Charissa N. Terranova is a writer and educator. Terranova researches complex biological systems from a cultural purview, focusing on the history of evolutionary theory, biology, and biocentrism in art, architecture, and design. Professor of Art and Architectural History, she lectures and teaches seminars at the University of Texas at Dallas on modern and contemporary art and architectural history and theory, the history of biology in art and architecture, and media and new media art and theory.
Terranova is on sabbatical for the 2022-2023 academic year. The year is, for her, devoted to writing. In November, she published "Bacterial Politics: Autonomy, Autopoiesis, Bioart" in Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Culture. Edited by Ken Rinaldo, this issue of the journal explores "microbial ecologies" in the art-and-science practices of several contemporary bioartists. Click here to find out more and download a free copy of this beautiful, innovative, and insightful journal. Terranova also recently published "Hannah and Joe: Interspecies Art between Bird and Man" at Interalia Magazine and Leonardo Reviews.
While on sabbatical, Terranova is completing her third monograph, Organic Modernism: from the British Bauhaus to Cybernetics (forthcoming, Bloomsbury). Organic modernism was an ecology of relations between people and ideas rather than a distillate or oneness like functionalism, abstraction, or the avant-garde. At its core was concern with definitions of nature and life. Organic modernists argued life was a matter of organicist complexity, or organicism, rejecting the organism-versus-environment binary in favor of organism-and-environment holism. They jettisoned the mechanical reification of life, from embryological and genetic laboratories to factory floors and art and architecture studios. While united against fascism rising across the globe, they equally bore the brunt of the Great Depression. Organic modernists were indeed conscientious of the public sphere; they championed public science, public art, public space, and public welfare.
Organic modernism effloresced in the 1930s among artists, scientists, and designers working primarily in the British isles, all of whom were invested in transdisciplinary problem-solving rooted in shared aesthetics-based knowledge. Terranova traces organic modernism as it shape-shifted into mid-twentieth-century cybernetics, the rethinking of biological life according to feedback loops, networks, algorithms, and automation. The book follows the interactions of organicist scientists, including Conrad Waddington, Joseph Needham, JD Bernal, Lancelot Whyte, JBS Haldane, James Crowther, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, and Heinz von Foerster with modernist artists, architects, and critics, including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy, György Kepes, John Piper, Myfanwy Piper, Paul Nash, Herbert Read, Christopher Caudwell, Richard Hamilton, Jasia Reichardt, Yolanda Sonnabend, Gordon Pask, and Cedric Price. Please stay tuned for this book about how the organicist idea of life as process, integration, network, and wholeness dovetailed with practices of socialism, surrealism, modernist romanticism, systems theory, and second-order cybernetics in twentieth-century Great Britain.
She is coeditor with Meredith Tromble of Biotechne: Interthinking Art, Science, and Design, a book series on Bloomsbury Press. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's Generative Influences in Art, Design, and Architecture: From Forces to Forms (2021), an anthology Terranova coedited with Ellen K. Levy and her most recent book, explores how Scottish zoologist D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's magnum opus On Growth and Form (1917) transformed creative processes across fields. She is author of Art as Organism: Biology and the Evolution of the Digital Image (Bloomsbury, 2022/IB Tauris, 2016) and Automotive Prosthetic: Technological Mediation and the Car in Conceptual Art (2014), and coeditor with Meredith Tromble of The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (2016). She also edited a two-volume issue of the journal Technoetic Arts on “complexism” (2016).
Terranova organized The Visual Cultures of Race and Science (February 6-7, 2022) at the University of Texas at Dallas. Sponsored by the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, UT Dallas School of Arts and Humanities, the Edith O'Donnell Institute of Art History, this symposium explored how the language and images of the natural sciences shaped and substantiated ideological and inaccurate ideas about "race." Speakers included Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Duana Fullwiley, Linda Kim, Eben Kirksey, and Terranova.
Inaugural director and curator of Centraltrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency, Terranova regularly curates and writes art criticism. From September 2015 to February 2016, Terranova collaborated with Davidson College Professor of Biology David Wessner in the SciArt Center NYC's virtual residency program. As part of the residency, Terranova and Wessner co-curated in February 2016 Gut Instinct: Art, Design, and the Microbiome, an on-line exhibition about art, the gut-brain axis, and gastrointestinal microbiome. In the fall of 2015 at Gray Matters Gallery in Dallas, Texas she curated Chirality: Defiant Mirror Images, an exhibition about art and the scientific concept of "chirality," or non-superimposable mirror images.
Terranova holds an MA (2001) and PhD (2004) in architectural history and theory from Harvard University, an MA (1996) in art history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a BA (1992) in art history from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.