Alena J. Williams received her A.B. in Fine Arts at Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Her research areas include film and media history and theory, modern and contemporary art, rhetoric of visual culture, theories of modernity, and the epistemology of the image.
She is currently preparing a book-length study, The Total Experiment: Cinema and the Modernist Work of Art, on a contiguous set of objects—from multimedia installations and “expanded cinema” practices of the 1960s and 70s to the dynamic kinetic and light experiments of early modernism—that reflect cross-disciplinary ideas in the fields of modern art, film, and visual culture. In addition to examining the “experimental” film as a genre—and undoing its logic—this project addresses the production of artistic and scientific knowledge in the early twentieth century, the evidentiary status of reproducible media, and the political and institutional framing of works of art.
Williams is the curator of Nancy Holt: Sightlines, an international traveling exhibition on American artist Nancy Holt’s Land art, films, videos, and related works from 1966–80 for the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University (2010–13). The retrospective companion volume published with the University of California Press (2011; 2014) addresses the artist’s engagement with landscape across a critical spectrum—visual modes of perception and observation, photography and authorship, the politics of land-use, to the interrelation of media and language-based practices. Williams has also organized a number of film programs, including Zwischenakte: Three Passages in Cinema at the Arsenal Cinema in collaboration with the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, and Rutgers University (2011), Site Recordings: Land Art on Film and Video at the Anthology Film Archives, New York (2010), and Light Is a Kind of Rhythm, a film program and book, at the Institut im Glaspavillon am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin (2007–09).
Her research and projects have been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte in Paris, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lannan Foundation. Her courses will include History of Film and Science, Experimental Cinema, Film in a Social Context, Land Art and Media, Modern Art History/Art Theory and Criticism, and History of Art and Technology.
Photo of Alena Williams by Ursula Paletta