Speaking of objects... 

By Russ Cooper

Creating discussion is one of the hallmarks of our fair Concordia. At our Humanities PhD program, the discussion is getting more creative by the day.

On Nov. 21, the Humanities PhD Program in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC) presented Speaking of Objects, the first in a series of three Renaud Research Seminars showcasing the work being done by Humanities doctoral students.

"The Renaud series is really exciting. Concordia prides itself on crossing disciplinary lines, and the series displays the cutting edge research of students in the program," says PhD Humanities Director Bina Freiwald. "[Our program] allows students to work with professors from different departments to gain a wide range of different perspectives and produce some amazing work."

Created last year, CISSC is now the hub for interdisciplinary studies, describing itself as "Concordia's meeting place for scholars, researchers and artists to exchange ideas and develop interdisciplinary projects in the humanities and the arts" (see Journal, Nov. 8, 2007).

Freiwald says the Centre and the sentiment behind the seminars support that description perfectly. "These discussions are meant to do just that: create dialogues for those who want to engage with art and culture in greater depth," she says.

On this day, three PhD students and about 30 interested individuals gathered in an intimate LB 646 to present work that bridges artistic creation and scholarly research, and to create lively discussion that carries the exchange of views further.

PhD student and conceptual artist Rosika Desnoyers began the seminar, presenting her research into needlepoint art and Berlin wool work, a unique form of stitching that influenced both European popular art and industrial as well as technological practices from the 17th century to the 19th century.

A postcard photo circa-1900 depicting a child moments after passing away. Magnifying glass

A postcard photo circa-1900 depicting a child moments after passing away.

Following Desnoyers, third-year PhD student and photographic artist Aurčle Parisien shifted the discussion toward the sombre topic of postmortem, or commemorative, photography. Common until the early 20th century, the practice involved capturing the moments following the death of a loved one.

Much of Parisien's presentation focused on a photo entitled, Mrs. Barrett's Dead Child, a photo taken in 1911 Montreal depicting a deceased young boy upon a day bed surrounded by well-placed objects within the frame (unavailable for print due to rights considerations).

"The subjects in these photos were often moved into positions evoking the last sleep," Parisien said. "The stopwatch, the wilted flowers and toy train in the periphery are not unintentional. They're allusions to the stillness of passing on. The train in particular, is alluding to a journey to a different plane."

Third-year student and visual artist Joanne Hui then outlined her research focusing on concepts of identity in comic art. Giving colourful examples, Hui helped explain the unique way comics and graphic novels can tell a story. "Cartoons aren't just a way of drawing, they're a way of seeing," she said.

Hui's research will be distilled into a critical essay and a graphic novel. One of her latest works, Potato Wars: Chinese-Canadian Resistance during the Exclusion Era, was recently featured at Montreal's MAI gallery.

The ever-growing and highly competitive Humanities doctoral program is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year – an achievement that will be chronicled in the upcoming issue of Concordia Magazine.

Two more seminars will be held during the winter term. The next panel, Transforming Displacement: Food, Translation, Beauty and Social Movements, will take place on Jan. 23, 2009, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in room LB 659-4. Panelists will include Sorouja Moll, Devora Neumark, Philippe Rieder and Myriam Suchet. The third in the series will take place on Feb. 20 in LB 646, where panelist will include Christophe Brunner, Nasrin Himada and Biana Scliar Mancini. For more information, visit cissc.concordia.ca.


Concordia University