Alex Zivkovic, M.A.
Columbia University (january - march 2023)
PhD project: Ambient Empire: Ecologies, Colonies, and Natures Vivantes in Modern Paris, 1860-1940
Alex is a Ph.D. candidate studying modern art and the history of photography, with a specialization in surrealism. His dissertation examines the role of greenhouses, aquariums, and colonial gardens in French art and mass culture from 1860 to 1940. Broadly, his research and publications consider how different media “capture” ecologies—from vitrines in 19th-century natural history museums to contemporary feminist video art. Alex previously worked as a project research assistant for SFMOMA’s René Magritte: The Fifth Season (2018) and has two forthcoming catalogue essays accompanying a Remedios Varo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (2023).
At Columbia, Alex completed two graduate certificates through the Center for Comparative Media and the Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender. Alex graduated from Stanford University in 2017, receiving a B.A. with distinction in Art History (with honors) and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.
In the period from January through March 2023, he will be conducting research in Paris as a DFK fellow.
Ambient Empire: Ecologies, Colonies, and Natures Vivantes in Modern Paris
My dissertation traces the aesthetic and political meanings embedded within exhibited ecological systems across French art and mass culture. Focused on the period between 1860 and 1940, each chapter of my dissertation explores a different environmental type: greenhouses, aquariums, and colonial-themed gardens. These environments were carefully tailored for the living specimens, but the smells, humidity, and sights inside these novel types of landscapes also became massively popular with audiences in Paris. Artists soon translated these environments' immersive effects, technologies, and lively qualities—like the vibrant brushstrokes in Impressionist greenhouse scenes, the swarming fish in the films of Georges Méliès, or crowded gardens in photomontages of the 1920s.
While at DFK Paris, I plan to pursue archival research related to my fourth and final chapter on surrealism. Surrealists looked back and often parodied the spectacular constructions discussed in my other chapters: collages featured 19th-century prints of greenhouses and aquariums, films borrowed the watery images of early cinema, and anti-imperialist tracts critiqued these very same colonial expositions. Across these artworks, I trace the development of an ecological sensibility—an attention to life and ecological systems that spans Max Ernst’s collages, Man Ray’s films, Salvador Dalí’s installation practices, and various other surrealist media.
- Forthcoming: “‘It’s not really a cat’: Art, Media, and Queer Wildness in Cat People (1942, 1982),” New Review of Film and Television Studies 21, no. 2 (Summer 2023)
- Forthcoming: “Expanded Vitrines: Museological Sculptures and Diasporic Identity,” Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art 51, no. 1 (May 2023)
- “Leonor Fini’s Surrealist Object and Other Marvelous Precipitates of Desire,” Modernism/modernity Print Plus, Visualities Forum (2023)
- “Joan Jonas’s Ecological Portraits: Echo and Narcissus,” Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Criticism 49, no. 1 (March 2022): 63–87.
Personal website: https://aleksazivkovic.com/