Report: Image Text Ithaca Symposium

Image Text Ithaca Symposium
Ithaca College
Ithaca, New York
June 30–July 1, 2017

The second Image Text Ithaca (ITI) Symposium drew 75 attendees including faculty mentors; participants in Ithaca College’s new ITI MFA program; and an audience of interested photography students, faculty, and artists. The selection of presenters this year clearly privileged print publications and their makers—a refreshing focus in this era of digital addiction.

Claudia Rankine, award-winning author and co-founder of the Racial Imaginary Institute, who also participated in the first symposium in 2015, returned to ITI. In her keynote address, Rankine interrogated why Americans aspire to white dominance. She began with the explanatory caveat that whiteness has everything to do with image and text because “race is about optics.” She ended by highlighting this issue’s innate relationality and encouraging artists to make work that investigates it.

Five ITI Fellows worked with Rankine during the week before the symposium on a project juxtaposing found images and Google search results related to the Pantone skin color palette. One creative result of the weeklong workshop was a short video. Another was a poetic narrative exploring a failed relationship through a telling of such events as a first meeting, and included the Fellow’s emotional response to attending a wedding and visiting an ailing relative, incorporating a few still images. Another Fellow presented a short, seemingly stream-of-consciousness text piece about several different friends, each accompanied by a single image of flora.

A pair of ITI Fellows shared a collaborative experimental project of text interspersed with images of seemingly random objects on a white field, forcing the viewer to establish connections, followed by a short black-and-white video structured similarly with different (moving) images and much of the same text. Matthew Connors, an ITI Fellow whose 2015 book Fire in Cairo won the 2016 ICP Infinity Award, created a classification for all the objects he possesses ranging from “Objects designed for obsolescence” to “Objects that were found after replacements were purchased.” The last group of Fellows to present spent the week working with ITI’s co-coordinator Nicholas Mueller’s staged photographs of falling people and also, in particular contrast, with mug shots.

The symposium also offered first-hand insight into several different established curatorial projects. David Senior, Senior Bibliographer at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), offered an engaging survey of artist publications of the last century as organized through several shows he curated from the MoMA collection. The publications ranged from experiments to those focusing on the “ecstatic use of language” with the presentation culminating in early artists’ books up to the present as explored in the MoMA 2016 exhibition Millennium Magazines. Lisa Pearson, publisher of Siglio Press, focused on specific image-text projects from the press, framing her talk with “I hope that pleasure, transgression and resistance are … a part of the experience.” Andre Bradley, also a participant in the first symposium (his Dark Archives 1–41 from 2016 is published by the ITI Press) shared new work exploring racial and personal identity through such source materials as original drawings, vernacular photography, advertising stills, and quotations from the likes of Walter Benjamin—all amid the refrain of poetic “I am” statements.

Ultimately, poet and critic Wayne Koestenbaum slowed the brisk proceedings down a bit with a two-part presentation: digital photographs made for Instagram and recent writing. In his work, Koestenbaum plays with text in three different registers: text on image, as caption, and as hashtags, and his deliberate pacing offered room for the audience to breathe.

There were several personal, even diaristic projects this year, as well as the curious tendency to read aloud texts that were not presented visually. Clearly, the ITI MFA program is enjoying initial creative success and ITI is also continuing its vibrant publishing endeavor. This attendee looks forward to the next iteration.

KAREN VANMEENEN is Editor of Afterimage and a Senior Lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology.

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