Call for participants: imagining disaster in Spanish-American visual arts

Brought together by a common topic for the first time, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM, and Sorbonne University will work together on a collaborative scientific project for ten days in Mexico in 2016. By bringing together senior research lecturers and PhD students or post-doctoral students, this scientific seminar doubles up as a training seminar. Apply before January 8th, 2016.

Main scientific aims of the seminar and prospects for the future:


The purpose of this event is to bring together a group of researchers, half of whom belong to UNAM and half to Sorbonne University (research lecturers, PhD students and post-doctoral students), around a common topic in order to work together on a collaborative scientific project for ten days involving activities which are of different, yet convergent, natures. By bringing together a group made up of senior research lecturers and PhD students or post-doctoral students in equal measure, the scientific objective of the event doubles up as a training objective.


This project is open to all research lecturers and PhD students at Sorbonne University, subject to the suitability of their project and profession to the seminar’s objectives.


Presentation of the scientific argument


Media discourse is full of disasters, often associated with the elements (tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones, etc.). Within Catholic tradition, disasters have been linked with divine retribution, a concept which gave meaning to these unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. However, with time, this concept of a disaster has grown to encompass very different fields, especially anthropological disasters - mass genocides of the 20th century, for example - which have shifted the responsibility onto humans. According to François Hartog, the current ‘regime of historicity’ based on ‘presentism’ makes us see that the future ‘is now perceived as a threat, not a promise. The future is a time of disasters, and ones we have, moreover, brought upon ourselves.’ (Regimes of Historicity, ed. 2012).


A disaster is a dramatic and murderous event on a large scale which occurs suddenly and introduces discontinuity into the flow of history. However, the collective perspective of a disaster is linked with the individual perspective of those who have experienced them firsthand and survived before they took on the roles, so popular in the media, of being witnesses. How do you speak of something which is unspeakable? How can you share this collective, yet extremely personal, reality of the consequences with someone else? How do you imagine the unimaginable?


In a society of ‘risk and uncertainty’, which, for François Walter, has been characteristic of contemporary society since 1918, if we consider society from the perspective of having a cultural history of disasters and risks, ‘Western society produced images first, words second’ (Catastrophes: une histoire culturelle [XVIe-XXIe siècle], 2008). In other words, imagery seems to be naturally linked with disaster. The seminar’s aim is to explore the manner in which imagining disaster is depicted in the visual arts of the 20th and 21st century.


Seminar structure


The seminar will be in two stages and in two different cities.


First stage: UNAM campus, Mexico DF
- Mexico, February 24th - 27th, 2016. Location: UNAM campus in Mexico
- The seminar is split into three parts spread over three days:


  • February 24th: meeting of the two research teams
    The first day will be dedicated to a series of working meetings, on site at the UNAM campus, bringing together participants from UNAM and Sorbonne University in the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas. This first meeting will consist of time to present their respective institutional frameworks (presentation by Paris-Sorbonne’s faculty of Iberian and Latin-American studies and ongoing research into the visual arts (faculty acronym: CRIMIC, team 2561) and, from the Mexican side, a presentation of the activities of the Posgrado en Historia del Arte de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, a UNAM campus visit and then individual presentation time for the researchers involved with the program.


  • February 25th: intensive topical seminar 
    Seminar-workshop on the topic ‘Imagining disaster in Hispano-American visual arts of the 20th and 21st centuries (audiovisual and photographic)’. Participants’ contributions will have to be sent (at least one month) prior to the seminar so as to be able to organize the seminar with time for discussion about the works. The aim of these working meetings is to devise a collective work based on this topic.


  • February 26th: partnership with Cineteca Nacional and Filmoteca at UNAM
    The seminar-workshop will continue on the day after with a visit to the movie conservation facilities and screening venues on the UNAM campus: the Cineteca Nacional and Filmoteca at UNAM, related to the seminar topic. The seminar will conclude with a film viewing connected with the topic, followed by a debate with participants.


Second stage: taking part in a conference at the Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas (UAZ)


To extend the collective work carried out in Mexico, participants will be able to take part in a conference organized by colleagues at UAZ in various ways: by being involved with the scientific committee, by making an appearance at discussions or conferences and by chairing meetings or hosting round tables. Moreover, a project on a collective work (part of conference proceedings) will make participants work together with colleagues at the Autonomous University of Zatacas (UAZ).


  • Zacatecas : March 2nd - 5th: Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas (UAZ)

    Conference in connection with the topic ‘Imagining disaster in Hispano-American visual arts in the 20th and 21st centuries’ and on ‘Audiovisual violence and disaster, migration and drug trafficking’. The conference will study the culture of violence, especially that caused by migration and drug trafficking, phenomena which are part of the daily lives of Mexicans and which are considered as the biggest social disaster in modern Mexico. Using audiovisual, artistic and media representations, this conference will act as a think tank for these issues.


Participant applications:


The seminar’s scientific committee will select 6 applications (3 research lecturers and 3 PhD students) chosen according to their profession and suitability for the project’s topic. Transport and accommodation costs for those selected (for Mexico DF and Zacatecas) will be covered by the partner institutions. 


Applications must include:
1 - A covering letter
2 - An abstract for the seminar. Suggested abstracts must not exceed 1000 characters (spaces included) and must include the title of the abstract as well as the author’s surname, first name, marital status and institution to which they are attached.
3 - A CV


Applications should be addressed to the two project leaders:
Ms Nancy Berthier
Mr Carlos Belmonte 


Closing date for participant applications: January 8th, 2016

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