art history department and across disciplines. Speakers range from graduate students and faculty at BU to professors from outside institutions. This semester, the series will begin on Oct. 4 and end on Nov. 29.
The first speaker this fall, Colin Lyons, assistant professor of art and design at BU, will give his talk on Oct. 4 at 5:15 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building Room 218. Lyons’ talk will discuss his ongoing project, “Contingency Plan,” which is an attempt to breathe new life into the ruins of Mount Trashmore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Lyons will discuss the threat of resource depletion by introducing his so-called “printmaking-based iron fertilization prototype.”
In an email to Pipe Dream, Lyons wrote that projects like his have the potential to alter our perspectives on major issues.
“This project reflects on our collective response to catastrophe, and the prospect of geo-engineering on our horizon,” Lyons wrote.
In each iteration of the series, one graduate student is invited to speak, and this semester, that student is Amanda Beardsley, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate studying art history. Beardsley wrote in an email that she is honored to have been selected to share her research at VizCult.
“I’ll be discussing a very curious study conducted in the 1960s by one of the most important acousticians of the 20th century, Vern Knudsen, on the ‘loudness’ of miniskirts,” Beardsley wrote. “The study was informed by Mormon architecture and theology, which makes for a controversial intersection between architectural acoustics, gender, and religion.”
Other speakers this semester will include Esra Akcan, associate professor in the department of architecture at Cornell University; Christopher Wood, professor and chair in the department of German at New York University; and Atif Akin, associate professor in the department of visual arts at Rutgers University.
VizCult provides an interactive forum for students to learn and discuss ideas in this relatively new area of study, and Beardsley, who has attended lectures in previous semesters, said she has been influenced by the exposure to new fields and viewpoints. She praised the series for its relevance in present-day issues.
“VizCult gives college students a platform to workshop the issues associated with visual and built culture studies,” Beardsley wrote. “It provides tangible examples of recent research conducted by scholars and provokes conversation amongst students. To me, there is no better time than now to understand the pervasive power of images, and how they have been used to influence our consumer and political decisions.”