Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Claire Bishop

Committee Members

Karl Steel

David Joselit

Dominic Pettman

Subject Categories

Animal Studies | Contemporary Art | Theory and Criticism


critical animal studies, posthumanities, France and Belgium, contemporary art and theory


This dissertation traces the changing role and increased importance of nonhuman animals in art of the 1970s and 80s. Focused largely on artists in France and Belgium, this period stands at the head of a wide-ranging re-conceptualization of animality that continues to unfold today. Pivotal moments in ecology (beginning with the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm), animal ethics and ethology (such as the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights proclaimed in 1978), and philosophy (specifically the biopolitical and deconstructive currents critiquing the centrality of the humanist subject), all converge as stress points along long held anthropocentric conceptions of culture, nature, and history. In simplest terms, the resulting visual cultural shift qua the animal can be described as follows: hegemonic forms of representation based on humanist iconography and symbolism began to weaken in the face of a politics of nonhuman representation—including, crucially enough, self- representation via indexical mediation or in situ installation and performance. I contend that this radical shift presents a challenge to art historical research—since it is diffuse and cannot be localized in any one movement or group—and opens pathways for assessing the ways in which art making can pry open obdurately static conceptions of animality (consequently making nonhumans sensible in culture and politics). Accordingly, my research comprises four disparate case studies: Chris Marker’s ethologically inflected work of the 1970s and 80s; a history of exhibitions from the mid-1980s demonstrating the enmeshment of posthumanist, transhumanist, biopolitical, and ecological forms of thinking; Marcel Broodthaers’s interwoven treatment of animals, poems, and the readymade; and eco-feminist strategies of identifying (or over-identifying) with animality as resistance to violent, andro-humanist historical forces. This dissertation thus provides a multi-faceted historical genealogy of the now widespread incorporation of nonhuman animals in contemporary art and underscores the productive convergence of art history with the posthumanities and critical animal studies.