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Utopia Lost: Allegory, Ruins and Pieter Brugel's Towers of Babel

Morra, Giovanna (2007) Utopia Lost: Allegory, Ruins and Pieter Brugel's Towers of Babel. Art History, 30 (2). pp. 198-216. ISSN 01416790 [Historical and Philosophical studies > History of Art]
Creators:Morra, Giovanna

The art historical literature on Pieter Bruegel’s 'Tower of Babel' paintings offers a microcosm of the more general methodological and interpretative interests in Bruegel studies today. Art History has a long-standing and ubiquitous interest in the ‘allegorical’ nature of Bruegel’s work. The Babel paintings are no exception. In this article, I consider both the paintings and the art historical literature, as well as introducing Walter Benjamin’s writings on allegory into Bruegel studies in order to make three interventions into the field.

Firstly, through a close reading of the paintings, the art historical literature on the paintings (with its emphasis on history, nature, sovereignty utopia and ruins) and a philosophical interpretation of the Tower of Babel narrative, I offer a new interpretation of the paintings to art history. Second, I intervene into the methodological debates on allegory by putting forward a Benjaminian conception of the dialectical aspects of Bruegel’s paintings. Third, I discuss how this knowledge puts pressure on our comprehension of Benjamin’s writings on the dialectical nature of allegory, its relationship to ruins, and their reliance on nature, history, philosophy and the question of sovereignty.

Official Website:http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=0141-6790
Type of Research:Article
Additional Information (Publicly available):

Giovanna Morra

Research Interests

Modern and contemporary art; psychoanalysis, autographic narratives, subjectivity, and intimacy; art-making, materiality, and the spaces of practice, critical theory; translation, transcultural aesthetics and diaspora.

Current Research

My research interests are in modern and contemporary art; critical theory; psychoanalysis as a theory and practice; spaces of practice – specifically, the writer’s study, artist’s studio, gallery, and psychoanalytic consulting room; autographic narratives and subjectivity; translation and transcultural aesthetics; the question of materiality as its pertains to art-making.

I am presently working on a single-authored books entitled ‘Inside the Freud Museum: Contemporary Art and Psychoanalysis’. In it I consider debates opened up by the 50 contemporary art exhibitions held at the Museum over the past 25 years. I examine issues raised by the art, the museum and psychoanalysis, such as the site specific nature of the Museum; questions of archaeology, archives and antiquities; memory, migration and trauma; dreams, delusions, desire and death; and autobiography and the patient ‘case history’. I am particularly interested in the way these psychoanalytic issues are inflected and transformed by the artistic interventions in the Museum. The book also includes a chapter on the Vienna Freud Museum and the contemporary art collection housed and displayed there.

I have written on the work of many contemporary artists, including, Faisal Abdu' Allah, Chantal Akerman, William Cobbing, Tacita Dean, Mona Hatoum, Barbara Kruger, Susan pui san Lok, Adrian Piper, Elizabeth Price, Robert Rauschenberg, Mario Rossi, Pam Skelton, Emma Talbot, Erika Tan, and Chris Wainwright.

I have published on translation and the visual arts over many years. Beginning with a consideration of literary and Biblical narratives and their translation into visual arts practices (painting and drawing, for instance), I have recently extended this work into an interrogation of transcultural aesthetics, gender, and sexuality, wherein I have contemplated questions of intimacy, skin, diaspora and autographic narratives.

As a Founder and Principal Editor of the 'Journal of Visual Culture' (2000- onwards) and a Founder of the cultural theory journal 'Parallax' (Editor 1993-1998), I have been involved in provoking and establishing debates in critical theory and its relationship to a wide range of disciplines, from art history to gender studies, postcolonial theory, and cultural studies. These publications have also critically interrogated and simultaneously established visual culture studies as a new field of inquiry in the academy.

Your affiliations with UAL:Colleges > Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design
Date:01 April 2007
Funders:Leverhulme Trust , Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design
Digital Object Identifier:10.1111/j.1467-8365.2007.00538.x
ID Code:897
Deposited On:07 Dec 2009 12:41
Last Modified:22 Jan 2013 17:03
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