Charissa N. Terranova is an environmental humanist reframing art and architectural history in the age of the Anthropocene, the geological epoch of human-driven climate change. Her practice has unfolded for the last decade around the role of nature and biology in past and present art and design. She is Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair in Art and Aesthetic Studies and Professor of Art and Architectural History in the Bass School of Arts, Humanities, and Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas where she teaches seminars on the history of art, nature, and the machine.
Terranova gave the keynote address at the 30th Anniversary International Light Art Symposium at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary, September 14-15, 2023. The talk, “A Biological Bill of Rights: Organicism as Justice-Seeking,” explores philosophical and scientific organicism in the work of Hungarian modernists György Kepes and László Moholy-Nagy and American cytogeneticist Ruth Sager. Organized by the International Kepes Society of Budapest, the gathering hosts a screening of Interthinking Art + Science, the new documentary about Kepes made by curator Márton Orosz.
Terranova's new book, Organic Modernism: from the British Bauhaus to Cybernetics (Bloomsbury, forthcoming), breaks ground in the transdisciplinary study of "organicism," the holistic idea maintaining the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a history of British organicist artists, scientists, and designers cooperating in various capacities from the Great Depression and WW II to postwar cybernetics and the global disaggregated collective. It follows the red thread of philosophical organicism in the twentieth century through a host of manifestations in the UK, including modern architecture, surrealism, socialism, the welfare state, epigenetics, biology-based art exhibitions, robotic art and design, cybernetics and ecology in art. A sequel to Terranova's Art as Organism: Biology and the Evolution of the Digital Image (Bloomsbury, 2022 ), Organic Modernism reveals the biological roots of cybernetics in the British context.
While on sabbatical 2022-23, Terranova was busy writing essays in addition to the book. In fall 2022, she published "Bacterial Politics: Autonomy, Autopoiesis, Bioart" in Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Culture, the British journal for contemporary art and the natural sciences. Edited by Ken Rinaldo, this issue 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. Other forthcoming essays include "Semblance of Mindful Intent: Agency and Feedback in the Artwork of Ian Ingram" (Beall Center for Art + Technology, UC Irvine) and "Curating the Cybernetic: The Brief Collaboration of György Kepes and Marshall McLuhan" in Against Crisis, Then and Now: McLuhan with Kepes and Tyrwhitt (Peter Lang, 2024), ed. Jaqueline McLeod Rogers.
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.