This is the university where I do my research, this year. I like this picture because it has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with the overdetermined and crass narratives that so easily predetermine one’s whole perception of this campus space. This is the tree that has grown up behind the amphitheatre with its jagged roof, the arms of the branch entirely geometrically incompatible with the sawtooth linearity of the dark building. There’s nothing here about politics, nothing here about pedagogy, this picture contains no academic knowledge, it embodies no concept unless you count the concept of mute visual juxtaposition of organic and inorganic form. There’s no knowledge in this picture, no sociality, no people, no conversation, no texts, no pedagogy, no politics, no record of human activity besides the roof built to some absent architect’s scheme. It’s autumn but you wouldn’t know that except from a couple of tiny leaves that gleam yellow in the underexposed daylight.
Continue reading Paris-8 by the light of different days
A sudden piece of English text inserted in the middle of an exhibition of political photographs at my field site. Paris-8. A charming metacommentary on global reality. Merry crisis!
If you wanted to describe this image in the most basic descriptive language you could say: this is a photo of a photo of a graffiti tag set among other photos, photos of people bloody in protests, of police in riot gear lines, of people running and throwing things, of people invisible in showers of light. See that flood of white in the photo immediately beneath Merry Crisis? With the figure askew and silhouetted? I have no idea what that is. But I do comprehend that this is a collage of leftist protest culture, aestheticized in the genre of an art photo exhibition, and further recontextualized in the form of political statement attached on the outside of Paris-8’s Bâtiment B2. Paris-8 is a university with an enormous visual text taped and sprayed across its walls. Campus buildings frequently have deteriorated walls, just from the sheer number of signs (affiches) that have been put up and torn up and torn down. It’s the kind of place where images, like this one, are not only compound visual objects (referencing other visual objects and visual genres), but are units in an overwhelming student reappropriation of academic space, a culture of defacement of the corridors that someone jealous of property rights might call vandalism with a political alibi.
This defacement has limits, though, being essentially restrained to surfaces within arm’s reach of the ground. The buildings themselves tell a different story.
Continue reading Visual culture and institutional difference: Paris-8 & the Sorbonne
this is the university’s skin. at the university of illinois-chicago. some building on the south side of roosevelt road. the branches creeping up across the brick and flung in the sun while the wall is in shadow, the brick stained and blurred and colored, the brick covered by creeping vines, the vines dripping down as if the blood of the bricks were pouring out through the mortar, the snow settled into the vines like cowbirds nesting in places they didn’t build.
Continue reading The university and skin
At sunrise, even the droll ornamental lakes of the university acquire a certain glimmer. The pond weeds become shadows. The shadows wash over the shores of the lake and hide them, which is much for the better, as this lake is populated by geese who have draped the banks with their droppings, each one about the size of a skinned baby carrot. They number in the thousands. Consequently, the mirrored sheen of this fake pond offers only a very incomplete simulation of a beautiful natural scene.
Continue reading Universities and dawn