MacArthur x BGC: What is Research?
With poet Campbell McGrath, biomedical researcher Elodie Ghedin, and theater artist Annie Dorsen, moderated by Bard Graduate Center dean, Peter Miller.

Research may well be the key word in our contemporary knowledge culture, with global investment in research across all industries estimated at $1 trillion, and its importance acknowledged by governments, industry, and academia around the world. Yet, the idea of research, the practice of research, and the social life of research is not a subject of reflection. Of the 164 million items in the catalogue of the Library of Congress, only 43 fall into the category “Research—History.” To begin the task of understanding research, Bard Graduate Center has gathered a group of artists, scientists, and humanists—all MacArthur “Genius” Award winners—for three evenings of discussion moderated by Dean Peter Miller, himself a MacArthur Fellow. These conversations launch a project on research that will culminate in an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in fall 2023. Other conversations in this series include:

Tuesday, November 5, 6–8 pm
Artist Tom Joyce, physicist Hideo Mabuchi, and neuroscientist Sheila Nirenberg

Tuesday, November 19, 6–8 pm
Photographer and filmmaker An-My Lê, geochemist Terry Plank and historian Marina Rustow

There is no charge to attend the conversations, but space is limited, so please reserve your tickets in advance.

Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Meet the MacArthur Fellows
Campbell McGrath is a poet whose work is characterized by lyrical skill, intellectual breadth, and humor. McGrath’s most recent books are Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems (Ecco Press, 2019), and XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century, a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. In it, as in his other work, he combines both a personal and an acute historical consciousness as he maps the social, cultural, and natural landscapes of America. His grand vision, raw energy, and keen ear for the subtleties of the modern condition, have led critics to compare him to Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams. Though his work is a reflection of our age and society, McGrath has his own unique voice—an expansive prose poetry that accumulates images and metaphors through the use of symbols and tangible, everyday details. McGrath is the Philip and Patricia Frost Professor of Creative Writing and a professor of English at Florida International University. He is the author of Capitalism (1990), American Noise (1994), Spring Comes to Chicago (1996), Road Atlas (2001), Florida Poems (2002), and Pax Atomica (2004). His work has been published in such literary magazines as the Paris Review and the Kenyon Review. McGrath received a BA (1984) from the University of Chicago and an MFA (1988) from Columbia University.

Elodie Ghedin is a biomedical researcher who is harnessing the power of genomic sequencing techniques to generate critical insights about human pathogens. Although the technology for obtaining nucleotide sequence data continues to accelerate, the labor-intensive task of analyzing and annotating the resulting data—for example, identifying genes, their functions, and their expression; determining the arrangement of genes within the genome; performing phylogenetic and functional comparisons with other known species—often lags behind. Ghedin has established herself as a leader of international projects that coordinate the efforts of scores of scientists to decode the function of some of the most virulent human pathogens. A major focus of her work has been parasites that cause diseases endemic to tropical climates, such as leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, elephantiasis, and river blindness. Through her direct research and mobilization of global scientific collaborations, Ghedin’s work illuminates the similarities and differences in the molecular physiology of the various parasites, with important implications for targets for drug development. In addition, Ghedin and her colleagues are applying similar approaches to understanding viruses that infect humans. RNA viruses such as HIV and influenzae mutate particularly rapidly, making vaccine development difficult. In a high-resolution study of complete genome sequences of influenza A from thousands of isolates collected in the New York area, Ghedin and colleagues showed that the virus evolves with surprising rapidity even in a circumscribed geographic region. Through her contributions to parasitology and virology, Ghedin demonstrates that molecular genetics is not only essential for exploring the basic biology of pathogens but also represents a powerful tool in the hands of scientists working in coordination to improve public health across the globe.

Annie Dorsen
is a theater director and writer producing works that dramatize the complex interface between machines and humans. Dorsen creates what she calls “algorithmic theater,” in which algorithmically determined texts are generated in real time for each performance of a piece. Dorsen has shifted her focus to the nature of social interaction in the digital world in recent pieces such as The Great Outdoors (2017), in which the incalculable corpus of the internet is juxtaposed with the vastness of our universe. Audience members lie in an inflatable planetarium and watch a display of stars overhead while a performer reads text—sometimes banal, sometimes deeply personal—scraped from chatrooms, comment threads, and message boards across the internet. Dorsen’s investigations of the creative possibilities engendered by the rise of artificial intelligence are challenging the definition of a theatrical event while also encouraging audiences to contemplate the ways in which nonhuman intelligence is profoundly changing the nature of work, culture, and social relationships. Annie received her BA (1996) and an MFA (2000) from Yale University. Her additional works include Infinite Sun (2019), The Slow Room (2018), and Spokaoke (2012), and she was the co-creator and director of Passing Strange (2008). Her work has been performed at such national and international venues as Performance Space New York (formerly PS 122), the Brooklyn Academy of Music, On the Boards, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the National Theatre of Scotland, and Théâtre de la Cité in Paris, among others. Since 2017, Dorsen has served as a visiting assistant professor of practice with the Committee on Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago.