Every previous major disaster in human history, from the Black Plague to the Great Depression, has elicited a reimagination of the world, a reinvention of collective life through culture. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. The arts and humanities — two areas of inquiry that focus on value and meaning — provide crucial resources for reconceptualizing our lives together during, and after, our current crisis.
The series (Re)making Sense: The Humanities and Pandemic Culture examines the utility of the arts and humanities for helping us navigate the ethical challenges and practical reinventions that lie before us. Top scholars, writers, and artists at UC Berkeley discuss how their disciplines, and the skills and abilities fostered by their fields, can help in our efforts to reimagine and rebuild.
The sixth event of this series explores how the practices and study of visual culture are shaped by, and have responded to, the current political and public health crises. We live in an age in which smartphone owners are also photographers and videographers, and images can be disseminated, reproduced, and doctored in the blink of an eye. Image-making has become a political tool, as we saw with the George Floyd video and the numerous postings on social media of acts of police brutality during the Black Lives Matter protests. The January 6th attack on the US Capitol brought home the shaping power of images in our understanding of both history and contemporary reality.
How do we know when we're seeing an important or iconic image? What role does the academic study of visual culture, through such disciplines as film studies and art history, play in shaping the ways we now process and use images? How do avant-garde and contemporary visual practices respond to the current moment? Can we trace the emergence of a post-pandemic iconography?
As film collection supervisor for Pacific Film Archive, Antonella Bonfanti oversees film and video archival, acquisition, and preservation projects. Prior to joining BAMPFA in 2020, she served as director of the famed Bay Area experimental film distributor Canyon Cinema Foundation.
Abigail De Kosnik is director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and associate professor of theater, dance, and performance studies. Her book Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom examines the practice of archiving in the transition from print to digital media. She is co-editor of the essay collection #identity: Hashtagging Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nation.
Filmmaker and scholar Jeffrey Skoller is associate professor of film and media. His cinematic and scholarly work explores relationships between film and contemporary art, the avant-garde and experimental film, and hybrid genres such as the essay film and animated documentary. He is editor of an essay collection on filmmaker Daniel Eisenberg.