The Visionary Futures Collective, also known as the VFC, is fighting for what higher education needs most: a bringing together of thinkers who “believe in the transformational power and vital importance of the humanities.” And it is doing so in unexpected ways, including its most recent project, “Academic Tarot: The Major Arcana.”
This isn’t just any tarot deck. The 22 Major Arcana are reinterpreted for academics and public scholars living during the pandemic amidst spiritual havoc. The Fool becomes the Grad Student. The Magician becomes the President. The High Priestess becomes the Archivist.
The VFC came to be during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the midst of the long-overdue national reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement. Its 22 members are experts in literature, culture, digital humanities, and beyond, hailing from all corners of the US. Co-founders Dr. Hannah-Alpert Abrams and Dr. Brian DeGrazia wanted to make an intentional space for any individual on a college or university campus facing the COVID-19 crisis to help “trace the contours of things that define our shared human condition,” DeGrazia told Hyperallergic.
The “Academic Tarot” is a project of the VFC’s Academic Psychic Friends Network, which circulates a biweekly newsletter about the state of affairs in higher ed. It includes data visualizations sourced from an open access COVID-19 response tracker; student-reported stories on how the pandemic is impacting their work; and “feelings surveys” that report on campus workers’ emotional responses to re-openings. Key word: feelings — the VFC’s starting point, rather than an after-thought, making the VFC’s ethos a pathos. The organization prioritizes the feelings of individuals who teach others how to interpret “being” in text, in art, and now, in themselves. It puts the human back in the humanities.
Tarot is a tool. A way to see ourselves that otherwise may elude us. A storyteller, a mirror, and a coach, tarot helps the reader look inward. The 22 Major Arcana are teachers, a sequence that represents life’s spiritual lessons. “The VFC is all about imagining the world we want to live in, and then identifying actions we can take to move us towards that reality,” said Alpert-Abrams. “Academic Tarot” is one of those tools in the kit.
VFC artist-in-residence Claire Chenette, a Grammy-nominated Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musician furloughed due to COVID-19, brought the tarot cards to life. What began as a three-card project to complement the VFC newsletter grew in spirit and in number.
“Rudderless,” Chenette told Hyperallergic, “I kept painting. People told me the images made them laugh out loud. Or that they hit hard. Or that they even made them cry, but that it needed to happen.”
Instead of setting a lens upon infection spikes or a political agenda, “Academic Tarot” flips the script. “In tarot, the cards read us,” the VFC gently instructs, “telling a story about ourselves that can provide clarity, guidance, and hope.” What is this pandemic if not humans protecting themselves and their communities? “Academic Tarot”encourages pausing the thinking self to reflect on the feeling self.
VFC co-founder Hannah Alpert-Abrams told Hyperallergic, “It allows me to use my skills as a student of literature in an act of close reading that requires imagination, care, and critique.”
The deck’s editorial and artistic team wanted an inclusive way to manifest a better future in higher ed with all those messy human experiences and feelings in tow: humor, beauty, fear, intentionality, struggle.
“If there are aliens Googling us, they must think that humans are 100% heteronormative white, super-hotties, and also 95% male,” said Chenette, who relied on resources like Qwear, a queer-centered fashion hub.
Chenette and VFC tarot interpreter Elizabeth Grumbach realized that the act of graduate study evoked the Fool’s traditional characteristics, provoking its reimagination as the Grad Student: “On this journey,” Grumbach explained, “we don’t yet know the things we don’t know.” “Academic Tarot” helps us see what we might not realize is there all along.
Chenette continued, “I wanted to elevate the mundane, creating images that could bring levity … but also to capture the inescapable tragedy and anxiety of this moment. I wanted the characters in the cards to be normal people in academia doing (almost) normal things, to demonstrate the absurdity inherent in our current reality.”
In an exhibition that consists of mostly small-scale black and white works on paper, viewer engagement almost magically awakens the sleepy room.
Maria Maea’s All in Time continues an intergenerational conversation and exemplifies the artist’s process, not simply the finished pieces.
The program, along with recently announced visiting critics, will provide long term funding, promote access, and safeguard experimentation for future students of color.
Koestler Arts works with incarcerated people and patients in secure mental health units, aiming to improve their lives through creativity.
Local artists and culture workers are wondering how the arena will impact the arts landscape, including museums and alternative spaces.
Huaca Pintada comprises a rare mixture of elements of two northern Peruvian civilizations.
Lensa AI’s digital avatars have captivated users, but some say the app is stealing from artists and reflects racial stereotypes.
Contemporary art, original sketches, and more explore how the Japanese character sprung from the pages of a manga and became a global cultural sensation.
New research contests the myth that it was Christianity’s opposition to public nudity that led to the decline in large-scale bathing in the late Roman Empire.
An exhibition at San Francisco’s Letterform Archive highlights typography’s role in iconic social movements from the 1800s through the present.
Eleven Contemporary Artists Explore the Meaning of Shelter at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Artists collaborate with nonprofit institutions and field experts to examine historical and contemporary determinants of housing and the feelings of safety and connection integral to places of living.
Rocks, ducks, and a self-organized survey of Gingham are some of the things to see right now in four Chicago art galleries.
Three weeks into their strike, part-time professors are escalating their protests, backed by public figures and disgruntled parents.