Animal/Nonhuman Workshop

University of Chicago

Month: April 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015: “Of Dogs and Hot Dogs: Dialectics between Image and Language in Early Silent Shorts”

Pao-Chen Tang, CMS, University of Chicago
“Of Dogs and Hot Dogs: Dialectics between Image and Language in Early Silent Shorts”

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Request a copy of the paper by emailing hutch@uchicago.edu.

In the concluding paragraph of his Electric Animal, Akira Mizuta Lippit argues when animals, philosophically lacking language as per a tradition in Western thoughts, become “filmic organisms,” they are “transformed into languages, or at least, into semiotic facilities.” My essay takes up Lippit’s insightful but perhaps underdeveloped claim and poses three related questions. First, is Lippit referring to the cinematic animal in general or specific kinds of onscreen animals? Second, how does cinema enact this process of semiotic transformation? Third, are animals as filmic elements necessarily turned into languages or signs? I will address these questions by tracing the appearances and functions of animals in early commercial shorts, especially dogs, in relation to Tom Gunning’s now paradigmatic account of early cinema as medium of attractions. Certain dogs on film, I argue, complicate Lippit’s claim. By no means mere languages or signs, they function as contingent events, vaudeville gags, and syntheses of attractions and narratives. The films I will examine include: Dickson and Heise’s Athlete With Wand (1894), Lumière brothers’ La sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon (1895), Méliès’ Une partie de cartes (1896), and Porter’s Dog Factory (1904) in the context of a peculiar film genre: the “sausage-making” film.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu).

Find our full workshop schedule here.

Monday, April 20, 2015: “Connection to the Collection: the value of human and non-human encounters in a Bahamian zoo”

Jessica Robinson, Anthropology, University of Chicago
“Connection to the Collection: the value of human and non-human encounters in a Bahamian zoo”

Request a copy of the paper by emailing kpflaum@uchicago.edu.

For many Bahamians snakes are “devil’s creatures,” and an encounter with one is cause for alarm and violent response. However, native snakes in the Bahamas are non-venomous and play a valuable role in the ecosystem (in both environmental and economic senses). In order to counter the misinformation and fear over snakes the zoo keepers at a for-profit zoo in the Bahamas have rescued injured wild snakes that, after careful rehabilitation, they introduce to local children in curated “animal encounters.”  In stark contrast, these animal encounters are not shared with North American tourists who make up the bulk of the zoo’s paying customers. Instead, the tourists are treated to a marching Flamingo show, in which a photo opportunity with one of these majestic animals is a key component. The value of looking at animals is assumed to be different for tourists and locals.

Drawing on ethnographic research, this paper explores theories of value (Graeber 2001) to consider the affective ways in which encounters with these non-humans are being mobilized, on the one hand, as an active and affective literal hands-on approach to local conservation that is embedded in the landscape and ecosystem from which the animals are collected, and on the other, as a tourist experience of the “exotic” dislocated from the natural environment (Comaroff and Comaroff 2009; Urry & Larson 2011).

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu).

Find our full workshop schedule here.

Monday, April 6, 2015: “Touched and Retouched: Embracing Early Wildlife Photography’s Impurities”

Carl Fuldner, Art History, University of Chicago
“Touched and Retouched: Embracing Early Wildlife Photography’s Impurities”

No paper will be pre-circulated for this event. Mr. Fuldner will present a slideshow and talk about his exhibit, and then open the floor for questions and discussion.

The modern discourses on wildlife and photography are conceptually linked through their shared fetishizing of the “untouched” as a regulative ideal. In The Studio in the Field, a new exhibit opening at the John Crerar Library on the same day as our workshop, I explore the technical challenges that early wildlife photographers faced on their way to making pictures that were by turns beautiful, instructive, and convincingly naturalistic. As the exhibit’s title suggests, the untouched realms that wildlife photographs visualize are in fact carefully constructed spaces, and the myth of a pristine nature that structures the reception of these works is easily dismantled without much prodding. More interesting, perhaps, is a small subset of images that make no particular claim to purity—images that conspicuously display the interventions entailed in their making. What meaning might we glean from these images?

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu).

Find our full workshop schedule here.

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