PASC 2020 Symposium
The Politics and Poetics of Absurdity in Avant-Garde Art and Thought
Friday, Dec. 4, 2020
Click "Download File" below for a PDF of our program for "Ad Absurdum," including links to presenters' exhibitions, websites, videos, and other resources.
Click "Download File" below for a PDF of the poems Jesse Glass was scheduled to read at the 'Ad Absurdum' webinar. Technical problems prevented his participation, and we hope to present his reading at another time.
The Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium presents its Symposium:
“Ad Absurdum: The Politics and Poetics of Absurdity in Avant-Garde Art and Thought”
Friday, December 4, 2020, 1 to 4 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Time, free online),
hosted by Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts
in the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library.
Cheryl Harper, rod jones ii, Theodore A. Harris, John Heon, Laurel V. McLaughlin, Orchid Tierney, Loraine Wible, Lindsey Whittle, Steve Kemple, Tina Brock and Peggy Mecham for The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, and Barbara Yoshida and Ralph Lewis for Peculiar Works Project. Renowned poet Jesse Glass was scheduled to read from his works; unfortunately, technical problems prevented his participation,
and we hope to present his reading at another time.
The topic of the 2020 Symposium was perhaps inevitable. It’s been a banner year for absurdity, and the contemplation of the absurd has been one of the most salient features of avant-garde art and thought from the nineteenth century to the present. From Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, to Camus, Sartre, and Baudrillard; from Jarry, Stein, and Kafka to Ionesco, Beckett, Artaud, and Kathy Acker; from Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Baroness Elsa, and Dali to Bruce Nauman, Carolee Schneemann, and Jenny Holzer; from Schoenberg, Cage, and Glass, to Frank Zappa, The Talking Heads, and Père Ubu (the band), the modern mind has grappled with life in an increasingly entropic and violent world that seems to crush meaning, justice, and individual agency.
With a history of bewilderingly rapid social, economic, and technological change alongside global war, genocide, and political oppression, the modern/postmodern era has often induced a sense of fragmentation and futility. This has led to philosophical and artistic views of absurdity as both a problem and a solution, ranging from humor noir satires of the laughably evil to zen-like meditations on the mind-bending, contradictory nature of existence. In certain cases, the embrace of the absurd can also be a “logically illogical” reaction against the blind adherence to scientific rationality that spawned nuclear proliferation and the game-theory strategy of mutual assured destruction, à la Dr. Strangelove.
In examining avant-garde figures, groups, theories, and movements (roughly 1875 to the present; local, national, or global), we consider the events, historical, political, personal, intellectual, or aesthetic, that gave rise to a particular artist’s, thinker’s, or movement’s presentation of the absurd. Did the absurd induce depression, liberation, paralysis, revolt, nausea, or some combination of these? How did the celebration or rejection of the absurd influence the form and content of the work? Does the artist/thinker believe that meaning is still possible in the face of absurdity? What is the relationship between absurdity and humor in the work of this artist/thinker? What role did science and technology play in this artist or thinker’s use of absurdity?
PASC symposia are always free and open to the public.
Welcome from David McKnight, PASC Co-Director and Director of the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
Laurel V. McLaughlin: Networks of (Be)longing, or an Exhibited Speculation on “Absurd” Social Aesthetics, with video from artist Mengda Zhang about her work, Dust-free Chatroom, 2018-present.
Orchid Tierney: Gaseous Modernity
Barbara Yoshida, playwright, and Ralph Lewis, director: Language Games, produced by Peculiar Works Project
Cheryl Harper: Passages: An Installation in Progress; and rod jones ii: to interrogate ye archive
Artist team Loraine Wible, Lindsey Whittle, Steve Kemple, and an Artificial Intelligent: A(rtistic) x P(owerful) x I(nteresting)
Jesse Glass: Poetry
Tina Brock and Peggy Mecham: Previewing Enda Walsh’s The New Electric Ballroom, the next production of The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium
John Heon and Theodore A. Harris: Art Unmasking Art: A Dialogue with Theodore A. Harris
Closing Remarks from John Heon, PASC Co-Director
PASC would like to thank
University of Pennsylvania Libraries
Kislak Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts University of Pennsylvania Libraries