Instructive Documents: Radical Pedagogy and the San Diego Group in the Long 1970s
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Ewing, Samuel Dylan
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CitationEwing, Samuel Dylan. 2021. Instructive Documents: Radical Pedagogy and the San Diego Group in the Long 1970s. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation centers on the development of a radical, political pedagogy within the work of four conceptual documentary photographers: Fred Lonidier, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, and Phel Steinmetz, collectively known as the San Diego Group. These figures initially met as graduate students and junior faculty members at the University of California, San Diego in the early 1970s, forming a self-described "working group." Through their long-term collaborative exchange, the San Diego Group developed a distinct form of documentary practice that wedded hybrid, conceptual forms to a radical social critique, often taking the form of lengthy text-image sequences, experimental videos and performances, and montaged discursive installations. Throughout this dissertation, I develop the claim that the San Diego Group's adherence to the instructive capabilities of documentary was conditioned by their confrontation with a historical conjuncture comprised of the following elements: the absorption of historical documentary from the early twentieth century into the museum and art market complexes; the discovery of alternative conceptions of political documentary such as Soviet Factography after decades of American ideological suppression; the dominant position of conceptualism within the discourse of art and its focus on the meta-conditions of artistic production, reception, and distribution; and finally, the increasing importance of the university as a site of both artistic training and political activism, as well as the resulting integration of young, New Left activists into the ranks of the so-called "middle classes" of the professional and managerial strata.
Chapter one focuses on Fred Lonidier's union-based projects and argues for the importance of solidarity as a pedagogical and relational state in his practice. I illustrate how Lonidier's art of solidarity intervenes in the fierce debates taking place among many artists in the long 1970s concerning the connections between art and labor, the ability for artists to enact social change, and the limits of institutional critique. Chapter two considers Allan Sekula's School is a Factory project as a case study through which to understand the San Diego Group's complicated relationship to the realm of higher education. It charts Sekula's reception of Soviet factographic practices and argues for the importance of period analyses of the professional managerial class in understanding the group's position as activists and educators. In my third chapter, I concentrate on what critics have identified as the "irritating" formal qualities of Martha Rosler's video work, in particular the video A Simple Case for Torture, or How to Sleep at Night. I claim that Rosler's use of intermedial montage offers a performance of unlearning the dominating perspective of imperial citizenship in the face of the United States' reactionary foreign policy. Chapter four turns to Phel Steinmetz and his project, Somebody's Making a Mistake, a work that consists of six handmade books made to resemble family albums. Filled with hundreds of photographs drawn from his own complicated family life, these ersatz albums place pressure on the genre and practice of family photography as a mode of social learning by their exploration of alienation as a pervasive "structure of feeling." I argue that Steinmetz's work confronts the supposed social cohesion enacted within the white, middle class family as the privileged beneficiary of cultural, economic, and state power in the United States. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that a sustained exploration of pedagogical relations with their audience remained a defining feature of the San Diego Group's work.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368338
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