The Block welcomes Madison Brown, a doctoral student in the Department of Screen Cultures, as the museum’s 2023-2024 graduate interdisciplinary fellow. Madison Brown’s research explores the politics of amateur media cultures through theories of memory, domesticity, and everyday life. Madison holds an MA in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto.
We took a moment to sit down with Madison to discuss her background and forthcoming work at the museum.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your field of study?
I grew up north of Toronto in the city of Barrie, Ontario. I am the youngest of three kids, and most of my childhood was captured on videotape. Even then, I knew that the presence of the camcorder altered the way the whole family behaved; that watching home videos on the television screen provided new ways of understanding family dynamics. My undergrad experience was a veritable journey—exploring disciplines including creative writing, comparative literature, and philosophy—before I settled on a degree that most closely fit my fascination with home video: cinema studies. Now, as a PhD Candidate in Screen Cultures, my research explores everyday acts of “cleaning up” family memory, such as throwing out “bad” snapshot photos and recording over home video footage. Lucky for me, this research allows me to once again traverse other areas of inquiry, including art history, performance studies, and archive studies.
3. What interests you about working within an art museum?
As a proud first-generation college student, I have always valued the educational role that art museums play in their communities. I love that museums are a space to incubate ideas, begin conversations, and develop ideas – as well as a place of reflection. This relationship between the shared and the personal is so central to my own research, and it is also what excites me about museum work. Plus, bringing together diverse and sometimes counterintuitive viewpoints to understand a larger theoretical concept is, for me, like a jigsaw puzzle. And I love puzzles.
4. What will you be focusing on while you are here?
As the Block’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow, I am very excited to be curating a small exhibition on a concept that I spend a lot of time considering: the un-visible. Seeing is believing, it is often said, but so much of our experience and knowledge is shaped by what we cannot or do not see. But how exactly do we understand the role of the un-visible in visual culture? I am at a very early stage in the development process, as the show goes up in April 2024, but I am currently toying with the many ways that artists attempt to make the un-visible visible, as well as how the un-visible is invoked as a tactic of refusal.
5. What drew you to the Block Museum’s mission, exhibitions, and collection?
When I first arrived at Northwestern in 2017, the Block had just opened William Blake and the Age of Aquarius. As a young poet (you can laugh!), I was mad about Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and the scope of this show blew my mind. Far from merely rehashing the well-known (albeit amazing) works of an Englishman from the 18th century, this exhibition spanned Blake’s visual and literary influence across centuries, continents, and cultures. Ever since, I have kept coming back for similar reasons: the Block’s shows consistently deepen what I already know and provide new foundations for future discoveries.
7. Is there anything upcoming at the Block Museum or Northwestern you are particularly excited about?
I’m really looking forward to Rosalie Favell: Indigenous Artists Facing the Camera which opens this fall. In our contemporary social media landscape, it is increasingly easy to take self-presentation for granted: that we can look the way we want to and be seen through that self-determined frame. However, the fact remains that dominant institutions—museums and universities among them—have long excluded and vastly misrepresented Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities. Favell’s photo project provides a vibrant corrective, celebrating the diversity of contemporary Indigenous artists on their own terms, and showcasing the importance of heritage as an ongoing project.