READING OUT LOUD is a reading event where participants read out loud together and discuss a critical text on a topic in art. This is for people who like to stay informed, but can’t find the time to read, in other words, just about everyone. No familiarity with the text or the author is required. RIA READS OUT LOUD is inspired by No Reading After the Internet: http://noreadingaftertheinternet.wordpress.com a collective initiative by Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk, Alexander Muir and cheyanne turions, who are based in Toronto. /
The Ottawa Art Gallery has collaborated with RIA in organizing some Reading Out Loud Sessions. These events, held at the Ottawa Art Gallery, and organized by Stephanie Nadeau, Curator of Public, Educational, and Community Programs at the Ottawa Art Gallery, are archived here.
NOVEMBER 2 -2015- DAY OF THE DEAD
“Roadside Memorials: Gateways for the Living”
Monday, November 2, 7PM -9PM The author, Charisma Thomson was present through Skype.
Roadside Memorials: Gateways for the Living
By Charisma Thomson
Roadside memorials can offer gateways to social interactions beyond the mere passive observation normally offered by generic public spaces or even, for example, civic monuments. While held to not be wholly in the realm of the profane, civic monuments only stand as ritually charged sites for a few days a year, which limits their affordances as sites of individual and social transformation.
The memorial itself initially, and more dominantly, represents the social or public body of the deceased individual. The person, through death, has left the realm of the ordinary and become extraordinary. This new state is one that can only be attended to through ritual. The person, by dying, can no longer be touched or interacted with in the same way as they could before and this means that material buffers or objects of substitution must be used (Hertz 1960 : 37). One social aspect of the roadside memorial is that the site serves as a temporary residence for the social body of the deceased individual in a manner that is similar to the primary burial stage of secondary funeral rituals as presented by Hertz in Death and the Right Hand (1960). Following the sudden death of the individual and in the absence of a material focus for grief, namely the body of the deceased person which is thought to contain a ‘truth’ about the death, a ritual time and space can be defined through placement of symbolic material items at the crash location (Hallam, Hockey, and Howarth 1999: 68). The public placement of the cross and the material items placed at it allows for a communal ‘witnessing’ of the transformation of the ‘social body’ through the stages of social dying as the memorial begins to fade and deteriorate. In keeping with Hertz, public recognition of the transformation allows for changes to take place in the society, as well as indicating that the ‘soul’ or ‘essence’ of the deceased has moved on to the realm of the afterworld or been transformed/released in some way. In the words of Hertz:
“…death is not completed in one instantaneous act; it implies a lasting procedure which, at least in a great many instances, is considered terminated only when the dissolution of the body has ended. The second death is not a mere destruction but a transition: as it progresses so does the rebirth; while the old body falls to ruins, a new body takes shape, with which the soul- provided the necessary rites have been performed- will enter another existence, often superior to the previous one (Hertz  1960: 8).”
Public space is ultimately a space of appearance (Arendt 1958). In the initial stage following a sudden death consuming grief is socially appropriate, and is in fact often expected. The sentiment of tolerance for grief though is usually short lived in ‘Western’ culture. The allowance of overt expressions of grief and mourning soon gives way to a desire for a conclusion and for the aggrieved to “move on”. In regards to roadside memorials, public sentiments, while sympathetic initially, often change to a desire for removal of the marker which stands as a visual reminder of the accident. The memorial can initially act as a ‘band-aid’ temporarily concealing the extent, or ‘scars’ of the physical damage done there. As better put by Michael Jackson, “[s]ince objects stand for subjects, and since these objects are social objects, cooperative action on those objects transforms intersubjective experience. In this way the community repairs and reverses the violent events that have befallen it” (2006: 37). While people are expected to act on their grief, for instance by building memorials for youths who died in traffic accidents, it is supposed that their actions should quite rapidly repair any damages that the death of the person may have caused. Jackson likens this to the reweaving of a basket, a social basket as it were. In this way, as people move and interact around the memorial sites they are not only trying to preserve what has been but are also trying to re-present a version of ‘what should have been’. For some, it is as though they were trying to ‘freeze’ a moment, a pleasantly dressed one resplendent in fresh flowers and vibrant tributes, in time for the passer-by observe. At the same time they are negotiating the biographies and social networks behind the symbol (Jackson 2006: 2-14). What soon becomes painfully apparent is that the memorial fails to stand as a lasting tribute and that the public nature of its deterioration does eventually begin to stand as an ugly scar. Once in the deteriorated or decomposed stage the site no longer offers a productive space where people can appropriate, negotiate, or redistribute narratives and biographies of either the deceased or themselves with each other. The site moves from an area of controlled expression of grief to an ‘eyesore’. People within the community at this point often ask that the weathered memorial be removed from public land.
Roadside memorials are not dormant monuments and they cannot simply, or accurately, be defined merely as sites where material items of meaning are assembled. The roadside memorial itself is not only defined by the passage that it goes through, but in a reciprocal manner, it helps define and transform the individuals who participate in it whether that participation be through the leaving of items or a mere gaze (Jackson 2006: xxv-xxx, Shay 2005).
A tragic or sudden death of a young community member is thought to create a huge tear in the fabric of society, which calls the ‘moral order’ of the society into question (Gluckman 1956: 134). In a response to this, I argue that a material representation of the individual’s social body need be created and displayed in a public space so that a visual account of their dying process, witnessed in the deterioration of the symbol of their body and the site, can be socially witnessed (Hallam, Hockey, & Howarth 1999: 43-45). According to Bourdieu, the dead body is seen as a threat to the self-identity of the individual as it signifies the decline of the deceased individual’s capitol or symbolic value (Bourdieu 1977: 185-88). Following this reasoning it can be seen how symbolically completing the body of a deceased individual in a public space allows a revival of their self-identity and an increase in not only the deceased individuals symbolic capital but also the capitol of those who actively participate in the memorial.
The state of this ‘decomposing’ social body does relate directly to understandings of the progress of not only the person’s ‘soul’ along the lines of Hertz also is representative of the ‘soul’ of the community. The public performance of the memorial can, in some cases, bring about changes in the society as what is done there during the limited time that the memorial is seen to be ‘active’ stands as a visual representation of parts of the community, performative, material and ‘moral’, assembled together. “Thus death has a specific meaning for the social consciousness; it is the object of collective representation (Hertz  1960: 28).”
A person, through their symbolic body in the form of the roadside memorial can, after construction of the site, be publicly validated as having once been in possession of a ‘fully-formed social body’, even if it is just a brief moment when the flowers and items at the memorial are new, clean, and vibrant. The fully-formed social body is created through interactions with others. After the creation of the fully-formed body at the roadside memorial site, and the eventual marginalization that occurs as it deteriorates, the narrative around the person can then be reconstructed in such a way that the person comes to be understood as having lived life to the point that they had suffered a social death first before their biological death occurred.
The idea of social death before biological death can be seen through that which is experienced by elderly and marginal individuals in care facilities (Hallam, Hockey, & Howarth 1999: 55-59). After having existed at the center of the family unit, where they were focus of most attention, elderly members of social groups, in Western traditions, are frequently moved to care facilities. Once marginalized in this way they move from being the primary initiators and organizers of family action to the role of ‘witnesses’ at family gatherings on sporadic occasions. I will write in greater detail on this concept in the following sections. What needs to be highlighted now is that when people have reached a state of social death the eventual biological death which follows can then be captured and represented in narratives as a good death and one which does not disrupt what has come to be understood as a proper life course and, more importantly to the social unit, their death does not corrupt society as a whole.
“[w]e believe that we know what death is because it is a familiar event and one that arouses intense emotion. It seems both ridiculous and sacrilegious to question the value of this intimate knowledge and to wish to apply reason to a subject where only the heart is competent. Yet questions arise in connection with death which cannot be answered by the heart because the heart is unaware of them. Even for the biologist death is not a simple and obvious fact; it is a problem to be scientifically investigated. But where a human being is concerned the physiological phenomena are not the whole of death. To the organic event is added a complex mass of beliefs, emotions and activities which give its distinctive character”. ( Hertz 1907 : 27)
Charisma Thomson is an anthropologist currently teaching at the University of Regina, where she has been since the fall of 2008. Thomson presented this text at a conference on death rituals and beliefs, organized by the Cultural Anthropology Student Association at the University of Regina in 2011.
Arendt, Hannah, 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Gluckman, M. 1956. Custom and Conflict in Africa. Oxford: Blackwell
Hertz, B. 1907 . Death and the Right Hand. New York: Free Press
Jackson, Michael, 2005. Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies and Effects. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books
Hallam, E., Hockey, J., Howarth, G. eds., 1999. Beyond the Body: Death and Social Identity. London and New York: Routledge
Additional Suggested readings:
Aries, P. 1977 . The Hour of Our Death. New York: Barnes and Noble
Chesson, Meredith S. eds., 2001. “Embodied memories of place and people: Death and society in an early urban community.” In Social Memory, Identity, and Death: Anthropological Perspectives on Mortuary Rituals. Arlington, VA: Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, No. 10.
Murakami, K., Middleton, D., 2006. “Grave matters: Collectivity and agency as emergent effects in remembering and reconciliation”. Ethos, 34 (2), pp. 273-296.
Santino, Jack ed., 2005. Spontaneous Shrines and the Public Memorialization of Death. New York:Palgrave Macmillan
Schneider, David M. 1968, American Kinship: a Cultural Account. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Shay, Talia. 2005. “Can Our Loved Ones Rest in Peace? The Memorialization of the Victims of Hostile Activities.” Anthropological Quarterly – Volume 78, Number 3, Summer, pp. 709-723
White, Geoffrey. 2006. “Landscapes of Power: National Memorials and the Domestication of Affect.” City & Society 18(1): 50–61.
When Species Meet, April 30, 2015 7 – 9 pm
This Reading Out Loud session focused on Haraway’s figure of the cyborg. The excerpt was taken from Part 1 of Haraway’s book, When Species Meet (Minnesota Press 2008).
Introduced by Petra Halkes
The Reading Out Loud event at the Ottawa Art Gallery on April 30, that was organized with RIA, had to compete for participants with a lot of other events that night. But the small group of participants that showed up had a very interesting discussion centered around Donna Haraway’s idea of the Cyborg as a figure that embodies the human’s tangled relationship with technology as well as with natural creatures.
The excerpt we read was taken from Part 1 of Haraway’s book, When Species Meet (Minnesota Press 2008).
We liked Haraway’s stance against fervent organophobias or organophilias, as well as technophobias or technophilias. What I took away from the reading and discussion, is that the middle is not an easy position. Accepting ambiguity means accepting differences, while considering the borders between them always as being permeable. Ambiguity reflects our tangled life as it is, rather than our compulsion to categorize things. It means that an ethical positioning of ourselves needs constant, intense thinking-through and discussion, now more than ever.
So we decided to start a study group. I’d like to call it: “What Kind of Cyborg do we want to be?” This is a quote from an essay by Rinie van Est, “Intimate Technology,” which I found on Next Naturehttp://www.nextnature.net/2015/04/intimate-technology/
If you are interested, you can also check out the videos we screened at the ROL session on April 30, and you are welcome to join the study group, just email me: Petra Halkes, at email@example.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUA_hRJU8J4 With Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti – Haraway explains her term humanimal.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqglzX_y5wM is a Pecha Kucha talk byJon Clark, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Ursinus College, a private college near Philadelphia, on Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto.”
For this ROL session I was looking for a text that would give some insight into RIA’s theme for the year: “Growing up Human.” In particular, I wanted us to read about the boundaries between human and animal and human and machine that become less distinct with every new discovery in neuro/biological science, and many new technological advancements. What came to mind first was Donna J. Haraway’s seminal essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” published in 1985.
The figure of the Cyborg as a new kind of human, part organic, part technological, has been present in cybernetics as well as science fiction since it was first coined in the 60s. In Donna Haraway’s predictive essay the cyborg becomes a figure that stands for the breaking of rigid boundaries between various kinds of categories, not only between the organic and inorganic, but between male and female, and human and animal.
The text is familiar to generations of artists, and has, over its thirty years, only increased in relevance. It is well-worth reading, but it is complex, however, with many layers and references, and upon re-reading I decided that it might not be suited for a ROL event, but it would be an excellent text for a study group.
While the figure of “cyborg” may foremost bring to mind a hybrid being of flesh and metal, Haraway’s cyborg includes a hybridity of gender and of animal-human as well. She has emphasized this in her writing since 1985. In her 2008 book When Species Meet, she writes:
“For many years I have written from the belly of powerful figures such as cyborgs, monkeys and apes, oncomice, and, more recently, dogs. In every case, the figures are at the same time creatures of imagined possibility and creatures of fierce and ordinary reality; the dimensions tangle and require response. When Species Meet is about that kind of doubleness, but it is even more about the cat’s cradle games in which those who are to be in the world are constituted in intra- and interaction.” (p. 4)
For this ROL session, then, I have chosen an excerpt from the introduction to When Species Meet, which furthers a criticality towards “human exceptionalism.” We could learn to see “Growing up Human” as a way of what Haraway calls “being worldly,” a becoming human that happens through connecting and interacting with other creatures and things in this world.
——————————————————————————————————————————–Saturday, April 4, 2 –2015 3.30 PM, RIA Artist Project Room. Special event: In conjunction with the exhibition Drawn Together: Anna Torma and Company at RIA, a special Reading Out Loud session: We read a text by Petra Halkes from the just published catalog for the exhibition at L.A. Pai Gallery : Anna Torma: Tangled, with Past Tales, March 19 to April 10 2015.
READ MORE ABOUT DRAWN TOGETHER HERE
November 6, 2014 7 – 9 PM Linda Nochlin: “Why have there been no great women artists?” (1971). In conjunction with the exhibition ALMA: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917–2004) which is on until January 11, and which is curated by Jaclyn Meloche and Catherine Sinclair, the OAG organized a ROL session on Thursday November 6, 2014, from 7 – 9 PM:
Exploring the evolution of feminist theory as it relates to art history, artist Gail Bourgeois led an open reading of Linda Nochlin’s seminal article “Why have there been no great women artists?” (1971).The discussion was led by Gail Bourgeois.
February 20, 2014, from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Carol Payne, The Official Picture
On Thursday, February 20, Reading Out Loud will look at an excerpt from The Official Picture, The National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division and the Image of Canada, 1941 – 1971, written by Carol Payne, associate professor of art history at Carleton University. The book was published in July last year by McGill-Queen’s University Press, and has been nominated for the 2014 Melva V. Dwyer Award of the Art Libraries Association of North America.
October 30, 2013 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm Gutai, Splendid Playground, the exhibition catalogue for the United States’ first museum retrospective of the radical Japanese post-war art movement, Gutai. The exhibition took place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2013, and was co-curated by Ming Tiampo and Alexandra Munroe. Ming Tiampo, who teaches art history at Carleton University and was one of the autors and exhibition curators, was present.