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Alena Williamswilliams-big.jpg

Assistant Professor


Alena J. Williams received her Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. She teaches courses in modern and contemporary art history and theory; film and media studies; and the environmental humanities. Her research focuses on the epistemology of the image in art, film, and media with a long-range view across the twentieth century. Williams is currently completing a book on astronomy and experimental cinema’s intertwined aesthetic imaginary; her second project focuses on energy politics and the visual economy of work in early twentieth-century electrical science. A 2016 Hellman Fellow, she was a Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin (2017); a DAAD Fellow at the Institute for the History and Theory of Design at the Universität der Künste Berlin (2018); and a Society Fellow of the Cornell Society for the Humanities (2019-2020).

A curator and writer on modern and contemporary art, Williams has contributed to publications of The Studio Museum in Harlem; the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art/KW Institute of Contemporary Art; Ars Electronica; Guggenheim Museum/Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology; the Jewish Museum Berlin; the Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung Berlin; and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Her writing has also appeared in Artforum International, Texte zur Kunst among others. 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 1966–1980 for the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. Participating venues: Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany; the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Chicago; Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, Massachusetts; the Santa Fe Arts Institute, Santa Fe; and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. The retrospective companion volume published with the University of California Press (2011; 2015) addresses the artist’s engagement with landscape across a critical spectrum, from visual modes of perception and observation; photography, subjectivity, and authorship; the politics of land-use; to the interrelation of media and language-based practices.

Williams has organized 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 screening series and speculative book (merz&solitude, 2009), at the Institut im Glaspavillon am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin (2007–2009). From 2018–2019, she was a member of the UCSD Chancellor’s Interdisciplinary Collaboratory, Interrogating the Archive: Shared Research Methodologies at the Intersection of Aesthetics and Authenticity, an interdisciplinary research group on archival experimentation and decolonial practices with faculty and graduate students from the Departments of Visual Arts, Communication, and Ethnic Studies.

Campus Affiliations:
Film Studies, School of Arts & Humanities
Environmental Studies Program, John Muir College
Black Diaspora and African American Studies Program, School of Social Sciences

Graduate Specialization in Critical Gender Studies, School of Social Sciences
German Studies Program, School of Arts & Humanities
European Studies Program, School of Arts & Humanities

Photo of Alena Williams by Ursula Paletta