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Release: March 28, 2001

Scholars gather to explore material cultures at symposium April 6-7

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Used clothing, audio recordings, tattoos and tombstones are just a few of the everyday objects that will be part of the 2001 Obermann Humanities Symposium entitled, "Fleeting Objects: Assessing the Allure of Material Culture" April 6 and 7 at the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

The symposium will explore new directions in material culture studies, which is the history and politics of the objects of everyday life, said Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, a professor of anthropology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and one of the symposium organizers.

"This symposium is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning, value and direction of material culture studies," said Mark Peterson, a professor of history in the UI College of Liberal Arts, the other symposium co-organizer.

While organizers stress that it is impossible to give one simple definition of material cultures, Peterson explains, "All of the participants have been drawn here by the opportunity to assess the impact of this subject on their own work and on the larger intellectual enterprise in which they are engaged. Material culture, whatever it may be, is obviously about the objects that surround human beings. But it is equally concerned with culture, with the systems of meaning in which and through which people make sense of their experience."

The symposium is sponsored by the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and University of Iowa International Programs.

Public highlights of the symposium include two innovative public presentations given by artists.

In the featured public presentation Friday, April 6 at 7 p.m. the New York -based installation artist Fred Wilson will speak in Pappajohn Business Building’s Buchanan Auditorium. Wilson has gained an international reputation for the thoughtful ways he explores and selects from museum collections in order to create exhibits that challenge assumptions about objects and identity and the role of the museum.

His 1992 exhibition "Mining the Museum" at the Contemporary and Maryland Historical Society juxtaposed fine silverwork and slave shackles, fancy baby carriages and Ku Klux Klan hoods and other objects from the Society’s collection to recover lost histories and unstated power relations. It won the 1993 American Association of Museums, Curators Committee Award. Since then, he has had numerous one-person exhibitions at museums including Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1993), South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina (1994), Richard L. Nelson Gallery & the Fine Arts Collection, University of California, Davis (1997), and Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, Australia (1998). In 1999 he was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant.

On Saturday, April 7, at 3 p.m., the sculptor Anthony Dieter will screen his digital work "Rez Cars, Dusty Dogs, Bannock and The Movie Channel: Our Nations First People in the Year 2001" in the Becker Communication Studies Building, Room 101. Dieter is a cyber artist and an enrolled member of the Plains Cree/Ojibway Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. He recently presented his animation, "YoungHawk Seven" in the "Who Stole the Teepee" contemporary Native American artist collaborative exhibition held at the National Museum of the American Indian- Smithsonian Institution in New York City and presented, "Is Cyber Art really Art" to an audience of Contemporary Native American Artist peers.

In addition to these two artists, the symposium will draw an international group of distinguished scholars. Altogether, 20 scholars representing many different disciplines will present work-in-progress on material culture subjects. The symposium will offer a mixture of workshop sessions open to invited participants as well as events open to the public.

Most events of the symposium will take place at the Museum of Art.

Those events that are open to the public are free and no registration is required. For more information, contact Colloredo-Mansfeld at or Peterson at The symposium is sponsored by a grant from the Obermann Center, with additional funding from International Programs and the departments of American Studies, anthropology, history, the School of Art and Art History, the Museum of Art and the Graduate College.

People with disabilities who need accommodations in order to participate in this event can contact the main office of the University of Iowa Museum of Art at (319) 335-1727.

More information on the symposium, including a complete schedule of events, is also available at the Material Cultures Web Site at .