As the semester draws to an end, so too does the Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM) exhibition The Body: Looking In and Looking Out. The exhibition features more than 40 works by visual artists and philosophers of natural science from the AMAM collection and on loan from Oberlin College Library Special Collections, the Science Library, and the Clarence Ward Art Library and is an examination of instruments of perception and discovery. The objects in the exhibition—lenses, mirrors, cross-sections, and vanishing points—challenge viewers to examine the relationship between the truth and our ideas about truth, to imagine what can be known but never accurately portrayed, and to examine the technologies and media that, in turn, look at us.
The exhibition bodes nicely with AMAM’s 2015-16 theme, The Body, but is also distinguished because it was curated not by AMAM staff, but by Associate Professor of English Wendy Hyman and students in her spring 2015 senior seminar Words and Things. Chair and Professor of Comparative American Studies Wendy Kozol also provided curatorial assistance.
On December 8, Kozol will speak about the exhibition at the monthly AMAM event, Tuesday Tea. She offers a sneak peek of her presentation now.
How did you become involved with the Allen Memorial Art Museum exhibit The Body: Looking In and Looking Out?
Wendy Hyman and I are office neighbors and talk often about shared interests in questions of representation and embodiment. When she told me about her plans for curating an exhibit with her seminar students, I got very excited about the questions at the heart of the exhibition. I teach the course Visible Bodies and the Politics of Sexuality that addresses related questions. In our first conversations, we explored the possibility of getting both courses involved, but that couldn't work out logistically, as her seminar class was in spring 2015, and I am teaching my course this semester. As a result of these conversations, Wendy invited me to assist her and her students on the show.
This fall in Visible Bodies and the Politics of Sexuality, my class has taken the objects from this exhibit and designed their own show using concepts from our course. They have created a virtual exhibit using Omeka, a free Internet collections-management program. The students have presented it to Allen Memorial Art Museum staff, and some of them will join me for the Tuesday Tea on December 8.
Who did you work with at the museum, and what was it like to coordinate with the museum staff?
We worked most closely with Liliana Milkova and her assistant. We also consulted with the curators, Andaleeb Banta and Denise Birkhofer, as well as Director Andria Derstine. During the installation process, Megan Harding, Kendall Christian, and Michael Reynolds were enormously helpful. Everyone was extremely supportive and patient as we learned the ins and outs of curating an exhibition.
Did you collaborate with Wendy Hyman’s students?
I visited Wendy's seminar to talk with the students about their work on the exhibit and to discuss the challenges of writing object labels. I then also joined the class at the museum as they designed the layout for the exhibition. It was very rewarding to work with the students who were extremely knowledgeable about their specific sections and deeply committed to producing a high-quality exhibition. I was most impressed with how committed they were to the process and how effective they were at discussing, listening, and learning from each other.
Collaboration with the English majors in the spring, in turn, prepared me to work with students in my fall semester class. I had a keener understanding of the challenges they would face with regard to both curating coherent themes and writing for non-academic audiences.
What are you most proud of about this exhibit?
Students and faculty worked hard to bring coherence to the range of objects in the exhibition. This was fairly challenging as the show is thematically oriented, rather telling a chronological story. I am particularly impressed with the students' work on the section and object labels, for they are both informative and accessible.
What is one of the takeaways you learned from this process?
The biggest takeaway is the joy of collaboration. So much of what academics do is individual research and individual class preparation. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to work closely with my colleague Wendy Hyman, as well as to get to work with some very talented English majors.
Tuesday Tea featuring Wendy Kozol will be held from 2:30-4 p.m. on December 8 in the East Gallery. The exhibition The Body: Looking In and Looking Out will be on display in the Ripin Print Gallery through December 23.
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