Visual Culture in Europe conference
By Øyvind Vågnes on 18.04.2011 (09:00).
Meeting up to discuss future events: the Visual Culture in Europe group; from right, Kresimir Purgar, Almira Ousmanova, Marq Smith, Anna María Guasch, Safet Ahmeti, Max Liljefors, Nina Lager Vestberg, Øyvind Vågnes. A group of scholars of whom many like to touch their chin thoughtfully during discussions. (Pictures by group member Joaquín Barriendos)
A few days ago I attended the second Visual Culture in Europe conference, Visualizing Europe: The Geopolitical and Intercultural Boundaries of Europe in Barcelona, an event expertly organized by Joaquín Barriendos and Anna María Guasch from Culturas Visuales Globales. The tight, multifacetedprogramme made for two dense days of intense discussions on a variety of subjects, all in one way or the other raising seminal questions concerning European identities and various contested sites of engagement; there were papers on EU image politics; exhibitions and cultural identity; contemporary photography and cultural identity. A highlight to me was Max Liljefors’s fine-tuned reflections in his talk ”Bodies, Borders, and Bio-imaging: Biological Tropes and the Migrations of Persons and Organs To and in Europe” (which as several presentations these days showed the impact of Agamben on recent thinking and writing in visual culture). Together with Nina Lager Vestberg (NTNU) I presented the findings of a questionnaire, "Visual Culture in Europe," that we’ve been putting together over the last few months. We received mini-essays from 15 European scholars, and hope to share the responses in one way or another in the near future.
On the day after the conference those who were present from the research network agreed that next year’s Visual Culture in Europe conference will be in Trondheim in September, hosted by Nina and myself. We’re in the process of defining the thematics of that event, about which there will be more to say soon.
My first visit to Barcelona happily coincided with what the locals told me was a significant rise in temperature; I didn’t much miss the Norwegian spring weather, which has been consistently tragic. When I got up in the morning to leave, Bergen was rainy and cold at five degrees; in Barcelona we got near to thirty. The time I had outside of the seminar room was thus mostly spent sipping coffee in various plazas and walking around in the beautiful city enjoying the sun. I had time for two exhibitions though. Finally I had the chance to see Goya’s etchings in Los Desastres de la Guerra, which according to Susan Sontag represented ”a new standard for responsiveness to suffering” in art, and were exhibited in the Museu Diocesá right next to my hotel. And on my last afternoon I went over to the CaixaForum to see two video installations by Omer Fast, The Casting and the more recent Nostalgia, both brilliant, and the latter of which provided more than one afterthought to several of the discussions we had had over the last couple of days in Barcelona. When I stumbled out into the blinding brightness of the day after a couple of hours inside the gallery crowds marched the streets to protest healthcare budgets. Obama gestured from a news report on a screen in the Placa Espanya subway terminal, followed by updates from ongoing events in Libya, and the images and words from Fast’s highly resonant works stuck with me.