Transmedial Autotheories / Mel Keiser’s Melga Blank Lecture / Mel Keiser

Thirza Cuthland, from Less Lethal Fetishes, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

Fusing self-representation with philosophy and critical theory, autotheory moves between “theory” and “practice.” It is critical and it is creative; it is experiential and experimental; it is scholarly and it is popular. It brings theory to life and life to theory. It plays with personal polemic, positing a speaking self in the act of writing “I,” and then, self-reflectively and self-reflexively, it deconstructs itself. Autotheory’s genealogies spring from the institutions it seeks to critique. It privileges thinking with over thinking against; its politics of citation unveil its relations. From social media technologies to the publishing industry, from live performance to visual art, autotheory’s escalating ubiquity in cultural production serves as a provocation: why autotheory and why now? What motivates the methodological melding of an autobiographical “I” with academic scholarship? What implications does theorizing the self have for the politics of knowledge production?

A digital companion to the special issue of ASAP/Journal, this cluster animates the autotheoretical intersections of art and art writing in time-based media. Transmedial in form and provocative by design, these works appear accompanied by autotheory’s telltale synthesis of critical-creative writing. The cluster includes film and video by Maider Fortune, Annie Macdonell, and Ree Botts; performance for the camera and documentation of live performances by Ceylan Öztürk, Calla Durose-Moya, lo bil, and Mel Keiser; web-based work, including memes, by Simon Evnine and Piper Curtis; other moving-images, including GIFs, by Migueltzinta C. Solis, and sound-based work by Arezu Salamzadeh. Off the page and on the screen, these autotheories invite as much as they imagine, contest as much as they contrive, and exude as much as they include.

— Lauren Fournier and Alex Brostoff

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This is one of twelve contributions from the ASAP/J cluster of Transmedial Autotheories. Read the other pieces here

Read the Autotheory special issue (6.2) of the print journal ASAP/Journal here.

Mel Keiser
Mel Keiser (b.1985, 2003, 2007, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2018, 2020) is a multidisciplinary artist exploring the social and psychological impact of treating herself as a stratified series of distinct selves rather than a single person in fluid development. With playful self-awareness, Keiser’s practice blends installation, object-making, and performance with research methodologies and knowledge hybridized from disciplines like evolutionary biology, sociocultural anthropology, and personality psychology. Her work appropriates taxonomic structures from natural history and academia to disrupt her “familiarity to her subject matter,” only to exploit the same familiarity through the appropriation of social rituals and customs, intimate and vulnerable.
Keiser received grants from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts at Northwestern University, and the Judith Dawn Memorial Fund and will be the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Artist in Residence at Northwestern University in Spring 2021. She co-directed and starred in The Life and Deaths of The Mels, a short film with Diego Ongaro (2019), and her work “Mel as Hyperobject” was published in the peer-reviewed Performance Philosophy Journal (2018). She co-lead an artist writing group at Wedge Projects with Matthew Goulish (2017-2019).