2018 Graduate Student Conference

Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University

April 6-7, 2018

Friday, April 6

Sever Hall, 113


6:00 - 8:00 pm: Keynote

Jacob Gaboury (UC Berkeley): The Age of the World Render



Saturday, April 7

Carpenter Center for the VIsual Arts, B-04


9:45: Opening Remarks


10:00 - 12:00 :  Model, Process, Display

Zsofi Valyi-Nagy (University of Chicago): A “Conversational Method”: The CRT Display in Vera Molnar’s Computer Art, c. 1975

Rachel Vogel (Harvard) and Jonah Marrs (MIT): Critical Geometries: Polygonal Meshing in 3D Modeling

Elliot Krasnopoler (Bryn Mawr College): Depth and Digitality in Gerhard Richter’s Jacquard Tapestries


12:00 - 1:30 Lunch


1:30 - 3:00: Visibility and Visualization

Théo Lepage-Richer (Brown University): Non-Visual Rendering: Deep Learning and Realism

J. Parkman Carter (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute/New School): Illuminating Acoustic Reflections: Leveraging Render Cheats to Visualize Sound

Kailyn Slater (SAIC): In, Through, and After The Sims 2: Queer Feminine Labor and Leisure in Game-Internet Space, 2004-2008


3:00 - 3:30: Snack


3:30 - 5:00: Apprehension, Simulation, Commemoration

Edwin Nasr (Independent) and Bassem Saad (Independent): Collective Futures in the Rendered Image, Three Sectarian Case Studies

Sharrissa Iqbal (UC Irvine): Mediating Memory: Ellsworth Kelly’s Ground Zero and Virtual Sites of Public Memorial

Jonah Rowen (Columbia): “So as to render the whole Incombustible”: Building Systems, Representation, and Labor across the Early Nineteenth-Century British Atlantic


5:30 - 7:00: Roundtable Discussion

Lucia Allais (Princeton)

Jacob Gaboury (UC Berkeley)

John May (Harvard)

In art, architecture, and media theory, rendering has emerged as a topic of especial relevance for thinking about the vicissitudes of visual representation. Artists such as Harun Farocki and Ed Atkins; architectural theorists including Robin Evans, Antoine Picon, and contributors to The Instruments Project like Zeynep Çelik Alexander, Lucia Allais, and John May; and media theorists from Bernhard Siegert to Jacob Gaboury have all elaborated the complexities of rendering across fields. As Allais has recently argued, “when architects learn to render, they are not only vested with a drawing skill, but also implicated in a vast epistemic scheme.” To render is to project schemes of knowledge onto the perception and representation of the world.

Rendering is an operation and an object, the production of imagery through technical means as well as the imagery produced. From the photorealistic images of as-yet-unrealized buildings used for real estate marketing, to simulation programs used in military environments, rendering is both an instrument and logic of different institutional and commercial endeavors, investigative practices, and aesthetic experiments. At once prescriptive and descriptive, computer-generated models are predictive and managerial instruments that visualize different scenarios and assess their risks. Tracing the histories of rendering entails questioning these representations. What do these images do? What roles do software development companies, research hubs, artists, and programmers play in shaping, weaponizing, and democratizing access to these imagistic tools?

How do configurations of a technical apparatus afford new conditions of sense-making? How is an image inscribed with the technical operations and disciplinary epistemologies that produce it? How is form a function of process, and process an assemblage of agencies – of hands, materials, and tools? What ontological transformations does rendering entail? What economies of labor does it engender? In what ways is rendering a procedure not only delimited by computers and their effects, but also encompassing and impacting extended lineages of training, skill, and expertise?

Rendering is a process that operates across disciplinary and historical contexts. In Beaux Arts architecture, the “rendered project” (le projet rendu), a finalized, hand-drawn solution to a design problem, was considered the standard medium of presenting an architectural work in an academic setting. In contemporary digital architecture, modeling and rendering software make it possible to generate an infinite number of permutations of any given design by manipulating a set of variables. In cinema, rendering acquires relevance alongside the rise of digital modes of filmmaking, necessitating the assembly of “render farms,” powerful computer systems dedicated to the processing of computer-generated imagery. 

Taking cue from these practices, can we think of specific turns in the history of rendering as ushering in new regimes of narrative and aesthetic production? The conference seeks to address these questions that pertain to the modes of production, usage, and circulation of rendering, and aims to foster an environment of exchange and discussion amongst a diverse set of participants across fields that include, but are not limited to, the history of art and architecture, film and media studies, as well as the histories of science, technology, and computing.

We invite proposals for presentations that engage with, as well as extend beyond, the following areas:

  • Processing: scanning, animation, sensing

  • Image factories and render farms

  • Labor: time, expenditure, professionalization, tedium

  • Machine intelligence and human expertise

  • Pedagogy, training, skill

  • Orthographic projection; descriptive geometry

  • Line

  • Shadow

  • Computation, data, algorithms

  • Technique as an epistemic operation 

  • Technical instruments and images

  • Tools and software

  • Post-production in filmmaking

  • CGI

  • Technicity of experience: phenomenology, perception, space

  • Rendering reality: fantasy, marketing, visualizing desire

  • Realism: unrealistic, antirealistic, hyperrealistic

  • Cultural techniques of drafting

  • Models, prototypes, diagrams

  • Graphics