Alena Williamswilliams

Assistant Professor

(858) 822-5050

VAF 364


Alena J. Williams is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, where she teaches modern and contemporary art history and film and media studies. She received 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.

Williams is currently preparing a book-length study, The Total Experiment: Cinema and the Modernist Work of Art, on astronomy and experimental cinema’s intertwined aesthetic imaginary. Focusing 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, this project examines the “experimental” film as a genre while undoing its logic. It 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. She has forthcoming contributions in the edited volume Anton Pannekoek’s View on Science and Society. Modernism in Science, Radical Politics, and Art on the Dutch astronomer and socialist theorist and his legacy in contemporary art with the University of Chicago/University of Amsterdam Press, and in a retrospective publication of contemporary artist Lothar Baumgarten with Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König.

From 2010-2013, Williams curated 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. The retrospective companion volume published with the University of California Press (2011; 2015) 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 (2007–2009).

Since 2016, Williams has organized the campus-based research initiative, The Visual Cultures of Work, which focuses on working practices: affective relations governing artistic and intellectual labor; the “commons,” and the common good; and the range of drives and investments that inhabit one’s production. Past speakers include: Giovanna Zapperi, Sabeth Buchmann, Joseph Masco, Laura Smith, Kaucyila Brooke, and Rachel O’Reilly. Williams is also a member of the UCSD Chancellor’s Interdisciplinary Collaboratory, Interrogating the Archive: Shared Research Methodologies at the Intersection of Aesthetics and Authenticity, with a collective of faculty and graduate students from the Departments of Visual Arts, Communication, and Ethnic Studies. Her undergraduate courses include: History of Experimental Cinema; History of Art and Technology; History of Film; Twentieth-Century Art; Video Art; Land Art, Environmentalism, and Media; and graduate courses: Special Topics in Art Practice/Theory: Creative Life; Film and Science: Rethinking Experimental Cinema; and Communities and Subcultures.

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. In 2017, Williams was a Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. In 2018, she was DAAD Fellow at the Institute for the History and Theory of Design at the University of Arts in Berlin.
Photo of Alena Williams by Ursula Paletta