Art Studio Program Lecture Series: Catherine Wagner
Today, 4:30 p.m., free
TCS Building (formerly the Art Annex)
As students, we are expected to make school the focal point of our lives – planning our schedules according to classes and units taken or devoting a good portion of our lives to earning a university education. This is precisely the kind of thing that interests photographer Catherine Wagner.
Wagner will appear as part of the Art Studio Program Lecture Series today at 4:30 p.m. in the Technocultural Studies Building (formerly the Art Annex). The event is free.
Known for her conceptual work in photography, Wagner examines influences on cultural identity, such as institutions of knowledge, science and technology. Her work is represented in the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. In 2001, Wagner made Time magazine’s list of Fine Arts Innovators of the year.
Wagner explained that her investigation of institutions can be closely linked with UC Davis. Her book American Classroom: The Photographs of Catherine Wagner addresses the ways in which our cultural identities are shaped and dictated by signs within institutional settings like the classroom.
“A lot of my work is really talking about how knowledge is transferred,” Wagner said. “In any institution of learning – UC Davis included – I’m looking at how these are set up and how knowledge is transferred within them.“
Wagner explained that simply the way in which classrooms are structured can influence the way in which knowledge is transferred.
One other concept Wagner looked at was the shift toward environmentally conscious green practices. Recent writings regarding the end of the light bulb inspired Wagner’s recent work, “A Narrative History of a Light Bulb.”
Wagner described the piece, which features arrangements of historic light bulbs provided by the Baltimore Museum of Industry, as an investigation into “the way that light plays an important role in our lives.“
She illustrated the process of photographing the light bulbs as “working with light to photograph light.”
“I was thinking a lot about the metaphor of the light bulb with the idea of knowledge or thinking,“ Wagner said. “Without light, our lives would be very different.“
Today’s lecture is a retrospective look at Wagner’s work, which in addition to photography, deals with writing and architecture. Darrin Martin, an assistant professor in the art studio department, eagerly anticipates Wagner’s visit.
“Her camera lens elicits a challenging repose to the things we think we already know, but have never truly had the opportunity to engage through their uncanny representations,” he said. “The way in which Wagner focuses upon very specific interests but keeps them alive and fresh through the framing of her lens will hopefully be a creative inspiration to all the students that attend.“
Julia Elsas, graduate student coordinator for the 2008-2009 Art Studio Program Lecture Series, explained that the program functions as a way to address the isolation artists at Davis might feel.
“Wagner’s lecture, like the other artist lectures in our diverse [program] this year, provides exposure to and dialogue with an active national and international contemporary artist,“ Elsas said.
Wagner expressed her enthusiasm for lecturing to an audience of mostly students.
“People are at school because they are keenly aware of the times in which they live,” she said. “I always think that universities are ideal for this lecture because they’re primed for thinking, and thinking is the basis of my work.“
JULIA McCANDLESS can be reached at email@example.com.