[Reader-list] What is Wrong with this Picture? (Bombay, January 26-28, 2004)

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Fri Nov 21 08:41:16 IST 2003

SOUTH ASIA CITIZENS WIRE   |  21 November,  2003
via South Asia Citizens Web:  www.sacw.net


[8] India: Upcoming Conference : What is Wrong 
with this Picture? Investigating Visual Studies
International Conference (Bombay -  January 26-28, 2004)



What is Wrong with this Picture?
Investigating Visual Studies:  International Conference

Organized by
Prashant Parikh and Arindam Dutta
Mohile Parikh Center
National Center for Performing Arts
Mumbai, India
January 26-28, 2004


Monday, January 26: In the Dock: Visual Evidence
09.00 - 09.45: Coffee
09.45 - 09.50: Introduction by Prashant Parikh
09.50 - 10.00: Introduction by Arindam Dutta
10.00 - 11.00: Ackbar Abbas
11.00 - 11.30: Coffee
11.30 - 12.30: Tapati Guha-Thakurta
12.30 - 01.30: Lunch
01.30 - 02.30: Ranjit Hoskote
02.30 - 03.30: Harsha Dehejia
03.30 - 04.00: Coffee
04.00 - 05.00: Panel discussion

Day chair: Kamala Ganesh
Tuesday, January 27: Strategies of the Visual: 
Methodologies and Disciplinary Critiques

10.00 - 11.00: Chris Csikszentmihalyi
11.30 - 12.30: Parul Dave Mukherji
01.30 - 02.30: Arindam Dutta
02.30 - 03.30: Susan Buck-Morss
04.00 - 05.00: Panel discussion

Day chair: Shubadha Joshi
Wednesday, January 28: Technologies of the Visual

10.00 - 11.00: R. Srivatsan
11.30 - 12.30: Sanjit Sethi
01.30 - 02.30: M. Madhava Prasad
02.30 - 03.30: Tom Levin
04.00 - 05.00: Panel discussion

Day chair: Gita Chadha
05.00 - 05.05: Vote of thanks by Amrita Gupta, 
MPC Visual Arts Forum Program Coordinator

Format of Conference: Each of twelve speakers 
will give a forty-five minute talk followed by 
fifteen minutes of questions. An hour-long panel 
discussion will round out each day.

Concept Note

'What is Wrong with this Picture?'
Investigating Visual Studies

Arindam Dutta

In Art History, the disciplinary question 'What 
is art?' is never far from the mind. To ask the 
same question of Visual Studies, Art Historyís 
more recent offshoot, may be either simpler or 
trickier, since the objective and subjective 
elements of study are both obvious and, on the 
other hand, could possibly be extended to simply 
everything. What the eye sees - vision itself - 
remains unperturbed and untrammeled by any 
disciplinary boundaries. Understanding this, 
archaic philosophy sought to harness vision with 
the categories of knowledge. In the Platonic 
characterization, the epistemic category precedes 
the seduction of vision; vision plays tricks with 
the mind. On the other hand, vision was also 
accorded with a discerning, verificatory ability, 
as illustrated in the contemporary adage 'What 
you get is what you see.' In both senses, the 
linkage of vision and knowledge is ancient. 'To 
see is to know': this conceit links together the 
Sanskrit word, vidya, or knowledge, the 
epistemological tracts called the Vedas, and 

It is perhaps because of these archaic, intimate 
links that in the new forms of Visual Studies in 
the last twenty years, contributions have been 
forthcoming from almost all the modern 
disciplinary ramparts - Language Studies, Art and 
Architectural History, Anthropology, Sociology, 
History, Political Science - the 'Arts' in the 
wider sense. 'Visual studies' in this sense also 
appears to circulate in a field where its other 
siblings have intermingled reign, comprising the 
only slightly older academic fields of semiotics, 
cultural studies and visual culture. As opposed 
to art historyís obsession with its institutional 
locations, the larger compass of Visual Studies 
has drawn its partisans to studies of film, 
television, advertising media, photography, 
design culture, graffiti and the like. In 
addition, visual studies has also operated as a 
surrogate terrain for exercising cutting edge 
analytical techniques - Lacanian psychoanalysis, 
feminism, post-structuralism - very often outside 
their parent disciplines, where their 
methodological consistency would be tested. This 
promiscuity has drawn both support and criticism 
from the various academic barricades.

Even if one does not submit to disciplinary 
parochialism, the apparent laxity evinced above 
may have certainly undermined the academic ground 
which Visual Studies stands on; failure to 
determine methodological grounds by which 
critical work is to be judged has the long term 
effect of corroding the institutional relevance 
of academic work in general. A 1996 review by the 
magazine October suggested as much, alleging that 
visual studies, in effect, only offered 
university students a self-vindicating 
terminology for their consumptive tendencies, 
rather than graduating them into unfamiliar 
frameworks of non-intuitive knowledge. As a 
para-discipline, Visual Studies has largely 
tended to lack methodological reflection. Some 
scholars, such as Barbara Maria Stafford and more 
recently Jonathan Crary, have displaced this 
methodological shortcoming - and perhaps 
impossibility - by attempting an epistemology of 
the visual as such, by looking at the manner in 
which the eye is configured within certain 

The emphasis on convention has moved the 
consideration of the eye away from a 'natural' 
organ to the technological and technical idioms 
to which the eye is (always) subject. An entire 
genre of critical studies has concentrated on the 
eyeís myriad machinic surrogates and transplants: 
beginning with Descartes' example of the 
egg-shell in his essay on Optics, with its 
technological derivatives: the telescope, 
microscope, photography, cinema, X-rays, 
CAT-scans, and MRIs. The implications there have 
been to understand vision as entwined within a 
host of technological and philosophical 
discourses. The focus on visual prosthesis has, 
ironically, found its takers in artistic practice 
as well, igniting an entire field of 
experimentation with visual technologies whose 
ambits are well outside the conventional armature 
of the museum wall or space. In spite of its 
reservations, art history has had to take 
cognizance of these shifts.

Other scholars of visual studies have 
concentrated on the objects of culture rather 
than the configurations of the eye, often 
unwittingly extending and reversing framework of 
iconological studies into more careful 
examinations of receptivity and audience. Drawing 
from the critical insights arrived at within 
anthropology, literary criticism, and sociology, 
these studies are perhaps most indebted to the 
Frankfurt School in its synthesis of visual and 
mass phenomena. Other significant influences 
include certain - often unconsidered usages of 
visual metaphors - such as Lacan's theory of the 
ìmirror stageî and the gaze and Luce Irigaray's 
theorization of the speculum and the 'Specular 
Cave' (itself locating a blind spot in the 
Platonic schema of vision). The hypnotic 'gaze' 
of power, more a notional rather than physical 
entity, has nonetheless spawned a host of studies 
into societal relationships with the visual at 
its center. As the notion of the 
surveillance-state - with its burgeoning 
closed-circuit cameras, identity-tagging, optic- 
and DNA-scanning devices - increasingly takes 
hold around the world, the philosophical domain 
of the gaze has given an unnerving physical 
manifestation that erodes the divisions between 
object and subject.

Our conference What is Wrong with this Picture? 
Investigating Visual Studies will examine this 
new indeterminate territory of visual studies. 
The conference will be held on January 26th, 
27th, and 28th, 2004, at the Mohile Parikh 
Center, in the National Centre for Performing 
Arts in Mumbai (Bombay), India. Twelve speakers 
will be invited, from India and abroad, to give 
papers and participate in panel discussions over 
a three-day period. Conference papers will 
comprise case studies, disciplinary and 
methodological critiques, and philosophical 
reflections of and on visual studies as a field. 
The Indian location of the conference is 
particularly apposite since, in many ways, 
institutions devoted to art history - the 
principal antagonist and contributor to visual 
studies - remain thin on the ground. With 
increasing integration with the global economy 
and the corresponding deluge of electronic media 
into the country, Indian institutions might be 
said to have skipped the 'art historical' phase 
in their history and fast-forwarded to a more 
receptive attitude to media and visual studies 

The conference comprises three days of events 
with talks in the mornings and talks and panel 
discussions in the afternoon. The three days are 
designated as follows:

Day 1. In the Dock: Visual Evidence

This session will be devoted to case studies, and 
discussing what counts as a case study in visual 

Day 2. Strategies of the Visual: Methodologies and Disciplinary Critiques

How do visual studies relate to other disciplines and critical strategies?

Day 3. Technologies of the Visual

What are the idioms, technological and technical 
paradigms that visual studies operates with?


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