Afterimage Vol. 37 No. 6

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Report

PLAYING THE FIELD
47th annual Society for Photographic Education Conference
Philadelphia
March 4–7, 2010
by Karen vanMeenen [DDET (+)]

The 47th annual conference of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) was constructed around a theme of “Facing Diversity: Leveling the Playing Field in the Photographic Arts.” While the conference offerings did address the event’s theme more overtly than some previous conferences have, the question remains whether inequities in photographic representation and education can be sufficiently addressed, much less ameliorated, in the space of fewer than three days.

In the opening plenary, Renaissance man Kip Fulbeck flexed his multidisciplinary muscles, beginning with a brief fictional audio re-enactment of what it is like for a mixed-race person to fill out standard forms. He followed with a participatory exercise he uses with schoolchildren, essentially proving that Americans know more about pop culture than hard news or politics. He then shared several of his short films about identity and some of his bookworks, which use race as a jumping off point to discuss identity. Fulbeck pointed out that perhaps we would all do well to remember that diversity is more than race, but the evening (although admittedly entertaining) came off as a repetitive hodgepodge. In the second plenary, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie and Veronica Passalacqua discussed the exhibit “Visual Sovereignty: International Indigenous Photography” at the University of California, Davis, in 2009, explaining that the concept of sovereignty includes visual sovereignty, a notion that served as an impetus for this important project. The artists in this exhibition offer portraits in defiance of disappearance and a revisioning of historical and stereotyped images. In his plenary “Beyond Diversity and Toward Inclusivity,” Dawoud Bey explored the history of alternative photographic organizations as a site of protest, offering Visual Studies Workshop, the publisher of Afterimage, as one of a small handful of initially grassroots organizations that could serve as models for a movement toward inclusivity that is needed again today. In addition, Deborah Willis was feted as the 2010 Honored Educator in a deservedly hagiographic celebration of her influential teaching and extensive scholarship.

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Profile

ASIAN FILM ARCHIVE AT FIVE
by Patricia R. Zimmermann [DDET (+)]

“An archive is not a building,” contends Bee Thiam Tan. “It is a memory institution.” Tan is the innovative executive director of the Asian Film Archive (AFA) in Singapore. The archive, now celebrating its fifth anniversary, was launched by Tan in 2005 to collect films from Singapore and independent, non-studio produced works not archived elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The AFA has collected more than fifteen hundred titles from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and elsewhere in the region. The collection features works by internationally acclaimed Singaporean filmmakers Erik Khoo, Royston Tan, and Tan Pin Pin, and includes Malay classic films and films from the Golden Era of Singapore cinema in the 1950s and ‘60s. Remarkably, it has saved 60 percent of the films made in Singapore, many of which are deposited in the National Archives of Singapore, an AFA partner.

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Features

PAPER TRUTH: THE KNOW-HOW OF THOMAS DEMAND
by Efrat Biberman [DDET (+)]

An article dedicated to the German artist Thomas Demand opens by describing a German Disneyworld employee working in the Bavarian beer garden at Epcot. When questioned about working in a “replica” of her homeland, the employee replied that her hometown had been completely demolished in World War II and was reconstructed afterward. Thus, what is perceived as an authentic place of origin is often an imitation of its former existence, and conceptually, isn’t too far removed from Disney’s amusement parks.

The relation between this anecdote and Demand’s artwork reveals something of the manner in which critics tend to interpret his work. Demand, who began his career in the 1990s, reconstructs interiors and other locations according to documentary photographs and objects; he builds these life-size reconstructions strictly out of colored paper. Demand then photographs the fabricated locations, which he eventually destroys. His exhibitions present large-scale photographs of paper reconstructions that, when first perceived, look like documentations of real objects and places. At first glance, his works tend to deceive the viewer. Only after a closer look, when encountering the disturbing effect of the works, does doubt arise regarding the true nature of the images.

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ABOUT SYNC: A CONVERSATION WITH JAMES TOBIAS
by Joanna Heatwole [DDET (+)]

James S. Tobias’s work as both scholar and interactive media artist bridges complex and evolving languages for time-based media arts. Associate Professor of Cinema and Digital Media Studies in the English Department of the University of California, Riverside, Tobias is the author of Sync: Stylistics of Hieroglyphic Time (to be released by Temple University Press in summer 2010). Tobias draws on his own multi-faceted educational and experiential background in music, movement, linguistics, film studies, and human-computer interface design to explore a key challenge for scholars and practitioners—investigating the unnamable element that lies beyond and within the interplay between image and sound.

Tobias’s journal publications include Film Quarterly, Jump Cut, and Documentary Box. He has additionally contributed to other texts including Boyhood in America: An Encyclopedia (2001, edited by Priscilla F. Clement and Jacqueline S. Reinier) and authored the chapter “Buñuel’s Net Work: The Detour Trilogy” in Marsha Kinder’s book Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1999). Formerly an assistant professor of Film and Video Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Tobias received his doctorate in Critical Studies/Cinema-Television from the University of Southern California in 2001, after receiving a Master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications in 1994 from New York University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics in 1985 from the University of California at Berkeley.

Tobias’s art practice is as varied as his scholarly interests as he and his collaborators explore the interplay of sound and image in emerging technologies that emphasize interactive gesture. He directed the “Cruising Zone” section of Mysteries and Desire: Searching the World of John Rechy, an interactive CD-ROM produced in 2000 by Kinder’s Labyrinth Project, which was awarded a Gold Medal for Best Overall Design at the 2000 In-Vision Awards and was also selected for the European Media Arts Festival in May 2000. An earlier interactive installation, “To Live and Drive in LA” (1999) led to Tobias being named one of “25 New Faces of Indie Film” by Filmmaker magazine in 1999. In addition, he was awarded an Interactive Frictions Conference Installation Grant for 1998–9. This conversation took place via email from January through March 2010.

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THE MOTORIZATION OF VIDEO ART: VAN MCELWEE’S LIQUID CRYSTAL THROUGH THE LENS OF VIRILIO AND BERARDI
by Robert E. Kohn  [DDET (+)]

Van McElwee’s video Liquid Crystal (2009) is an excellent example of the motorization of art. Some of the shots are taken of or from conveyer belts. There are rigid linear trajectories alternating with a sort of human-Brownian motion, and many of the shots are inside or near train stations and the mazes of tunnels connecting them. Rather than a static place, the city—in this case Tokyo—is seen as a dynamic site of appearances and disappearances. In an interview with John Armitage, Paul Virilio argued that the “motorization of art is a very important phenomenon,” and that one “cannot come to grips with the current crisis in the contemporary arts . . . without it.” “All branches of the arts,” he went on to say, “are involved in motorization, that is, in acceleration.” As the title of Armitage’s interview with him suggests, Virilio is the originator of the term “hypermodernism,” which is the likely sequel to postmodernism, which in turn was the reaction to modernism. Whereas postmodernism repudiated modernism, specifically that aspect of modernism that expected science and technology to transform the world into a utopia, hypermodernism is based on the fear that science and technology will develop to dystopian extremes. Virilio’s perception of technology, in his own words, is largely catastrophic.

The fear of science was anticipated in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1986) when Jack and Babette Gladney, caught in the novel’s frightening “airborne toxic event,” recognized that science’s

“[e]very advance is worse than the one before because it makes me more scared.” “Scared of what?”
“The sky, the earth, I don’t know.”
“The greater the scientific advance, the more primitive the fear.”
“Why is that?”

DeLillo does not provide an answer to that last question about the source of fear, but simply records the gnawing anxiety of a vague and foreboding dimension of contemporary life. In an unnumbered section between Chapters 6 and 7 in The Body Artist (2001) entitled “Body Art in Extremis: Slow, Spare and Painful,” he writes:

There is the man who stands in an art gallery while a colleague fires bullets into his arms. This is art. There is the lavishly tattooed man who has himself fitted with a crown of thorns. This is art. . . . There are the naked man and woman who charge into each other repeatedly at increasing speeds. This is art.

This excerpt appears to have been prompted by Virilio’s concern about the escalation in extremism in contemporary art, which DeLillo may have learned about through, or directly from, the original French edition of Fear and Art which came out the year before The Body Artist was published. Virilio was especially disturbed that, “Stelarc, the Australian adept at ‘body art,’” chose to demonstrate his hypermodern conviction that science has made the human body obsolete by having eighteen sharpened stainless-steel hooks pushed through the back of his torso and limbs, from which his body, totally nude, was suspended on thin wires and levitated over a gaping audience.

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Exhibition Reviews

HIS MT. FUJI
“Recent Snow: Projected Works by Michael Snow”
The Power Plant | Toronto
December 11, 2009–March 7, 2010
Review by Alisia G. Chase [DDET (+)]

Opening on his eighty-first birthday and comprising seven installations produced throughout the past decade, “Recent Snow: Projected Works by Michael Snow” was proof that Snow remains as vital as ever. Snow was first lauded in the late 1960s, when his über-experimental film Wavelength (1966) was heralded as the quintessence of alternative cinema. The continual critical adulation of Wavelength, however, tends to obscure Snow’s prolific career. In addition to making films and videos, Snow has also sculpted, painted, photographed, and composed music throughout the last forty years. Here, he skillfully merged a number of these passions with the medium he is best known for manipulating: projected light.

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CUTTING
“John O’ Reilly: Art from Four Decades”
Howard Yezerski Gallery | Boston
November 13, 2009–January 5, 2010
Review by Robert Moeller [DDET (+)]

Stating that John O’Reilly is simply a photographer noted for his photomontages is a bland understatement. In regard to this exhibition, one is struck by the gamesmanship and conceptual play employed in his work, with layer upon layer laid down with evident delight and ferocity. His work skims across a Surrealist edge only to plunge back into the world before heading off in another direction, perhaps a Cubist jaunt. It is a neat trick, but one fraught with difficulty and the danger that somehow being everywhere at once might leave you nowhere at all. O’Reilly pulls it off with superb results.

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BIG DEATH, LITTLE DEATH
“Strictly Death: Selected Works from the Richard Harris Collection”
Slought Foundation | Philadelphia
January 23–March 8, 2010

“There’s a certain slant of light”
Slought Foundation | Philadelphia
February 11–March 13, 2010

Review by Colette Copeland [DDET (+)]

My name is Richard Harris. I’m 72 years old and I’m afraid to die. These opening words elicited a few chuckles from the audience. Over the past two decades, Harris, a Chicago-based collector, has amassed over one thousand objects and artworks about death. His encyclopedic collection, which focuses on the skull and skeleton, is divided into the following categories: religion, social/political protest and war, fine arts and decoration, and science and the human body. On exhibit in the large gallery at the Slought Foundation through March 8, 2010, “Strictly Death: Selected Works from the Richard Harris Collection” featured forty works from Harris’s collection, spanning centuries, genres, and media.

Harris’s twinkling eyes and outgoing manner belie the stereotype surrounding obsessive collectors. When speaking about his objects and the subject of death, he becomes quite animated. For Harris, the act of collecting is akin to the act of translating. Harris renders his vision as a means of decoding culture. Equating his collection to a kunstkammer, “a collection of curiosities and wonders, where Renaissance and Baroque art meet science,” Harris’s vision is to archive and house his collection within an institution to enable research and education. In the meantime, he is busy collaborating with several art institutions to organize exhibitions of the collection.

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ART AS REDEMPTION
“Mexico in your Senses”
by Willy Souza
Mexico City
March 4–April 23, 2010
Review by Karen vanMeenen [DDET (FULL TEXT)]

The full text of this article is available on Afterimage Online:

[“Art as Redemption” by Karen vanMeenen]
[/DDET]

VICARIOUS VAGABONDING
“Faith, Hope and Love: Jacob Holdt’s America”
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Humlebæk, Denmark
October 2, 2009–February 7, 2010
Review by Andrew Jones [DDET (+)]

The recent retrospective of Jacob Holdt’s photographs at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art presents images taken during his six-year journey “vagabonding” around the United States from the early to mid-1970s and features newer images and unseen photographs from his personal archive. Holdt compiled a remarkably intimate collection of portraits of the downtrodden people he encountered while living a near-penniless existence alongside his subjects. Whether living with African Americans in the rural South, sleeping in the slums of East Coast cities, mingling with Ku Klux Klan members, or attending gala dinners in Houston, the diversity of the subjects Holdt photographed is remarkable. The quality of the photographs is even more astonishing when one considers his lack of technical training and employment of a cheap half-frame camera to record his encounters.

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SURVEILLANCE IN SUBURBIA
“High Value Targets”
by Cheryl Pagurek
Patrick Mikhail Gallery | Ottawa, Canada
January 6–February 8, 2010
Review by Judith Parker [DDET (+)]

“High Value Targets,” a multimedia solo exhibition by Canadian artist Cheryl Pagurek, employed a diptych format to present contemporary military surveillance and war imagery from the Middle East juxtaposed with domestic scenes of a lush urban backyard to convey a disquieting sense of unease and underlying tension in the family life of middle-class North America.

Pagurek’s exhibition raised questions about personal and public security and vulnerability. As she noted in her artist’s statement, “The work opens up a space to contemplate the myriad ways in which we, as individuals, might feel under siege in today’s world.” The artist’s understated disclosure about the source of the military content—consisting of video footage and stills from the war in Iraq dating predominantly from 2007 and 2008—allows it to be read as a symbol of threat and surveillance of our time rather than a specific reference.

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Book Reviews

HYBRID ONTOLOGY
The Dada Cyborg: Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin
By Matthew Biro
University of Minnesota Press, 2009
400 pp./$88.50 (sb)
Review by Nogin Chung [DDET (+)]

From Darth Vader to RoboCop, Inspector Gadget to the Bionic Woman, Doctor Octopus of Spider-Man to Motoko Kusanagi of the Ghost in the Shell, contemporary culture has produced countless versions of fictional cyborgs since the original conception in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline. Oftentimes, they are partially composed of mechanical parts and closely associated with military activity, the experience of violence and trauma, and a sense that technology is transforming human consciousness. While the initial definition of the cyborg refers to a self-regulating human-machine system adapting better to new environments and better-equipped for space travel than human beings, Matthew Biro in The Dada Cyborg: Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin (2009) broadens its meaning as an embodiment of hybrid identity and uses it as a primary lens to examine the Berlin Dada movement during the interwar period. To Biro, the cyborg offers new ground to challenge a prevalent understanding of Dada as a critical and destructive anti-art movement and to demonstrate its constructive contribution—a formulation of nontraditional identity.

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CALLING ALL ARCHIVES
RE_ACTION: The Digital Archive Experience: Renegotiating the Competences of the Archive and the (Art) Museum in the 21st Century
Edited by Morten Søndergaard and Mogens Jacobsen
Aalborg University Press, 2009
240 pp./$55.65 (sb)
Review by Chris Burnett [DDET (+)]

RE_ACTION: The Digital Archive Experience: Renegotiating the Competences of the Archive and the (Art) Museum in the 21st Century (2009) contains an excellent set of articles documenting and theorizing the innovative Media Art Platform (MAP) project at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde, Denmark, which lasted from 2006 to 2008. The book enters into a series of discussions attempting to envision how museum practices might be reordered in a digital era beyond the already familiar display of digital artworks and use of computers in daily operations; there remains a myriad of questions relating to the impact of digital technologies on display, collections policy, art historical research, and audience reception. In particular, the changing role of the curator has emerged as an issue of deep concern, evidenced by the publication New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art (2008). As important as changing curatorial practices are for reimagining the museum, RE_ACTION opts for an entirely different strategy. Rather than focusing on the central figures of traditional leadership, this newer publication turns our attention to the grounding of the museum itself as an institutional structure and as a potential information space. The book proposes a convincing scenario of reinventing the museum through incorporating the archive at its core while using digital media as a reactivating form of social communication and networking.

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Special Section on Photo-Bookworks

RUSCHA RIP-OFF, RIP-OUT
A Portfolio by Tom Sowdon

WEEGEE BY CEEGEE
A Portfolio by Chris George

BOOK REVIEWS

Bill Jacobson: A Series of Human Decisions
Decode
81 pp./$50.00 (hb)
Review by Jaimee S. Lindvay [DDET (+)]

Bill Jacobson focuses his camera at the spaces we create and surround ourselves with— images of arrangements made on top of a filing cabinet; art studios strewn with discarded canvases and objects waiting to be immortalized by the artist’s hand; the architecture and furniture we place in our homes, offices, and public spaces. We are reminded by his title that these spaces are manifestations of our human decisions. The poignancy of the title reverberates throughout the book; the images invite us to question our own decisions and elicit a range of emotions based on the familiar and foreign spaces they depict.

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The Calumet Region: An American Place
by Gary Cialdella
University of Illinois Press, 2009
160 pp./$39.95 (hb)
Review by Philippe Gouvernet [DDET (+)]

The Calumet Region: An American Place presents a series of black-and-white images by professional architectural photographer Gary Cialdella. Not only an established artist, but an educator and historian, Cialdella revisited the region of his upbringing, a highly industrialized and residential area sandwiched between Gary, Indiana, and Chicago along the banks of Lake Michigan, to compile this collection, twenty years in the making.

Cialdella’s eye is true and more importantly, honest; every photograph is perfectly framed in order to give the appropriate prominence to the material without any superfluous information. The photographs are simple and clean, yet bear a wealth of social context that speaks volumes. The subtleties brought about by his use of the 4 x 5 format and his printing bring dignity to the subject matter that he photographs. The images of simple houses, bridges, and industrial structures, Cialdella shows us the blue-collar majesty of his childhood environs, referred to simply as “the Region.”

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Landmasses and Railways
by Bertrand Fleuret
J&L Books, 2009
208 pp./$33.00 (hb)
Review by Lucy Mulroney [DDET (+)]

One of the earliest functions of photographically illustrated books was to chart lands, both known and unknown. In the 1850s and ’60s, photography was often used to index a nation’s cultural heritage, to document travel in foreign locales, and to report back to colonial governments. During this time period, Captain Linnaeus Tripe of the British East India Company produced the four-volume Photographic Views in Madura; the French Commission des Monuments Historiques enlisted a troupe of photographers to preserve, in photographic form, the bridges and buildings of France; Francis Frith and Maxine du Camp were independently photographing Egypt and Palestine; and the American government deployed Carleton E. Watkins into the Sierras under the auspices of the Geological Survey of California. These archaeological, national, and often colonial projects—among dozens of similar ones underway from the Arctic sea to the Yucatán Peninsula during this period—suggest that perhaps the earliest concerted ambition of the photobook was to convey a sense of place.

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Omaha Sketchbook
by Gregory Halpern
J&L Books, 2009
44 pp./$85.00 (spiral sb)
Review by Ron Jude [DDET (+)]

Omaha Sketchbook is the embodiment of everything I value in a photobook. It consists of exceptional photographs crafted by an artist who clearly understands both the medium’s potential and how to exploit its limitations. Gregory Halpern brings viewers into a world that is simultaneously real and utterly fictional. I don’t doubt that the people and places he photographed are indeed part of the true fabric of Omaha, Nebraska, but they are reconfigured here in a way that mixes anthropological empiricism with wandering thoughts and sketchy recollection. With a consistent tone throughout, the images ground us in the prosaic, while judiciously extracting visual lyricism and outright beauty. They remind us that through unflinching clarity, the hardness of things can offer moments of wonderment.

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Seneca Ghosts
by Danielle Mericle
A-Jump Books, 2009
56 pp./$20.00 (sb)
Review by David Mount [DDET (+)]

Within many of us there exists a pronounced sensitivity to the eerie. Danielle Mericle accesses that capacity in her photo bookwork Seneca Ghosts. The title is as suggestive as the covers—a faint depiction of a deer on the front and a soldier in chemical warfare gear on back. These choices are made clear in the afterword, the only text in this project. Mericle took the photographs in the once highly secured Seneca Army Depot in Central New York State. In this enclosed environment lives a herd of white deer.

Individually, the book’s photographs will be recognized by a flâneur of northern woodlands. In the forest, there are an infinite number of views; each is different but familiar to the others in some way. From this resource Mericle has made finely drawn color compositions. Beyond these is something extra, which gives this work its allure.

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The Time After
by Doug Fogelson
Front Forty Press, 2009
216 pp./$55.00 (hb)
Review by Colin Edington [DDET (+)]

Doug Fogelson’s monograph, The Time After, unfolds like a film. Beginning with the sun, the opening sequence takes the reader on a shifting photographic trip through the atmosphere and into the heart of the world before extending back up into the night sky.

While Fogelson’s subject matter varies greatly, his true focus is his technique and the meaning implied by it. Through the use of multiple exposures on a single film plane, Fogelson layers content through light that recalls early experimental film and photography while conceptually focusing on time, transience, and obfuscation. The arbitrarily spaced lighter and darker areas of the image may appear as photographic “mistakes”—accidental double exposures—but are actually the careful turning of the frame and the conscious overlapping of meaning. His work isn’t so much about stopping time, but extending and multiplying it photographically.

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This special section also includes brief reviews of the following photobookworks:

Alpine Star, by Ron Jude. A-Jump Books/unpaginated/$20.00/edition of 500 (sb).

Dressing, by Ariana Page Russell. Decode/unpaginated/$40.00/signed edition of 500, each containing one original tipped-in photograph (hb).

The History of Photography in Pen and Ink, by Charles Woodward. A-Jump Books/88 pp,/$10.00/edition of 500 (sb).

Milky, by Steven Miller. Decode/unpaginated/$40.00/signed edition of 500, each containing one original tipped-in photograph (hb).

On My Mothers Side, by Emily Grimes, Back Street Books/107 pp./$50.00/edition of 1000 (hb).

Passage on the Underground Railroad, photographs by Stephen Marr with contributions from Keith Griffler, Diane Miller, and Carla Williams. University Press of Mississippi/143 pp./$75.00 (hb).

The Photograph Commands Indifference, by Nicholas Mueller, A-Jump Books/84 pp,/$20.00/edition of 500 (sb).

Sidney and Flora, by Geoffrey Biddle. Turtle Point Press/unpaginated/$29.95 (hb).

Things Once Seen, by Richard Quinney. Borderland Books/182 pp./$60.00 (hb).

Touchless Automatic Wonder: Found Text Photographs from the Real World, by Lewis Koch. Borderland Books/110 pp./$45.00 (hb).

Contributors to this section include Morgan Chichester, Romy Hosford, David Wasylina, and Kelly Watson.

FROM THE ISSUE

Current Issue, Vol. 44, no. 6

PORTFOLIO
Congratulations and Celebrations by Ellen Lesperance

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Of the Appalachian Diaspora Text by Stephen J. Quigley
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Outside My Outdoor Shower There Is a Carnival Text by Lisa Annelouise Rentz
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