Kailani Polzak

Kailani Polzak’s research focuses on European visual culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with particular attention to histories of science, aesthetic philosophy, race, colonialism, and intercultural contact in Oceania. Her current book project, “Difference Over Distance: Visualizing Contact between Europe and Oceania,” examines the graphic and printed works created in relation to so-called “Voyages of Discovery” conducted by Britain, France, and Russia in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaiʻi in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and traces how these pictures were marshaled in arguments about the origins of human difference in Europe. She also maintains a methodological interest in the questions raised by writing about and curating colonial histories from multiple perspectives. To that end, she co-curated an exhibition with Sonnet Kekilia Coggins, “ʻThe Field is The World’: Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making,” at the Williams College Museum of Art in 2018.

Alexis L. Boylan

Alexis L. Boylan is the director of academic affairs of the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) and a professor with a joint appointment in the Art and Art History Department and the Africana Studies Institute. She is the author of Visual Culture (MIT Press, 2020), Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), co-author of Furious Feminisms: Alternate Routes on Mad Max: Fury Road (University of Minnesota, 2020), editor ofThomas Kinkade, The Artist in the Mall (Duke University Press, 2011), and editor of the forthcoming Ellen Emmet Rand: Gender, Art, and Business (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020). She has published in American ArtArchives of American Art Journal, Boston ReviewJournal of Curatorial Studies, and Public Books. Her next book focuses on the art created for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City and how art and science antagonize and inspire cultural dialogues about truth and knowledge. https://art.uconn.edu/person/alexis-boylan/

Kyle Parry

Kyle Parry works at the intersections of digital media, critical theory, visual culture, and the environmental humanities. His book project, A Theory of Assembly: From Museums to Memes (University of Minnesota Press, ~2022), argues for the power and pervasiveness of a transmedia cultural form called assembly. A second book project, Ubiquity: Photography’s Multitudes (Leuven University Press, 2021), is a co-edited collection on the history and theory of photographic ubiquity. Kyle’s website is kparry.com.

Refract and the University of California

The Editorial Board

Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal was established in 2017 to create a space for diverse voices across academic disciplines and institutions. To this end, we, the editorial board (EB), chose to not explicitly associate ourselves with the History of Art and Visual Culture Department (HAVC) at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), or with the University of California (UC) more broadly. This was done in an effort to act autonomously as graduate students, who, as the future of academe, sought to work without the direct input, influence, or affiliation of the larger institution in which we work. Stating that we are autonomous was an ideological position meant to provide us with expanded possibilities for experimentation within both visual studies and the world of academe writ large.

Yet this conscious removal has allowed us to “opt out” of the injustices that plague UCSC and the UC today. In this sense, autonomy is an abstraction that refuses to acknowledge the realities of our position—a reality in which we remain nestled within an exploitive, racist, and neocolonial system. We find that such an abstraction no longer (and never) serves Refract or the communities that we aim to support through our mission. This letter not only acknowledges our position within the UC but also firmly takes a stand against those actions that we find unconscionable, and in solidarity with those groups that are actively working to dismantle oppressive structures underpinning the world of academe and public education.

Refract’s editorial board is composed of PhD students at UCSC, currently from the HAVC and Literature Departments. Our advisory board is exclusively faculty from HAVC. Our scholarship is continually influenced by our respective departments’ course requirements, missions, and internal philosophies. While our areas of expertise vary greatly, the diversity of our EB is shaped and limited by UCSC. At this time, the EB does not intend to solicit members from outside UCSC, though we do hope to represent more arts and humanities departments in the near future.

Refract is most reliant on the UC through our finances. There is no funding for Refract that is external to the UC, and all money we receive is held and distributed by the UC. We routinely take advantage of UCSC’s internal fundraising opportunities, such as Giving Day, to solicit money from UC alumni and affiliates. As a nascent journal, our finances are insecure, and we do not monetarily profit from our publication. While we aim to expand our donors and grants outside the UC, we will need to continue using the UC as our “bank.” The EB is adamant that no financial gifts influence Refract’s content while understanding the precariousness of our dependence on UC money. As Fred Moten and Stefano Harney write in The Undercommons, “the only possible relationship to the university today is a criminal one . . . one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can.”1

The above illustrates the ways in which Refract is not a wholly autonomous entity. We function within the UC and are deeply influenced by it, not only in terms of our scholarship and finances but also by the UC’s actions. As both students and employees, we have observed exploitation by the UC and experienced firsthand the callousness of its actions against graduate students, undergraduates, staff, adjunct faculty, communities of color, and Indigenous peoples  and lands.

It is impossible to acknowledge our own position within the UC system without also acknowledging the fact that the UC is a settler colonial institution. UCSC is located on unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe, currently stewarded by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. The UC has a history of developing its campuses on sacred, unceded grounds. In fact, the UC is a land-grant institution, which means it emerges out of a federal program that allotted stolen Indigenous land to Union members during the Civil War for the sole purpose of selling that land to fund public universities.2 Most recently, the UC has contributed $68,000,000 to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project, set to be built on the sacred Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaiʻi. The Mauna Kea Protectors have demanded that the UC divest from the project, and we stand with all those who demand the protection of sacred lands.

We also stand in solidarity with those communities who are marginalized and targeted by the structural inequalities embedded in the UC system. Students of color continue to meet resistance and challenges to UC admission and once there must fight to thrive as students and community members.3 In this moment of heightened unrest over racial inequality, most notably brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement, we want to consider our specific position in Santa Cruz, California, and support our immediate community that has been marginalized by UCSC. For instance, the UC is one of the largest landlords in California and contributes to student houselessness. UCSC has contributed to houselessness in Santa Cruz county at large by influencing market prices for housing. Graduate student employees receive wages that do not meet the increasing cost of living in the county, and last year graduate students at UCSC initiated a wildcat strike for a cost of living adjustment (COLA). This strike received national attention after graduate students participated in a grading strike and were subsequently fired for their actions. Eighteen students experienced physical and emotional trauma at the hands of police during peaceful protest, while the UC spent in excess of $5.7 million to suppress protesters. Currently, in the wake of BLM protests, a coalition of UC students, staff, and faculty is working to get “cops off campus.”

While the EB does not represent all the communities who are marginalized and policed by the UC, we stand in solidarity with the Undocu-Collective, Black Student Union, and land defenders. These groups, who represent BIPOC students on our campus, demand a more equitable and just university, which includes a safe learning environment; increased housing guarantees for students who are undocumented, Black, and affiliated with the Disability Resource Center (DRC); the removal of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from campus; and finally unionization and a living wage for working graduate students across the country.

The EB is dedicated to envisioning a different university founded on the principles of accessibility, equity, justice, and decolonization. This list is, of course, incomplete and ongoing, but it is our starting point. The UC has a long way to go, and the EB recognizes that we do too. No longer will we be silent in the face of the UC’s injustices, as silence is complicity. As an academic publishing project, we have been complacent in perpetuating gatekeeping and hierarchies. But we believe knowledge production should be nonhierarchical, and we want Refract to reflect this. Therefore, some of our efforts to intervene in structural inequalities include but are not limited to featuring diverse and underrepresented perspectives in our “Voices of Visual Studies” feature; providing paid internships for undergraduates, especially first-generation and BIPOC students; mentoring fellow graduate students through the peer review and editing process; making the journal accessible to people with disabilities; and finally disseminating our work through open access platforms. We will continue to update you on the additional steps we take in the next year, and we welcome your partnership and accountability in this ongoing endeavor.

Thank you,

Refract’s editorial board


1. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, (New York City, NY: Minor Compositions, 2013), 26.

2. The Morrill Act was passed in 1862 and granted thirty thousand acres of Indigenous to Union states, which then sold that land to fund “the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college” (Morrill Act, sec. 4, para. 7, quoted in la paperson, A Third University Is Possible [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017], 26). UC Berkeley, the first of the UC system, is the product of this program, as it was formerly the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College and funded from the sale of Ohlone lands to homesteaders in the area (see paperson, A Third University Is Possible, 28).

3. One of our interventions is to center marginalized voices. Students have been vocal about their personal experiences on social media, in activist spaces, and on campus; we believe them.

Hauntings and Traces: Introduction

The Editorial Board

This volume of Refract investigates the power dynamics of (in)visibility through “haunting” and the “trace.” A form of way making, the trace offers itself as an object, subject, and action, as both a remnant and a becoming. Haunting similarly defies legibility in that it occupies a discomforting space between something/somebody and nothing/nobody—not simply a vestige of previous realities but an active force that unsettles life-and-death worlds. As a journal of visual studies, Refract is drawn to the power dynamics inherent in the zone between the visible and the invisible: a zone that the haunting and the trace both inhabit. This introduction does not seek to define hauntings and traces per se, but hopes instead to offer spaces for their forms to emerge. One starting point is the tension between absence and presence instantiated by the terms haunting and the trace.

Absences and presences index each other: for something to be absent, something else must be present. This issue of Refract is interested in the tensions between the material absence of the trace and the material presence of the haunting. We ask, what might a close engagement with both reveal about memory, kinship, historical narratives, and power? How might we employ this principle in the study of visual and material culture? How do we study the materiality of the invisible, the remnant, the always-becoming? How might we locate power in the creation and mobilization of the trace, and how are knowledge regimes formed and deformed by hauntings? And finally, how might these terms be considered in other cultural and historical contexts that operate outside colonial ways of being?

Akira Lippit writes that the trace is an “erasable sign and sign of erasure that erases as it signs and is in turn erased already.”1 The trace therefore gives itself to this sort of enfolding logic—an erasing erasure—because the material form of an absence is difficult to describe, to sense, and to access. Anything material necessarily has a presence, but in the case of the trace that presence is no longer in the here and now. The agential force that created the trace has already been and gone, such as in Montana Torrey’s contribution, “Floodplain (126).” This installation explores the material and affective remains of Wiang Kum Kam, an ancient city in northern Thailand that was flooded by the Ping River and subsequently abandoned over seven hundred years ago. Treating the archaeological site not only as a trace of the city but also as a trace of the river path itself, Torrey re-creates the bricks used to construct the city, but renders them weightless by hanging them in uniform suspension. The video of the installation captures the slight movement of the bricks to evoke the movement of water as it flowed throughout the city, a reminder of the past even while its material presence is lost to history.

Seb Wigdel-Bowcott’s essay, “Mining Things: Confronting Loss and Flux in the Slate Industry Ruins of Northwest Wales,” similarly engages with issues about recovering the past by discussing an eerie encounter at an abandoned slate mining site in Wales. By combining affect theory with Bill Brown’s thing theory, Wigdel-Bowcott explores the simultaneity of deeply personal and social facets that go into the remembering and memorializing of the past. By analyzing the ways in which sites of remembrance create a multiplicity of lingering sensations and impressions, the author shows how they defy the odd impulse to create a grand narrative out of their histories.

To further unpack the complexity of historical narratives and memory, we invited Professor Christina Maranci to contribute a photo essay titled “In the Traces: Reflections on Fieldwork in the Region of Ani,” which features photographs from recent visits to a few of Armenia’s medieval monuments. Maranci describes the traces of the past and markings of the present on the churches and other structures usually off-limits to visitors. Her photographs capture the vicissitudes of time and political and religious change inscribed in and around the buildings. The photographs are both intimate and didactic; they convey the beauty of the buildings and remind us of the lives spent erecting, using, and reusing them since late antiquity.

The contributions by Torrey, Wigdel-Bowcott, and Maranci each engage with the material remnants of history, or what this volume might term the traces, the material absences, of the past. Other contributions deal with memory and belonging as another kind of trace, one that is embodied, affective, and lived even while its material trace is less apparent. For instance, we invited a contribution from Professor Boreth Ly, whose recently published book Traces of Trauma: Cambodian Visual Culture and National Identity in the Aftermath of Genocide (University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2020) focuses on contemporary Cambodian visual culture that addresses the lasting trauma of the civil war, secret bombings by the United States, and the Khmer Rouge genocide. For her contribution to the present volume, Ly was interviewed by three of her PhD students at the University of California, Santa Cruz: Catherine Ries, Michelle Yee, and Christina Ayson Plank. Their thoughtful interview touches directly on the concept of the trace, which encompasses the Khmer word snarm, meaning “a scar and footprint,” as well as the Khmer concept of baksbat, meaning “broken body.” In these iterations, the trace is securely situated in local and continental Cambodian theories, but the interviewers open up the conversation to understand how the residue of trauma exists in many facets of contemporary life globally, from Cambodian diasporas to the Black Lives Matter movement to the role of museums and monuments.

The contributions by Maranci and Ly engage with the personal histories and identities at stake in engaging with the past. Other contributors are even more explicit about this, sometimes using their own family photos or genetic data in their work. The multidisciplinary artist Hilary A. Short, for instance, presents two projects that interrogate heteropatriarchal definitions of genealogical relationships. One of the projects, Bloodlines, visualizes the artist’s own familial data (accessed through Ancestry.com) horizontally in Microsoft Excel to form an oozing bloodline down a long sheet of crisp paper. This visualization disrupts the metaphor of the family tree and seeks to eschew the more familiar arboreal marker in order to destabilize the impulse to organize ancestry visually through heteropatriarchal relations. Instead, Short’s visualization links the viscerality of blood with raw data in order to reveal and visualize traces of familial data in our ancestries, as shared through blood, and to problematize the familial bloodline as the mechanism of making kin. How might we revisualize and reimagine making kin in ways that position collectivity and connectivity as superseding biological ancestry?

Ellen Takata, whose series of diaristic reflections titled “My Love to Be Defused: Beginnings of an Ethics of Belonging through Negotiations of a National Socialist Image in Daily Life, from Infancy to Adulthood,” interrogates the complexities of collective identities and the problematics of traumatic cultural legacies. Takata’s palimpsestic entries chronicle an ongoing internal dialogue with fictional versions of Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, Jesus, and mid-twentieth-century German actor Rudolf Schündler, each of whom represents aspects of Takata’s personal and familial history as linked to her evolving perceptions (both visual and intellectual) of historical figures in her daily life. In conjunction with the snippets of text, the accompanying images render visible the very impossibility of capturing the intangible, affective cinematic spaces through which she negotiates a sense of belonging. Takata’s “conversations” act as a liminal space in which to safely and critically ruminate on our attachments to the visual as a way to position ourselves in relation to others; to question the trace as reappropriated in the present; and to confront the banality of the monstrous and the ambivalence of familiar aspects of our own identities.

Like Takata, Ana García Jácome considers her own family history in terms of absences and presence. In the photo essay “It’s Like She Had Never Existed: The Family Story and the Assembly of Disability,” García Jácome meditates on the intersections of disability and Latin American studies, memory, translation, and personal history. Through a collage of narrative and material pieces, including photos, self-portraits, and medical documents, the essay excavates the silence around her aunt’s cerebral palsy, her Mexican family’s relationship to illness and caretaking, and García Jácome’s own disability. The space carved by mobility—between countries, languages, and discourses—causes García Jácome to reflect on disability’s private and public lives and its entanglement with the English language, US politics, and UN development initiatives. Conjuring her sister’s ghost and unfolding the layered histories of her memory, the artist finds her own traces and the grounds of her artistic practice.

In a different approach to issues of family, memory, and belonging, Whitney Lea Sage renders suburban Detroit through monochromatic ink paintings titled in “Traces, Fragments & Voids: An Artist Representing Detroit’s Vanishing Homeland.” In the artist’s Homesickness series, lush landscapes of overgrown foliage crowd aging house foundations or the white space that marks the erasure of built environments. The series meditates on the history of industrialization and suburban migration in the Rust Belt and the material and psychological ghosts they leave behind: empty storefronts, architectural skeletons, scarred plots of land, emotional longing, and nostalgia for place. In a reflective artist’s statement, Sage notes that Detroit’s Black and minority communities disproportionately shouldered the burden of stereotypical representations of Detroit as a city in decline. Informed by her own coming-of-age and adult nostalgia for the suburbs, her work attempts to hold these misrepresentations accountable and knit conflicting perspectives of outsiders and insiders together through the documentation of site and memory.

For Short, Takata, García Jácome, and Sage, memory and genealogy are continually present, perpetually haunting them through photography, genetic data, the built environment, or an amorphous feeling of belonging. Just as the trace is a material absence, so the haunting is a material presence—a doubling or layering, a thickness of time and space. As Karen Barad puts it, “Hauntings are an integral part of existing material conditions.”2 In turn, Angie Morrill, Eve Tuck, and the Super Futures Haunt Qollective write, “Haunting is a mattering.”3 As the physical sciences have taught us, matter is neither created nor destroyed but only ever transformed. As a “mattering,” hauntings and traces are not coming out of (or disappearing into) “nowhere”; they emerge from something and are constantly being constructed, co-constructed, and de-constructed so as to act with and on the world(s) they possess and cut through. They are transfigured as they come into being and are made (in)to “matter.” This process manifests itself as a haunting or trace in various, mutable, and constantly emergent ways.

It is because of this mutable, emergent nature that they have the capacity or potential to bridge past, present, and future as well as to link disparate spaces, places, and structures of feeling to each other. But the transformative character of both hauntings and traces also makes them difficult to identify, name, or locate. Laura Ann Stoler writes, “To be haunted is to be frequented by and possessed by a force that not always bears a proper name.”4 Nevertheless, that force is a kind of power, one that acts sometimes insidiously or invisibly because of its very creation through transformation and continual emergence and reemergence. In other words, hauntings and traces are effects and affects of power.

It is in relation to power that we see the key difference between traces and hauntings: while traces can be (re)possessed, haunting has its own animacy that can never be contained in the service of power. Hauntings are a (re)presence, a “something-to-be-done” or a “rememory,” to borrow from Avery Gordon and Toni Morrison.5 Hauntings may come from what has passed, but they refuse to exit the present tense, as Eve Tuck and C Ree state:

Haunting doesn’t hope to change people’s perceptions, nor does it hope for reconciliation. Haunting lies precisely in its refusal to stop. Alien (to settlers) and generative for (ghosts), this refusal to stop is its own form of resolving. For ghosts, the haunting is the resolving, it is not what needs to be resolved.6

The trace, on the other hand, does have the potential to change people’s perceptions, for instance when it is mobilized by those in power to construct national narratives in the service of military control, imperial expansion, or capitalist exploitation (to name a few). Traces can also hope for reconciliation, such as when they are made manifest in monuments, memorials, or archives. For instance, JB Brager’s “The Trophy and the Appeal: Colonial Photography and the Ghosts of Witnessing in German South West Africa” is concerned with the racist violence of colonial German photography in South West Africa, particularly as it exists in the present-day archive. The essay discusses how these images circulate as trophies—the pornotropic evidence of racist violence—and appeal, the belief that witnessing violence implores viewers to make it stop. Contemporary antiracist and decolonial discourse demands that these trophy images be continually repurposed for human rights appeals, yet these images are always haunted by the horrors of German colonization, both insidious and outright. Because of this, the author questions their own archival research, asking whether we should look at all. Instead, Brager implores us to consider new decolonial methodologies of looking that can only be learned from the Herero peoples of South West Africa, who are brutalized in the archive. When forced to be subjugated witnesses to racist violence, they instead refuse to look as an act of resistance. Similarly, when confronted by violence in the archive, scholars may choose to divert their gaze elsewhere and instead scrutinize the perpetrators.

Similarly, in her reflective essay “White Shoals, White Shrouds: Reflections on the Ethics of Looking at Captive Bodies,” Axelle Toussaint considers the violence of looking at French colonial photographs of Comorian children. As she outlines her affective response to these images, and her own relationship to their circulation in academe, Toussaint suggests the “shoal” as one way to stop the perpetuation of colonial violence. As articulated by Tiffany Lethabo King, a shoal is a geological formation/place of shallow water that forces paused reflection on both the production of the black body as an object of inquiry and the demand for its visibility. As an experimental feminist decolonial intervention, Toussaint cuts out the Comorian bodies, leaving only a white shoal that traces the outline of their forms. Such a trace forces viewers to reflect on their own bodies, now diverted from the racist image. In this way, the author suggests tracing is a decolonial praxis that disrupts the replication of colonial violence.

The material absence of the trace has the potential to render the hand that wields power invisible and to obscure already marginalized experiences to the void of history. Yet, once created, the trace as a material absence has its own power: a negative force that complicates any containment within a singular, static narrative. Haoran Chang’s contribution engages with the multiplicities inherent in public space and how they simultaneously uphold and complicate state narratives. “Photogrammetry and Zhongshan Pavilion: Reconstructing Urban Memory of the Wenxi Fire” discusses how digitalization and 3-D modeling through photogrammetry can offer more complex narratives surrounding memorial sites, where nationalist and political narratives run the risk of obscuring the heterogeneous experiences that structure public memory. The site in question is the Zhongshan Pavilion in Changsha, China, the only surviving building after a devastating fire in 1938 destroyed the city. Chang uses photogrammetry to create digital models of the pavilion and argues that this digitalization enables new stories and new memories to be told through the site.

“Power Geometry in Urban Memory: Reading Taksim Square through the Concept of Representation of Space,” by Ceren Göğüş and Asiye Akgün Gültekin, similarly interrogates the relationship between state power, official memory, and public space. Through an analysis of Istanbul’s public Taksim Square, the authors argue that searching for traces in official spatial histories reveals which memories are consistently marked as historical truth and whose memories have been deliberately forgotten. By reading the spatial organization of Taksim Square through its social, political, economic, and cultural layers and relying on the framework of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital, the authors treat the public space as a record of both the memories of state power and the histories of resistance.

The pieces by Brager, Toussaint, Chang, and Göğüş and Gültekin all engage with the archive and historical narratives as a kind of haunting presence, while the previous contributions capture the absence marked by the trace. But despite their differences, hauntings and traces are not antithetical to each other, and in fact one may take on the qualities of the other. Hauntings, for instance, are noticed at times through material echoes, while traces might be immaterial and in turn do the haunting. Avery Gordon claims that “to study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it. Its confrontation requires (or produces) a fundamental change in the way we know and make knowledge, in our mode of production.”7 Thinking with Gordon, we posit that to study the visual, one must confront that which haunts it. Addressing what Gordon calls the “ghostly aspects” of social life, Nicholas Mirzoeff writes,

When visual culture tells stories, they are ghost stories. . . . The ghost is not a retreat to the margins, whether of art history, aesthetics or cultural studies, but is rather an assertion that the virtual is in some sense real, and the paranormal normal, as what was formerly invisible comes into visibility.8

If absence has a material dimension, how does that push the limits of our approaches and methods in the field of visual studies? How can visual studies work alongside art-historical inquiry to explore these new questions about in/visibility? Tara Allen-Flanagan, in “The Face of an Empire: Cosmetics and Whiteness in Imperial Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I,” exemplifies such an approach by analyzing the ways in which images of Queen Elizabeth I demonstrate, to an Elizabethan audience, colonial power and dominance through the pronounced paleness of her skin tone. This skin tone was achieved through cosmetics, although the appearance of her pale skin was often ascribed to her inherent and enduring natural beauty. Since many of the material components of the queen’s cosmetics originated in colonized lands, their use and display in portraits strongly constitutes an assertion of whiteness-as-power in the New World.

Hana Nikčević similarly pushes the boundaries of art-historical inquiry in “Mere Image: Caravaggio, Virtuosity, and Medusa’s Averted Eyes.” In this essay, Nikčević explores the reproduced gaze of Medusa in the work of Caravaggio. She outlines the precedent of images of Medusa throughout Italian Renaissance art, especially those images created by Leonardo da Vinci and other contemporaneous artists like Benvenuto Cellini. Nikčević also draws on contemporaneous literature, poetry, and ancient imagery that Caravaggio may have encountered in the homes of aristocrats. Using these sources, Nikčević argues for the significance of Medusa’s averted eyes in Caravaggio’s rendering, suggesting that they subverted the distinction between referent and representation and, by extension, constitute an assertion of Caravaggio’s artistic skill.

In “The Televised Apocalypse,” Justin Keever complicates previous readings of Jean Tinguely’s Study for an End of the World No. 2 by pointing to the importance of transience in the televisual, arguing it is only those texts whose forms lack closure that can reveal the traces of nuclear destruction, rather than “freezing” it into a singular, isolated event. Keever asks the reader to consider that images designed to be transient nevertheless “continue to resonate in ways lost when the world is transformed into atemporal objects.” In “Douce Mélancholie: Sonic Negotiations of Absence in the Works of Susan Philipsz and Félicia Atkinson,” Jenny Wu examines the affective potential of sound by bringing the experimental music of Félicia Atkinson into conversation with Susan Philipsz’s installation work. Wu highlights how both modes of expression engage the listener as an active, embodied participant, and suggests that sound can function as an index of the absent body to haunting effect. While her interest in what may be termed the presence of absence is familiar to anyone with an affinity for images, her essay draws attention to the sensory experience beyond the visual.The contributions by Allen-Flanagan, Nikčević, Keever, and Wu all demonstrate the ways in which Refract is invested in pushing the limits of visual studies. Not only does the theme of hauntings and traces incite new questions and methodologies in the study of art and visual culture, but our “Voices of Visual Studies” feature also provides a window into the diverse array of scholarship that exemplifies such approaches. This feature appears in each volume of Refract to highlight thinkers from the interdisciplinary, amorphous, and emerging world of visual studies. For this third volume, we invited Professor Katerina Martina Teaiwa, whose book Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba uses images and visual culture in a way that exemplifies the methods of visual studies. One chapter in the book is made up of what Teaiwa calls “fragments” from her archival research and fieldwork. This “remixing,” as she calls it, serves as a methodological tool for exploring the similarly fragmented story of Banaba, which was mined for phosphate by British, Australian, and New Zealand companies between 1900 and 1980. Since 2017, Teaiwa has been transforming this project into a traveling exhibition/installation in collaboration with the esteemed Samoan Japanese artist Yuki Kihara. Teaiwa’s contribution to Refract meditates on the continued role of visual storytelling in her research, which for Refract’s editorial board exemplifies a visual studies approach that blurs disciplinary boundaries and challenges the very production of knowledge through academic writing.


1. Akira Mizuta Lippit, Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 54.

2. Karen Barad, “Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable,” New Formations 92 (2017): 74. https://doi.org/10.3898/NEWF:92.05.2017.

3. Angie Morrill, Eve Tuck, and the Super Futures Haunt Qollective, “Before Dispossession, or Surviving It,” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 12, no. 1 (2016): 3.

4. Laura Ann Stoler, Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 1. https://doi-org.oca.ucsc.edu/10.1215/9780822387992.

5. Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 179; Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Knopf, 1987), 36–37.

6. Eve Tuck and C Ree, “A Glossary of Haunting,” in A Handbook of Autoethnography, ed. Tony E. Adams, Stacy Holman Jones, Carolyn Ellis (Abingdon:Routledge, 2016), 642. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315427812.

7. Gordon, Ghostly Matters, 7.

8. Nicholas Mirzoeff, “Ghostwriting: Working Out Visual Culture,” Journal of Visual Culture 1, no. 2 (2002): 239. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F147041290200100206.

Hauntings and Traces: Letter from the Editor

Maggie Wander

It may come as no surprise that Refract’s third volume emerges out of incredibly difficult circumstances in Santa Cruz, California, and beyond. As we were sending out the Call for Papers for this issue titled “Hauntings and Traces,” a group of graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz began calling for a Cost of Living Adjustment to offset the egregiously low income we are paid as Academic Student Employees, which does not cover the minimal cost of living in an increasingly unaffordable Santa Cruz and San Francisco Bay area. The campaign was not without its problems, creating schisms within the graduate student body and even within Refract’s editorial board.

Much of this tension remains unresolved, and one reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the UCSC campus to close for the Spring 2020 quarter. As the Refract team was beginning to receive submissions for volume 3, we had to move toward meeting remotely. We no longer had the luxury of checking in with each other as people tend to do when they, for instance, arrive early for a meeting, casually greeting each other and asking “how’s it going?” These small, seemingly benign moments are a crucial way the Refract board functions. We are editors, students, and scholars, yes. But we are also people. We are stressed, we are often hungry and tired, we have fun weekends that we can’t wait to tell each other about, we have pictures of our family that are worth sharing. It is these small moments of humanity, of kindness, of support in all the ways that go unnamed that are missing from Refract’s day-to-day operations in the time of COVID-19. 

And yet, we kept pushing to continue our work, to contribute to the field of visual studies with critical, robust scholarship. The peer review process was complete and we had begun the stage of revisions and editing when George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Along with Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others,1 this recent murder of an innocent person of color is just one of many instances of institutionalized racism that intersects with the militarization of the police force, the failings of the justice system, and rampant white supremacy that is bolstered by the Trump administration. Like so many other organizations releasing statements of solidarity with people of color and disavowing white supremacy, the Refract team recognized that we needed to act. We needed to take a look at what we envision our journal to be doing, and how we can support people of color, community organizers, and power building at the grassroots level in our everyday operations. 

This conversation continues as we maintain our mission to uphold scholarly and artistic inquiry that dismantles institutional barriers and prioritizes diverse voices and subject matter. We are asking ourselves some difficult questions about our own relationship to the University of California, a settler colonial institution that upholds many of the structural inequalities that depend on a militarized police force and extractive and exploitative capitalism, and acts as a gatekeeper to knowledge production and education. In our efforts to do better, we recognize this is a long-term project and cannot be easily reconciled by a simple statement on our website. Some of these conversations are reflected in the statement that opens this volume, while other efforts are less visible but no less imperative for the impact we want to have on the world of academic research, artistic production, and education.

For instance, the table of contents for the current volume was intentionally shaped to include a diverse range of voices from different career stages, who come from different backgrounds and speak different languages, and whose research engages with a multitude of subjects, time periods, and cultures. We worked closely with our contributors during the editing process to create a less hierarchical, more collaborative approach to research, writing, and publication. We are working on making our publication more accessible—not just in terms of open access publishing but also in terms of screen-reader-friendly PDFs and other initiatives to include diverse audiences and dismantle the many barriers to education and knowledge production. This is neither a comprehensive nor a static list of the efforts we are making, and as we continue to publish rigorous, original scholarship, we will continue to question our own privilege and our role in the fight for radical social change.

On behalf of the editorial board, I would like to thank the department of History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC) and the Arts Division at the University of California, Santa Cruz for their financial support. We are particularly grateful to the former director of graduate studies of HAVC, Professor Boreth Ly, for advocating on our behalf and to the amazing staff in the HAVC department, including Ruby Lipsenthal and Meredith Dyer. Thanks also to Professors Carolyn Dean, Derek Conrad Murray, and Kyle Parry for serving as our advisory board. Thank you to the team at eScholarship for answering our many questions and for making our open access mission a reality. We also appreciate all the peer reviewers for their time, and Paula Dragosh for copyediting. We are thrilled to include in this issue guest contributors whom we invited to participate in this volume, and we are so grateful for their participation: Christina Maranci; Boreth Ly with Catherine Ries, Michelle Yee, and Christina Ayson Plank; and Katerina Martina Teaiwa. We are also hugely grateful to Michael Conlee, our amazing intern, and to Porter College at UCSC for funding the internship. Thanks to Kate Korroch, the founding managing editor, and all past editorial board members at Refract for ensuring our project has lasting power. And finally, we wish to thank the numerous colleagues and mentors who engage with visual studies and have encouraged this project from the start, as well as the amazing thinkers and makers who contributed to this volume.

Finally, as managing editor, I want to acknowledge the incredible team that makes up Refract’s editorial board. This journal is a truly collaborative effort, and it would not have been possible without the amazing energy each person brings to the project. Thank you to Leslie McShane Lodwick for always being there for me and for tirelessly stepping up to help the team whenever needed. Thanks to Maureen McGuire and Stacy Schwartz for their incredible work transitioning Refract to a new web platform and for making issues of accessibility more at the forefront of what we do. Thanks to Susanna Collinson, Kelsey McFaul, and Matthew Simmons for establishing our long-term vision, seeking funding, and keeping our accounts in check. Thanks to Madison Treece and Rachel Bonner for being the public face of Refract on social media and outreach. And thanks to the entire board for dedicating so much time and energy to the editorial process and working with our contributors at every step of the way. Thank you so much, team!


1. https://sayevery.name/.


Photogrammetry and Zhongshan Pavilion: Reconstructing Urban Memory of the Wenxi Fire

Haoran Chang

In accordance with the government’s scorched-earth policy, on November 12, 1938, a devastating fire was started in the city of Changsha, China. This military strategy calls for the intentional burning and destruction of all valuable resources, such as buildings, food, and transportation infrastructure, to prevent the invading enemy from utilizing them. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), the governor of Changsha followed instructions from the Nationalist government to execute this scorched-earth policy. Yet officials mistakenly initiated the fire too quickly and destroyed the more-than-three-thousand-year-old city. In this fire, thousands of people lost their lives, and the majority of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Referred to today as the Changsha Fire of 1938, or the Wenxi Fire, this event left Changsha one of the most damaged cities during World War II, alongside Stalingrad, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Zhongshan Pavilion is one of the few architectural structures that survived the 1938 Wenxi Fire. As technology widely applied in cultural preservation, photogrammetry can play a significant role in preserving this structure for future generations. Yet this project intends to further the conversation about the role of photogrammetry in memory preservation by considering the Zhongshan Pavilion as a heterogeneous site. The resulting virtual 3-D model opens new potentialities in challenging historical narratives that are told in the singular voice (the state’s) as presented at the physical site in Changsha. Rather than following the path of criticizing digitalization as an extension and magnification of fragmentedness and rootlessness, the constructed virtual 3-D model of Zhongshan Pavilion may expand the fixed and structured memory preserved in the physical location and bring vitality to the preservation of multiple memories in a new kind of public space.

Click this link to access Chang’s full artist statement.

Haoran Chang is a multidisciplinary artist who uses video installation, virtual reality, and digital print to explore the social construction and digital mediation in contemporary society. Chang is also the founder of Chameleon Gallery, an online virtual reality contemporary art gallery that focuses on bridging traditional media and virtual reality in creating, exhibiting, and distributing art.

The Trophy and The Appeal: Colonial Photography and the Ghosts of Witnessing in German Southwest Africa

JB Brager

To work with images of atrocity is a fraught project. Sedimented constructs shaped through racist and settler colonial violence continue to define the production and consumption of the visual, as well as memory practice and scopic politics. These retinal sedimentations must be looked at plainly and addressed openly, to name the ways in which history and identity shape the function of the eye. I turn to the understudied visual archive of German colonialism in South West Africa, with an emphasis on colonial photography, with the aim of tying the visuality of colonial violence in German South West Africa to broader studies of colonial photography, images of racial violence, and the ways in which these images circulated as discourse. I am particularly concerned with the location of witnessing, and the ways in which things look differently from different positions—what I refer to through the concept of parallax—and the effects of this on visual consumption. Images of violence travel, through a visceral witnessing that can be grotesquely pornographic—in the words of Claudia Rankine, “the dead body as an object that satisfies an illicit desire”—or evidentiary. I use viscerality in this context to think about a methodology of witnessing that attends to embodiment, experience, and feeling. The resignification of images, however didactic and captioned, depends on the eye and the gut of the viewer—the transhistorical viewer is not a passive or innocent witness. This is especially important in the context of the pornotroping tendency of white supremacist culture to fetishize the image, particularly of Black injury and death, and the ability of images of violence to re-traumatize survivors.

Click this link to access the full article.

JB Brager is a founding editor of Pinko Magazine, a working cartoonist, and an instructor of history and Women’s & Gender Studies. They received a PhD in Women’s & Gender Studies from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2018; this article is adapted from their dissertation, Bodies of Evidence: The Image, The Flesh, and the Crisis of the Human. They can be found online at https://www.jbbrager.com/ and on social media @jbbrager.


Bloodlines, Kinship

Hilary A. Short

Bloodlines is a 228-inch-long installation made horizontally in Microsoft Excel and then rotated 90 degrees to create a dripping or oozing effect down the wall. It began as an inquiry into naming and the organizational hierarchy of the family tree. The tree serves as a symbol of nature, an inherited organizer used to display relational hierarchies of time and power, enacted subsequently through myriad metaphors. If the medium is the message, the tree is the medium that validates the family as a natural hierarchical entity positioned in linear time. The tree is, and has been, an omnipresent symbol for how we order and understand relationships—tying together “nature” and “order” in our collective understanding of the family. Contemporary genealogical practices carried out on websites like Ancestry.com uphold hetero status markers of the family vis-à-vis patrilineal threads while privileging records of white lineages. Documents, or “records,” serve as archival evidence in this online database—thus archival evidence reflects social ties and social hierarchies. In this way, using Ancestry.com to gather family data and Excel to hold said data is revealing what was always there—the tree as disassociated from, but disingenuously carrying forth, our belief that nature is unquestionable.

Kinship is an A1 poster depicting “spheres of memories”—memories associated with “inherited” objects—tethered to physical points around my home, which is drawn as a blueprint. Each sphere is surrounded by a fuzziness, as a translation of uncertainty and precarity around truth and knowledge. In Bloodlines, the “document” or “record” carries forth the archival evidence of the state. Here, in a domestic space, familial objects take on that role. Emanating from them (the objects) are stories; memories of passed time and past relations, and I am their captive subject. Objects like these are passed down through bloodlines enforcing genetic logics of inheritance and pulling them, discontinuously, into affective and temporal relations between the original owner and the current one. 

Click this link to access Short’s full artist statement.

Hilary A. Short is a writer and designer. Currently at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she is both working towards a MA in Design Criticism and is the Art Director for the Office of Diversity’s Inclusive Classroom Initiative. Her work considers the roles and structures in society—highlighting the struggle between personal agency and pre-determinism. Within a feminist framework, she explores relationships to our own bodies, objects, and memories all while trying to keep a sense of humor over wondering whether or not we have control over anything. Hilary holds a MDes in Graphic Design and a BA in Sociology. Whatthehilary.com.

Power Geometry in Urban Memory: Reading Taksim Square Through the Concept of Representation of Space

Ceren Göǧüş and Asiye Akgün Gültekin

Taksim Square, 2003. Image Courtesy of Writers Archive.

Can memory be manipulated? How far can the will to remember resist the manipulation of the hierarchy? Isolation and exclusion are still useful as disciplinary tools of power. Since this is the case, what role do so-called public spaces serve in memorializing certain isolated histories while separating and thus excluding others? If memory spaces exist in correlation with loss of memory, can searching for traces underneath the layers be the worst enemy of forgetting? How can the search for traces in official spatial histories reveal whose memory is being prioritized as truthful historical account and whose memory has been forgotten? Official spatial histories demand that certain memories are forgotten and thus delegitimized; does this render the readings of spaces as alternative memorialization meaningless? If so, does trying to create memory spaces cause monumentality independent from memory? Does the very act of formalizing spaces of memory create a certain monumentality independent from those who remember it? How will urban geographies, condemned to be symbolic spaces of politics, resist this?

Click this link to access the full article.

Ceren Göǧüş is Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of İstanbul Kültür University. She received her Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in History of Architecture Program from İstanbul Technical University. Her major research interests include 19th century world exhibitions, monument architecture, 19th century Ottoman architecture and westernization period in Ottoman Empire with its effects on architecture.

Asiye Akgün Gültekin is Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of İstanbul Kültür University. She received her Ph.D. in Architectural Design Programme from İstanbul Technical University in 2012. Her major research interests include urban segregation, spatial exclusion, and economic policy of space, social space issues.