OVPRED/HI Seed Money, Award Recipients 2015
Susan Cahn, Professor
“Borderlines of Power: Women and Borderline Personality Disorder”
This project is a historical study of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as a medically and culturally constructed mental illness in the modern U.S. Psychiatric professionals characterize and often disparage BPD as a female illness (70-77%), unresponsive to psychopharmacology or psychotherapy. Although highly contested, BPD has received little historical attention. This study examines all aspects of BPD: its emergence as a historically constructed category of pathology; the meanings invested in the figure of “the borderline” by medical professionals, the mentally ill, and in popular culture; and the cultural and intellectual “work” BPD has done within psychiatry, within broader cultural and political discourses of gender, and among people affected by BPD. Cahn argues that the highly volatile “borderline” has helped stabilize psychiatric knowledge—and authority—in the face of psychiatry’s own instabilities. However, Cahn also argues for the importance of listening to women’s articulations of mental suffering and expressed need for a coherent “self,” even in an era of post-structuralist doubt about the existence of a “unified self.”
Laura Garofalo, Associate Professor
“The Seamless Seam: Enclosure as Ornament”
This project will develop an exterior installation addressing the indexical aesthetics of transformational processes in the design of architectural surfaces. This research and installation is based on the premise that the ornamented architectural surface has historically represented the prevalent ordering systems of a given culture and thus are also an expression of contemporaneous social values. Consequently, the exploration and implementation of such systems through current technology reflects the nature of the cultural role of ornament today. The engagement of ceramics as a material and technical process embeds the project within an ancient artistic tradition while critically engaging cutting edge architectural fabrication techniques. The contemporary ornamental surface has been linked to the ubiquitous use of digital technologies in design and manufacturing and is not always tied to the kind of material expression this project intends to explore. The OVPRED/HI Seed Money in the Arts and Humanities will provide funds for design and development of this installation.
Walter Hakala, Assistant Professor
“Words, Verses, and the World: Multilingual Vocabularies and Indo-Persianate Learning in South Asia”
The niṣāb genre of multilingual vocabularies in verse emerged in Central Asia in tandem with the thirteenth-century Mongol irruption and persisted in South Asia through the early twentieth century. As practical and cost-effective tools for the acquisition of proficiency in Persian, the genre proliferated in later centuries, with dozens (and potentially hundreds) of vocabularies composed in a variety of South Asian languages. OVPRED/HI Seed Money will support the transcription of approximately sixteen nineteenth-century lithograph niṣābs and their publication online in multi-script critical editions. A dynamic concordance of terms will help in identifying both a core set of terms that recur in multiple lexicons and the distinctive lexis within individual works. Documentation of the prevalence of the various glossing languages employed by poet-lexicographers will provide further evidence of how shifting patterns of language instruction and competencies in South Asian Islamicate education correspond with contemporaneous political and social developments. This diachronic survey of the content glossed in these documents will also demonstrate the different ways in which new objects—including those imported from the New World and Europe—were re-situated as they were absorbed into, and glossed in, preexisting linguistic, medical, and material cultures.
David Herzberg, Associate Professor
“The Other Drug War: Prescription Drug Abuse in American History”
“The Other Drug War” is a history of prescription drug abuse—a problem that has consistently dwarfed “street” drug abuse throughout the 20th century, yet which has received relatively little attention in the humanities because it falls into the scholarly gap between “drug war” and “pharmaceutical” studies. This divided approach, Herzberg argues, unintentionally reinforces the historical association of drug problems with urban racial minorities, and obscures a full understanding of America’s troubled history with drugs and addiction. Drawing from regulatory, medical, and industry archives as well as published medical and popular media, this project recovers the forgotten landscape of prescription drug abuse and rethinks the significance of drug wars and Big Pharma in modern America.
Frederick Klaits, Assistant Professor
“Respect and Responsibility: Blessings and Black Sexual Politics in Buffalo’s Charismatic Churches”
This ethnographic project takes a fresh approach to the politics of sexuality in inner-city Black churches, considering ideals of domestic respectability and the importance of respect in the urban economy within a single analytical frame. Recent critical scholarship has drawn attention to how images of Black gender and sexuality help to perpetuate forms of racism within the ostensible colorblindness of contemporary U.S. political discourse. This scholarship argues that Black church leaders, who usually embrace heterosexual norms and patriarchal models of domestic life, participate in a politics of respectability that ultimately reinforces presumptions that Blacks have not lived up to appropriate cultural standards. This project considers analytical and popular concerns about respectability in terms of the ways in which Afro-Pentecostal pastors in Buffalo have reframed their past efforts to claim respect in the street economy as assertions of their abilities to channel blessings from God to members of their congregations. By conveying blessings, male and female pastors help believers to sustain morally valued domestic arrangements and forms of sexuality, yet they also sharpen popular worries that blessings may be “stolen” through improper sexual and emotional intimacies that diminish both respect and respectability.
Miriam Paeslack, Assistant Professor
“Contemplating the Past through the Present: Italian Fascist Architecture in Artistic Discourse”
This project contributes to a discussion of the relationship between photography and historiography. Addressing this relationship, Paeslack identifies arguments that help understand the fraught and fragile relationship of history writing and photography. More specifically, this project discusses the work of five artists that address Italian architecture of the 1920s through the 1940s. Italian architectural styles of the Mussolini years move seemingly effortlessly between an international modernist tradition on the one hand, and a fascist neo-classicism on the other. This terminological (and stylistic) ambiguity suggests a range of ideological undercurrents and assumptions, which this project scrutinizes by exploring how Italian and non-Italian artists born between 1900 and 1977 have understood and aesthetically interpreted these structures. The project raises questions about the interrelation of (architectural) style, ideology, and the power of representation in order to probe how photography and film and their inherently indexical yet interpretive equalities enlighten and complicate that relationship.
Deborah Reed-Danahay, Professor
“Being French in London: Social Space, the EU, and Privileged Migration”
This project is a study of recent French-born migrants to London. The presence of approximately 300,000 French in London, many of whom have arrived since the 1990s, creates possibilities for new articulations of EU citizenship, national identity, and mobility in Europe. It has also attracted media attention, especially after a controversial BBC report in 2012 labeled London “France’s Sixth Biggest City.” Reed-Danahay’s aim is to better understand both the institutional supports for, and everyday practices and experiences of, French people who live and work in London. This research will build upon recent scholarship on the growing category of “middling migrants” who are neither wealthy elites nor economically or politically disadvantaged. The OVPRED/HI Seed Money will allow Reed-Danahay to further explore this phenomenon “on the ground” by visiting research sites and discussing her project with representatives of French cultural institutions in London, French-born migrants living in London, and fellow scholars of migration.
Stephanie Rothenberg, Associate Professor
“Reversal of Fortune”
Over the past 2 ½ years Rothenberg has been working on a research-based creative project entitled “Reversal of Fortune” that investigates the intersection of social media, charity and the world of microfinance, a $7 billion industry. These themes are explored through a series of unique 3-dimensional data visualization artworks that use plants to represent human lives, creating a more physical, sensorial experience with data. The lifelines of the plants are dependent on microlending transactions and related commentaries happening in real time on the Internet. Successful exchanges and responses trigger an automated watering system that feed and nourish specific plants. Whether viewed for a few minutes or several days or weeks, these live and virtual gardens illuminate the complex relationships between human life and economic growth in their struggle to survive. The OVPRED/HI Seed Money will enable Rothenberg to hire a researcher to assist with data collection and computer coders to build a database and continue interfacing the data with the artworks’ interactive technology.
Jasmina Tumbas, Assistant Professor
“A Matter of Decision: Experimental Art in Hungary and Yugoslavia, 1968-1989”
The Seed Money will support the research for the last chapter of Tumbas’s book, A Matter of Decision: Experimental Art in Hungary and Yugoslavia, 1968-1989, which analyzes experimental art movements in Hungary and the former Yugoslavia from 1968 to 1989, examining the variety of ways that artists responded to the ideological and practical failures of state socialism. The last chapter includes the discussion of Roma artists from the region, an ethnic minority in East and Central Europe with a vast cultural influence, but which is usually eclipsed from discussions of artistic production. While the book puts forth an analysis of the political resistance that Yugoslav and Hungarian avant-garde artists shared during the cold war, the last chapter exposes how the parameters of “high” and “low” culture still dominate the historicization of experimental art of East and Central Europe within predominately Western categories. Unless appropriated in film, fashion, and music, Roma artists were virtually absent from the avant-garde cultural scene in East and Central Europe, and continue to be absent from scholarship on the region. This chapter requires travel to Europe to interview artists, collect materials on Roma art, and interview scholars from the region.
Paul Vanouse, Professor
“Labor” is scent-based, art installation project. It is a “bio-media” artwork, which uses biological processes as its medium of expression. Two large, computer regulated industrial fermenters are at the center. Each incubates a unique species of human skin bacteria responsible for the primary scent of sweat: Staphylococus epidermis and Propioni bacteria. As these bacteria digest simple sugars and yeasts, the former creates the smell associated with human exertion and the latter with stress/anxiety. The bacteria will produce a familiar but incongruous scent in the room reminiscent of human toil and labor however produced solely from non-human laborers.