"A liberal arts education encourages engagement and experimentation."

Carlos Kong '15

Majors: Comparative Literature & History of Art
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Why did you choose Cornell?
I chose Cornell due to the vast academic opportunities and amazing resources. The various possibilities for new experiences, within academic departments and beyond, really attracted me. I also remember being blown away by the beauty of the Arts Quad when I visited for the first time after my acceptance—I immediately knew that there was no way that I would not attend!

What is your main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?
My main and most meaningful extracurricular pursuits have been associated with the Cornell Cast Collection and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. I spent last summer and the following semester assisting with the curation and design of the exhibition “Firing the Canon: The Cornell Casts and their Discontents.” I currently work as the Curatorial Intern in Earlier European and American Art at the Johnson Museum. These experiences of handling art objects, curating displays, and working alongside a brilliant curators and scholars have deeply enriched my academic study of the visual arts and have inspired my enduring interests between education and exhibition. 

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?
In what retrospectively seems as a very quick four years, I have had many profound turning points that have all helped shape my goal of becoming an academic in the Humanities. The first, and perhaps most profound, was my decision in the first semester of my sophomore year to leave the major in Biology, transfer out of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and embark on a new academic (and personal) existence in the Humanities and the Arts—since then I have never looked back or regretted it. Other major moments were successfully delivering my first conference paper, which morphed into a memorable term paper. Lastly, my decision to study abroad at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London was an amazing affirmation of these previous decisions and experiences. It was thrilling to be transplanted from Ithaca to the center of the London art world. I refined my academic study of art under fantastic professors, saw an enormous amount of art, and made lasting international friendships.

What, if any, Cornell-related scholarships/special financial benefits did you receive?
I was awarded the Classics Department Prize for my research paper, “Theorizing the Kylix: Mirroring and Mediation in the Greek Symposion.” A chapter of my Comparative Literature honors thesis was also awarded the LGBT Studies Undergraduate Prize. In my final semester, I received an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in Urban Representation for coursework and research at the intersection of urbanism and global cinema. I was lastly awarded the Cornell-Heidelberg Exchange Fellowship by the Department of German Studies.

What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?
My Honors Thesis in the Department of Comparative Literature, entitled “Flesh of Another Machine,” is an accomplishment at Cornell that I am most proud of. In it, I theorize the possibilities of aesthetic mediation towards futurities of collective embodiment, the testimony of trauma, and the endurance of queer pleasure in contemporary philosophical and artistic practices. It was incredibly intuitive to write, I am gratified to feel that I produced my strongest and most creatively expressive academic work through this opportunity. It was exciting to present excerpts of my thesis twice at Cornell as well as at a conference at the University of Toronto, and a chapter of it won the LGBT Studies Undergraduate Award. My advisor Tim Murray was incredibly supportive of my research. His own writings and teachings have been deeply influential in and beyond my thesis, and his unique sense of humor made the process all the more fun.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
One particularly fond memory was the opening of the exhibition “Firing the Canon,” which was set in the Weinhold Chilled Water Plant. It was gratifying to work towards such an incredible transformation of the Cast Collection, and I hope that the show revived an interest in preserving, maintaining, and displaying the collection for generations of Cornellians to come. More broadly, the innumerable distinguished scholars and artists that I have seen present their work at Cornell—Carrie Mae Weems, Judith Butler, Helene Cixous, Toni Morrison, Leo Bersani, Tim Dean, Lauren Berlant, Yoko Tawada, Ann Cvetkovich, Rosi Braidotti, and so many others—have formulated inspiring memories that I treasure and think of often.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?
My advisors, Tim Murray and Verity Platt, most markedly influenced my Cornell education. They have supported my academics from early on and in many thoughtful ways, both in and out of the classroom. Tim Murray continues to inspire and challenge me to use contemporary art as means for thinking and theorizing. Verity Platt fostered my appreciation for Greco-Roman art and its cultural reception, which has culminated in my pursuit of a minor in Classics. Beyond my advisors, studying under visiting professor and renowned queer theorist Jasbir Puar through the Society for the Humanities radically altered my perspectives on and theoretical orientation within the humanities. I wish to note the other professors, among many, who deeply enriched my Cornell education: Antoine Traisnel, Amy Villarejo, Annetta Alexandridis, Andrea Bachner, and Laura Meixner.

What do you value about your liberal arts education?
I value that a liberal arts education, particularly one in the Humanities, underscores that nothing in the world is closed off. A liberal arts education encourages both rigorous engagement and a breadth of experimentation towards the development of a critical voice. I am grateful to culminate my liberal arts education with confidence in my belief that one’s imagination and experiences are still the most powerful tools for radically and aesthetically envisioning worlds beyond the hegemony of what is enforced as known, normal, and real.

What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In the upcoming summer, I will be working in Social Media at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as part of the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative. For the upcoming academic year, I have accepted the Cornell-Heidelberg Exchange Fellowship and will be a visiting graduate student in the Faculty of Modern German Studies at Heidelberg University in Germany. I was also awarded the Michael G. Wilson Fellowship from The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, which I have also accepted and deferred to the 2016/17 academic year. Upon returning to The Courtauld, I will be pursuing an MA in the History of Art with a specialization in photography and film in global contemporary art.

In 10 years, I see myself somewhere en route towards becoming a professor of contemporary visual studies, though I think that is too instrumental of an answer. In 10 years and beyond, I hope to be ever engaged in learning, traveling, thinking, reading, writing, looking at art, and falling in love with many places and people.

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