Venusian Virtual Vanguards

Excavating & Exhibiting Exquisite Corpses (& other experiments) from Bryn Mawr College’s Special Collections

As part of Alessandro Giammei's course ITAL 315: A Gendered History of the Avant-Garde: Bodies, Objects, Emotions, Ideas, students produced a digital exhibition of objects from Special Collections that allowed them to explore the course's queering of Italian Avant-Garde movements.

Visit the class's digital exhibition!

Their website exhibits the curatorial work of twenty-three students from Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College, conducted in the Spring of 2020 to complete a seminar on Avant-Garde and Neo-Avant-Garde art and literature. The course, titled “A Gendered History of the Avant-Garde: Bodies, Objects, Emotions, Ideas” was designed to queer the hyper-masculine, essentialist, and anti-intersectional rhetoric adopted, particularly in Italy, by Avant-Garde movements, from Futurismo to Rivolta Femminile.

After six weeks of readings and discussions, the class visited the Special Collections Department at Bryn Mawr College, where a selection of objects based on the syllabus was prepared for them by Dr. Carrie Robbins and me. Some of these objects were paintings and drawings, some were photographs or prints, some were artifacts collectively produced by anonymous alumnae, some were signed by the most renowned artists of the last century. Each student selected an object and started working on it as a curator, asking themselves why they chose it and what place it could have in an exhibition about vanguardism.

A global pandemic prevented the class from meeting in person after Spring Break. From March 19 to April 30, the participants gathered online for three hours every week, connecting from various parts of the United States. Unable to access their chosen objects, students had to reflect on the real meaning of objecthood and curatorship, on the impermanent and non-exhibitable nature of some experimental works of art, on the difference between objects and their image. They experienced the fragility of the privilege that an accessible art collection affords. They exercised their memory, metacognition, and conjuring skills.

This digital incantation was performed throughout three weeks of online collective workshop and research. It is described by a poem and guided by a manifesto, both team-written by the students/curators through the Surrealist technique known as cadavre exquis. Seventeen objects are evoked in the virtual gallery: some of them are accompanied by more than one virtual caption. The nature of these captions varies: some are textual, some are auditory, some exploit the typographical possibilities offered by the virtual space, some allude to the experience of walking through a physical gallery reading labels. I leave to the exquisite corpses the task of introducing the exhibition.

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