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Dr. Andrew Finegold, "Vital Voids: Cavities and Holes in Mesoamerican Material Culture"
February 10, 2022 | 6-7:30pm
This talk, which is based on a recently published book of the same name, examines a variety of empty spaces created in diverse grounds throughout ancient Mesoamerica. It is argued that these collectively reflect a fundamental metaphysical conception held by Mesoamerican peoples of the void as a necessary prerequisite for the emergence of life and its associated creative energies and material abundance. Ranging from the large scale, inhabitable spaces of caves and architecture, to the cavities or hollow interiors of offering vessels, to the drilling of holes in ceramic dishes, to the piercing of human flesh for auto-sacrificial offerings or to accommodate adornments, the production of and engagement with negative spaces, which were regularly—and often explicitly—associated with concepts of vitality and growth, were important aspects of Mesoamerican thought and ritual activity. This study is anchored by—and repeatedly returns to—the close analysis of a single object, the Late Classic Maya codex-style dish known as the Resurrection Plate. It is argued that the artist of this masterfully conceived dish anticipated the drilling of a hole through its center as part of a regionally prevalent funerary practice and created the imagery such that its planned interaction with the eventual hole intentionally evokes a variety of beliefs and practices related to the act of perforation. Considered together, these associations serve to demonstrate the consistent, widespread, and transmedial experience of voids as fecund nodes of generative potential in ancient Mesoamerica.
Andrew Finegold is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Illinois Chicago specializing in the visual culture of the ancient Americas. In addition to his recent book Vital Voids (University of Texas Press, 2021), he has published articles in the journals Art History and Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture and co-edited the volume Visual Culture of the Ancient Americas: Contemporary Perspectives (University of Oklahoma Press, 2017). Future book projects will investigate Temporalities of Art in Mesoamerica and Modern Representations of the Ancient American Past. The latter topic is also the focus of a website that he created, Ancient Americas, Appropriated.