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Visual Culture (VC) Undergraduate Courses (2020-21)

Hum/VC 48. Ways of Seeing. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. "The knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet," wrote artist László Moholy-Nagy in 1928. "The illiterate of the future," he warned, "will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen." Almost a century later, this pronouncement rings as true as ever in a world so profoundly shaped not just by photography but also films, advertisements, and video games, cartoons and comics, molecular graphics and visual models. In this course we will explore how visual culture shapes our lives and daily experiences, and we will learn to find wonder in its rich details. In doing so, we will develop the visual literacy that Moholy-Nagy envisioned: essential skills in reading, analyzing, discussing, and writing about visual materials and their circulation through the physical and virtual networks that structure our world. Instructor: Jacobson.
Hum/VC 49. Consuming Victorian Media. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. Proliferating communication and entertainment media technologies in 19th-century England vexed the imagined boundaries between humans and machines while catalyzing social anxieties about aesthetics, attention, and distraction. We will explore both "old" (novels, paintings, sculptures) and "new" forms of 19th-century media (telegraphs, magic lanterns, and photography) as we analyze overly stimulating Gothic print media in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Wordsworth's contempt for popular entertainments in The Prelude, and the inversion of imperial consumption in Bram Stoker's Dracula, a novel mediated through characters' telegrams, diary entries, and phonographic recordings. Authors studied also may include: Dickens, Christina Rossetti, Doyle, Kipling, and Vernon Lee. Instructor: Sullivan.
Hum/VC 50. Introduction to Film. 9 units (3-0-6): first, second terms. This course examines film as a technology, entertainment medium, and commercial art with an emphasis on American and European contexts. Students will acquire the basic vocabulary and techniques of film analysis, with an emphasis on style and structure, and develop an understanding of the historical development of film as both an art form and an industry from 1895 through the twentieth century. Topics covered include actualities and the birth of narrative film, silent film comedy, German expressionism, the Hollywood star system, Italian neo-realism, and the French New Wave. Instructor: Jurca.
VC 53. Making Data Visual. 6 units (3-0-3): third term. This course will explore and experiment with strategies and approaches to rendering scientific and mathematical data into visually powerful forms and experiences. Students will work towards individual pieces and a collaborative visual project that includes, critiques or presents scientific and/or quantitative data. All/any forms are encouraged: virtual/technological media, painting, performance, sculpture, poetry, public interventions, film/video, projections etc. Through the close readings and discussion of related texts, the critical examination of art that intersects with science, and independent/collaborative research experiments with various formal processes, students will gain an understanding of how the visual can: expand or constrict knowledge; pose more questions than answers; provoke extreme emotional reactions and intellectual responses; and actively involve the viewer. Taught concurrently with CS 163 and can only be taken once, as VC 53 or CS 163. Instructor: Slavick.
VC 54. Relative to You: Representing Scale in Art and Science. 6 units (3-0-3): third term. The relationship to scale is an essential component that both artists and scientists contend with. How do we conceptualize the very, very large and the very, very small and even more challenging, how do we represent extreme scales of size or time in an understandable and meaningful way? The focus of this course explores the various ways art and science grapple with scale and find ways to communicate that scale. This course will take an interdisciplinary approach in thinking and making to include history, theory, and the creation of artwork. Each student will use their major as the bounding point to explore what scale means in their discipline to conceptualize three key themes in the course: mapping, size, and time. In lectures, readings, and writing, students will explore the trajectory and visual histories of scale between the interconnections of art and science. The course will include regular drawing assignments as a tool to visualize thinking. Students will have the autonomy to create their projects in the medium of their choice (sculpture, painting, video, or creative use of technology to make an artwork). Course will contain drawing and making demos, no previous art experience required. This course will include a field trip to Mt. Wilson Observatory for a night of observing on the 60" telescope and other campus field trips to Caltech labs, including the LIGO 40-meter prototype. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Halloran.
VC 55. Visual Narratives & Colors of the Americas. 6 units (3-0-3): second term. This course focuses on various ways in which artists have processed materials from the natural world to create colorants of the Americas. Each week students will be introduced to a different color by means of practical handling of mineral pigments and organic colorants that we will process, map, and learn about its history. Specific topics will include, but not limited to, the role of the artist in articulating cultural identity, the place of politics in art, and the intersections between art, poetry and science. Consequently, students confront the course themes through the various lenses motivated by a belief in the power of the arts, civic engagements and humanities to articulate human experience in relationship to the land we occupy. Instructor: Rodriguez.
VC 60. Art/Media. Units to be determined by the instructor: offered by announcement. A practice-based course taught by a visiting artist in residence. See registrar's announcement for details. Instructor: TBD.
VC 70. Traditions of Japanese Art. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. An introduction to the great traditions of Japanese art from prehistory through the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). Students will examine major achievements of sculpture, painting, temple architecture, and ceramics as representations of each artistic tradition, whether native or adapted from foreign sources. Fundamental problems of style and form will be discussed, but aesthetic analysis will always take place within the conditions created by the culture. Instructor: Wolfgram.
VC 72. Data, Algorithms and Society. 9 units (3-0-6): second term.. Prerequisites: CS 38 and CS 155 or 156a.. This course examines algorithms and data practices in fields such as machine learning, privacy, and communication networks through a social lens. We will draw upon theory and practices from art, media, computer science and technology studies to critically analyze algorithms and their implementations within society. The course includes projects, lectures, readings, and discussions. Students will learn mathematical formalisms, critical thinking and creative problem solving to connect algorithms to their practical implementations within social, cultural, economic, legal and political contexts. Enrollment by application. Taught concurrently with VC 72 and can only be taken once, as VC 72 or CS/IDS 162. Instructors: Mushkin, Ralph.
E/VC 88. Critical Making. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. This course examines the concepts and practices of maker culture through hands-on engagement, guest workshops, lectures, reading and discussions on the relations between technology, culture and society. Classes may include digital fabrication, physical computing, and other DIY technologies as well as traditional making. Major writings and practitioners' work may be covered from the study of maker culture, DIY culture, media, critical theory, histories of science, design and art. Instructor: Mushkin.
E/H/VC 89. New Media Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. Prerequisites: none. This course will examine artists' work with new technology, fabrication methods and media from the late 19th Century to the present. Major artists, exhibitions, and writings of the period will be surveyed. While considering this historical and critical context, students will create their own original new media artworks using technologies and/or fabrication methods they choose. Possible approaches to projects may involve robotics, electronics, computer programming, computer graphics, mechanics and other technologies. Students will be responsible for designing and fabricating their own projects. Topics may include systems in art, the influence of industrialism, digital art, robotics, telematics, media in performance, interactive installation art, and technology in public space. Artists studied may include Eadweard Muybridge, Marcel Duchamp, Vladmir Tatlin, John Cage, Jean Tinguely, Stelarc, Survival Research Laboratories, Lynne Hershman Leeson, Edwardo Kac, Natalie Jeremenjenko, Heath Bunting, Janet Cardiff and others. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Mushkin.
VC 104. French Cinema. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. Prerequisites: L 103 abc or equivalent. A critical survey of major directors, genres, and movements in French cinema. Particular attention is devoted to the development of film theory and criticism in France and their relation to film production. The course may also focus on problems of transposition from literature to cinema. The course includes screenings of films by Melies, Dulac, Clair, Renoir, Carne, Pagnol, Cocteau, Bresson, Tati, Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Lelouch, Malle, Pialat, Rohmer, and Varda. Students are expected to write three 5-page critical papers. Conducted in French. Students who write papers in English may enroll in this class as VC 104, which satisfies the advanced humanities requirement. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Orcel.
En/VC 108. Volcanoes. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. Long before torrents of lava cascaded down Los Angeles streets in the 1997 film Volcano, volcanic disaster narratives erupted across 19th-century British pages, stages, and screens. This class will examine the enduring fascination with volcanoes in literary and visual culture and the socio-political tensions that disaster narratives expose. Students will analyze Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Tambora's infamous 1815 eruption, James Pain's 1880s pyrotechnic adaptation of Vesuvius's 79AD eruption, and paintings of global sunsets after Krakatoa's 1883 eruption. Additional literary and visual texts may include works by: Felicia Hemans, Isabella Bird, M.P. Shiel, Charles Dickens, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and J. M. W. Turner. Instructor: Sullivan.
L/VC 109. Introduction to French Cinema from Its Beginning to the Present. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. This course will introduce students to the artistic style and the social, historical, and political content of French films, starting with Melies and the Lumiere brothers and working through surrealism and impressionism, 1930s poetic realism, the Occupation, the New Wave, the Cinema du look, and the contemporary cinema. The class will teach students to look at film as a medium with its own techniques and formal principles. Conducted in English. Instructor: Orcel.
En/VC 117. Picturing the Universe. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. Whether you are a physicist, photographer, or bibliophile, grab a warm jacket. The night sky beckons. In addition to observing and photographing our own starry skies, we will study 19th-century literary, artistic, and scientific responses to new understandings of the universe as dynamic, decentered, and limitless. In Victorian England, picturing the universe in literature and recording celestial light in photographs defied the physiological limitations of human observation and fueled larger debates about objective evidence and subjective documentation. Authors studied may include: Anna Laetitia Aikin, Keats, Byron, Tennyson, Hardy, Agnes Clerke, E. E. Barnard, Tracy Smith, and Dava Sobel. Instructor: Sullivan.
VC 120. Landscape, Representation and Society. 6 units (2-2-2): third term. This course examines historical and contemporary representations of the natural world in art and science through a social lens. We will draw upon theory and practices from art, science, geography and landscape studies to critically analyze how artists, explorers, speculators, scientists, military strategists, and local inhabitants use environmental imagery for diverse purposes with sometimes conflicting interests. The course includes projects, lectures, readings, discussions and a 2-day field trip. Students will learn to think critically while developing creative, culturally complex approaches to observing, recording and representing the natural world. Students hoping to combine their course work with a research paper may sign up for a separate independent study and conduct research concurrently, with instructor approval. Instructor: Mushkin.
L/VC 153. Refugees and Migrants' Visual and Textual Representations. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course focuses on the refugees and migrants' images in documentaries, narrative films, graphic novels, fictional texts, poetic works, and autobiographical narratives. It investigates how these representations participate in the development and strengthening of political discourse. Works by authors such as Hannah Arendt, Antje Ellermann, Achille Mbembe, Martin A. Schain, and Sasha Polakow-Suransky will provide some context to our analysis. Topics discussed in class include the historical and economic relationships of Europe with the refugees and migrants' countries of origin, the rise of anti-immigrant politics and its significance for the future of the European Union, but also its impact on social peace, in France in particular. This course is taught in English. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Orcel.
En/VC 160 ab. Classical Hollywood Cinema. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. This course introduces students to Hollywood films and filmmaking during the classical period, from the coming of sound through the '50s. Students will develop the techniques and vocabulary appropriate to the distinct formal properties of film. Topics include the rise and collapse of the studio system, technical transformations (sound, color, deep focus), genre (the musical, the melodrama), cultural contexts (the Depression, World War II, the Cold War), audience responses, and the economic history of the film corporations. Terms may be taken independently. Part a covers the period 1927-1940. Part b covers 1941-1960. Part a not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Jurca.
En/VC 161. The New Hollywood. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course examines the post-classical era of Hollywood filmmaking with a focus on the late 1960s through the 1970s, a period of significant formal and thematic experimentation especially in the representation of violence and sexuality. We will study American culture and politics as well as film in this era, as we consider the relation between broader social transformations and the development of new narrative conventions and cinematic techniques. We will pay particular attention to the changing film industry and its influence on this body of work. Films covered may include Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, The Last Picture Show, Jaws, and Taxi Driver. Not offered in 2020-21. Instructor: Jurca.
VC/H/HPS 163. Science on Screen. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. Many of our ideas about who scientists are and what they do have been formed through media consumption - especially from the movies. This course examines how our ideas about science have been constructed at the movies and on television, and how science and cinema, their histories, philosophies, and visual cultures, are interconnected. Instructor: Shell.
VC/H/HPS 164. Fashion and Waste. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. Before the Industrial Revolution, new clothes were few and far between. By the early 1800s, new industrial recycling processes enabled wool rags to be reprocessed into new suits, and for the first time the working class gained access to 'Sunday finery.' Dressing better meant a chance at increased social mobility. Today we take for granted fast fashion and disposable clothing. This course examines the complex interrelationship among history, technology, and the ways in which we construct our own identities through clothing; visual, textile and other material culture sources will be front and center. Students will dig into their own closets, memories, and dreams. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Shell.
VC 169. The Arts of Dynastic China. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. A survey of the development of Chinese art in which the major achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, and ceramics will be studied in their cultural contexts from prehistory through the Manchu domination of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Emphasis will be placed on the aesthetic appreciation of Chinese art as molded by the philosophies, religions, and history of China. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Wolfgram.
En/VC 170. Plantation Imaginaries. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course will focus on the institution of the plantation across U.S. and Caribbean contexts and trace the circulation of its seductive imageries and imaginaries in the perpetuation of historical erasure and racial inequality. Reading plantations as sites of both unspeakable violence and vital storytelling, we will also explore those alternative imaginaries or recuperations of plantation landscapes through various aesthetic, material, and political interventions. Supported by close analysis of image and text, students will engage in the interdisciplinary study of the plantation as a powerful structural engine of visual culture, design, narrative, and modern life. Possible topics include the works of Kara Walker, Jean Rhys, Harriet Jacobs, Simone Schwarz-Bart, Marlon James, and Gone with the Wind (1939). Instructor: Hori.
VC 170. Special Topics in Visual Culture. 9 units (3-0-6): offered by announcement. An advanced humanities course on a special topic in visual culture. Topics may include art history, film, digital and print media, architecture, photography or cartography. It is usually taught by new or visiting faculty. The course may be re-taken for credit except as noted in the course announcement. Limited to 15 students. See registrar's announcement for details. Instructor: Staff.
VC 171. Arts of Buddhism. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. An examination of the impact of Buddhism on the arts and cultures of India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan from its earliest imagery in the 4th century B.C.E. India through various doctrinal transformations to the Zen revival of 18th-century Japan. Select monuments of Buddhist art, including architecture, painting, sculpture, and ritual objects, will serve as focal points for discussions on their aesthetic principles and for explorations into the religious, social, and cultural contexts that underlie their creation. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Wolfgram.
VC 175. The Art of Science. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. This course examines the frequent and significant encounters between what chemist/novelist C.P. Snow famously dubbed the "two cultures"-the sciences and the humanities-with an emphasis on forms and practices of visual culture that blur the boundaries between science, technology, and art. What role, we will ask, have visual culture and visuality played in the construction of scientific knowledge? Taking a broad historical and geographical approach, we will explore topics including representations of science and technology in the arts and popular culture; the use of photography, illustration, and visualization in the sciences; histories of visuality and visual devices; and the everyday visual practices of scientific inquiry. Instructor: Jacobson.
H/HPS/VC 185. Angels and Monsters: Cosmology, Anthropology, and the Ends of the World. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course explores late medieval European understandings of the origins, structure, and workings of the cosmos in the realms of theology, physics, astronomy, astrology, magic, and medicine. Attention is given to the position of humans as cultural creatures at the intersection of nature and spirit; as well as to the place of Christian Europeans in relation to non-Christians and other categories of outsiders within and beyond Europe. We will examine the knowledge system that anticipated racializing theories in the West. Not offered 2020-21. Instructor: Wey-Gomez.
H/HPS/VC 186. From Plato to Pluto: Maps, Exploration and Culture from Antiquity to the Present. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course covers a broad range of topics in the history of maps and exploration from Antiquity to the present. These topics range from the earliest visualizations of earth and space in the Classical world to contemporary techniques in interplanetary navigation. By way of maps, students will explore various ways in which different cultures have conceptualized and navigated earth and space. While maps emulate the world as perceived by the human eye, they, in fact, comprise a set of observations and perceptions of the relationship between bodies in space and time. Thus, students will study maps, and the exploration they enable, as windows to the cultures that have produced them, not only as scientific and technical artifacts to measure and navigate our world. Instructors: Ceva, Wey-Gomez.

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