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Sara Blaylock

Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Design, University of Minnesota – Duluth
Art and culture of East Germany (performance, photography, film, independent galleries and presses); official cultural policy in state socialism, the art and visual culture of the Cold War East and West, fiction and documentary film from the East Bloc, theories of aesthetics and politics, global histories of modernism and post-modernism in the visual arts.
Research Interests: 

My dissertation, Infiltration and Excess: Experimental Art and the East German State, 1980 – 1989, focuses on how artists in the German Democratic Republic translated issues of representation, performativity, and collectivity into forms of autonomous creative production—from photography and film to performance art and print media.

Art and cultural historians have long characterized the relationship between East Germany’s experimental artists and its state bureaucrats as at best one of division, opposition, and hostility. In this view, artists are either victims or pawns of the state. In “Infiltration and Excess: Experimental Art and the East German State, 1980 – 1989” I expand this framework to reveal how experimental culture actually engaged with the state and exposed and critiqued its core disjunctions. I focus on artists who used body-based practices, like performance, film, and photography, to create new vocabularies for representation, as well as their uses of reproducible media in the creation and circulation of their work.  

By the Cold War’s final decade, the GDR government’s inability to produce a collective and coherent public significantly frayed its power. Thus, I argue that experimental practice was not only an antidote for, but also a diagnosis of a weakening state: a foil and a mirror to official culture. In fact, the East German experimental arts scene produced an alternative public—a counter-public—with commitments to culture, community, and interdisciplinarity that state socialism had sought to inspire. This irony, really an inversion of state socialist principles, lies at the heart of my dissertation.

Oversimplified narratives of the Cold War era have consistently defined the Eastern Bloc by its victimization or complicity under Communism, leaving little room for details about regional variation in culture or civic politics. My scholarship—based on substantial archival research and numerous interviews—highlights one case among many, joining an emerging field of academics and artists whose work examines the Cold War past as a means of revitalizing and globalizing areas of the world once again at risk of cultural and political isolationism.

Selected Publications: 

FORTHCOMING PUBLICATIONS

  • Bringing the War Home to the United States and East Germany: In the Year of the Pig and Pilots in Pajamas,” Cinema Journal, 56.4 (August 2017). 
  • Contributions to The Handbook of East German Cinema: The DEFA Legacy, ed. Evan Torner and Henning Wrage. (Walter De Gruyter Press, 2017) 

RECENT PUBLICATIONS

  • Being the woman they wanted her to be: Cornelia Schleime performs her Stasi file,” Gradhiva, No. 24 (December 2016): 21 - 49. Published in French translation. 
  • "Aufstand des Materials. Körperbilder im Prenzlauer Berg der 1980er Jahre" (A Material Revolt: Body Portraits in the Prenzlauer Berg of the 1980s) in Gegenstimmen. Kunst in der DDR 1976-1989 (Voices of Dissent: Art in the GDR), ed. Christoph Tannert (Berlin: Deutsche Gesellschaft & Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2016), 394 - 401. Published in both original English and in German translation. 
  • Review of Sarah E. James' Common Ground. German Photographic Cultures Across the Iron Curtain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), Sehepunkte. (May 2015) 
  • "Cold War Domestics - Home Archives: Paulo Brusky & Robert Rehfeldt's Mail Art Exchanges from East Berlin to South America and Signs Fiction: Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt at Chert gallery, Berlin, January 10 - March 28, 2015," ARTMargins Online. (March 2015) 
  • Review of Seth Howes' dissertation "Punk Avant-Gardes: Disengagement and the End of East Germany," Dissertation Reviews. (March 2015)
  • "Whiter Alltag? How the Wende Museum revises East German history and why it matters," Verges: Germanic and Slavic Studies in Review 2.2 (2013) 
  • Review of Nicholas Mirzoeff's The Right to Look (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), Invisible Culture (January 2013)
Selected Presentations: 
  • “Unofficial Galleries as a Counter-Public Sphere,” Gegenstimmen: Kunst in der DDR 1976 – 1989 (Voices of Dissent: Art in the GDR 1976 – 1989) Symposium, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (September 21 - 22, 2016).
  • "DIY Public Sphere: East Germany's Homespun Publications," Red on Red Symposium, Yale University (April 8-9, 2016).
  • "The Body in Pieces: Radical East German Photography in the 1980s," College Art Association, Washington, DC (February 3-6, 2016).
  • "Being the woman they wanted her to be: Cornelia Schleime performs her Stasi file," Feminism and Art History's New Domesticities, University of Birmingham, England (July 3-4, 2015).
  • "The case of Cornelia Schleime: Reading signs of artist agency in Stasi Files," Reassessing East German Art: 25 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Iowa State University. (September 15-17, 2014).
  • "The body as a machine: System contact in the art of the Auto-Perforation Artists, Dresden 1985-1991", "Dropping Out of Socialism": Alternative Cultures in the Soviet Bloc, 1956-1991. University of Bristol, England. (June 5-6, 2014).
  • “The body under duress will be moved: American Pilots and East German Spectators in Pilots in Pyjamas (East Germany, 1968, Walter Heynowski & Gerhard Scheumann)”, Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Seattle, WA (March 19 - 23, 2014).
  • "Archiving the Public Sphere: Artist Responses to the Hot Autumn" German Studies Association Conference - Milwaukee (October 4 - 7, 2012).
  • "Culver City's Wende Museum: East Germany on the Pacific" Berlin Program for Advanced German & European Studies, Berlin Program Summer Workshop "German Studies Between the Global and the Local," Freie Universität - Berlin (June 25 - 26, 2012).
  • Art and Politics, Art History Graduate Symposium, University of Oregon - Eugene (April 12 - 13, 2012).
Teaching Interests: 
  • Cold War art and culture in state- and post-socialism (East and West Germany and East Bloc countries)
  • Theories of Aesthetics and Politics
  • East German film (DEFA)
  • Theories and Art of Modernism (19th to 20th century Europe and the US)
  • Theories and Art of Post-Modernism (US, Europe, and East Bloc)
  • Photography in the US, Europe, and Russia
Honors and Awards: 
  • Professional Development Grant in Art History, College Art Association, 2016-17.
  • Research Fellowship for International Graduate Students, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Fall 2016
  • Dissertation Completion Fellowship, University of California - Santa Cruz, 2016-17
  • Doctoral Student Sabbatical Fellowship, University of California - Santa Cruz, Fall 2015
  • Arts Dean Summer Dissertation Grant, University of California - Santa Cruz, 2015
  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Research Grant for Doctoral Candidates, 2014-15 academic year in Berlin
  • Coalition of Women in German, Zantop Travel Award, 2014
  • Arts Dean Fund for Excellence, University of California - Santa Cruz, 2013, 2014, 2015, & 2016
  • Summer Institute on Conducting Archival Research, Invited to participate in one week workshop held at George Washington University, May 2013
  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), German Studies Research Grant, 2012
  • Porter College Travel/Research Grant, University of California - Santa Cruz, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
  • University of California Santa Cruz, Regents' Fellowship, 2011-12
Education and Training: 
Ph.D. in Visual Studies, UC Santa Cruz
B.F.A. in Media Arts, California College of the Arts, San Francisco
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