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GSAS Student Wins Prestigious Travel Grant for Research in Germany
GSAS student Alena Williams

Alena Williams, a third-year doctoral student in the department of Art History and Archaeology in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, is one of 20 young professionals and scholars from the United States and Russia to be awarded the German Chancellor's Scholarship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for 2004-2005.

Administered by the German Academic Exchange Service, the largest academic exchange organization of its kind in the world, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has awarded such grants to individuals from both the United States and Russia for the past 14 years as a means of providing prospective leaders younger than 35 with the opportunity to carry out research projects of their own choosing in Germany. Participants in this program come from a diverse range of fields, with span a range of professional sectors: the humanities, science, business, journalism, law and the performing arts.

Williams's major field of study at Columbia is 20 th -century art, with a focus on the relationship of art, technology and modernism. During her tenure abroad, Williams will be researching media theory, within the context of Bootlab e.V. Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum , a small, non-profit cultural institution located in Berlin-Mitte that supports more than 30 groups and young professionals working with media-related projects.

As a hybrid space supporting activities ranging from symposia, artist's talks, and film and video presentations, to the collaborative development of computer software and databases, and a non-commercial radio station streamed live on the internet, Bootlab will serve as a base of operations for Williams' activities in Berlin, allowing her to integrate her academic and professional interests.

She will also be working in conjunction with other research institutions in and around Berlin that have actively introduced the relationship of media and technology to society, culture and philosophy within the context of their broader intellectual purview, including the Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik at Humboldt Universität and the Zentrum für Literaturforschung.

Largely cultivated by a number of prominent scholars and theoreticians carrying out their work in Germany, media theory is a subset of a larger highly interdisciplinary academic field, bridging cinema studies, philosophy, communications and the histories of art, science and technology. It is a field that has been emerging in pockets of activity in Europe and Germany for the past two decades.

After graduating from Harvard University, Williams was curatorial assistant to Peter Norton and the Peter Norton Family Foundation, and for two years managed an online archive of new media art -- Internet and software art, computer games and documentation of interactive installations and performances -- at Rhizome.org, a leading platform for the global new media art community which is now working in cooperation with the New Museum in New York. "Alena worked on several important requests for funding from government and foundation sources and helped us to codify methods for preserving ephemeral works of new media art. Alena consistently demonstrated the highest level of professionalism and intellectual sophistication," said Mark Tribe, founder and former executive director of Rhizome.org who is now director of Art and Technology at Columbia University's School of the Arts.

In 2002, Williams was a Helena Rubinstein Foundation Fellow in the department of film and media at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a researcher at Electronic Arts Intermix in New York, a non-profit organization founded by Howard Wise, a champion of video and postwar kinetic art practices, after he launched the first exhibition of video in the United States in 1969. In 2003, she conducted research at the Bauhaus-Archiv and pursued language study in Berlin with a grant from Columbia University.

She is also a contributor to a sourcebook on new media preservation, Permanence through Change: The Variable Media Approach, recently published by the Guggenheim Museum in collaboration with the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology in Montreal.

Published: Apr 28, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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