Intersectional Queer Visualities
AAH 2009: 'Intersections'
April 3-4, Manchester University
Introduction to Session ...
In the recent anthology _Precarious Visualities_, Christine Ross writes, 'Since its emergence in the field of art history in the 1980s, visuality—a notion that refers to the visual conditions of art, to the fact that art is, partially at least, a matter of vision (in its production, exhibition, circulation, and reception)—has been key to the decentering of both the artist and the viewing subject in its relation to the image. Vision came to be systematically understood as an act conditioned by culture, social class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and geography' (3). In other words, traditional art history has been permanently re-configured, or to draw on Jacques Rancière, there has been a 're-distribution of the sensible' - however art history has been highly resistant to this re-configuration, this redistribution. And, as opposed to art history as the status quo of a particular aesthetic reign, which is ostensibly about telling the 'objective' story of the lives of so-called 'great men,' 'geniuses' - or as feminist art historian and theorist Amelia Jones has called them 'little gods making masterpieces,' and/or the so-called 'autonomy of art' or that art (which is always narrowly defined in the field) is a so-called 'reflection' of history - an idea that is still kept alive (if only on life support) within a great many quarters of the discipline—there has nonetheless been a seismic shift in the field, which has been touched by, even as it touched, other fields of study, such as comparative literature, theater, and film studies, to name but a few. And, anyone doing work in and/or around art history knows that movements to undermine and/or refuse and resist the traditional modus operandi of this discipline must continue to be surfaced - where they are so suppressed - as well as further explored for more radical un-doings of art history. (As an aside: it is interesting that some of the most engaged and provocative work on and around art is largely done by non-art historians; for example, Jean-Luc Nancy, Giorgio Agamben, Bracha Ettinger, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, and to Jose Munoz, Jennifer Doyle, and Liz Kotz, and many others.)
To go back, visuality, since its “beginnings,” has been chronically intersected with what can be called 'la pensée soixante-huit' ('68 though') as well as its various aftermaths and afterlives. And, as opposed to what is variously argued in certain modernist and postmodernist theorizings, stagings, and scriptings of art (history) in the lecture hall, the museum, the gallery, the scholarly text, and elsewhere - there still remains the remnants of Gorgio Vasari and Johann Joachim Winckelmann, not to mention all the other so-called “founding fathers” of the discipline. Furthermore, art - however broadly defined, and it should always be broadly defined in order to move away from the moribund hierarchies of art history - representation, the viewing, embodied subject, knowledge production and dissemination, and so on must be explored and engaged with in a deeply intersectional way, if 'we' are to continue to re-think - if not entirely un-do - the project that 'we' are still calling art history - as well as its conjoined twin visual culture. And, it is hoped that the papers presented on this panel - 'Intersectional Queer Visualities' - begin to do more work, make more tactical movements in complicating and un-doing art history in a deeply intersectional manner.
Here it should be clearly stated that intersectionality emerged from the contexts of critical race theory. So, during this panel, what 'intersections' will get privileged - and we can also ask, what forms of 'queer' will also be foregrounded while others stay behind, as Michael O'Rourke has re-surfaced. Similarly, will class and/or sexual difference, in a sense, disappear? will race? will dis/ability? Without a doubt, there is still much work to be done, and many ideas and positions to remain critical of in our un-doing and “queering” of art history, which is still, despite the numerous interventions, a masculine, Euro-American discourse par excellence. All of this, even though such issues as 'visuality' - which did and does have its blind spots - has been around for the past 20+ years.
On another line of flight that spurred this panel, art history needs to be 'queered' - which is partially to say, twisted and turned - or as Eve Sedgwick has articulated, with regard to 'queer' - it is an 'open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances, and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning' (xii). Indeed, this is what art (should become again: open, overlapping, intersectional). And this is what must take place in and around the intersection—the queer intersection—of art history in order to radically re-imagine art (history) and what it can come to mean within the social and a particular subject’s life—for example, an 'aesthetics of existence' - to draw from Michel Foucault, which would thus displace the discrete art object. Thus, all of the papers presented work through (and well as twist) theories and philosophies that aid in this 'queer intersectional project' on and around art, art history, and its institutions. Thus, the call for papers was both intentionally simple and vague because it was hoped, and the hoping came to fruition, that anyone interested would have an inroad into this discussion, and have a plane, theory, and or line of flight that would necessarily and further re-think and eventually un-do art history as a discipline - which disciplines the subject. Here, I would like to reiterate the call, before moving on to the panel, proper.
'This session will highlight different articulations of art-historical understandings of subject/object relations, theory, and visuality as those terms themselves have been transformed through an intersection with ‘queer.’ We wish to trace passages to critical thinkers (e.g., Agamben, Deleuze, Derrida, Ettinger, Rancière, Nancy, among others) and the modalities of their projects - and to ask what ‘queer’ practices can, or have, emerge from such critical and creative crossovers into art history? How have theories on, and around, the visual by these critical thinkers working outside of art history been ‘queered’ and put to work in the practice of ‘un-doing’ art history, which is to ask how has the discipline of art history become un-disciplined, ‘queered’? Furthermore, how is ‘queer’ in theory and visuality thought differently when further intersected with post-colonial theories and/or feminisms? Indeed, how has ‘queer’ been re-opened to issues such as race, ethnicity, the nation-state, and sexual difference? How have these multiple intersections with ‘queer’ and/in art history transformed it? Do such multiple crossings, thinkings, and doings by way of creative connections and intersections radically change the project and trajectory of art history as a discipline—if only in some of its modes and movements? If so, then what are the ramifications for the future/s of art history and its institutions? These are some of the questions that we want to explore in this session.' This was the call—and it was answered.
Indeed, the papers - some of them posted here - presented on the panel answered - if not all - then some of the issues brought up in the call (some beyond it) and they must continued to be reckoned with if 'we' are to keep art as a radicality that has the potential to un-do not only the social but the subject as well - even if this means 'taking' art from art history -this 200+ year old discipline, which must be un-disciplined, which is to say 'queered.' Now, this is not so much a 'call to arms' - but it is a call to what Deleuze and Guattari call 'radical thought that undoes' - or what Deleuze has called 'thought from the Outside' - or possibly what Nancy calls 'the intruder' - but in art history.