Syllabus for Dropping Out: The Aesthetics of Disappearance
School for the Art Institute of Chicago
Studio Research Course. FYP, Spring 2005
Instructor: Mary Walling Blackburn
Dropping Out: The Aesthetics of Disappearance
"We can't build an aesthetics of Disappearance on the
simple act of never coming back..." _Hakim Bey.
But we could begin to produce work that investigates this
will to break with the past, to begin anew. We will take on
the burden of disappearance - plum its revolutionary and
psychological dimensions and generate ideas and images that
unpack the properties of disappearance. The strategies used
to do this will include using the body as a source of
research, investigating artist's visions of new paradises,
and creating one's own. We will investigate patterns of
disappearance-whether it is escape or eradication-and
translate these into work. Our source materials will
include escape routes (the Underground Railroad, the
Labyrinth, map-making, flight patterns...), texts (African
Muslim dream journals, star charts, historical accounts of
Roanoke...) and other artists' literal and conceptual
dependence on disappearance ranging from Vietnamese water
puppetry to Jean Panleve's "Love Life of the Octopus", from
19th century "spirit" photography to Francesca Woodman,
from Harry Houdini to Butoh.
1. To introduce students to disappearance as a sculptural
material. They will construct objects that
intentionally disappear over time or intermittently.
2. To orient students towards an artistic practice that
3. To provide a critical framework to investigate
disappearance as an intertwining set of philosophical,
political, and aesthetic phenomena.
1. Inventing escape routes and producing an alternate
2. Reproducing vanished objects and inserting them in
3. Researching eradicated spaces and conducting a bus
tour of these invisible destinations.
4. Investigating and rearticulating notions of Paradise,
radical and old school. Founding your own Paradise/
constructing a model for Utopia.
5. Producing an archive of invisible things.
6. Fabricating and burying a Time Capsule.
7. Designing a vanishing gastronomy or impossible meal
(drawing from extinct species, symbolic ingestion,
cannibal manifestos and so forth)
Attendance is mandatory. Lateness is penalized. Active
class participation is required and graded. Assignments are
to be turned in on time. Evaluation is based on process and
progress, in other words, labor and risk.
Texts and Required Supplies:
Reading materials are generally online, distributed as
handouts, or available as downloadable files within the
course website. Art supplies will be necessary depending on
how the students determine to development their projects.
Note: The schedule is tentative and subject to change
depending on the progress of the class.
Exhibit: Prisoner‟s Inventions (I-Space)
Reading: Excerpts from Adam Philips: Houdini‟s Box and the
Art of Escape
Trevor Paglen‟s Carceral Landscapes
Writing: Glossary of Entrapment (with seven illustrations
(photos or drawings).
Making: Exercise 1: Escape Routes (due week 2)
Artists: Harry Houdini, Megan Michelak, Trevor Paglen,
Exhibit: The Harding Collection of Arms and Armor or The
Thorne Miniature Rooms (SAIC)
Reading: Excerpts from Susan Stewart, On Longing, Hakim
Bey, Temporary Autonomous Zones
Research: Begin researching Chicago as a landscape of
disappearance (buildings, peoples, animals, events,
Begin archiving your web links on de.li.ci.ous, a web site
that stores, maps, and organizes your selected websites.
Making: (choose one) The Reproduction of Vanished Objects
or A New Tour of the Art Institute (due week 3)
Artists: Sophie Calle, Fred Wilson, Gary Simmons, Brian
Jungen, Adrian Piper, Josiah McElheny, Lorna Simpson
Resources: Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Public
Libraries, small Chicago museums (police museum, glessner
museum, polish museum, etceteras)
Definition of Psychogeography:
Guy Debord on the theory of drifting:
Walter Benjamin‟s Arcade Project,
Research: Extend your research from web to actual physical
investigation of the space you will drive people through.
Making: Document your investigative process: object
collection, photos, drawings. writing, (due week 4) as one
section of An Atlas of Invisible Places.
Artists: Janet Cardiff, CLUI, Situationists, Lee Mingwei,
William Pope L., Kayle Brandon and Heath Bunting,
Underground Railroad, Cartographers.
Reading: George Csepregi, “On Sound Atmospheres”, from
Excerpt from Theodor Adorno‟s work on the ruins of music
Researching: Recordings that indicate an evacuated sonic
Making: Presentation of Bus Tour. Critique.
Artists: silo at Daniel langois foundation, bat sonar, Le
Mont Young, Nina Kachedorian, Su-Mei Tse, Ezra Pound‟s
Exhibit: Your Bus Tour of Invisible Spaces
Project 1 Due
UNIT 2 Radical Paradise
Week 6 Old Paradise, Dead Paradise
Reading: Michael Wood, The Death of Paradise
Research: Existing Paradises (biblical, pornographic,
culinaryl) (Dante, Milton, Hebrew Bible , Charles Fourier,
Marquis de Sade, Virginia Woolf‟s Herland, Spenser‟s Faerie
Queene, Theocritus‟ Idylls, )
Making: Illustrate/Perform/ Re-construct a Pre-existing
Artists: Butoh, Vietnamese Water Puppets, Francis Hayman
(Paradise Lost illustrator) White Shadows in the South Seas
(1928) Van Dyke, W. S
Week 7 Paradise on Earth: Communes, Amusement Parks, &
Reading: Excerpts from “How to Make Your Own Country” and
Research: artists whose work addresses nation and
Writing: Glossary (illustrated) of Hell (This Isn‟t
Making: See Above
Artists: Joel Sternfeld, Croatan, Van Lie Shout, Andrea
Zittel, Michael Hiezer, Panleve, Sun-Ra, multiple
representations of Aztlan, Paul Chan
Recommended: New Foundlands by George Pendle
Week 8 A Governing Force: Gods, Human, and Nation Land,
Weather, Food and Shelter and Animals
Reading: Istvan Csicsery-Ronay‟s, Notes on Mutopia
Writing: Atlas of Your Paradise: its animals, its
geography, its peoples, government, and culture.
Making: Begin making your own Paradise
Artists: Present the artists you found in last week‟s
Week 9 Your New Paradise
Making: Final Project Due In Class
UNIT 3: The Archive of Invisible Things
Week 10 Failing and Resisting
Reading: “The Museum of Useless Efforts”
Excerpt from William E. Jervis, “Time Capsule: A Cultural
Excert from Paul Virilio‟s “The Accident of Art”
Making: Fabricate and assemble and document a Time
Capsule. We will bury it.
Artists: Cornelia Parker, Gordon Matta-Clark
Week 11 Dreaming Haunting
Research and visit and document a site of Chicago haunting:
Fort Dearborn Massacre
Camp Douglas Prisoner of War Camp
The Good Year Dirigible Disaster (231 South La Salle)
Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios and the Eastland disaster
(1058 West Washington)
Murder Castle (Edgewood)
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre- 2122 North Clark Street
Reading: Interview: Paul Pfieffer and John Balderassi in
Excerpt from Avery Gordon‟s “Haunting and the Sociological
Artists: Paul Pfieffer Ann Hamilton, Janine Antoni, Glenn
Week 12 Eating and Eating
Exhibit: Field Museum of Natural History
Reading: Alan Weiss‟s “Gastronomic a-z”, Roland Barthes,
“Ornamental cooking”, Franz Kafka „s “The Hunger Artist”
Writing: Write a table of contents for a cookbook that
cannot exist, design a menu for a restaurant that embodies
some relationship you have to disappearance, or design a
new diet plan and chart for a selected focus group.
Research: Depending on your selection: research the design
history of cookbooks, menus, or dieting charts.
Artists: Janine Antoni, Wim Devoe, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Zhu
Yu, Naylond Blake, Agnes Denes, Patty Chang, Lucy Orta
Week 13 Laughter and Collapse
Guest Artist: TBA
Research: Your Final Archive
Making: Your Final Archive
Exhibit: Final Archive in the form of an Instruction Manual
or Portable Museum