All posts by chassica

Ahmed Matter: An Artist’s Perspective of Arabia


On Sunday, March 9, Saudi Arabian artist and physician, Ahmed Matter, will share his insights on the interdisciplinary resonances of his creative practice, which blends calligraphy, traditional styles of manuscript illumination, photography, video, and installation, to an audience gathered at the Spencer Museum of Art. His talk will follow a Saturday presentation at Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art given as part of the Echoes Symposium, in which artists and art historians will explore the relationships of contemporary artists to the legacies of Islamic Art.

Mater co-founded the groundbreaking Edge of Arabia in 2008, and since then his work has drawn international attention. Works by Mater are included in the collections of the British Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His interdisciplinary art—encompassing photography, calligraphy, painting, installation, performance and video—explores the narratives and aesthetics of Islamic culture in an era of globalization and consumerism. Recently, he has been concerned with the representation of traumatic events of collective historical dimensions, and the ways in which video and photography can document physical and psychological violence. Mater’s artistic practice is informed by his work as a medical doctor as well as by his traditional upbringing in Saudi Arabia.

Spencer Museum of Art Events Page

Echoes Symposium: Translations

Pictured above: Ahmed Matter, Illumination Makkiah (diptych), from the Illumination series, 2012, gold leaf, tea, pomegranate, Dupont Chinese ink and X-ray film print on paper painting. Currently on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum

“Interdisciplinary Approaches to Literature and Literary Approaches to Interdisciplinarity:” a Workshop in Humanist Inquiry

Hall Center Workshop

The Hall Center for the Humanities, another collaborative space within the University of Kansas, recently hosted an informal workshop entitled “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Literature and Literary Approaches to Interdisciplinarity,” organized by Jacob Rapp, a PhD candidate in KU’s department of Spanish and Portuguese. The event was part of an ongoing series of Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Workshops intended to bring emerging scholars from a range of fields within the humanities together to discuss thematic and methodological intersections and to identify larger intellectual currents that impact the broad spectrum of humanist inquiry.

This particular workshop fostered conversations that resonated deeply with ARC’s investment in experimental and experiential modes of research. Graduate scholars from geography, American studies, gender and womens’ studies, history, art history, and various fields of language and literature discussed traditional lines of distinction between the sciences and more interpretive approaches such as literary and visual analysis and developing strategies for breaking down these divisions while maintaining intellectual rigor. Participants explored ways to integrate experimental and hermeneutic approaches, a synthesis that has recently been exemplified in the work of literary scholar Franco Moretti, whose method of “distant reading” calls for moving outward from close textual analysis to consider broad historical patterns through statistical analyses and metadata mapping.

The workshop dialogue orbited around the competition between sociological and socio-historical analysis and literary or artistic interpretation, which manifests tensions between purported objectivity and recognized subjectivity that constitute some of the intellectual and practical disciplinary barriers that the ARC seeks to surmount. Workshop participants agreed upon the importance of expanding traditional Marxist and Structuralist constructions of works of art or literature as fixed cultural witnesses through acknowledgement that creative, inherently subjective mediation is a necessary facet of research in the arts and humanities.  Furthermore, the conversation alighted upon the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration as a means of incorporating expertise from a range of fields while avoiding the pitfalls of instrumentalization, or, in Rapp’s words, “other-disciplinarity.”

Times review of Franco Moretti’s work for the Stanford Literary Lab

Stanford Literary Lab

Collaborative Spaces at the University of Chicago: The Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry and The Arts/Science Initiative


Two intersecting programs at the University of Chicago are engaged in exploring modes of interdisciplinary exchange across the arts, sciences, and humanities by facilitating collaborations between faculty, graduate students, visual artists, musicians, actors, choreographers and directors. The Gray Center emerged from the University of Chicago’s arts and humanities programs through an endowment from Richard and Mary L. Gray, augmented by collaborative fellowships offered in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, while the Arts/Science Initiative works alongside the University’s Offices of the Provost and Vice President, Institute for Molecular Engineering, programs in the sciences, and the National Laboratories.

 Both projects nurture collaborations between regional and international artists and distinguished scholars in fields ranging from physics and molecular genetics to art history and theology. Additionally, each of these initiatives encourages undergraduate and graduate participation in interdisciplinary art research through various internships and fellowship opportunities. Two of the many notable artistic inquiries that have materialized within these programs are the Gray Center’s exploration “The Physics and Aesthetics of Light,” a journey of experimental research and teaching undertaken by architect James Carpenter and physicist Sidney Nagel in 2011-2012, and an ongoing analysis of collaborative strategies funded by the Arts/Science Initiative through which conceptual artist, Shane Huffman, and professor of molecular genetics and cell biology, Jotham Austin II, are working to document, map and analyze successful—and ineffective—methods of interdisciplinary collaboration.

 As is common across many interdisciplinary arts research programs in the United States and abroad, many of the investigations undertaken under the auspices of both the Gray Center and Arts/Science Initiative are manifested in the public sphere as performances or installation-based artworks with a performative component. In addition, both of these programs host informal discussions and participate in publication of books and journal articles through more conventional academic venues. The characters of the labs hosted by these programs underscore their distinct approach to collaborative dialogues; the Gray Center Lab is a tangible space that can serve as both a collaborative studio environment and a venue for exhibitions, education, and performances, while the “Pop-Up Labs” hosted by the Arts/Science Initiative take place in the realm of dialogues and seek to facilitate the fluid exchange of ideas, comparable to the conversations that KU’s own academic community has sought to inaugurate through The Commons. Further resonances with ongoing dialogues in the Spencer Museum echo through the Arts/Science initiative’s Cabinet Series, a program of performances and conversations inspired by the legacy of the early modern Wunderkammer, as a space where art, science, and innovation co-mingle to elicit wonder and inspire discovery. 


The Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry

The Physics and Aesthetics of Light:

The Art/Science Initiative:

“Exploring Artistic Conceptualization vs. Hypothesis Driven Interpretation of Observations,”

The Cabinet:


Image: One of multiple installation projects created as part of “The Physics and Aesthetics of Light,” sponsor by the Gray Center