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In Situ and On Location: The Early Works of Maria Nordman


This dissertation begins with Maria Nordman’s early forays into capturing time and space through photography, film, and performance and it arrives at the dozen important room works she constructed between 1969 and 1979. For these spaces in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, Italy, and Germany, the artist manipulated architecture to train sunshine into specific spatial effects. Hard to describe and even harder to illustrate, Nordman’s works elude definition and definitiveness, yet they remain very specific in their conception and depend on precision for their execution. Many of these rooms were constructed within museums, but just as many took place in her studio and in other storefronts in the working-class neighborhoods of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milan, Genoa, Kassel, and Düsseldorf. If not truly outside of the art system then at least on its fringes, these works were premised physically and conceptually on their location in the city.

This project pays particular attention to the relationship between studio and storefront works in Los Angeles vis-à-vis not only their museum-based and international counterparts, but not before exploring Nordman’s earliest films and desert performances to set up fundamental terms, conditions, and themes consistent throughout her oeuvre.

Ultimately, I argue that rather than a “Light and Space” artist, her seemingly exclusively formal and phenomenological room works are actually in close dialogue with Hollywood movie-making, cinematic avant-gardes, and the “post-studio” and feminist art movements. Because the works’ difference is most visibly manifest in their use of space and place and sight, I draw on theories of vision and feminist geography to investigate the cultural, social and political dynamics at play within the work and between its concept and site and to suggest a more intrinsic political reading of Nordman’s works.

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