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LibSt 722 Special Topics Twentieth Century Studies:

The Culture of Display, Spring 2002

Cultural display is a complex activity in which everyone participates. From subcultures to nations, cultural associations and identities are performed and shared by all people. This course will examine the forms and forums of cultural display that construct public narratives of identity, memory and citizenship. We will address institutions of display, such as museums and libraries, as well as expanded fields of display, such as street culture and electronic sites, to explore how they constitute events and visual products that structure contemporary identities. Changing definitions of cultural identity and the current proliferation of institutions of display will direct our investigations. Changing definitions of public and private as evidenced in contemporary transformations of the physical, sites of display will also be examined. Underlying all of these concerns is the importance of seeing and sight to a contemporary notion of cultural identity and the construction of the sites of sight as a model for personal and cultural identity.

The course will be structured in four parts and will include an examination of local sites and events of cultural display as well as input from the participants in the seminar. The first part is entitled Other Cultures and Others and will examine a transformation of thought about cultural identity in the United States from a model of static monumentality to fluctuating multi-culturalism. Readings may include Writing Diaspora by Rey Chow. The second part, Collecting and Displaying, will involve an investigation of official and unofficial methodologies of archiving and showing cultural objects. Readings may include Susan Stewart's On Longing and selections from Martha Stewart's Living. Public sites for display and the importance of the physical body will be addressed in part three, Display and Spectacle. Within this category might fall the contemporary spectacle of political elections, the trend for bathrooms with transparent walls in recent domestic and restaurant architecture, as well as the interface between cultural identity and citizenship. The final section of the course will attempt to make proposals for The Space of Contemporary Display as a Model for Consciousness. Actual manifestations of sites of display, such as interior/exterior, clinical/natural, opaque/transparent, or official/transgressive will be examined for their potential to construct a concept or model for identity with and beyond the narrative content of the display.


Leslie Bellavance is professor of art and an artist who teaches courses in photography and theory of contemporary art. Her recent projects have included the organization of a Center for Twenty-First Century Studies' conference, Public Showing, on the topic of cultural display. Her own artworks have been exhibited nationally. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

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