Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Kira van Lil

Second Advisor

Claire J. Farago

Third Advisor

Annette de Stetcher

Abstract

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the United States’ cultural and political influence, driven in part by neoliberal greed, has increasingly expanded into new ‘frontiers’ to market American music, food, film, and sports. It should come as no surprise, then, that today, many artists around the world are driven to address such topics as America’s ubiquitous military presence, de facto economic control, and pervasive cultural influence in their work. One such artist, Bjørn Melhus (German, b. 1966), provides commentary on American empire, primarily through the themes of war and consumerism, while highlighting the global pervasiveness of American television and Hollywood cinema in his installations of experimental films that immerse audiences in multi-sensory environments. For example, the artist’s 2003 installation, Still Men Out There borrows its entire soundtrack from American war movies and reflects the artist’s eerily acute sensibility to the glorification of war in American culture. Scholars often interpret Melhus’ work, which mines American media for its subject matter, in terms of appropriation, and this is reflected in the contexts in which the artist has exhibited. Rather than situating this artist’s work solely around appropriation as practice, this thesis will apply, for the first time, queer critiques of empire by scholars like Jasbir Puar, Amit Rai, and Laura Briggs as well as José Esteban Muñoz’s seminal theory of ‘disidentification’ to the work of Bjørn Melhus. This investigation will ultimately demonstrate how these works’ complex doses of irony and skepticism go beyond mere appropriation, to reveal an artist grappling with American militarism and consumerism—two topics that are inextricably linked.

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