This site accompanies the exhibition Position and Imposition: MCAD Faculty Responds to Politics at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. It is a forum for MCAD's Liberal Arts faculty to recommend books, films, and other cultural artifacts that contribute to the dialogue surrounding the exhibition. We invite you to comment on the books, the work in the exhibition, and address how they are part of a larger conversation about art, politics, and society.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thomas Haakenson

Nick Kotz, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America
(ISBN-10: 0618641831)

Nick Kotz’s history of the debates about and passage of the landmark Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s provides a window into the challenges of achieving legal equality in a democracy rife with competing beliefs, ideologies, and prejudices. Kotz’s study showcases the wonderful aspects of democracy – cooperation, community-building, and hope – even as it reveals how demanding and distorting the mechanisms of democracy themselves can be. By focusing on King’s struggles to control and direct the movement for racial equality and in highlighting Johnson’s demanding personae and impressive political abilities, Judgment Days proves itself worthwhile reading for history fans, political theorists, and all those interested in justice and equality.

Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale
(ISBN-10: 0679406417)

Spiegelman’s graphic novel, depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats, is amazing in its simplicity. I remember reading the text for the first time, and realizing what perfect sense Spiegelman’s choice of medium made: the graphic novel as an art form might be the ideal way to communicate the emotion and felt bodily responses we have to historically difficult or political vexing problems. One gets the feeling of anxiety from the novel, recognizing how the Jews and others victims of Nazi persecution must have operated in a constant state of fear prior to and during World War Two. Anyone who doubts the importance of the graphic novel as a way of communicating charged political, historical stories is in for a surprise. Spiegelman’s more recent work on the terrorist attacks of September 11th, titled In the Shadow of No Towers, repeats this idea of graphic novel as an ideal art form for conveying the emotions of politics and of history.

Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen’s Monument to Gay Victims of the Holocaust
(Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany)

Officially unveiled during a public ceremony in late May of 2008, Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen’s monument to gay victims of the Holocaust occupies a simultaneously public and removed place on the southeast edge of Berlin’s Tiergarten. The dark gray, box-like structure echoes the design of the nearby memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Yet its windowless walls and unmarked edifice are dwarfed directly to the north by the Branderburger Tor and rendered visually inconsequential by the bright lights and spectacular displays of the Potsdamer Platz shopping district directly to the south. Incorporating the juxtaposition of haptic and optic modes of knowledge outlined in Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility,” the monument’s designers seek to familiarize the unfamiliar visitor to the invisible past through recourse to the visual present. To some extent, Dragset and Elmgreen’s monument serves its dual function: to provide incentive for further historical education and to illuminate the confounded place sexuality plays even today. Yet, as Benjamin reminds us, using haptic modes of knowledge to awaken our eyes to the habitually unseen can have both positive and problematic repercussions.

[[ Thomas O. Haakenson completed his doctorate at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature in July of 2006. His dissertation, "Grotesque Visions: Art, Science, and Visual Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century Germany," critically examines developments in the artistic avant-garde, particularly in Berlin, through the lens of scientific developments in optical technologies. He has published and has articles forthcoming from Cabinet, New German Critique, The Rutgers Art Review, and the anthology Legacies of Modernism, among others. He has received numerous research awards and residency fellowships from several national and international venues: the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Social Science Research Council, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, and others.]]

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