Specializing in modern and contemporary art, with research interests in Cold War visual and media cultures, especially in the German Democratic Republic, the historiography of art history and visual studies, iconoclasm and image studies, and the intersections of art and science.
Work in Progress
2015-16, I was a Mellon Humanities Fellow working on a research project on the Swedish performance artist Mattias Olofsson and the ways in which his art intervenes in both historical and contemporary conflicts centered on processes of identification with socially marginalized groups. March 2016, I presented a paper at The Fourth Euroacademia International Conference on Identities and Identifications: Politicized Uses of Collective Identities, held at the Cultural Centre Don Orione Artigianelli in Venice, Italy. My paper "Performing the Sami Experience" examined the identities and burden of post-colonialism in the on-going projects Olofsson who dons the persona of an historical figure in performances, videos, and photographs. His chosen figure is a woman nick-named Stor-Stina who grew to be over two meters tall. She was of Sami descent, a formerly nomadic and colonized people still residing in northern Finland, Russia, Sweden, and Norway. She was born in 1819 in Swedish Lapland and at the age of 18, she joined a German manager who staged her in traveling shows throughout Europe in a freak show, dressed in Sami attire and promoting her as the world’s tallest woman born of “Pygmies.” He dresses up as Big Stina in performances, photographs, and films that serve as a vehicle for him to address gender performance, Swedish national relations to the Sami, and his own appropriation of a marginalized subject. In one of his Big Stina projects, 1999-present, he travels to numerous European cities and interviews locals about their cultural traditions. Accompanied by a photographer, Olofsson observes and is observed as a spectacle, as he tours Venice in a gondola wearing long black braids and a Sami dress. Olofsson’s 2005 performance, Culture Constructing Nature, consists of large-scale photographs depicting Olofsson as Stor-Stina inside the diorama exhibition spaces of a Swedish natural history museum and together with taxidermic zoological specimens. This paper asks what it means to portray and speak on behalf of an historically colonized subject. It argues that the rich complexity with which Olofsson performs his “alter ego” saves this precarious project, as he re-formulates identity processes, and re-contextualizes a historical subject to address contemporary concerns as well.
My article "Monumental Attack: The Visual Tools of the German Counter-Monument in Two Works by Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz and Horst Hoheisel" was published September 2016 in the journal Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture. My paper argues that iconoclasm serves as the visual tool of choice for Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz in their Memorial Against Fascism (1986) and for Horst Hoheisel in his Negative Form (1987). The West German historians’ debate of the late 1980s established an image prohibition by framing the representation of the Holocaust as an unimaginable and sacred event. The Counter-Monuments rely on this ban on images. They attack monumentality and visibility as both fascist and capitalist characteristics, designated as such during the Cold War. The essay contends that the formal choices inherent in conceptualizing these two Counter-Monuments comprise familiar historical modes of iconoclasm. It ultimately questions the need to rely on iconoclasm in the Counter-Monuments as well as contemporary German memorialization of the Holocaust.
My 2015 essay, "A Perfectly Nebulous Experiment: C.T.R. Wilson’s Cloud Chamber," explores the early projects of one of the significant contributors to the scientific understanding of cloud formation. Wilson was a meteorologist who discovered a means to render the path of electrons visible, thereby visually proving their material existence. Wilson’s aesthetic interests with the cloud chamber is examined in detail by the historian of science Peter Galison. When Galison questions why Wilson eventually purified the air in his chamber when dust is naturally present in the atmosphere, he concludes that Wilson’s goal had turned from imitating to dissecting nature. But from its very beginning, the achievements of Wilson’s cloud chamber reveal no clear distinction between what we might conceive as “matters of fact” and “matters of concern," or between the realms of science, art and metaphysics. I argue that Wilson’s earliest cloud chamber project sought to idealize the place he identified as home and recreate an exemplary nature from his experience on Ben Nevis, thus confirm his geocentric picture of the world. By reproducing local nature as perfectly pure, however, his early cloud chamber experiments relied on a metaphysically oriented scientific practice dominant before the mid-nineteenth century, one that had turned quite outmoded by the end of the century when Wilson was thinking through his project. This essay was presented at the international conference The Artwork between Technology and Nature, held at Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, and appears in a peer-reviewed book anthology, Art, Technology and Nature: Renaissance to Postmodernity in the series "Science and the Arts since 1750."
Current Book Project
Confronting Inglorious Monuments: Postwar German Memorial Sculpture proposes a new framework for analyzing postwar German memorial sculpture, 1949-present, told through the lens of iconoclasm. The underlying thesis is that negated and destroyed images have stories to tell, that inglorious images may in fact tell us more about a society than the images that are preserved and exalted. Where the history of art tends to be representative of success, highlights, and innovations, this project asks what a history of inglorious and silenced images might look like. It demonstrates the abundance of pictorial critiques expressed during and after the Cold War by comparing select memorial sculpture in East and West Germany, including German relations to a post-1989 global world. My approach to a history of image negations through memorial production and destruction reformulates art history and available studies on German monuments and contributes to a growing number of publications on the concept of iconoclasm.
Art, Technology and Nature: Renaissance to Postmodernity
A book anthology in the series Science and the Arts since 1750, edited by Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam and Jacob Warmberg, based on an International Conference held at the National Gallery of Denmark, focuses on the merging of art, nature, and technology. My chapter, "A Perfectly Nebulous Experiment: C.T.R. Wilson's Cloud Chamber," argues that Wilson's early scientific project was thoroughly mimetic in nature, based on his aesthetic and idiosyncratic worldview.
Art Outside the Lines: New Perspectives on GDR Art Culture
This book anthology, edited by Elaine Kelly and Amy Wlodarski, explores new research on the cultures of the GDR. My own chapter, "Quid pro Quo: Assessing the Value of the Thälmann Monument," argues for a new perspective on the GDR monument, seeing it as a participant in the social exchange of a gift given by the leadership and both accepted and rejected by its citizens.
Passepartout 32 (2011)
An issue of the art history journal Passepartout concerned with the art history of three dimensionality: "3D/monumentskulpturobjektinstallation." My article, "Reframing the Workers' Militia Monument in Post-Unification Berlin," explores the artistic techniques of deconstruction, alienation, and detachment exercised on an unwanted monument, dismantled in Berlin after 1990.
Totalitarian Art and Modernity
Aarhus University Press, 2010
Edited by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen and Jacob Wamberg, this book anthology
examines political art of past dictatorships often historically labeled 'totalitarian'. My chapter, “What Ever Happened to Ernst Barlach? East German Political Monuments and the Art of Resistance,” contends that current art historiography is in the process of reframing East German art, often questionably, as an art of resistance.
Visuel Kultur - viden, liv, politik
This major anthology (Visual Culture - Knowledge, Life, Politics), edited by Hans Dam Christensen and Helene Illeris, investigates contemporary visual cultures. My chapter in Danish, "Political Iconoclasm and Idolatry in Contemporary Visual Culture," demonstrates how the two concepts of iconoclasm and idolatry remain thoroughly embedded in our contemporary world.
Here are the descriptions of courses I have taught in recent years:
Contemporary Global Art
The process of globalization since 1989 has radically shifted the focus away from the eurocentricity of a Western culture defined by North America and western Europe, and toward the so-called margins of culture, Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America. Moreover, the Internet, which emerged with financial support in the 1980s and 1990s, continues to provide new networking technologies and worldwide access to information, fundamentally changing our knowledge foundations. The collapse of the Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War brought about global transformations in institutions of power and finance, as well as greater proximity between the developing world and the West in terms of health and prosperity. These geographical, technological, socio-historical, and economic conditions have thoroughly changed the nature of contemporary art and graphic design.
Thus, this seminar will examine the impact of globalization on the work of contemporary praxis. First and foremost, we will consider the pertinent theories and strategies emerging as part of a globalizing effect through the use of new media, concepts of place, postcolonialism’s impact on art, and the dissemination of images and language. We will look at numerous contemporary artists, active between 1989 and the present, and major world exhibitions and biennales. Our objective is to gain an awareness of the basis on which we conceptualize and appreciate contemporary art today in a global context: Does the art’s location determine our response? Does globalization result in a culture of standardization or does it produce, instead, the fragmentation of multiple local cultures?
Iconoclasm and the Monstrous
This seminar explores the destruction and production of art via the main theoretical issues at stake in the iconoclastic gesture, considering also why these issues might matter for us today. Cases explored will come from a range of historical eras and cultural regions—icons in Byzantium, the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, colonial idolatry, European notions of African fetishism, Revolutions—French, Mexican, Post-communist—and their storming of pictures, the avant-garde, modern and contemporary art as iconoclasm. We will examine the ideas surrounding the crucial theological as well as secular terms pertinent to any study of iconoclasm and relate these to art and art history. The terms include idolatry, icon/idol, fetishism, censorship, aura, the other, im/materiality, transcendence, transubstantiation, as well as the monstrosity of images. Key questions framing the course material include: What are the psychological and social aspects at stake in breaking an image? Why is the problem of an image’s materiality and immateriality at the heart of iconoclasm? What role does the imagined ‘animate’ object perform? Why is iconoclasm impossible without an idolater? How do politics, ethics and justice play a part in attacks on art? When do critique, deconstruction and judgment become iconoclastic, and why is violence seemingly the preferred way to neutralize the monstrous idol? Students will write a substantial research paper based on individually developed and original research questions.
Images are central to our life, but do we know how to critically read them? Being visually literate means understanding how visual content communicates effectively. This colloquium will explore the ways one can decode the underlying ideas of image producers and consider the nature of perception and visuality, our culturally and historically determined ways of seeing. The course will develop skills in writing and articulating the visual academically, including thinking of images as documents, visual evidence, and even as “arguments.” Students will gain knowledge in ascertaining how the visual serves aesthetic, cognitive, perceptual, and ideological purposes, through extensive writing about images and discussion on visual culture.
Cold War Art & Media Cultures
The course explores the ideas and concerns of the cold war era, 1945-1992, through visual and media cultures. We will examine the visual arts of East and West, media theories, and cultural-political events across borders and in an international context. Topics include the politics of abstraction and figuration, television and suburbia, fashion and fear, utopian projects, revolution and protest, the 1955 Family of Man exhibit and the first western German Documenta exhibit of the same year, the Berlin Wall, official and unofficial Soviet art, and Eames’ multimedia architecture. How were cold war ideas, hopes, goals, fears, and concerns mediated into visible form?
Aesthetics and Politics
The graduate seminar explores seminal texts by German social theorists and philosophers writing on art, media, mass culture and politics in the early twentieth century. Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and other left-wing intellectuals sought to put theories into practice with the aim of transforming society and liberating it from oppressive political systems. These theorists writing before, during and after the political turmoil of mid-20th century Europe created a significant social role for aesthetics. Their cross-disciplinary research involved all dimensions of culture, including literature, music, the visual arts, and mass media. In the 1920s and 30s, Kracauer and Benjamin examined photography, film, and the role of images in ways that linked the social focus of the Frankfurt School with the cultural focus of the Hamburg School (Warburg Institute). Marxist ideas on the role of art and its relationship to culture diverged into distinct avenues, especially in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries. The seminar is primarily a reading course designed to familiarize us with some of the most important early texts. But it will also draw on later European theorists, such as Peter Bürger and Jacques Rancière, only tangentially drawing on the ideas of the Frankfurt School but fundamentally concerned with the politics of aesthetics.
History, Memory and Monuments in 20th Europe
This seminar explores history and cultural memory through a focus on visual documents. Using monuments and memorials in modern Europe—primarily in France and Germany—as our key points of reference, the course investigates recent ideas about collective memory and cultural identity as they relate to cultural history. It will draw its primary examples from visual media (art, film, public statues) as well as politics, place and landscape, and consider also the counter-monument and the post-national, the destruction and preservation of monuments, the commemoration of war victims as well as the cinematic representations of the Holocaust. It will question how current and past memorials and other visual documents relate to the concept of memory, while investigating the stakes involved culturally, politically and ethically in these media in the service of official public remembrance and forgetting.
Editorial board member
Ekfrase: Nordic Journal of Visual Culture is a leading scientific journal for studies of visual culture and aesthetic expression in the Nordic countries, presenting interdisciplinary research from visual and intermedial disciplines within the arts and media fields. It publishes articles in Danish, English, Norwegian, and Swedish. The target audience is researchers, teachers, and students within all aesthetic disciplines at Nordic places of study, specialist and research libraries, and other relevant institutions. The journal is owned by the Department of Information Science and Media Studies at the University of Bergen and is published with financial support from the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils, the Nordic Publishing Committee for Journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Nomadikon Project.
I serve regularly as a referee for journals and book anthologies, most recently for the International Journal of Islamic Architecture.
Assistant Professor of Art History
Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois
Tenure-track appointment in the Joyce Eichhorn Ames School of Art. I teach courses in modern and contemporary art, the senior seminar, introductory-level courses, and seminars in my areas of specialization. I was selected for the IWU Faculty Colloquium Speaker Series, 2015-16, and presented a chapter from my book manuscript, “Division and Unity: Cold War Memorials in East and West Berlin.” Fall 2014, I participated in the interdisciplinary symposium, organized by IWU's International Studies program and sponsored by a Re-Centering the Humanities Mellon grant, "The Freedom to Speak, Create and Dream."
Mellon Humanities Fellow, 2015-1016
Junior Faculty Leave, Spring 2015
Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities
Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH)
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
The position included an appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the School of Art and Design. During this fellowship, I co-organized, with Dianne Harris and Christine Catanzarite, the interdisciplinary symposium, "Memory and the Visual," sponsored by the IPRH.
In 2011, I received a grant from the Getty Research Institute and was a Fellow in the Stone Summer Theory Institute's workshop on Farewell to Visual Studies. A book edited by James Elkins, Gustav Frank, and Sunil Manghani, and based on the workshop, is in press with Pennsylvania State University Press.
Ph.D., Art History
University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Specialization in modern and contemporary art, with a minor in theory, criticism, and historiography
Dissertation Title: “Gestures of Iconoclasm: East Berlin’s Political
Monuments, from the Late German Democratic Republic to Postunified Berlin”
Director: W. J. T. Mitchell. Readers: Darby English, Jaś Elsner, and Horst Bredekamp
My dissertation research was supported by University of Chicago's Lipman Fellowship, two generous grants from the Visiting Committee on the Visual Arts, the Humanities Division Travel Grant and the Getty Research Institute.
M.A., Art History
University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
With my interest in image studies and visual studies, and with W.J.T. Mitchell as my advisor, I explored what iconoclasm might mean in the visual cultural context of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. My graduate studies and travel were supported by the University of Chicago's Century Scholarship and University Grant, and a Kathleen J. Shelton Memorial Travel Fellowship.
Cand.mag., Art History
Københavns Universitet, Copenhagen, Denmark
Continuing my interest in the historiography of art history and visual studies, I wrote my cand.mag thesis on the ekphrastic approaches of the discipline, the re-presentation of images in a discursive framework, arguing for iterability as the necessary foundation of art history.
Erasmus Programme Study Abroad
Sapienza Università di Roma, Rome, Italy
Completed the course "Iconographia e iconologia" taught by Dr. Claudia Cierivia in the Department of Art History at 'Sapienza' and conducted independent research at various libraries and archives in Rome, including the Bibliotheca Hertziana. My main independent project focused on the urban landscape and Imperial art of ancient Rome. My research was generously supported by the Sokrates-Erasmus Foundation, two grants from the University of Copenhagen, and a grant from Knud Højgaards Fond.
B.A., Art History, Linguistics
Københavns Universitet, Copenhagen, Denmark
My major in Art History with a minor in Linguistics led to an investigation of semiotics and poststructuralist thought, delving into theories of perception and visuality. I also developed a passion for the methods and historiography of art history.