Guest Post: Research in Germany

Our fall research abroad blog post comes from Victoria S. who is spending this year at the Hanne Darboven Foundation in Hamburg. Thanks Victoria!

Big or small, in a museum, at an independent archive, in some gallerist’s friend’s basement, archives all have their own advantages and disadvantages, their own idiosyncrasies you won’t be able to pre-plan for, and just have to figure out once you get there. I’m doing most of my work this year at the Hanne Darboven Foundation in Hamburg. It’s pretty small. There are maybe 4 or 5 people here on a daily basis. Darboven died recently (in 2009), and they’re still working on archiving and conserving originals from her house and moving it into their fancy basement storage system. There aren’t yet hoards of graduate students knocking on their door. One of the nice things about this is that I am treated as a part of the team/family, not as some stranger who just showed up and sometimes needs stuff from them. This means, for one, that they are generous with their resources. They have a kitchen and I am allowed to keep my lunch in the fridge there. Sometimes, I even get free Kaffee und Kuchen.

It sounds like such a small thing, but it’s really nice to be able to just leave my things at my table, walk into the kitchen and make my sandwich or take a coffee break when I need to, and then go back to work, as opposed to some of the bigger archives, where you have to pack all your things up, check in with the person at the front desk who is staring at you and the ten other scholars in the room to make sure you don’t hurt the art, tell them you intend on coming back, walk to the one and only restaurant/source of food available to you, walk back, check in again, and show your ID to a few people on your way back. I get to hear a lot of German, and I feel included in the daily life/work at the Foundation. I get to see them packing up works to send to an Italian gallery for a show there, sit in on some meetings and hear them discuss how to approach the vast project of conserving the material they have at the estate.

The people are friendly, and they care about helping me get settled in Hamburg. In my first week or so here, subletting a room while looking for more permanent housing and mired in paperwork, not really feeling like I could concentrate on my work until I had my life together, coming into the foundation every day gave me a little bit of stability in my life, and forced me to do at least a little work while frantically responding to housing ads and figuring out trains and bank accounts and all sorts of registration with the rest of my time.

Of course, the smallness also has its disadvantages. They don’t have separate staff here whose job it is to help you. Sometimes, I have to wait until someone has time to gather me a new shelf of material to look at. I’ve gotten good at making sure to bring other work with me, and accepting whatever the rhythm of my day ends up being. The people at the Foundation have a general sense what materials they have in the house, but it’s not as precisely documented or organized as in larger archives. I can’t walk in and say “I would like to see document gmp55.63 binder 12 folder 2a,” or “the correspondence between Darboven and Galerie Paul Maenz.” Proper citations are going to be a nightmare when it’s publishing time. “Oh, I found this document in the Leifheit vacuum cleaner box on shelf 2 of closet 1 in the room at the front of the house up the windy staircase. I have no way to describe to you more precisely where in the box this particular document is.” But I am going through the shelves of correspondences right now – not all of which in fact seem to be correspondences. It has, at least, led to some good intellectual surprises.

The Foundation also doesn’t have set hours that they’re explicitly open to the public. They told me “oh we don’t start that early. We usually get here sometime between 9 and 10. It would be good if you got here around 10.” So I do. I leave my apartment around 9 for the bus, get there around 10:00, let myself in the front gate, making sure not to let the dog or the goats out of the yard or into the house on my way, and leave around 4:30, or whenever other people seem to be leaving, whichever comes first. I have become one of those people who stops home at the grocery store on her way home from “work.” The return of this level of structure to my day after a few years of creating my own schedule punctuated by departmental events and my own teaching, was perhaps one of the more surprising difficulties in adjusting to life here in Germany. As I’m adjusting my diet and habits to what is available to me in Germany, I’ve been thinking a lot about where and when and how I get food. I’m so used to keeping hours flexible enough that I could usually take a mid-day break to run errands when stores were open, even in the midst of exam reading. But if the Foundation is willing to have me around Monday to Friday 10-4:30ish, that is where I am going to be.

My take-away, then, for those of you embarking on your own archival research and/or first adventures abroad – be flexible. Try to find a routine that works for you given the circumstances of your individual archive(s). And don’t underestimate how much time and mental energy it will take to just figure out how to live in a new place, to find the apartment, get the visa, find your favorite coffee shop, or the Turkish market where you can get your hummus and your lentils in bulk – whatever it is you need to do to feel like this place is actually your home.

-Victoria Salinger

Guest Post: Research in China

Dear all, It’s been awhile since we’ve had a student write about his/her research experiences abroad, and this month, Quincy has kindly agreed to share two snapshots into the dissertation research he has conducted this summer in China. Enjoy! Thanks Quincy!

Lotus (He)and Crab (Xie)During my dissertation research, I had the chance to talk to a local scholar. He told me that, the other day, he gave a public lecture on rebus play – a common subject matter in traditional Chinese painting.  The painting that brought enormous excitement to his audience is a hanging scroll that depicts a lotus and a crab. In Chinese, “lotus” is “he” while “crab” is “xie”. When the two go together, it becomes “hexie”. What is interesting is that “hexie” is also the pronunciation of the verb “harmonize” in Chinese.

“Hexie” or “harmonize” is undoubtedly one of the most googled, used, and discussed terms related to China’s socio-political ideology over the past decade. You can see the frequent appearance of “hexie” on online blogs, TV news, and newspapers…  So, what makes the verb “harmonize” deserve so much attention? Let me explain this with a sample sentence: “Oh! His antagonist opinion is harmonized by the webmaster! I saw it on the blog yesterday but it is gone today!” Even though the verb “harmonize” in English evokes positive meanings like amiable, friendly, and agreement, its Chinese equivalent denotes meanings like “elimination” and “prohibition” in certain specific usages.

When Joyce asked me to write something for the Voice of CWAC, I originally wanted to write something like “15 frustrations that you will likely encounter when you conduct research in China”, “10 public places to avoid in any city in China”, and “how to protect your kidneys from unavoidable over-consumption of sodium”… I will then go on saying how many Euro-American websites are blocked (or harmonized!)… But, I am afraid postings like these will reveal the backwardness in China and its political sensitivity. Perhaps, you will tell me that “Men… are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” and thus I can say what I want to say. However, I decide not to.

Over the course of my research trip, I saw on the news, albeit from a Chinese perspective, that the relationship between countries in the East Asia is deteriorating (less harmonious!) out of border and territorial conflicts over some islands. With all the on-going and up-coming military drills in Asia, I just cannot stop thinking about the possibility of a violent war. I want to bring harmony to our fragile international relationships! I suddenly recall the lyrics of a John Lennon song:

Imagine there’s no countries.
It isn’t hard to do
No need to kill or die for
and no religions too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

I remember distinctly that, in a public lecture held in the United States, a scholar showed some pictures that decry the poignant backwardness and societal problems in China. Then, an audience member rose up his hand and said something like: “people in China will not take those issues as problems – they take them for granted. We cannot remove those pictures from their local contexts.” So, what I originally planned to write has a strong touristic foreign gaze.

Ghost Festival
It is must be at night – darkness looms everywhere. Holding my hand, my grandma leads me walking through a market filled with worried peoples, anguish monsters, and solemn deities. One deity is almost 6 meters tall. He has a dark, exasperated face, a robust body protected by bulky armor, and a glittering Guandao knife. Some galumphing monsters, who take the advantage of the opening of the gate of the netherworld, will soon see how their counterparts being chopped into pieces for trespassing into the human realm.

The above scenery comes from my childhood memory. It is the night of the Ghost Festival – the 14th day of the 7th month in Chinese lunar calendar. There is no real monster and deity but paper dummies that are compelling enough to leave a strong impact in every kid’s mind. Quite unexpectedly, I spent the Ghost Festival in a desert this year. The famous Mogao Caves locates at the west of the Gobi desert, next to the oasis city Dunhuang, China. I have longed for studying the landscape elements painted on the mural of these Buddhist cave-chapels that were built mostly between the 5th century and 13th century AD.

In the morning of the Ghost Festival, I left Mogao Caves. I encountered some mini tornados which formed under the influence of afternoon heat waves the other day. I thought I can see them again when my cab ran across the Gobi desert but in vain. Instead, the desert awarded me a mirage. I saw an ocean far away with white waves splashing to the beach… In the city, I saw vendors selling paper sacrificial offerings. The most popular offering is a type of currency supposed to circulate widely in the netherworld issued by Mingtong Yinhang (the Bank of Netherworld Currency). Perhaps, in view of the number of American Chinese, there is a vendor selling paper offering of US dollar notes!

To my disappointment, I had no strange and mysterious encounter. But my penchant for exploring the netherworld continued.  When I went back to Xianyang, I visited some Tang tombs which were originally adored with mural paintings with landscape elements – those murals are now moved to a museum. When I went into to the rear chamber of the tomb of Yongtai Princess, I hit my head on the stone beam. I almost got a blackout in the tomb. I could not remember exactly what happened in the next few hours. But I know, I was in a car, recalling how the young Yongtai Princess died…

On the Edge review

Click on the title of this post for a link to the review published on the library’s website of Kelli Wood’s exhibition On the Edge: Medieval Margins and the Margins of Academic Life, currently on view in the Special Collections Research Center Exhibition Gallery through September 11th. Congrats!


End of Year Party

Thank you Grillmasters!

Goodbye Megan, you will be missed!

Thanks Super CM!


Congrats ARTH BA grads!

Champagne reception, Friday June 7, 2012.

CWAC Courtyard

Summer is just around the corner…

Survey: Image Reproduction Product Reviews

What kind of image reproduction devices do people use?

Fifth year Maggie T. is interested in hearing about other art history grad students’ experiences using various types of image reproduction devices. What brands/types/models have worked well? Why? What kind of negative experiences have you encountered? We’re interested in more than just the scanner/copier name–more along the lines of “I bought [this model] portable scanner and it did the job but broke quickly.” Or “[This camera model] is perfect for capturing text and [this particular] setting is great for legibility without taking up too much memory.” Or “No camera is good enough that you can get away without using a tripod.” Please post your art history specific product reviews in a comment underneath this post!



Spring Quarter begins next week…

…and we are ready for your core course request slips!

Spring has Sprung!

Wintertime at CWAC

It’s finally winter in Chicago. Yesterday’s high was in the 50s and today…the first snowfall of the season.

Stay warm everyone!