Toxic Sublime: Imaging Contaminated Landscapes

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 9:00am
Modern Languages Building Room 451 1423 E. University Blvd. Tucson, AZ 85721

Imaging toxicity is no simple task. Pollutants are often invisible and sites of contamination are concealed. Contemporary artists who attempt this challenge are often criticized that the beauty of their images obfuscates the health and environmental risk of the polluted sites they photograph. In response, the essay on which this presentation is based introduces the concept of the toxic sublime as a means of analyzing the tensions arising from visual representations of environmental contamination: beauty and ugliness, magnitude and insignificance, the known and the unknown, inhabitation and desolation, security and risk. The essay charts the evolution of the sublime in the U.S., describing how it has evolved from sites of nature to sites of technology to human damaged landscapes, some of which produce a toxic sublime. This discussion extends our understanding of the invention of the sublime in images, reconceptualizes the sublime response to contaminated places, as well as adding to our knowledge of how visual texts function to encourage contemplation of the viewers’ position within a polluted world.
Speaker: Jennifer Peeples is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Utah State University.  Her area of research is environmental rhetoric with a focus on the persuasive strategies used to construct identity and place in community-level environmental disputes.  She has examined the discourse and images of environmental protest and, most recently, the visual construction of toxicity.  Professor Peeples is the Past-President of the Environmental Communication Division of the National Communication Association and serves on the editorial board of Environmental Communication:  A Journal of Nature and Culture.  She has won a number of regional and national awards for her research, most recently the 2012 Christine L. Oravec Research Award from the National Communication Association.