The Impact of Disaster on Art

9 December 2021, 12:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Professor Deborah Ascher Barnstone, UTS
Associate Professor Donna West Brett, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Professor Deborah Ascher Barnstone, UTS
Associate Professor Donna West Brett, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Professor Deborah Ascher Barnstone, UTS
Associate Professor Donna West Brett, University of Sydney
Dr. Emma Jones, Assistant Professor University of Hong Kong

Disaster is an unfortunate and inescapable aspect of life that takes many forms, including natural and manmade. Natural disasters range from the effects of climate change like flooding, bushfires, and extreme storms to earthquakes and tsunamis; manmade disasters include physically destructive events like war and acts of terrorism, and insidious conditions like urban overcrowding and pollution. This panel will look at some of the many ways that disasters can have an impact on the production of art and will explore several aesthetic responses across a range of media.

PAPER #1
The Merseburg Homage: Ephemeral public entertainment and disaster in early nineteenth century Berlin

PRESENTER
Dr. Emma Jones, Assistant Professor University of Hong Kong

This paper examines the role of ephemeral public entertainment infrastructure as both contributor and responder to the censorship and sanitisation of urban life after the Napoleonic wars, through focusing on a series of case studies from early nineteenth century Berlin by the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1791–1841). In response to the disaster of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s occupation of Berlin, the city’s inhabitants took refuge in illusion, preferring to experience terror second-hand through the thrill of collective entertainment imagery. Such images and the experiences they captured reflected German artists’ consummate ability to manufacture Stimmung, defined as ‘mood’, ‘atmosphere’ or ‘ambiance’. An image or a display transmitting Stimmung could provoke a sense of spatial or temporal dislocation (Ortsversetzung), which in turn created in the viewer an emotive – if heavily manipulated – response. The practice of Ortsversetzung through temporary public entertainment infrastructure in early nineteenth century Berlin thus contained a paradox: it responded to this state-imposed censorship of civic life by staging the illusion of escape through the provision of controlled spectacle in the city. Such temporary spectacles contributed to a collective civic identity, yet they were also part of an overriding sentiment of withdrawal from public life.

PAPER #2
Lessons of War: German Architectural Responses to the Traumas of the First World War

PRESENTER
Professor Deborah Ascher Barnstone, Head of School University of Technology Sydney

Traumas of the First World War in Germany provoked a range of architectural responses from the pragmatic to the visionary. As a direct response to the grey, dreary, and violent war experience, German architects developed a raft of new forms, aesthetic concepts, and construction systems that radically altered the face of architecture. Early in the war, the German military responded to the destruction of parts of the East by developing several innovative approaches to architectural design, construction systems, and labour organisation that had profound consequences for both wartime and interwar housing production. At the end of the war, architecture was considered the penultimate art form and the salve that could repair physical, spiritual, and cultural wounds suffered during the conflict. The new optimism led to futuristic and visionary propositions like nothing seen before. Both types of solution resulted in designs that would have a profound effect on the future course of the architectural profession.

PAPER #3
Anarchy, Accidents and Calamity: Picturing Disaster in the Media

PRESENTER
Associate Professor Donna West Brett, University of Sydney

The mutual development of modernity with the photographic medium in turn-of-the-century Britain intersected with events of anarchy, urban tragedies, and a global pandemic. From the Clerkenwell explosion and mining disasters to the Spanish influenza and the Crystal Palace fire, the media recorded such events for the public in news articles increasingly accompanied by visual media such as photographs. This paper considers the ways in which the visual record was used to inform the public of such events, and the changing aesthetics of such images driven by technological advancements, public desire, and media practice.

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Biographies

Professor Deborah Ascher Barnstone, UTS

Deborah Ascher Barnstone is Professor of Architecture and Head of School at University of Technology Sydney. Barnstone’s primary research interests are interrogating the origins of modernism and exploring the relationships between art, architecture, and culture more broadly. Her monographs include The Break with the Past: German Avant-garde Architecture, 1910-1925 (Routledge: 2018) and Beyond the Bauhaus: Cultural Modernity in Weimar Breslau, 1918-1933 (University of Michigan Press: 2016). Recent publications include articles in Journal of Architecture, Journal of Design History, and New German Critique. The Color of Modernism: Paints, Pigments and the Transformation of Modern Architecture in 1920s Germany (Bloomsbury Academic 2021).


Associate Professor Donna West Brett, University of Sydney

Donna West Brett is Associate Professor and Chair of Art History at the University of Sydney. Brett’s area of research include the history of photography, modernism, international contemporary art, and cold war visual culture. She is author of Photography and Place: Seeing and Not Seeing Germany After 1945 (Routledge, 2016); and co-editor with Natalya Lusty, Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images, (Routledge, 2019). Her recent research has been published in Photography & Culture, Photographies, and Passagen des Exils: Exilforschung: Ein internationales Jahrbuch. Brett is Research Leader for the Photographic Cultures Research Group, and Editorial Member for the Visual Culture and German Contexts Series, Bloomsbury.


Dr. Emma Jones, Assistant Professor University of Hong Kong

Emma is an Australian-born architectural historian working on aspects of global print culture in architecture in the nineteenth century. She studied architecture at the AA and the University of Sydney and obtained her PhD at the University of Zurich. She has held teaching positions and fellowships with the ETH Zurich, the Swiss National Science Foundation, Harvard GSD and the Swiss Institute in Rome, and is currently Assistant Professor of Architecture at Hong Kong University.