The Chicago School of Media Theory > Members > Kristan Hanson

Kristan Hanson


I am a first year graduate student in art history. My work at the University of Chicago thus far, has focused upon the complexities of representation and systems of meaning with a view to the moment of the historic avant-gardes’ experimentation with the communicative powers of visual, verbal and performative media, as well as the neo- and retro-avant-gardes’ reengagement of such issues. In a recent paper, I examined the retro-avant-garde strategies of the musical branch of the Neue Slowenische Kunst collective in dialogue with both Walter Benjamin’s discussion of gestic behavior and theatricality in Franz Kafka’s body of work, as well as Slavoj Žižek’s discussion of over-obeyance as an obscene subversive staging of the phantasmic structure of the totalitarian state.

I completed my undergraduate work at the University of California, Irvine, earning B.A. degrees in English, dance and art history. A research paper centering on Isadora Duncan’s memoirs, in which she describes the discovery of her own language of movement in response to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, introduced me to the modern impulse and the importance of an interdisciplinary study of the humanities. As a Romantic revolutionary and an American woman, she was also an admirer of the transcendentalist poetry of Walt Whitman. The span of her achievements steered me towards questions of the role of influence and originality in the creation of new systems of meaning and the extent to which such systems are necessarily inflected by convention. My undergraduate studies culminated in an independent study project in which I addressed similar concerns in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse.

Professor Mitchell’s course, “Theories of Media,” has provided the theoretical foundation necessary for me to engage questions of the body as a performative medium and a sensual environment that mediates the perception and experience of other mediums. Marshall McLuhan’s definition of the dual functions of a medium--storage and transmission—has proved central to my study of the dancing body, motion-capture technology and virtual dance animation. According to McLuhan’s definition, the dancing body seems to occupy a privileged position among media because it can masquerade itself as either hot or cold, but it nevertheless retains its corporeality in a way that is disaffected by technology, because its instrument is the body itself.

In my final project for the course, I focused on the collision of dance and virtual dance in Merce Cunningham’s work BIPED (1999), as it reveals the dancing body’s material character a part from its “content.” The virtual dancers in BIPED not only engage the medium of the body, but, they also render the gravitational environ of all bodies an opaque medium. I argued that the work not only compels a reassessment of those mediums that transmit and store representations of the moving body, but also, compels a reassessment of the body and its environment in an age of post-humans.

I am currently preparing my M.A. paper, in which I plan to discuss Oskar Schlemmer’s constructivist sculptures for the moving body, and the relationship between the aesthetics of mechanization and the human body in his Triadische Ballett. I also plan to look at other artists’ contributions to the experimental theater of the Bauhaus and the position of experimental theater in the historic and political context of the production of art in Weimar Germany.


Chicago School Media Theory: Reading List

Media Theory Keywords Glossary: movement

Performing Media: "Motion Capture Technology and Virtual Dance"

Theories of Media Annotation: Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson, "Semiotics and Art History"

Theories of Media Prospectus: "Riddle the Sphinx"