Ph.D. candidate Amy Hughes, was awarded the prestigious Dedalus Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for the 2017-2018 academic year. Awarded annually to one graduate student whose dissertation focuses on postwar and late-20th-century art, Amy is the first UW-Madison Ph.D. candidate to be the recipient of this fellowship in the two decades it which it has been awarded.
Animated by the inquiry of what constitutes political art, particularly, the ways in which the decorative and seemingly “empty” spaces of applied arts and design can become sites for conducting critical work, Amy’s dissertation examines the intersection between political dissent and modernist expression in postwar Czechoslovakian glass large-scale sculptures. Building on Central European concepts of dissent both as the effort to open spaces for critical thinking and on theoretical texts examining materiality, affect and loss, she argues these concepts of dissent were manifested in the objects themselves, the often-public process of glassmaking and the affective responses the work generated. Through field work, archival research, oral history interviews and in situ formal analysis, her dissertation’s critical investigation of postwar Czechoslovakian glass challenges current dissent scholarship by establishing the important role the decorative, transparent and empty played in dissent practices. It also identifies the ways in which formalist language was employed to negotiate politics by appearing to retreat from it.
Amy also completed two chapter publications in edited volumes examining the work of Czech photographer, Josef Sudek (1894-1976). “Capturing the Invisible: The ‘Profane Illuminations’ of Josef Sudek’s Sad Landscapes,” (Photography and Failure: One Medium’s Entanglement with Flops, Underdogs and Disappointments, ed. Kris Belden-Adams, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, forthcoming 2017) examines the affective landscapes of Sudek’s late-1950s panoramic series of the environmental destruction from heavy industrialization in northern Bohemia as a political strategy within the totalitarian climate of Communist Czechoslovakia. “The Ambivalent Power of Reproduction: Josef Sudek’s Postcards,” (Instant Presence: Representing Art in Photography, ed. Vojtěch Lahoda, Prague: Czech Academy of Sciences, forthcoming 2017) investigates a late-1930s series of Sudek’s picture postcards of Prague as sites mediating complex and paradoxical discourses on both reproduction’s role in the arts and contested experiences of modernity in the final years of the First Republic.
In addition to conducting her dissertation research while based in Prague as a Fulbright Fellow (2015-2016) and as a UW-Madison Dissertation Fellow and Institute of Art History in Prague Visiting Research Fellow (2016-2017), Amy has been an invited lecturer at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence, and the Czech Academy of Sciences. She also was invited to join curatorial and scholarly teams preserving the works of photographer Joself Sudek and glass artist Jiří Harcuba. As a Dedalus Foundation Dissertation Fellow (2017-2018), Amy will remain in Prague to complete the final stages of her dissertation.