Terranova, Charissa

Associate Professor of Aesthetic Studies

Office:  JO 3.920

Areas of Specialization:  Expertise in Post-WWII Art, Architecture, Urbanism, Art-and-Science Hybrids, History and Theory of Biology in Art and Architecture, and Media Theory

Freelance Curator and Critic

Education: Ph.D. Harvard University, Architectural History and Theory, 2004
M.A. Harvard University, Architectural History and Theory, 2001
M.A. University of Illinois at Chicago, Art History, 1996
B.A. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Art History, 1992

Research and Books

  • The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, an anthology coedited with Meredith Tromble, Routledge Press, Architecture, forthcoming fall 2016
  • Art as Organism: Biology and the Evolution of the Digital Image, 1920-1970, I. B. Tauris, London, forthcoming spring 2016
  • Automotive Prosthetic: Technological Mediation and the Car in Conceptual Art. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2014


Charissa N. Terranova is Associate Professor of Aesthetic Studies in the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at The University of Texas at Dallas. She is on sabbatical for the 2015-2016 academic year. During her sabbatical, Dr. Terranova will be completing two books, and laying the groundwork for another, her fourth.

Automotive Prosthetic: Technological Mediation and the Car in Conceptual Art, Dr. Terranova’s first book, combines critical theory and new media theory to form the first philosophical analysis of the car within works of conceptual art. At its core, the book offers an alternative formation of conceptual art understood according to technology, the body moving through space, and what art historian, curator, and artist Jack Burnham calls “relations.” This thought-provoking study illuminates the ways in which the automobile becomes a naturalized extension of the human body, incarnating new forms of “car art” and spurring a technological reframing of conceptual art. Steeped in a sophisticated take on the image and semiotics of the car, the chapters probe the politics of materialism as well as high/low debates about taste, culture, and art. The result is a highly innovative approach to contemporary intersections of art and technology.

Terranova's second book Art as Organism: Biology and the Evolution of the Digital Image (IB Taurus, 2016) takes another look at twentieth-century modernism, teasing out the role of biology, General Systems Theory, and cybernetics in kinetic, interactive, and early computer art. The digital image in this context is a rich and expansive artistic medium, evolving over fifty years from the photograph to digitally coded light and sound urban installation. The book traces this evolution by way of the diaspora of the teachings and aesthetic philosophies of the Bauhaus pedagogue László Moholy-Nagy from the 1920s in Berlin to the 1970s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The author scrutinizes the often-overlooked yet seminal references to biology, the organism, relations, emotions, and the Gestalt within Moholy-Nagy’s writings. Far from a monograph on the man though, the story unfolds around a network of figures that includes artists, architects, psychologists, embryologists, physicists, and electrical engineers. The digital image in art ultimately incarnates after Moholy-Nagy’s untimely death in 1946 through fellow Hungarian Gyorgy Kepes’s tireless activities as artist, professor, and impresario. Much like the complex system that is the living organism, this book reveals the dynamic connections between art, science, and technology that make up the deep history of twenty-first-century media art.

She is co-editing an anthology with Meredith Tromble titled the Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (Routledge, 2016).

Her next and fourth book interrogates Moholy-Nagy's idea of a "biological bill of rights," and traces his interaction with a group of scientists. The research will follow the cross-over work of a group of embryologists and evolutionary developmental scientists called The Theoretical Biology Club, from their group activism of the 1930s to their work as the first-generation contributors to the art-sci-tech journal Leonardo starting in 1968. This research endeavor will take her to the Conrad Waddington archives in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Joseph Needham Institute in Cambridge, England, and to the Julian Huxley archives at Rice University in Houston.

When in full-session at the university, Terranova lectures and teaches seminars on art and architectural history, theory, and criticism, the history of biology in art and architecture, and media and new media theory. In January 2010, she stepped down from the position of founding director and curator of Centraltrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency.