This was the 5th Annual GLS Western Symposium, and my first. This time hosted by SFU at the Harbour Centre Campus and the Wosk Centre for Dialogue here in Vancouver. Thirty-four papers were presented in 4 sessions with 3 running in parallel. The twelve sessions in total were broken into loosely themed groups as follows: Classical Studies, Ecology, Lived Environments, Medicine/Science, Literature, Media Studies, Art, Morality, Heroes, Religion, Adaptations and finally Sexuality. Presenters hailed from most, if not all, of the Western region GLS programs including three from Maastricht in the Netherlands.
The spirits were high and everyone seemed immensely motivated and keen to hear the presentations. Q&A sessions were always energetic with well considered comments coming from the attendees. The quality of the sessions was very high in my opinion. I have never had so many presentations engage me, teach me, and importantly, move me as during this exceptional symposium. I highly recommend attending or presenting at one of these sessions! Next year’s Symposium will be hosted by the USC program in Los Angeles. Details will be forthcoming of course.
The Symposium kicked off on Friday evening with a wine and cheese mix and mingle. While not everyone had arrived yet, it was a fine opportunity to meet old GLS friends and make new acquaintances as well.
I presented my recently published paper Sounding Interiors: Daydream, Imagination, and the Auscultation of Domestic Space in the first Saturday morning session. The venue was excellent with even acceptable sound quality in the built-in sound system: this being a constant challenge at Academic Conferences. My presentation was well received and there were numerous excellent comments and thought provoking feedback afterwards.
Let me mention some of the highlights of the conference for me.
My two co-presenters in the Lived Environments session both gave great presentations. Bart Zwegers from Maastricht presented his paper Objectivity and Political Engagement in Heritage Preservation. It was a well considered analysis of the ideology of objectivity and its political role in determining what projects are considered worthy for preservation and appropriate funds.
Jean McIntosh from Stanford presented Pirro Ligorio’s ‘Antiqvae Vrbis Imago’: A Renaissance Reconstruction of the Ancient Roman Cityscape. She delved into the motivation for and pictorial techniques utilized in Ligorio’s ‘Imago.’ For those who haven’t seen this map cum bird’s eye panorama it’s something to be seen. The Imago is an exercise in obsessive compulsive encylopedic excess: think tourist map on steroids. It’s large (around a couple of meters per side) and incredibly intricate throughout. On first glance it is so complex and detailed that it seems almost incomprehensible. Jean McIntosh took us through parts of this incredible work eloquently and brought our attention to the various pictorial techniques Ligorio used to represent the city and its architecture in his unique way. Very engaging!
In the Art session, Nadia Thibault from SFU’s GLS program brought our attention to the powerfully moving drawings and prints by German Expressionist painter Kathe Kollwitz. I’m ashamed to say that I was not aware of this incredible visual artist before Nadia’s excellent presentation. Seeing these images was a transformative experience. She showed a number of incredibly intense images of poverty, war and disadvantage by Kollwitz and tied her practice to influential predecessors and contemporary colleagues. Although the ties to German Expressionist work were clear, so was her distinct vision and representational style. The textural aspect of her work was particularly nuanced and the fleshly-ness of the bodies was tangible: one could almost feel the strength and resilience of these people as if they were bodily present. Incredible work and a thoughtful articulate presentation. If you haven’t seen Kollwitz’s images go find them as soon as you can.
In the same session Oscar Firschein from Stanford presented his work The Pitmen Painters’ England’s Coal-Miner Artists. This is an absolutely extraordinary story about a group of coal minors in northern England during the 1030’s and on, who became painters. The incredible circumstances that led to this, including their major group exhibition in London and a dedicated gallery to their work in Ashington is almost unbelievable. I won’t give a precis of the story here as a play has been written by Lee Hall as has an account of the painters by art critic William Feaver. The images were unique and the story should be made into a film. It would be the feelgood film of the decade.
The Art session was closed by Stanford’s Maura McNamara’s compelling presentation William Morris: The Art of the Book. She guided us through William Morris’ incredible work with the Kelmscott Press and its ties to architecture and design. She seemed to be fairly concerned that making those connections was a bit of a stretch, but her artful and carefully considered presentation made the connections abundantly clear: at least for this attendee! She guided us deftly through great images from the Kelmscott Chaucer. I have had the good fortune of seeing the Kelmscott Chaucer in person and visiting Kelmscott Manor a number of years ago. Maura McNamara’s presentation brought those images flooding back to me and also added a new layer of understanding to my appreciation of William Morris’ work. I did a quick search on the web during the talk and found that Biblio.com had a folio of the first two pages from the Kelmscott Chaucer for sale for a mere €6,572.47! Quick, best get that right away.
While these are my highlights I have to remark on the overall high quality of the presentations I attended, and I’m sure the other parallel streams were also excellent. The energy at the Symposium was palpable and exciting, the presentations were excellent and thought provoking, and the people were as fine a group as I’ve ever met. I am very much looking forward to next year’s Symposium in LA!
The SFU GLS Symposium website has abstracts and presenter biographies already posted, and several of the presentations will also be posted so be sure to check that out over the next week or two as material is added to the site.