Virtual Visual Culture: Museum Beyond Walls, Episode #1: Allison Levy

The Center for Visual Culture is pleased to introduce a series of digital presentations and talks by curators, scholars and other professionals that explore the ways in which scholarship, curatorial projects and other related work might extend beyond the material spaces of the museum or college setting.
For the inaugural session in our themed series Museum Beyond Walls, Allison Levy (Renaissance scholar, Digital Scholarship Editor at Brown University and alumna of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences here at Bryn Mawr) returns to Visual Culture to discuss her newest book House of Secrets: The Many Lives of a Florentine Palazzo. In this informative, intellectually compelling and emotionally engaging talk, Allison shares some of the little known history of one of the masterpieces of Renaissance architecture, the Palazzo Rucellai. Along the way, she reflects on the development of the project, her time living in the Palace and the ways in which the experience has shaped her own approach to doing art history.
Allison Levy is Digital Scholarship Editor at Brown University. An art historian educated at Bryn Mawr College, she has held teaching appointments at University College London, Wheaton College, and Tulane University. Allison has published widely on early modern Italy and Europe and serves as General Editor of the Amsterdam University Press book series Visual and Material Culture, 1300–1700. Her research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association of University Women, the Getty Research Institute, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the Bogliasco Foundation, among others.

Web Resources

Please click here to access  Allison Levy’s House of Secrets: The Many Lives of a Florentine Palazzo.

Allison Levy:
Brown University Center for Digital Scholarship

Virtual Visual Culture: Excavation/Collaboration 3 – Ellie Ga: “Sayed”

In our third Excavation, Gabrielle Giattino returns for a conversation with Ellie Ga, an artist that she represents and whose video, Gyres, was featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, a work that Holland Cotter writing in the New York Times described as “a truly extraordinary video triptych, [that] weaves together archaeology, oceanography and social justice by recording the recovery of ancient remains from the Aegean, the tidal drift of Japanese tsunami debris to the Greek islands and the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees to those same islands.”[1]

Ellie was scheduled to screen the work here at Bryn Mawr in April 2020 for its Philadelphia premier.  Despite the cancellation, we are exploring ways in which to engage with Ellie in the year to come!  In anticipation, we present her video Sayed. 

Sayed is a part of Ellie’s Square Octagon Circle project which focuses on the historical and archaeological site of the light house of Alexandria. Throughout a wide range of artistic interventions that include research-based multimedia lecture-performances, videos, works on paper and a slideshow, Ga explores the limits of our ability to know the past- whether it persists in submerged ruins, remnants of texts or fragments of memories.

To view Sayed, click on
Password alexandria

Web Resources:


Ellie Ga:


Whitney Museum of Art:

[1] Holland Cotter, “The Whitney Biennial: Young Art Cross Stitched With Politics,” The New York Times, May 16, 2019 (accessed May 11, 2020)

Virtual Visual Culture: Excavation/Collaboration 2 – Malpaso Artist Talk, Birgit Rathsmann and Rick Karr

The Center for Visual Culture is pleased to present an ongoing series of virtual screenings by contemporary artists that engage with topics germane to the traditions in art history and archaeology here at Bryn Mawr: excavation and collaboration.

In our second installment, we feature an artist talk by Birgit Rasthmann and Rick Karr, in which they introduce Malpaso, a collaborative project that they are developing with the artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda. In Malpaso, Rathsmann, Karr and Pereda interrogate the historical, geographical and political legacies of a river valley in Chiapas, Mexico that now lies submerged beneath the waters of the Malpaso Reservoir, which was created by the damming up of the Grijalva River. Through an approach that deploys digital animation, sculpture, photography, painting and the strategies of investigative journalism, Rathsmann, Pereda and Karr explore the historical violence that has scarred this landscape as a consequence of colonialism and imperialism, economic development and cultural progress.

Rick Karr makes art using heuristics, methods, and aesthetics drawn from a long career in public-broadcast journalism.  His research-based work embraces and plays with the blurry boundaries between actuality and fiction, truth and falsehood, trust and skepticism. Ultraviolet (2017), a multimedia performance created in collaboration with Birgit Rathsmann, explores the evolutionary forces driving cultural polarization by way of the 19th century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace’s sojourn in Indonesia’s Spice Islands. The Bad Passage (2019), another multimedia performance collaboration with Rathsmann, examines the tangled historical narratives of the Middle Grijalva River basin in Chiapas resulting from successive waves of colonial incursion by the ancient Olmec, Spanish conquistadores, and 20th century Mormon archaeologists. A Brief History of Bullshit (2020) explores truth, falsehood, and philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s defining work on “bullshit” by way of the work of Mexican conceptual artist Octavio Abundez. The ongoing project Fear is a Man’s Best Friend (also a collaboration with Rathsmann) uses the landscape of the suburban Midwest to map the deep fears at the heart of the current American condition.

Birgit Rathsmann grew up in Germany and Indonesia. They are a filmmaker, animator, and artist connecting with audiences in galleries and cinemas. “Malpaso”, their recent collaborative exhibition exhuming the history of a river valley beneath a reservoir in Chiapas (MX) was presented at The Clemente (NYC). “Room for Storms” turned satellite footage of hurricanes into a public cinematic event at the East River Band Shell, NYC and a gallery exhibition at Alterna/Corriente in Mexico City. “October 18, 1977”, an exhibition at Gasser/ Grunert gallery (NY), integrated 22 artists’ responses to the prison deaths of the Baader Meinhof Group. Their documentary film about women martial arts heroes in films from Hong Kong played at film festivals and independent cinemas. Animations which they created in collaboration with a number of comedians including Lorelei Ramirez, Mary Houlihan, Tim Platt and Ikechukwu Ufomado have been screened on Comedy Central and at film festivals. They organize a series of public conversations at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, most recently “Four dialogues about Artists, Audience and Community”.

Alejandro Almanza Pereda has a Master’s degree in Arts from Hunter College, New York. He has had solo exhibitions at institutions including San Francisco Art Institute; Museo El Eco, Mexico City; Art in General, New York; Stanley Rubin Center, El Paso TX; College of Wooster Art Museum, Ohio. His work has been featured at the Istanbul Biennial, ASU Museum; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; Dublin Contemporary 2011, 6a Bienal de Curitiba Brazil, El Museo del Barrio(NY) and the Queens Museum. Alejandro has attended the Skowhegan and Bemis Art Residencies program.  He is also a grant recipient of CIFO Grant Program, the Harpo Foundation, Sistema Nacional de Creadores, México, Harker Award for Interdisciplinary Studies at SFAI, Theodore Randall International Chair in Art and Design at Alfred University and the Black Cube Artist Fellowship. His work was featured in Art 21 close up series. He is currently a member of LA RUBIA TE BESA an Art band project. He lives in Guadalajara Mexico.

Rathsmann & Karr interactive poster

Virtual Visual Culture: Excavation/Collaboration 1 – Christine Rebet

The Center for Visual Culture is pleased to present a series of virtual screenings by contemporary artists that engage with topics germane to the traditions in art history and archaeology here at Bryn Mawr: Excavation and collaboration.

We begin this new experiment with screenings of work by three artists whose practices pursue historical and archaeological inquiry through the use of time based media. Each of the projects is collaborative in nature, developing out of the creative encounters between different approaches to historical research, analysis and representation.

In our first installment, we feature the work of Christine Rebet, an artist represented by Bureau, a contemporary art gallery approaching its ten-year anniversary this spring. The gallery was founded by Gabrielle Giattino, a graduate of Haverford College who majored in the History of Art here at Bryn Mawr. Given Gabrielle’s connection to the Bryn Mawr community and to the History of Art department, her participation in this inaugural episode is quite fitting and embodies the spirit of this experiment – to produce digital content that contributes to the enrichment of our shared mission beyond the confines of the physical campus.

Christine Rebet is an artist who works across a wide range of media that includes drawing, installation, performance and animation. Rebet is currently collaborating with Sebastien Rey, a curator and archaeologist at the British Museum, on a series of animated films and drawings that focus on the archeological excavation of a Sumerian temple. Commissioned by the Sumerian ruler Gudea, the temple was dedicated to the god Ningirsu and his avatar, the Thunderbird. In the video that introduces the work, Rebet and Rey are joined by Giattino for an informal discussion about their collaboration on the animated film Thunderbird, which takes as its subject one of the key elements in the founding myth of the temple, the dream of Gudea.

To access the video introduction please click on the following link:

To access the animation please click on the link and enter the password:

Password: Thunderbird

In Thunderbird Rebet focuses on the story of a temple commissioned by the Sumerian ruler Gudea, dedicated to the god Ningirsu and his avatar the Thunderbird. It was believed that the gods sent a divine vision to Gudea, a dream that inspired the building of the temple. Rebet animates this sacred myth, which was found written into ancient terracotta cylinders, unlocking the narrative and spiritual potential within the clay. Thunderbird imagines a dialogue between King Gudea and Nanshe, Sumerian goddess of prophecy, whom Gudea summons to help interpret a dream. The animation comprises 2,500 hand-inked drawings, opening with thunder and rain clouds which blossom forth with flowering plants; the wet earth then churning with molten energy as the red sun rises over the landscape. Eventually we see hands mixing mud to make the bricks for building the sacred temple.


Exhibition/Screening History:
Collective Mythologies, Art Basel Film, Basel, 2019
Time Levitation, Parasol unit, London, 2020
Collective Mythologies, Art Basel Film, Basel, 2019
Despar Teatro Italia, Venice, 2019
Nanterre-Amandiers, Nanterre, 2019
Tunderbird, Bureau, New York, 2018
Sursock Museum, Beirut, 2018
Cinematheque Robert-Lynen, Paris, 2018
Christine Rebet: Screening, Silencio, Paris, 2018

Studio International Interview: 

January 29, 2020 – Homay King

Professor, Chair, Director of Graduate Studies
Eugenia Chase Guild Chair in the Humanities
Department of History of Art, Bryn Mawr College

“Sarah Winchester and the Origins of Silicon Valley”

This talk is about Sarah Winchester (1840-1922), the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms company, who moved from Connecticut to San Jose, CA after the death of her husband. She spent the remainder of her life building a colossal Victorian mystery mansion. Winchester was painted by the press as an eccentric who built her mausoleum-like house out of guilt, melancholy, and superstition, in an attempt to assuage the spirits of Native Americans slaughtered by her family’s guns. In this talk, I claim that she was also a savvy business woman whose vast construction projects were more about Gilded Age displays of wealth: a continuation of settler colonialism, not symbolic reparation thereof. Her many property holdings throughout the Bay Area anticipate the contemporary built environment in that region, and were filled with technically innovative design features of her own creation. How do our stories about Silicon Valley change if we situate her, a 19th-century woman, at the origins of tech innovation culture? The talk includes a reading of Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy (2002-04).

February 5, 2020 – Delia Solomons

Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art
Drexel University

“Marisol’s Anti-Monument: Panamericanism, Masculinity, and Other Imaginaries”

Marisol’s assemblage The Generals (1961–62) assumes a guise of well-worn signifiers of midcentury U.S. patriotic masculinity: equestrian statue, founding father, soldier, and cowboy. At the same time, this sculpture of George Washington and Simón Bolívar on a single horse invokes the very forces Cold Warriors vilified as un-American threats at home and abroad: homoeroticism and Latin American dissent. Marisol’s irreverent anti-monument, which has garnered little analysis but performed a central role during her meteoric rise in the sixties, tapped into Cold War discourses about sexual politics, freedom, national mythologies, and inter-American relations.

February 26, 2020 – Hentyle Yapp

Assistant Professor in Art & Public Policy
New York University

“To Free Speech from Free Speech: Queer Marxism and Disability Aesthetics in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s A City of Sadness”

Liberal forms of speech are glorified as the primary political tool by which to achieve representation. Michel Foucault notably located an early genealogy of such practices of speaking truth to power in the Stoic tradition of parrhesia. However, a problematic arises in which centrism demands that “all sides matter” whereby, as demonstrated today, alt-right and radical leftists are seen as equally illiberal and asking for too much. This talk asks what might happen if we free the concept of speech from free speech itself? What might speech look like if not primarily informed through a liberal democratic tradition?

To explore these questions, I turn to disability, particularly deafness and muteness, to grapple with formulations of speech that do not fit under truth, transparency, and liberalism. In particular, I examine Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s classic and lauded film A City of Sadness (1989) and focus on its disability aesthetics. This film, which won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film festival, displaces sound and speech during Taiwan’s passage from Japanese colonial occupation to mainland Chinese colonization following the second world war. Rather than depicting true images of state violence or privileging historical realism, the director notably develops an aesthetic of opacity and illegibility. Hou’s formal aesthetics, in other words, provide a political critique that does not rely on truth, repair, and recognition. Ultimately, this film provides a space to trace a “queer Marxist” genealogy across two Chinas, as informed by the work of Petrus Liu.

March 18, 2020 – Anthony Petro

Associate Professor of Religion and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Department of Religion
Boston University 

“Provoking Religion: The Aesthetics of Literalism and the Queer Arts of Myth in the U.S. Culture Wars”

This talk begins with a simple enough question: when is a cross a cross, and when is it a gauntlet thrown in the infamous battles of the U.S. culture wars? How does an image come to offend, who does it offend, and why? During the height of the U.S. culture wars in the 1980s and 1990s, a number of conservative Christian leaders attacked art dealing with issues of religion, gender, and sexuality as pornographic or sacrilegious, if not specifically anti-Christian. Indeed, a number of artists, including Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, Karen Finley, and David Wojnarowicz, drew upon aesthetic forms borrowed from the rich visual and ritual history of Christianity, and of Roman Catholicism specifically, often in ways that seemed to profane religious symbols. This talk focuses on the work of artist and author David Wojnarowicz and his legal battles of Christian Right leader Donald Wildmon to examine the contours of such debates. It asks how we might read such episodes not as typical culture wars battles pitting religious conservatives against secular progressives, but rather as competing struggles to define the place of religion and art in the public sphere.

March 25, 2020 – Carrie Anderson

Assistant Professor
Department of History of Art and Architecture

Middlebury College

“Textiles and Trade in the Dutch Atlantic World: Albert Eckhout’s African Man and Woman”

Art historians have largely abandoned the notion that Dutch artist Albert Eckhout’s (1610-1665) series of so-called ethnographic portraits—today in the National Museum of Denmark—offer transparent portrayals of the people with whom the Dutch had contact in New Holland, the name given to the northeast region of Brazil during Dutch occupancy (1630-1654). Instead, scholars have more recently posited nuanced and careful critiques of these paintings that identify and challenge the Eurocentric assumptions and hierarchies integral to the conception and interpretation of the series.  Acknowledging the critical importance of these studies, this talk seeks to reframe the parameters of the discussion by reestablishing the crucial connections between material culture and cultural identity—which are evident even when bound by the pictorial conventions of oppressive colonial forces.  Drawing from global, material culture, and literary studies, this talk will focus on the blue-and-white textiles worn by Eckhout’s African figures, garments that gesture towards the complexities of Dutch global trade networks, but also make visible the complex negotiations that informed cultural identities in the early modern Atlantic world.

April 1, 2020 – Daniel Zolli

Assistant Professor
Department of Art History
The Pennsylvania State University

“Making Up Materials: Donatello and the Cosmetic Act”

Over the roughly half-century that he plied the medium of sculpture, Donatello (1383/6–1464) produced a number of works which, although differing in key respects, all take up the same basic conceit. Broadly speaking, these are sculptures wrought from one material that masquerade as a different substance entirely, always a substance more costly or prestigious than the first. To affect these transformations Donatello and his collaborators would rework the raw substrate of these sculptures – their “skin” – dramatically, applying subtle films of pigment, varnish, gold powder, resin, wax, brick dust, and a host of other materials that work in concert to make terracotta resemble marble or glass mosaic; stucco simulate precious stones; to give limestone the look of porphyry. While the range of activities to which Donatello’s dissimulated materials might be compared was broad, this talk explores the possibility that the sculptor and his peers were reminded of one pursuit in particular:not painting per se, but its less dignified offspring cosmetics, the artificial enhancement of a body with rouge. Contemporary anecdotes, gossip, popular poetry, and payment records offer insight into Donatello’s appetite for cosmetic experiment.By resurrecting these sources, this talk identifies an underappreciated discourse surrounding Donatello’s “made up” materials, at once exalted for their artifice, and marked by a deep-seated distrust of false appearances, in sculptural media and flesh alike. Throughout, I will attempt to remain faithful to the belief among his contemporaries that what distinguished Donatello within his culture was a special aptitude for cunning – my proposal, in fact, is that this quality is most explicitly manifest in how the sculptor treated surface itself, and a key to understanding the facets of his practice that posterity left behind. For unlike Donatello’s better-known works in marble and bronze, which became a rich quarry for posterity to mine, his cosmetic experiments were not once reprised in the sixteenth century.