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History of Writing: Ekphrasis

Although contemporary writing and art’s cross-pollination is frequently connected to avant-garde and experimental practices in the arts from the early 20th century onward, one doesn’t have to look far to find lengthier histories of cross-genre and intermedial work.

In fall quarter 2021, Department of Literature associate professor Amy Sara Carroll focused her “History of Writing” (LTWR 140) course on ekphrasis, traditionally referring to a summoning and summing up of artwork or visual phenomena through words. More broadly, it is understood as a writerly description of any sensory experience, including music, theater, dance and, of course, art and architecture.

“By the end of this version of class, I hoped that students would be able to identify ekphrasis as a trope and research practice within writing, and understand a history of the phenomena stretching from Homer’s description of “the shield of Achilles” to more recent work,” Carroll said. “I also wanted students to be able to apply the concept of ekphrasis to their own writing.”

To this end, Carroll built into the course a readily accessible archive: public art and architecture at UC San Diego, in part to help ground students to campus who had felt physically disconnected from the university due to the (continuing) pandemic.

For their final projects presented below, students composed their own ekphrastic engagements with these landmarks — many from the Stuart Collection, celebrating its 40th anniversary — and recorded them in audio or video form.

 

Same Old Paradise

Justin Cien: “Trees”

Recording by Justin Cien

“Trees” (1986) by artist Terry Allen
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Matilda O’Donnell-Macias: “La Jolla Project”

Recording by Matilda O’Donnell-Macias

“La Jolla Project” (1984) by artist Richard Fleischner
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Nelson Espinal: “What Hath God Wrought”

Recording by Nelson Espinal

“What Hath God Wrought” (2018) by artist Mark Bradford
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Julian Zepeda: “Chicano Legacy 40 Años”

Recording by Julian Zepeda

“Chicano Legacy 40 Años” (mural installation 2011) by artist Mario Torero
UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Jasmine Wynn: “Green Table”

Recording by Jasmine Wynn

“Green Table” (1992) by artist Jenny Holzer
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Athena Whitney: “The Wind Garden”

Recording by Athena Whitney

“The Wind Garden” (2017) by artist John Luther Adams
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Aidan Tojino: “Bear”

Recording by Aidan Tojino

“Bear” (2005) by artist Tim Hawkinson
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Mohammad Halim: “Red Shoe”

Recording by Mohammad Halim

“Red Shoe” (1996) by artist Elizabeth Murray
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Roberto Mosqueda: UC San Diego Geisel Library

Recording by Roberto Mosqueda

UC San Diego Geisel Library, architecture by William L. Pereira & Associates (1968-1970)
UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Demree McGhee: “What Hath God Wrought”

Recording by Demree McGhee

“What Hath God Wrought” (2018) by artist Mark Bradford
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Gabriel Rojas: “Same Old Paradise”

Recording by Gabriel Rojas

“Same Old Paradise” (2021) by artist Alexis Smith
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Sophia Larsson: “Something Pacific”

Recording by Sophia Larsson

“Something Pacific” (1986) by artist Nam June Paik
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Alina Woods: “Fallen Star”

Recording Alina Woods

“Fallen Star” (2012) by artist Do Ho Suh
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Alessandro Mattioli: “Sun God”

Recording by Alessandro Mattioli

“Sun God” (1983) by artist Niki de Saint Phalle
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Jillian Markgraaff: “Vices and Virtues”

Recording by Jillian Markgraaff

“Vices and Virtues” (1988) by artist Bruce Nauman
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Jessie Truong: “Snake Path”

Recording by Jessie Truong

“Snake Path” (1992) by artist Alexis Smith
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Michelle Staten: “Standing”

Recording by Michelle Staten

“Standing” (1998) by artist Kiki Smith
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Amaya Guzman: “READ/WRITE/THINK/DREAM”

Recording by Amaya Guzman

“READ/WRITE/THINK/DREAM” (2001) by artist John Baldessari
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Rhiannon Scray: “La Jolla Vista View”

Recording by Rhiannon Scray

“La Jolla Vista View” (1988) by artist William Wegman
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Alex Schmidt: “Untitled”

Recording by Alex Schmidt

“Untitled” (1991) by artist Michael Asher
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Emily Wurst: “Two Running Violet V Forms”

Recording by Emily Wurst

“Two Running Violet V Forms” (1983) by artist Robert Irwin
Stuart Collection, UC San Diego

 

Text version (PDF)

Top image: "Same Old Paradise" (2021) by Alexis Smith, UC San Diego Stuart Collection