The 12th Annual Communication Graduate Caucases Conference took place on March 16-17, 2017 at Carleton University, Ottawa. The conference’s theme, Imagined Realities, encouraged submissions examining how discourses and representations of future shape historical narratives and bear on the present. Panel topics ranged from contemporary online practices such as dietary hashtaging to the literary mediation of blood feuds between brothers in the fifteenth century. The CGC themes stemmed both from domestic concerns, such the definition of advanced maternal age in Canada and the international ones, such as the political role of media coverage of cricket in India. Dr. John Shiga of Ryerson University, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, delivered the keynote address entitled “Sonar and the Eco-Sonic Imaginary.” Dr. Shiga presented his most recent research on the role of underwater acoustic sensing in the construction of the ocean as a site of contestation between military, industrial, scientific and activist cultures.
My own presentation, “Presentifying fiction at the Great German Art Exhibition: Architectural utopia in the Third Reich” was part of a panel dedicated to the discussion of art and national identity. Focusing on four oil paintings of the Great German Stadium by Otto Albert Hirth (1899-1969) presented in 1942 and 1943 at the Great German Art Exhibition in Munich, I argued that one of the most important functions of architectural representation in the Third Reich was to intervene in the public’s experience of time and history. Although Albert Speer’s project for the largest stadium in the world has never made it beyond the foundation and excavation stages, Hirth depicted the megalomaniac structure as-built and in-use, exemplifying the National Socialist concern with the mythopoeic and generative potential of the utopian imagination. I defended an object-centered approach that purposefully distanced itself from the entrenched views of the National Socialist art that simply dismissed it as technically mediocre and aesthetically kitsch. Instead, I demonstrated how the genre of architectural fantasy has been mobilized by the painter to revise the past and substitute fiction for future in a pivotal historical moment when the defeat of the German troops at the battle for Stalingrad has marked the regime’s imminent demise.
Feedback from my fellow panelists – artistis Pansee Atta and Sundus Abdul Hadi, helped me to reassess the strengths and weaknesses of my suggested methodological approach to National Socialist architectural representation and improve the clarity of my argumentation. As a result of this effort, I produced a twenty-page research paper, submitted for evaluation to Prof. Christine Ross in April 2017. This paper, in turn, allowed me to consolidate my three Comps bibliography categories and contributed directly to the advancement of my thesis. Interactions with other presenters and especially with the keynote speaker Dr. John Shiga provided me with new insights into the ways propaganda images may constitute phenomenologically-experienced media environments, an angle that may increase the relevance of my thesis research to contemporary realities.
To conclude, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for the support that that Media@McGill continues to provide me through scholarships and awards. An opportunity to practice communicating such sensitive topics as totalitarian cultural heritage to an audience of peer scholars is rare to come by at the earlier stages of research. I am all the more humbled to have been chosen as a recipient of this travel award, as it has contributed to my very first academic conference presentation. Thanks to Media@McGill, my academic career ship has finally set sail.