SAVAnT: a research network in American visual art and culture
SAVAnT (Scholars of American Visual Arts and Text) is a research network that aims to foster dialogue between Americanists and Art Historians working on American art and visual culture. It was founded by Joanna Pawlik (Art History, Sussex) and Doug Haynes (American Studies, Sussex) in August 2014.
We seek to investigate some of the different methodologies and emphases in approaches to visual material in Art History and American Studies and to think through how our teaching and research might benefit from interdisciplinary and inter-departmental exchange. Participants in the network are based in universities across the UK, at all career levels. We have recently begun working with the CHASE consortium; our plans are to extend the network further to create an academic community and research base in the hitherto relatively unexplored junction of American Studies and Art History.
SAVAnT so far:
An inaugural roundtable took place in September 2014 in Senate House, London. Fourteen invited participants addressed issues of concern to the network, such as how questions of (inter)disciplinarity in the study of American art and visual culture have affected career paths, teaching and research, as well as practical issues of which publishers, journals, conferences and REF panels we submit our research to. This meeting proved very fruitful and some longstanding academic ties were forged there; many participants recognised the institutional disjunction SAVAnT was formed to address.
In April 2015, a SAVAnT panel was convened for the BAAS (British Association for American Studies) conference in Northumbria. In “Objects in Narrative”, speakers presented to a packed room on a diverse range of American art and visual material – from Civil War paintings of domestic interiors to postcards and mail art, and from the commodity aesthetics of Jeff Koons to cultural production exploring migration and exile by contemporary Chicana and Cuban American artists.
On July 10, 2015 SAVAnT hosted Facing America, a symposium co-sponsored by the Sussex Centre for American Studies and the Eccles Centre at the British Library. Professor Celeste Marie Bernier (Nottingham) and Professor David Peters Corbett (UEA) were keynotes.
The event explored the many ways in which faces, “facingness” and faciality can be understood in American art and visual culture. Papers addressed such areas as the painting of George Caleb Bingham, African-American portraiture, Native American portraits, presidential portraits, post-AIDs identity, Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs of the Soviet Union, faces in surveillance, Scarlet Johansson’s face on the cinema screen, and much else. Speakers came from UK, US and European universities. This was a wonderful event with excellent papers, many guests and plenty of informed and enlightening discussion. An edited collection of essays will, we hope, be forthcoming from this symposium.
In conjunction with the CHASE consortium (in this case primarily working with Sussex, Essex, UEA and the Courtauld), SAVAnT participated in a follow-up event to Facing America: Chasing America! The purpose of this event was to ascertain the range and detail of interest in American visual culture across CHASE in the fields both of PhD students and faculty research. The day showed us that there is considerable interest and expertise in art history, visual culture and American Studies in the consortium; SAVAnT seeks to enhance this intra-CHASE network through its connections with academics and research students from other universities and institutions in the UK and US.