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Gallery Reading and Conversation: An Art Historical Visual History of Stares

The Power Plant invited writer, art critic and anthropological researcher James Oscar to contribute to Power Plant Pages No. 13 about Rashid Johnson’s Fleck Clerestory installation, titled Anxious Audience. Oscar will present his text, titled "An Art Historical Visual History of Stares: The Stares of Anxious Audiences, of Black Lives, of Raw Lives, and the Regards of the Radiant" and later, his thoughts on Johnson’s work, situating the recent installation within a broader art historical scope.

Within global visual culture, representations of figures witnessing History at important political conjunctures (war, genocide, the strifes of forced labour, etc.) as well as in moments of joy, celebration and religious elation are abundant. These witnessing stares have been well documented in photographic images; staring figures populate Tran Bang’s photo of the naked Vietnamese child after a Napalm bombing; the Vaudoun participants in Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen are memorable for their ecstatic gazes; so are the stares of Boltanski’s anonymous faces, and the fixed looks of anti-apartheid protestors and civil rights marchers as they joyously convene at the rendezvous of social justice’s victories. From the history of art, one might recall the vacant gaze of Tintoretto in his Self Portrait, the knowing eyes of Klee’s Angelus Novus and rudimentarily drawn eyes of stick men photographed by Brassai in Paris in the 1930s. Now, we are faced with the glaring stares of Rashid Johnson’s Anxious Audience.

Using both an art historical analysis and a morphological analysis, James Oscar will present a visual anthropology of the stares of History’s witnesses as depicted in art. Oscar will also draw from more universal considerations to the particular contexts that frame Rashid Johnson’s depiction of a monumental anxious audience reciprocating the gaze of its viewer.

James Oscar studied closely under the direction of the poet Édouard Glissant. He is presently a researcher at Institut Nationale Recherche Scientifique. He was a curatorial consultant at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present. Oscar is a regular public lecturer and moderator of panel discussions. He has contributed to Canadian Art, The Dance Current and Esse. Oscar’s latest book contributions are “Peering Through the Ice Floes Into the Impossible-Sublime” (2019) and “The Crux Is Never Human All Too Human: The Many Worlds of Dana Michel” (2019).