Living with Toxicity: Mapping the Toxic in Contemporary Culture

Ruby de Vos | University of Groningen | Living with Toxicity: Mapping the Toxic in Contemporary Culture | Supervisors: Vera Alexander, Pablo Valdivia

Toxicity is an urgent concern in today’s world, affecting bodies and environments (Alaimo 2010). At the same time, it presents ambivalent challenges in the context of cultures and the arts as it exerts a complex fascination on artists, writers and the general public, and spans a wide range of contradictory images and narratives (Buell 1998, Nixon 2011, Chen 2012). Indeed, toxicity can be defined as a cultural-material hybrid: it manifests itself materially, in its effects on bodies and environments, as well as culturally and discursively. By mapping the engagement of contemporary memoirs, documentaries, and visual art concerned with the effects of chemical and nuclear toxicity on bodies and environments, Living with Toxicity aims at a critical analysis of the aesthetic, relational, and material interactions that emerge due to toxicity, and contributes to the theorization of the relationship between toxicity and art.

E-quality for #ThePeople: On the Populist Horizon in the Digital Age

Lykle de Jong | E-quality for #ThePeople: On the Populist Horizon in the Digital Age | Supervisor: Marc Tuters, Richard Rogers

The growing swing and appeal of populist movements is increasingly reflected online. Populism, par excellence, is able to tune into this digital turn in politics. Arguably this may even be one of the foremost reasons why populists enjoy such success. While most, if not all, politicians employ social media, I claim that a specific bond between populism and social media can be observed. However, research on populism and social media is scarce, but decidedly urgent. The proposed thesis therefore sets as its task the understanding of this particular relation between the Web and contemporary populism.


Past Nature in Contemporary Art. How Art and Philosophy Interact

Monique Peperkamp | University of Amsterdam | Past Nature in Contemporary Art. How Art and Philosophy Interact | Supervisors: Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Miriam van Rijsingen, Peter Sonderen.

Nature is a key concept in modern culture, related to the romantic-modern idea of the subject and the rationale of art in modernity. Many contemporary works of art address nature in a state of catastrophic transformation, nature appears in neologisms such as ‘transnatural’, ‘next nature’, ‘postnature’, and anthropocentrism is simultaneously challenged by new materialisms. This research investigates how art and new tendencies in philosophy are related to these transformations. It therefore inquires into works of art and art practices concerned with nature, and theory, to understand what the pivotal positions, core concepts and implications concerning nature and art are.

Secret Theatre: Off-the-grid Performance Practices in Communist Poland and Czechoslovakia (1945 – 1989)

Olga Krasa-Ryabets | University of Amsterdam | Secret Theatre: Off-the-grid Performance Practices in Communist Poland and Czechoslovakia (1945 – 1989) | Supervisors: Ellen Rutten, Kati Röttger

This study examines the home as a site of dissent, subversion and social change by way of theatrical performance. It investigates understudied instances of theatre/performative activity produced within private residencies in Poland and former Czechoslovakia between 1945 – 1989. In doing so it seeks to expand the concept of ‘dissent’ and present it as not only direct oppositional engagement with a regime but a process of cognitive distancing. To achieve this fuller picture of alternative culture, the project draws on several analytical approaches to explain the nature of personal identity formation and delve into the complex relationship between the home and the theatre. The study focuses on four locations: Warsaw, Brno, Prague and Teplice. Some of the materials used are recently published, as is the case with Miron Bialoszewski’s secret diaries, although careful consideration is given to unpublished sources (interviews) and materials published privately (e.g. Brno’s self-published ‘samizdat’). The analysis of primary sources within the appropriate cultural context maps a multi-faceted underground reality – one that challenges schematic representations of binarily opposed state and dissident cultures.The project does not conform to the view that dissent is exclusively defined as a politically motivated organized movement. Rather, the research supports Jonathan Bolton’s view that dissent is “a set of cultural practices” and examines how, through self-mythology and cognitive distancing, these practices provide an identity to those practicing.

Digital Deaths: The Affects and Arts of Online Mourning

Nadia de Vries | University of Amsterdam | Digital Deaths: The Affects and Arts of Online Mourning | Supervisor: Prof. dr. Ellen Rutten, Dr. Joyce Goggin

The grieving process is one of the many aspects of our lives that the Internet has changed. Dead relatives are mourned through remembrance profiles on Facebook, lost loved ones are commemorated through personal webpages, and sympathy for local tragedies is expressed through social media avatars. As scholars such as Candi K. Cann (2014) and Angela Riechers (2013) have amply demonstrated, the Internet and the digital methods that emerge from it have fundamentally changed our experience and enactment of affective processes related to permanent loss: grief, trauma, and nostalgia. Web-based relics in the shape of Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts, and personal blogs have all become novel ways of memorializing the departed.

But online mourning not merely has its own rituals: it also boasts its own aesthetics. With contemporary artists and authors exploiting the affective impact of online memorials for creative merit, digital death has developed a new, virtual aesthetics of mourning. With these cultural developments in mind, this project asks: how is the Internet reshaping the ways in which we express and share grief? How does the digital aestheticization of mourning affect our perspectives on death? And how, in turn, have existing aesthetics of mourning shaped online grieving practices?

This project deals with the affects and arts of digital mourning. Through an analysis of contemporary cultural objects such as the Facebook remembrance profile, the “trauma-fied” profile picture, and “HTML sentimentality” in contemporary art, this project aims to elucidate how we express grief in a digital space. The project serves to map out the ways in which our online and offline expressions of grief interact, and the points at which they meet and blur. In conjunction with the outlining of online mourning practices, the project seeks to categorize the ways in which digital deaths are aestheticized in web-based cultures, and how these digital deaths (both of individuals and virtual bodies) are used as a source and site of creative production.