V i t a l C o n s t i t u t i o n s :
The Appearance of “Health” in History
Rice University’s Department of Art History is delighted to introduce its inaugural graduate conference, Vital Constitutions, which seeks to problematize the nature of “health.” All living forms—from biological to social bodies—realize unique ways to survive and at times thrive in tenuous and hostile environments. Vital Constitutions aims to explore the conference title broadly in relation to structures by which bodies, communities, societies and environments have adapted, and been sustained, when such structures become precarious. We hope to challenge claims of normativity by considering how objects, institutions, and the “natural” environment affect conceptions of vitality. Questions for consideration include: How have representations of the well, the sick, treatment, and contagion been visualized? In what ways have discursive languages surrounding “health” expanded and contracted, and to what societal effect? How do terms such as “anthropocene,” “global warming,” “climate change,” or “preservation” impact ecological debates and actions? When and through what methods have humans placed needs for “health”—be it of the biological or social body—above all else? How have artists, scientists, activists, grassroots leaders, and intellectuals grappled with representations and realities of care and castigation visually and conceptually across time and geography?
This conference intends to have an accessible and inclusive structure within and beyond academia. Our aim is for an experimental and collaborative forum that presents not only graduate papers, but also art objects, time-based media, and relics of visual culture. Artists, activists, and scholars will join the public beyond university walls to engage with a local institution or community project. A public roundtable will consolidate ideas, arguments, and strategies explored over the course of the weekend. Updates to the conference schedule will be posted at vitalconstitutions.com.