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Harvard junior shows deep fashion sense

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 09:00 AM PST

This article is part of a series on the impact of humanities studies in and out of the classroom.

When Lily Calcagnini '19 needs inspiration, she plants herself in the courtyard of the Harvard Art Museums.

"People who study art have a nice appreciation for aesthetics and aren't afraid to dress in quirky ways," she said. "I always see a nice mix of ages there. The fashion magazines really discount the value of having 60 or 70 years of life behind you to inform style, and some of the best-dressed people at the HAM [Harvard Art Museums] are 75-year-old women with funky-colored glasses and woven shoes."

Her runway view of the museum hints at the unorthodox perspective that drove Calcagnini to petition for a concentration in history and literature that places fashion front and center in cultural theory.

"Harvard is not classically a place to study fashion," she said. "But it is a place where students with intellectual curiosity can study precisely whatever they want."

A native New Yorker, Calcagnini grew up exploring the museums and visual arts of the city. As a young girl, she trained as a ballet dancer, and dabbled with voice and piano lessons. In high school, she nourished her growing interest in fashion and fashion journalism by making mood boards and reading Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Man Repeller, and Refinery29.

During the spring of her sophomore year at Harvard, through a course called "Culture as a Source of Social and Economic Value," Calcagnini began to see fashion as a vibrant player in popular culture, relevant to a country's political, economic, and social well-being. She also got involved in Eleganza, a charity fashion show held on campus to benefit the Center for Teen Empowerment. Both experiences allowed her to see fashion as more than "just clothes that people buy."

"Gender identity, cultural identity, socioeconomic identity, what people can afford or what they want to think they can afford, religious beliefs, amorphous values — all the things that most plague people are tied up in fashion," she said. "Using fashion as a way to construct your identity isn't something you can take for granted because clothing operates on two levels: the necessity of needing to clothe yourself — skin coverage — and the level of having disposable income to own whatever you want."

Professor John Stilgoe, long interested in fashion design and a co-adviser for Calcagnini's senior thesis, called hers "one of the most developed eyes for the visual that I've encountered in my 43 years here." He gave Calcagnini extra credit for the focus of her project: the increasingly fraught line between fashion and cultural appropriation.

"She's a very courageous emerging scholar and she's tough," said the Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape in Visual and Environmental Studies. "She was watching a fashion show, and a model came out wearing a turban. The woman next to her said, 'This is cultural appropriation,' while the woman on the other side said, 'That is beautiful.'"

Though she's "not finding a scientific cure or locating life on another planet," the Dunster House resident and former editor of the Harvard Book Review said that fashion "in a terrestrial way is very important."

"It deals with identity, which is something other people struggle with, too," she said. "I'm most interested in the relationship between socioeconomic status and fashion. People often use clothes to fool others into thinking they're richer or poorer than they are."

That interest has sent her back through time, to the hippie movement of the 1960s, when the rich dressed down, and mid-century status-conscious films and novels such as the Audrey Hepburn classic "Roman Holiday" and Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

But threading the past to the present requires more than research. Calcagnini still designs collage boards — now with mixed body shapes to more dramatically show scale — to help illustrate her arguments.

"The thing that bothers me most about high fashion is how it seems really unattainable and often intimidating for the average person," she said. "Ads in fashion magazines show brands like Louis Vuitton with a bronzed leggy model. I don't look like her. I can't afford those clothes, and they probably won't even look the same on me. I do the collages because I like proving that dressing yourself doesn't have to be scary."

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Q&A with new director of Harvard’s Carpenter Center

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 07:00 AM PST

The floor-to-ceiling windows in Dan Byers' office at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (CCVA) give him a clear, ground-eye view of campus. It's a perspective that fits nicely with the ambition of the new John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director to connect the center to the wider Harvard community.

Byers, who came to the CCVA in June after serving as senior curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, grew up knowing Harvard and Cambridge. His psychologist father ran the Office of Student Life Counseling at Harvard Law School, and his brother Tony is principal of Graham and Parks, the public elementary school on Linnaean Street.

The new director spoke with the Gazette about how he hopes to elevate the CCVA on campus and beyond, and the artists who will help him execute that plan.

GAZETTE:  Hopes and dreams: What are yours for the Carpenter Center?

BYERS: This remarkable building has always had exhibition spaces among studio and classroom spaces — the visual and conceptual relationship between art-making and its display is choreographed by the building's design. That relationship forms an important foundation for the program and vision I'm developing.

We have multiple identities here. One is to be the contemporary art center for the University. To that end, we'd like to be almost a respiratory valve between Harvard and the outside world and between Harvard and worlds of contemporary art. This means developing an institution that engages our present moment — as well as history — through the eyes of artists. And it means putting artists and artworks in conversation with the vast cultural resources here. The field of contemporary art unfolds over multiple contemporaneous conversations, occurring in many parts of the world. I'm interested in bringing those international conversations, along with the kind of knowledge created by contemporary art — which can often be unresolved, multidisciplinary, and the product of audodidacts — into conversation with the high-level scholarship and expertise at the University.

My charge is also to expose students working in the studios here to the relationship between making and showing. There is a beautiful, almost cinematic moment in the Carpenter Center's architecture where the ramp rises, finally bisecting the Sert Gallery on one side and the painting studio and wood shop on the other, depositing the visitor into the middle of the building. There's a visual dialogue between spaces of learning and production and spaces of display. The studio is often an intimate and vulnerable place while the gallery is where art is made public. Art's meaning and its life in the world are deeply influenced by the context of its exhibition and the public who experiences it. We're putting together a Carpenter Center Student Advisory Committee to increase student involvement and create a structure for these experiences.

Since coming here, I've been thinking a lot about models. Who are the artist-models students should experience? I'd like to involve artists who can represent a range of ways of being an artist in the world — different models of making, models engaging culture, politics, and identity, and models of the artist's role in society.

GAZETTE: This semester you have hosted more than a dozen artist talks. Can you talk about the role public programs play in the center's mission?

BYERS: We're not a museum or an institute. We are a center — a place where people connect, where different ideas and people come together. Temporary exhibitions and public programs are the way we make knowledge and build a social life around the institution. It is my goal, and soon to be part of our mission statement, to create community around contemporary art. Art and artistic communities flourish when there is constant infusion of new people and ideas into this community. We are free and open to the public — this, too, is vitally important to me. So our public programs, which have brought incredible artists like Charles Atlas, Howardena Pindell, Laurie Simmons, Jessi Reaves, and Basma Alsharif to campus, are just as important as our exhibitions.

To connect those artists further out into Harvard, I am also devising a program that would match three or four artists a year with a different library, collection, or archive around campus. While the Carpenter Center may not have a collection, we are surrounded at Harvard by some of the most interesting and expansive collections in the world.

GAZETTE: Where are you starting?

BYERS: We are collaborating with the List Visual Art Center at MIT to bring a survey exhibition of Tony Conrad ('64) to Cambridge. He was a math major at Harvard, and went on to work as an artist in experimental film, music, and a wide range of new media and technologies. MIT and Harvard provide the perfect backdrops for his work.

After that, my first show will be Liz Magor, an incredible sculptor who lives in Vancouver. I'm co-curating this exhibition with the director of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, where the show will travel after here. Magor has not had a U.S. exhibition in 15 years, and despite major exhibitions in Europe and Canada, has never had an institutional solo show on the East Coast. Her work is deeply invested in the intertwining of the personal and political, as well as a commitment to physical sculptural intelligence derived from her process of intricately cast, lifelike objects. Liz is a good example of the kinds of shows I'd like us to do here; she taught for 15 years, and has already spent time with VES students. Her work beautifully demonstrates the unique ways art-making can illuminate complex, even contradictory politics, aspects of human nature, and the inchoate phenomena of our social and natural worlds.

Interview was edited and condensed.

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Harvard’s Michèle Lamont receives Erasmus Prize for her social science research

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 12:30 PM PST

Michèle Lamont, Harvard's Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, professor of sociology, professor of African and African-American studies, and director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, has been awarded the prestigious 2017 Erasmus Prize.

The prize is given in recognition of an individual or group for contributions to European culture, society, or social science. The Erasmus Foundation chose Lamont for her "devoted contribution to social science research into the relationship between knowledge, power, and diversity."

The ceremony took place Tuesday afternoon in the Netherlands, and was presided over by King Willem-Alexander. The award is named after Dutch Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus.

"I'm extremely honored," Lamont said. "I really feel that the timing could not be better, given the current political climate we are in."

Lamont hopes the award will highlight the work she has done to address boundaries in society and to connect the dynamics of recognition and distribution.

"When we talk about inequality, it's not just about economics or resources. It has to do with racism, xenophobia, sexism. We really have to take a multidimensional approach to addressing inequality, and destigmatize the groups that feel the most stigmatized currently."

Throughout her career, Lamont has investigated how cultural conditions shape inequality and social exclusion, and how stigmatized groups find ways to preserve their dignity and self-worth. Her interests center on how class and ethnicity determine the ways that people view reality, and on how the well-being of minorities influences the success of the broader society.

Lamont was born in Toronto and grew up in Quebec. After studying in Ottawa and Paris, she began her academic career at Stanford University, then held professorships at the University of Texas-Austin and Princeton University before moving to Harvard in 2003. Lamont has written dozens of books and articles on such subjects as culture, social inequality and exclusion, racism and ethnicity, institutions, and science. In her most recent book, "Getting Respect" (2016), she and her colleagues described how various stigmatized groups respond to the daily experience of discrimination. Her previous book, "How Professors Think" (2009), examined how the academic world determines what knowledge is valuable.

An influential sociologist, Lamont has played a leading role in connecting European and American areas of research in the social sciences. In 2002, she co-founded the Successful Societies Program at the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research. She was recently voted president of the American Sociological Association. She presided over the association's annual meeting this fall, with its theme of culture, inequalities, and social inclusion around the world. She began her directorship of the Weatherhead Center in 2015.

In conjunction with presentation of the prize in Amsterdam, a varied program of activities will be organized around her with the theme "knowledge, power, and diversity."

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