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Event Detail

Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies 2019 Graduate Forum

May 9, 2019 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Location: Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, Room 217

The Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies Program presents its annual Graduate Forum, showcasing the thesis research of graduating students. Each student will present for 20-30 minutes, followed by a public Q&A. Light refreshments will follow the presentations.

All are invited – this event is free and open to the public, and offers those interested in exploring a Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies a unique opportunity to engage with the program’s work, students and faculty! Join us on May 9.


Angelica Hay, “DNA as a Super-icon and Advertising Image: How Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Contribute to Gene Fetishism”
This presentation explores the meanings that have become associated with DNA and the gene by critically analyzing images from Time Magazine covers over the last 50 years, using Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic model. A genealogical examination of DNA as a rhetorical object and cultural icon provides context to then understand how and why Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) tests such as 23andMe's ancestry and health tests have become so popular and profitable. Due to the contemporary relevance of at-home genetic testing, the larger part of this presentation will examine the following two groups of images from 23andMe's website: the images on ancestry test results and the marketing images for their genetic health test. Hay is interested in ascertaining how these images contribute to gene fetishism and reinforce the gene's cultural meaning over the last decade.

Mary Sjaarda, “Life, Death, and Television: Deconstructing the Small Screen with Danny Brown”
Sjaarda’s presentation will examine two music videos by Detroit rap artist Danny Brown and how the use of televisual aesthetics points towards our society’s incapability of dealing with time and history, and more alarming, our growing inability to conceive a world radically different from the one in which we currently reside. Sjaarda’s research positions our postmodern climate of nostalgia-driven media into an investigation over our current cultural impasse—when every cultural acquisition of the present embodies a vague but pervasive feeling of the past, can we perceive any sense of a future?

Katie Toepp, “Representing Disability: A Case Study of Cognitive Disability in Art”
Toepp’s research considers the central question: how are contemporary artists representing invisible disability (including any developmental, intellectual, or psychiatric disability)? To answer this question, her presentation will briefly compare historical depictions of cognitive disability throughout art history by using Michel Foucault’s historical outlines in The Birth of the Clinic and Madness and Civilization. Based on the work of Tobin Siebers in Disability Theory and Disability Aesthetics, her research situates cognitive disability as a subset of disability. After briefly examining case studies of artworks from the twentieth century, she will analyze two contemporary artists, Laura Splan and Beverly Fishman, and the implications of their work in terms of disability studies. Her argument is that a shift away from figurative representation of cognitive disability to abstraction more effectively communicates the experience of invisible disability in an ableist society.

Jacob Wiseheart, “Mirrors of Madness: A Semiotic Analysis of Psychiatric Photography”
At the surface, madness appears to be simply the quality of being mentally ill, but actually it is constructed by Western society into a complex and nuanced ideology. Western culture reinforces the belief that madness and mental illness are synonymous, from the television we watch and the images we share on social media, to the very language we use when we confront someone whom we believe is mentally ill. This misunderstanding of mental illness has been spread through both the visual and non-visual aspects of contemporary culture by way of psychiatric photography. This presentation examines the visual culture of psychiatric photography that was used in the diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill patients in English, French and North American asylums mostly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Using Roland Barthes’ semiotic theory of mythology—along with an examination of historical context—Wiseheart will analyze three different case studies of psychiatric photography and will establish the “Who, what, when, where, why, how” of the visual culture of madness, and how it became embedded in negative myths of contemporary visual Western culture.

Individuals with disabilities who require special accommodations to participate should contact the KCAD Academic Affairs Office at 616.451.2787 x1265 at least 72 hours in advance.