Aerial Evidence in Zones of Conflict: Caren Kaplan and Laura Kurgan in Conversation

CaplanKurganFriday 4 March
2- 5 pm
Daniels Room 103,
230 College Street

The Jackman Humanities Institute and the John H. Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture, and Design have collaborated to host the public lecture Aerial Evidence in Zones of Conflict: Caren Kaplan and Laura Kurgan in Conversation. This event will bring together two esteemed scholars to discuss their recent research on representations of violence, data science, and aerial reconnaissance imagery.

Caren Kaplan is a Professor of American Studies and an affiliated faculty in Cultural Studies and Science and Technology Studies. She is also affiliated with the Humanities Innovation Lab, the Mellon Research Initiative in Digital Cultures, and the IFHA on Gamification. She is the author of Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Duke 1996) and the co-author/editor of Introduction to Women’s Studies: Gender in a Transnational World (McGraw-Hill 2001/2005), Between Woman and Nation: Transnational Feminisms and the State (Duke 1999), and Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minnesota 1994) as well as two digital multi-media scholarly works, Dead Reckoning and Precision Targets. She is currently completing a book on aerial views and militarized visual culture.

Kaplan’s lecture is titled Aerial Aftermaths: The Colonial Present in9/11Views from AboveDespite the efforts of global media and politicians to frame the attacks of September 11, 2001 as exceptional, positioning the United States as an innocent victim in a battle between abstract values of good and evil, the melancholic presences and absences that permeate the aftermath disturb timelines as well as spatial boundaries. In the aerial images of “9/11” and its aftermath, the primary discourses of representation in general and photography in particular are both emphatically propounded and challenged. No matter how many images are collected, stored, interpreted, and released, these pictures are always after the fact. Always already incomplete yet replete with what or whom is missing, these extreme examples of the limits of the image also offer a way to sense what was always there in wartime’s everyday–the unspooling, dispositional violence of the colonial aftermaths.

Laura Kurgan teaches architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning at Columbia University, where she is Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) and the Director of Visual Studies. Her work explores problems ranging from digital location technologies, the ethics and politics of mapping, to new structures of participation in design, and the visualization of urban and global data. Her recent research includes a multi-year SIDL project on “million-dollar blocks” and the urban costs of the American incarceration experiment and an exhibition on global migration and climate change, Native Land: Stop Eject, at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. Her work has appeared at the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Whitney Altria, MACBa Barcelona, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, and the Museum of Modern Art (where it is part of the permanent collection). She was named one of Esquire Magazine’s ‘Best and Brightest’ in 2008, and was awarded a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship in 2009. She has published articles and essays in Atlantic Magazine, Volume, Grey Room, Assemblage, and Else/Where Mapping, among other books and journals.

Kurgan’s lecture is titled Seeing Through Data, and will focus on her recent work from the Center for Spatial Research. Coinciding with the massive expansion of networked digital devices and platforms (from the Geospatial Web, to Social Media, the Internet of Things, sensor-equipped buildings and infrastructure,) the automated generation of data—and its flow through global networks—has emerged as an opportunity for and an object of production, research and analysis. Corresponding to this, new methods of working with this data have generated an emerging academic field loosely labeled “data science.”  Kurgan will present a number of collaborative projects she has worked on embedded in this emerging field that take a critical rather than optimistic stance toward data and its manifestations.


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