9/5/19 - 1/19/20

Elizabeth Gallerani
Curator of Mellon Academic Programs

Object Lab is a hybrid gallery-classroom and a responsive pedagogical platform. Each semester, faculty across academic divisions collaborate with museum staff to select works of art that employ, investigate or interpret key course concepts. These works of art are then presented in a course-specific installation, offering students and faculty extended access to objects as visual texts. Throughout the semester, students return to the space as they create data visualizations, write weekly journal entries about form and original context, and re-imagine literary characters.

Object Lab: Fall 2019 Classes

ARTH 104
Materials, Meanings, and Messages in the Arts of Africa, Professor Michelle Apostos

We investigate the power and diversity of expressive forms that characterize the arts of Africa. Students keep a journal where they sketch and record visual observations about one of these objects each week. They also speculate how the object might feel, smell, and sound, and then make an educated guess about how it functioned in its original context. They are not given any information about these objects and may not peek at the hidden labels. Students’ interpretations become more refined as they develop their observation skills, critical thinking, and ability to apply knowledge from class.

ARTS 100
Drawing I, Professor Pallavi Sen

This course provides an immersive introduction to all forms of paper-based mark-making. Learning traditional and experimental approaches, students build their technical skills and develop a sensitivity to light, texture, composition, material, and especially line. We examine these formal elements in Object Lab, focusing on the techniques used by a range of artists. For instance, we consider how a Chamba artist collapses time in this embroidered coverlet, and how Sam Messenger employs the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio in his large-scale, line-based drawing.

BIOL 311
Neural Systems and Circuits, Professor Matt Carter

We learn how the body’s neurons and their connections analyze sensory information, form perceptions of the environment, and make cognitive decisions. Students use these six works to apply and further their knowledge of the visual system—in particular, concepts about contrast, color, focus, and motion—outside of the traditional science classroom. Investigating neural pathways helps us understand why the orange splash in June Wayne’s Solar Refraction contrasts with the different colors around it, and how the overlapping layers in Wassily Kandinsky’s Kleine Welten #5 convey motion.

ENGL 113
The Feminist Poetry Movement, Professor Bethany Hicok

We map the relationship between feminist politics and the feminist poetry movement in the 1960s through the early 1980s. Focusing on language and wordplay, we make connections between poetry and visual art. Lee Lozano offers a literal interpretation of a familiar idiom in Woman Cocking Her Ear. Adrian Piper employs language and performance—passing out cards like these two—to reject stereotypes and denounce disrespectful behavior. Each student writes their own ekphrastic poem inspired by one of these works. Their poems will be available mid-semester on an iPad below this panel.

HIST 203
Introduction to African History, 1800–Present, Professor Matt Swagler

This survey course looks at the diverse political, social, and cultural conditions that have shaped the lives of people in Africa since 1800, and focuses on changes under European colonial rule. Exploring local practices that predate colonization, we investigate the original function and context of the granary door, biiga doll, and gold weights shown here. We also analyze African interpretations of colonialism and interactions with new markets, asking how the pith helmet, colonial policeman, and bicycle rider present changing notions of authority, race, and modernity in the 20th century.

HIST 314
Emperors of Heaven and Earth: Mughal Power and Art in India, 1525–1707, Professors Aparna Kapadia & Murad Mumtaz

This course explores the impact that Mughal Empire politics and ideologies had on South Asia. We look at the ways Mughal rulers merged foreign cultural values with preexisting Indian artistic styles. The Interpretation of Dreams, for example, uses bright, flat colors and a horizontal format that predate Mughal art, while Madonna and Child shows European influence with the frontal poses and Christian subject. The portrait of Shah Jahan, the Mughal ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal, exemplifies how an “Emperor of Heaven and Earth” wanted to be represented.

PHIL 201
History of Ancient Greek Philosophy, Professor Keith McPartland

We begin with Greek mythology and study ancient Greek philosophers—especially Plato and Aristotle. In addition to our textual sources, these eight works of art show how people in ancient Greece thought about and portrayed their world. The stamnos vase conflates past and present: one side shows the god Poseidon defeating the giant Polybotes by hurling a piece of the island of Kos at him, while the other shows Athenian men revelling nude at a gathering. We also compare contemporary modes of portraiture, looking at images of soldiers alongside written accounts.

REL 108
Technologies of Religious Experience, Professor Phillip Webster

This course explores the role that technologies—including books, icons, digital media, and works of art—play as mediators or producers of religious experience across a range of cultures. The Pahari painting from India shows two priests performing a morning ritual to waken Buddha, shown as the ninth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. Viewers originally experienced this painting, intended to inspire personal devotion, in their own home and not the temple setting depicted. Similarly, the prayers and paintings in the Christian Book of Hours were intended to spur private devotion and reflection.

RUSS 219
Cults of Personality, Professor Julie Cassiday

Coined in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev, the phrase “cult of personality” describes the state-sponsored hero-worship that forms around political leaders in authoritarian regimes. This course explores how the phenomenon has been adapted for different purposes in a variety of 20th-century dictatorships. Here, we focus on Mao Zedong, looking at four prints of him teaching, preaching, and leading. Two icons hang on the wall behind a young Mao, and then he himself becomes an icon later in life. We also examine how Philippe Halsman and Andy Warhol subvert Mao’s iconic image.

RUSS 401
Senior Seminar: The Myth of Lenin, Professor Vladimir Ivantsov

This seminar, conducted in Russian, focuses on the construction of the Lenin myth through different texts and media. Students analyze these representations of Lenin’s image and examine them in relation to classical poems, children’s stories, folklore, and film. They consider the mythologizing of Lenin as parallel to the construction of a saint, focusing on how these works reference scripture, sculpture, and access to his actual body. Students will present a tour of these four works at the end of the semester for other Russian classes.