Nina Peterson Awarded 2024-25 Harold Leonard Memorial Fellowship in Film Study

Nina Peterson standing in front of a brick wall wearing a yellow blouse.

The Department of Art History is pleased to announce that Nina Peterson is the recipient of a 2024-2025 Harold Leonard Memorial Fellowship in Film Study. Her dissertation, titled “Ridiculous Contraptions: American Art, Humor, and Machine Technology to Effect Social Change, 1954-1975,” seeks to understand the relationship between the contraption (i.e., the funny, confusing, and inefficient machine) and the aesthetics of protest during the mid-twentieth century in the United States. Peterson examines films as objects of study, archival documents, and conceptual frameworks for understanding the mid-century activist art contraption. Theorizing the contraption as a metaphor for political and socio-economic systems and as a method of creative production, she rethinks the relationships between industry promotional, avant-garde, and studio films and apparently disparate media including television, performance, and sculpture. This project centers artists who comedically implemented humorous machines to critique social inequalities and to enact change in the context of anti-war, Civil Rights, and Women’s Liberation movements. In doing so, this dissertation offers new insight into historical ways of knowing and methods of making sense of social, technological, and political disruptions and upheaval.

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