Liquid Intelligence and the Aesthetics of Fluidity
Conference, October 25-26, 2013
McGill University Montréal
Confirmed Speakers: Caroline Arscott (Courtauld Institute of Art) • Fabio Barry (Stanford University) • Matthew C. Hunter (McGill University) • Yukio Lippit (Harvard University) • Jeffrey Moser (McGill University) • Alexander Nemerov (Stanford University) • Jennifer L. Roberts (Harvard University) • Itay Sapir (UQAM) with responses by Sarah Hamill (Oberlin College) and Martha Langford (Concordia University)
In an influential essay, contemporary artist Jeff Wall has sketched a suggestive genealogy linking chemical photography to a range of fluid processes and their modes of “liquid intelligence.” By Wall’s telling, wet procedures done in the dark historically connect photography to a vast, subterranean network of primordial acts of chemical transformation like dyeing and bleaching. But, the pull of liquids on art and aesthetic imagination runs deeper still. From the unctuous stains of Titian’s macchie to Ed Ruscha’s “liquid word” paintings—from Kenneth Anger’s filmic imagination of the Renaissance garden’s ritualized, watery flows to the “boggy, soggy, squitchy” picture that flummoxes Ishmael at Melville’s Spouter-Inn—the urge to sound the fluid image abides. Where Walter Pater would explain Leonardo’s strange imaginings as like sight “in some brief interval of falling rain at daybreak, or through deep water,” no less central a theorist of pictorial ontology than Leon Battista Alberti appealed to the myth of Narcissus. “What is painting,” Alberti asks, “but the act of embracing by means of art the surface of the pool?”
Hosted through the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University and Media@McGill, this conference aims to thematize liquid intelligence and the broader aesthetics of fluidity in which it moves. Drawing together leading, international scholars, the conference seeks to open conversations around conceptions of photography, painting, and other fluid strategies made perceptible by pushing upon liquid intelligence. Can an ingenuity of liquid realization be constructively compared, we might ask, to the raw, “fluid” smarts that psychologists oppose to formal, “crystallized” intelligence? Might the theoretical heuristic of liquid thinking devised for a recent, proximate past help flush out the modalities of more distant minds responsible for, say, the oozing, oil-spotted glazes of medieval tenmoku tea wares or the inky insubstantiality of Zen patriarch portraits? If we, like the intergalactic researchers in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, are influenced by the hegemonic, fluid images we study, how might those subtle currents work to dissolve the dry media genealogies and hoary theoretical constructs that continue inform much thinking on relations between photography, painting and other arts past and present?