Visualizing Toxic Subjects Gallery Exhibit

This year, the Center’s main project has been Visualizing Toxic Subjects (VtS, also see this blog post about the project). VtS has many experimental dimensions and we look forward to conversations about what we have learned and accomplished. One of the experiments is a gallery show that will run in the Viewpoint Gallery in the UCI Student Center May 28-31. Throughout the week, we’ll run guided tours of the exhibit. Tour times and links to register for these tours are listed below.

On Friday, May 31, 10-11:30am, there will be a brief presentation of plans for the Center’s projects for the 2019-2020 academic year, including projects focused on “Global California” and “Quotidian Anthropocenes.”

Later in the afternoon, Friday, May 31, 1:30-3:30pm, there will be an open seminar to discuss the overall project -- what we have learned about visualization in ethnography, toxic subjects, technically-mediated ethnographic collaboration, new forms for expressing and relaying ethnographic knowledge, and more. We’ll also discuss how projects like VtS have moved anthropology over the years, suggesting further possibilities for experimental ethnographic research designs. Following the seminar at 3:30pm on May 31 there will be a light reception to celebrate the event.

VtS Gallery Schedule  

Click here to sign up for a guided tour. 

The gallery and all events below will run at the Viewpoint Gallery UCI - A311 Student Center, 2nd Floor.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 4:00-4:30pm  Guided Tour
Wednesday, May 29, 2019         11:00-11:30am Guided Tour
Thursday, May 30, 2019  12:00-12:30pm Guided Tour
Friday, May 31, 2019  10:00-11:30am Center for Ethnography 2019-2020 Meeting
  11:30am-12:00pm         Guided Tour
  12:00-1:00pm Lunch Break
  1:00-1:30pm Guided Tour
  1:30-3:30pm VtS Seminar
  3:30-4:00pm Reception


Visualizing Toxic Subjects Project History

The Center for Ethnography 2018-2019 annual program, Visualization in Ethnography includes a collaborative design project -- Visualizing Toxic Subjects -- in which participants will collect, annotate, and share ethnographic visualizations, working to update ways of thinking about and using a variety of visual materials in the conduct and expression of ethnography.  

Participants will help build a digital and gallery exhibit of images that convey toxicity in its many forms and guises -- environmental toxics, to be sure, but also political toxicity, toxic media or culture, and so on. Statements of interest in participating are due November 1, 2018. Enrollment details below.

Over the course of the project, participants will submit three-rounds of annotated images (found images or original creations) for review by other participants, discussing how and why visualizations were selected or produced, interpreted and used to covey ethnographic understanding.   The project will run November 2018 through May 2019, concluding with a gallery exhibit at UCI and publication of the digital exhibit.

“Toxicity” is a powerful organizing rubric for this project for a number of reasons. Toxics are often illegible through dominant frameworks; they are “subaltern,” outside recognition in hegemonic terms. Toxics are also most often intersectional, resulting from and exacerbated by multiple, synergistic systems and stressors. And toxics endure and accumulate, operating exponentially and intergenerationally. Visualizing toxic subjects thus requires subversive intent, critical design, and creative use and reading of visual materials.

Participants are encouraged to think and work with scientific visualizationscartoonsphotojournalismadvertisementsmaps made by activist organizations, or many other visual materials, articulating how they push back against (sometimes manufactured) illegibility, drawing in and on ethnographic sensibilities. The challenge is to work within (and sometime against) the image density that characterizes the worlds we study and often hope to change.   

The project will be hosted on the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, digital infrastructure especially designed to support research on topics beyond the reach of established terms and methods.

Careful selection and explication of images for this project will be central, so we’ve set up an iterative process of image submission and review. November 2018-February 2019, participants will submit and comment on test images, working to generate an appropriate analytic language. In the final round (due February 15), each participant will submit their final selections of one to three images with both a 200-400 word caption and a design statement describing why the image is an exemplary ethnographic visualization. There will be a two-stage (internal and external) review process in March and April. The gallery exhibit will be mid-May. The digital exhibit will be published mid-June.


Collaboration Schedule

November 1, 2018

Statements of interest due. See instructions and examples.

November 15, 2018

Participants submit up to three images (with captions and design statements). See examples.

December 1, 2018

Participants submit annotations of assigned images.

December 15, 2018

Participants submit up to three images (with substantive caption and design statements).

February 1, 2019

Participants submit annotations of assigned images.

February 15, 2019

Submit your final selections. Up to three images with substantive captions and design statements.

March 15, 2019

Participants submit annotations of assigned images.

April 15, 2019

Digital exhibit open for external review.

May 31, 2019

Gallery exhibit (with invited reviewers). 

June 15, 2019

Digital exhibit published.


Visualizing Toxic Subjects Working Group Meetings

Sessions are now being held at UCI for Visualizing Toxic Subject participants to meet on a regular basis to discuss our VTS images and work together to develop a useful terminology for discussing both toxicity and different modes of ethnographic visualization. All participants are welcome to join us in person or by calling in online to work collaboratively on our images and captions. If calling in online, please email so that we can set up a Zoom meeting. 

Session 5: Monday, March 18th from 12:00-2:00 pm in Room 3200 of the Social and Behavioral Science Gateway.

Session 4: Monday, March 4th from 10:00-12:00 pm in Room 3200 of the Social and Behavioral Science Gateway.

Session 3: Monday, February 25th from 10:00-12:00 pm in Room 3200 of the Social and Behavioral Science Gateway.

Session 2: Monday, February 11th from 10:00-12:00 pm in Room 3200 of the Social and Behavioral Science Gateway.

Session 1: Monday, February 4th from 12:00-2:00 pm in Room 3200 of the Social and Behavioral Science Gateway.

We are also encouraging participants to read and briefly annotate two of our suggested readings, “Dead Citizen” and the Abject Nation and On Ethnographic Surrealism. In your annotation, please respond to the following analytic question: “What does this piece suggest about possibilities for visualization in ethnography?” 


Enrollment Instructions:  

Participating in Visualizing Toxic Subjects involves three basic components:

  1. Submitting a Statement of Interest and proposed title for your collection (due November 1; approvals announced by November 5; see instructions and example below).
  2. Submitting three rounds of 1-3 images with a substantive caption and analysis for each image.
  3. Commenting on images submitted by other project participants, drawing out new ways of thinking about visualization in ethnography.  

For the collaboration to work, participants need to see the project all the way through, working with both their own images and those submitted by other participants.  As laid out in the schedule above, there will be three rounds of image submission and commentary.  Please don’t submit a Statement of Interest if you can’t commit to this schedule.

Participants in Visualizing Toxic Subjects are encouraged (but not required) to participate in the Center’s others projects making up this year’s annual program, Visualization in Ethnography. These will include a seminar series on Visualization Across Disciplines as well as a fieldworks project entitled Soiled Grounds. These projects will also work to draw out new ways of thinking about visualization in ethnography.


Submitting Your Statement of Interest

In 300 words or less, describe 1) the types, dimensions and manifestation of toxicity that you plan to explore 2)  how or why visualization of this kind of toxicity is challenging, interesting, and politically salient 3) possible types of images or methods of visualization to be incorporated (found or created, computer generated, photography, illustrations, concept maps, diagrams, etc.). Email your Statement of Interest along with the proposed title of your collection to James Adams by November 1, 2018 (

Sample Statement of Interest

Toxic Correspondence: Visualizing the Interstices of Disease and Disaster
James Adams, Department of Anthropology, University of California Irvine

As an anthropologist of energy transitions, I am dually committed to investigating and furthering research on the risks of carbon-based energy infrastructures to justify and direct transitions to clean energy. I am therefore interested in collaborating with experts with diverse visual literacies to develop techniques for representing the dynamic, interscalar processes, difficult temporalities, and complex webs of causality that link the erosion of climate stability with epidemics of public health. By exploring and building upon the work of artists, scholars, and activists already engaged in this work, my goal will be to cultivate a refined capacity to render legible the wide-ranging processual links between what are otherwise assumed to be discrete, apolitical phenomena: “biological” diseases and “natural” disasters. I am particularly interested in tampering with collage and will look for and/or generate images that blend, incorporate, or juxtapose data visualizations with photography and artistic renderings so as to lend the images a sense of what I would like to call Toxic Correspondence.





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