Department Lecture Series: Taking Place

Event Date: 

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm

Event Date Details: 

Reception 5:00 pm, Lecture 5:30 pm

Event Location: 

  • Arts 1332

Cave Temples of Sichuan and the Debate of the Anthropocene

Sonya Lee
(University of Southern California)

The department is pleased to announce the second lecture in the HAA Lecture Series 2015-2016, Taking Place, will be by Dr. Sonya Lee, Associate Professor of Chinese Art and Visual Cultures with a joint appointment in the Departments of Art History, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Religion at the University of Southern California. A specialist in religious art and architecture of pre-modern China, Dr. Lee has published widely on the material culture of Chinese Buddhism.

In the current debate over climate change, the concept of the Anthropocene has fueled a powerful assumption that human activities have fundamentally altered the working of nature. The overemphasis on the human involvement, however, is in need of reconsideration. In this study, I aim to insert cultural monuments into the discussion by arguing that cave temples contribute to water and air pollutions as much as they offer a path for possible solutions to the many environmental problems we face today. Taking sites in southwestern China as my prime examples, I examine their transformation from religious centers to protected cultural properties within two interrelated contexts. The first pertains to the place of cave temples in the development of the cultural heritage management system in China. Understanding why today’s society continues to value these places by investing so much natural and human resources into their preservation would help shed light on different processes of memory and identity construction in modern China. In the second context, I explore how the designation of cave temple as a protected cultural property has changed the way users come to think about nature over time. Understanding the place of these sites within China’s heritage management system, tourist industry, and the development of scholarship and conservation efforts marks one crucial step toward writing an “eco–art history” of Sichuan cave temples.

Taking Place: When we think about people doing things, we inevitably imagine these events as "taking place" somewhere in time and space. Action and place are intimately linked, continually and reciprocally transforming one another. What we do shapes our sense of where we are; correspondingly, yet perhaps less familiarly, where we are shapes the how and why of what we do. In recent years, there has been much scholarly attention devoted to new conceptions of the materiality of place and of setting as lived experience. This series of talks aims to rethink the traditional view of architecture and space as merely backdrops to human activity. Guest scholars and artists working in different disciplines (art history, anthropology, classics, philosophy, and film) will address a number of useful and challenging ways we can begin to think through a variety of kinds of 'places' — houses, burials, theaters, even whole geographic regions — ranging in scale from a cone of light in a dark room to a collection of neighborhoods in late antique Asia Minor. Speakers will pay particular attention to the active functions of places, to the roles these material extensions of ourselves may have played (or may still play) in structuring the activities occurring within them — in preserving, maintaining, and transmitting to us the architecture of how we do what we do.

Click here to download the series poster and save the dates for these upcoming lectures (unless specified, lectures take place in Arts 1332):

  • Thursday, February 25: Dr. Ioannis Mylonopoulos (Columbia University), "Greek Sacred Architecture and the Archaeology of the Senses"
  • Thursday, April 28: Dr. Edward Casey (SUNY Stony Brook), "Place and Climate Change"
  • Thursday, May 26: Anthony McCall (New York-based installation artist), Topic TBA, Location: SOhO Club