Luca Arens

Ph.D. Candidate, Germanic Languages, GSAS
Indecent Forms

From the middle of the 18th-century to the early 20th-century, one of the most effective ways to delegitimize artworks and arguments in the German-speaking world was to call them indecent [unsittlich]. Yet a number of plays, novels, paintings, and philosophical treatises leveraged this ascription to challenge the very terms on which they were delegitimated. In the process, they not only exposed the discriminatory logic inscribed into good taste, generic convention and proper form. They also resisted the efforts of those who deployed all three concepts to suppress social dissent and stifle artistic innovation. My dissertation recovers this obscured artistic and intellectual tradition by zooming in on three historical moments, where new modalities of expression threatened to dislodge distinctions between Sitte and Unsitte, Sittlichkeit and Unsittlichkeit; between what is good, proper, conventional and what is bad, improper, and unconventional. 

Maur Dessauvage

Ph.D. Candidate, Architecture, GSAPP
The Sovereignty of Style: German Architecture and Legal Theory, 1815-1830

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Great Triumphal Chariot of the Emperor Maximilian (after Albrecht Dürer), pen and ink on blue paper, 1814-1815

The opening decades of the nineteenth century saw the rise of new attitudes towards historical change that simultaneously overturned the aesthetic norms and political codes of the Enlightenment. This dissertation examines the relationship between architectural and legal theory in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, a transformative period during which architecture and law were tasked with nothing less than the construction of the modern German state. A long-standing fixture of university education in the German-speaking world, jurisprudence played a formative, though overlooked, role in the emergence of historicism across the humanistic disciplines that significantly impacted architecture. This research explores how legal theory—in particular, the study of Roman law—sharpened the historical vision of figures such as Christian Ludwig Stieglitz, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Sulpiz Boisserée, and Leo von Klenze. By attending to the hermeneutic lenses through which nineteenth-century thinkers interpreted the diachronic development of architecture and law, this dissertation shows how historicist discourse both reflected and affected the transition from the eighteenth-century ancien régime to nineteenth-century bourgeois society.

Rachel Hutcheson

Ph.D. Candidate, Art History & Archeology, GSAS
Color Photography, 1890-1920: Technology, Gender, Colonialism

Sarah Angelina Acland (British, 1849-1930), Conda, a Moor, 1903. Two Sanger-Shepherd three-color photographs. Gibraltar. Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University, Oxford.

This project explores the technological hybridity of early color formats against medium-specific definitions of photographic or cinematic images. It argues for the centrality of female photographers as early practitioners and innovators of color photography in the United States and England. It claims that color featured prominently in the Victorian colonial imaginary to construct orientalizing views of colonial subjects.

Color photography has been largely excised from the art historical discourse and history of photography whose focus on artists, stylistic attributes, and technological periodization has contributed to its marginalization and the elision of the transmediality of color in the early twentieth century. I locate early color photographic technologies (1890-1920) within contemporaneous scientific and social debates around color which reveal the crucial epistemological shift that considered color a relational phenomenon to an empirical one. As a co-production of the body and machine technologies configured in time and space, the color image is an event. At the intersection of photography, color, and gender discourses, female photographers were able to marshal the gendered biases of color in order to establish expressive modes and photographic careers in the new color medium. The gendering of color also helped to define orientalist photography and film of the British colonial era, particularly that of India. Comparing color in orientalist depictions of India and the use of color in Indian photographic miniatures compels us to reconsider the links between technology and subjectivity as well as modernity and colonialism. This dissertation seeks not only to rewrite the history of early color photography but to reconfigure understandings of the relationships between modernity, technology and art.

Javiera Irribarren Ortiz

Ph.D. Candidate, Latin American and Iberian Cultures, GSAS
Decolonizing the Imagination Engendered by the Anthropocene: Alter-natives in Speculative Fiction Graphic Narratives in Brazil and Chile

“Both spirits argue over humans' settlement on the virgin island of Rapa Nui”. Ojeda-Labourdette & Hernández. Varua 1. El hundimiento de Hiva. RapaNui Press, 2014. 19.

I map speculative graphic narratives from Brazil and Chile published in the 21st century. The case studies are narrative sequences through images, such as comics and graphic novels, and align with speculative fiction—a cultural field that expands on science fiction by including fantasy, folk tales, legends, and myths. The sequential layout of graphic narratives fuels the involvement with displaced scenarios, whose worldbuilding reimagines alternatives across time and space at the material level. While speculative fiction emerged from western voices, it has been repurposed by Indigenous people and non-western minorities to offer alternatives to the rhetoric of modernity. I use the decolonial perspective of power to relate material conditions that have mediated the creation of cases that address the fallacies of human homogeneity and nonhuman agency engendered by the Anthropocene in terms of racialization, regionalism, developmental extractivism, and outsourcing. The project also includes a sequential narrative—designed in collaboration with the artist Panchulei—that stimulates an intermedial reflection through the analysis format and mediates an overview of the dissertation.

Daniel Penner-Hashimoto

Ph.D. candidate, East Asian Languages and Cultures, GSAS
Languages of Critical Enlightenment: Science, Literature, and the Aesthetics of Writing in Meiji Japan

Left: illustration of a vacuum pump, in Fukuzawa Yukichi’s 1868 textbook Illustrations of the Investigation of Natural Laws (Kyūri zukai). Right: illustration of colonial Calcutta, in Fukuzawa Yukichi’s 1869 textbook All the Countries of the World (Sekai kunizukushi).

This dissertation reevaluates major threads of intellectual and cultural activity of Meiji Japan (1868-1912) as part of a project of “critical enlightenment,” conceived in response to the imminent threat of Euro-American imperialism. Building on recent scholarship that eschews narratives of Japan’s putative modernization and Westernization, I excavate indeterminacies latent in intellectual and creative activity in the Meiji period, and demonstrate the transformational nature of this activity not only within Japan, but also with respect to the global discourse of Enlightenment in which it self-situated. The pedagogical structure of critical enlightenment underscored the importance of communicative media and infrastructures, and threw into question the adequacy of the Japanese
language itself as a basis both for translation as well as for spoken and written discourse. This dissertation adds two methodological approaches largely absent from the body of scholarship on linguistic thought in the Meiji period: (1) an emphasis on the media environment that conditions linguistic production and thought, and (2) a focus on disciplinarity, the shifting organization of knowledge, classed as novel in both substance and structure. In particular, I clarify how practices and rhetorical conceptions of science and literature outline overlapping domains of shared human capacity for experiencing and knowing that linked to socio-political organization.

Hannah Pivo

Ph.D. Candidate, Art History & Archeology, GSAS
Charting the Future: Graphic Methods, Graphic Design & Planning in the U.S., c. 1910–40

This dissertation studies the role of graphic methods in planning, broadly defined, in the United States in the 1910s–30s. In this period, ‘planning’ was a capacious term that applied to practices of resource, regional, and urban planning, as well as broader efforts on the part of private corporations and public (often federal) agencies to bring a certain kind of order to economic and social affairs. Graphic methods, particularly graphing and mapping, became embedded in these practices, and the circulation of graphs, maps, and charts also conveyed the principles and outcomes of planning to broader audiences. I study how these techniques and images were understood and operated, and moreover how they came to carry surplus meanings— notions such as accuracy, epistemic authority, growth, and progress— that graphic designers wielded and further entrenched through broader applications in popular and corporate imagery.

Elliott Sturtevant

Ph.D. Candidate, Architecture, GSAPP
Empire’s Stores: Graphic Methods, Corporate Architecture, and Entrepôt Urbanism in America, 1876–1939

Diagram of congestion in Manhattan due to the accumulation of freight delivered along the Hudson River. One Day’s Trucking to and from the New York Central’s Pier and Inland Stations South of Fifty-ninth Street (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Co, 1920). Seymour B. Durst Old York Library Collection, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

“Empire’s Stores” seeks to understand graphic methods, along with American businesses’ architecture and urbanism, as agents of the United States’ corporate-led, turn-of-the-century territorial and economic expansion. Working against accounts that privilege the nineteenth century’s technological annihilation of space and time, this dissertation foregrounds the media practices operationalized by the modern business enterprise to take advantage of their unevenness. The project focuses on the range of media that allowed disparate persons, elements, and property—labor, resources, architecture and machinery—to be combined visually on the page and assembled in the field. These include figurative lines of communication as well as literal modes of distribution employed between buildings or stores, from chutes to steamships and power lines to wire rope landings. As US commercial interests took on imperial dimensions, I argue these media practices played a crucial role in reconfiguring the “obstacles” imperial enterprise encountered, opening opportunities for some to profit from their transformation. Examining four firms that straddled US “borders,” I aim to show how “American” corporate architecture produced and profited from imperial formations and, in doing so, reshaped territorial, geographic, and economic barriers.

Alex Zivkovic

Ph.D. Candidate, Art History & Archaeology, GSAS
Ambient Empire: Ecologies, Colonies, and Dreamworlds in Paris

Édouard Riou, “Intérieur de la grande serre dans le jardin reserve,” Grand album de l’Exposition Universelle 1867 (Paris: Michel Levy Frères, 1868)

“Ambient Empire” explores greenhouses, aquariums, and gardens in French art and mass culture from 1860 to 1940. A media archaeological examination of spaces of nature in Paris, this dissertation will attend to scholarship on infrastructure, French empire, and technologies of visualization. By studying environments built for various contexts including expositions, film studios, and surrealist exhibitions, I will interrogate the diverse political and aesthetic purposes behind simulated ecologies. What gave rise to this widespread interest in nature as public entertainment in the mid-19th century? Why was nature managed and mediated by bureaucrats and artists alike? And how did experiences of constructed “nature” inflect and inform ideas of technology, culture, and race? Methodologically, my research will look between and across media: first examining records of built sites through firsthand textual accounts, prints, and photographs and then exploring the influence of these new sites and technologies on contemporaneous film, photography, collage, and installation art. Overall, this dissertation suggests that these environmental constructions emerged as part of a modern world-building strategy to stage the new and the different—whether applied to explore ecosystems, visit colonies, imagine futures, or encounter the unconscious.