Erin Silver

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Activism and visual culture
Artist or Author Social Identity
Artistic and Literary Marginality
Artistic and Literary Movements, Schools and Styles
Canadian contemporary art
Feminist art histories
Movement culture
Performance studies
Queer art
social movements

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs



Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.

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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Radically art historical: Attila Richard Lukacs and the weight of history (2023)

No abstract available.

Cinematic drag : layers, collisions, and transformations of medium and form in screen based practices of queer performance (2022)

This thesis explores the medium of drag performance, aiming to bypass the omnipresence of Judith Butler’s theories of gender performativity. In arguing that Butlerian theory has had deleterious effects on artistic research of the medium, leading to reductive analyses that approach artists and performers through the false binary of resistance and assimilation, this project instead proposes a methodology predicated on viewing drag primarily through the lens of formal analysis and visual and cultural media theory. My investigation of drag explores the multivalence of form and medium in drag, building on the frameworks of theorists such as Caroline Levine and Renate Lorenz, arguing that this approach enables an assessment of drag as a layered, multivalent, and hybrid set of practices that collide and overlap with the formal logics and affordances of other mediums. As a means of demonstrating the viability of such an approach, this thesis explores drag’s relationship with the cinematic medium through overlapping forms, theories, and histories. Within the hybrid and fluid space of what I term cinematic drag, I explore the works of particular drag artists, performers, and queer filmmakers through the formal schemas of gesture, genre, and worldbuilding. Exploring the importance of gesture in drag and cinema, I turn to the theories Laura Mulvey and Giorgio Agamben for a re-assessment of drag and movement in the documentary Paris is Burning (1990). I then turn to the concept of genre, using film and queer theory to explore the layers of drag and masquerade in Pedro Almodóvar’s queering of the melodramatic genre. Lastly, I examine the nature of narrative and temporality through the lens of worldbuilding, turning to the ideas of Elizabeth Freeman, José Esteban Muñoz, and Laura U. Marks to observe the confluence of film and drag form in the work of Sin Wai Kin. Far from avoiding the political capabilities of drag, this thesis ultimately proposes that in viewing drag as an artistic medium first, the ensuing political and social analysis becomes all the more abundant.

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Exhibiting multiculturalism: Canadian national identity and the representation of Chinese-Canadian culture (2021)

Since the 1950s, the Canadian government has played a large role in the construction of a singular Canadian national identity through public institutions. In 1971, with the implementation of the Multicultural Act, the national image became focused on the portrayal of ethnic diversity and tolerance. I examine representations of Chinese-Canadian ethnic culture in select exhibitions and installations to argue that national institutions use cultural stereotypes to justify the success of the Multicultural Policy, despite categorically limiting cultural production, disciplining the population on the notion of “belonging,” and downplaying systemic racism.I present two exhibitions in public institutions titled Beyond the Golden Mountain (1989- 1991) at the Museum of Civilization and Chop Suey on the Prairies at the Royal Alberta Museum against two installations by Chinese-Canadian artists, I am Who I am (2001-2006) by Xiong Gu, and Gold Mountain Restaurant (2002-2017) by Karen Tam, to show that despite the anti-racist activism of racialized artists’ communities in the 1980s, even by the 1990s-2000s, reforms suggested by these communities have not reached certain public museums with regards to Chinese-Canadian representation. I also suggest that there may be underlying political motives which cause change, or the lack thereof, at the level of national institutions based on the political policies at the time. Through the use of public spaces such as the subway station and streets of Chinatown in Gu’s case, and a recreated restaurant space in Tam’s case, these artists work to question the approach of national institutions with regards to issues of authenticity, cultural hybridity, cultural definition, and spectacularization of ethnic culture for consumption. Their work suggests that ethnic culture cannot be constrained to the limited cultural definition and expression constructed by the government, and that the government constructed national image and identity needs to be critically assessed and questioned.

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Art crimes: queering the revolution through the work of Pussy Riot and Petr Pavlensky (2020)

With the flick of a match, Petr Pavlensky set fire to the Bank of France in Paris, scorching the façade of the Haussmann exterior while French police tackled the artist to the ground. The performance was more than merely a spectacular action, but a call-to-arms for the mass mobilization of the proletariat for global revolution. The artist group Pussy Riot’s performance at Toronto Pride in 2015 also demanded structural change, as they travelled the parade route on a military tank laden with a dildo-shaped missile demanding the removal of Vladimir Putin from Russian office. Since inception, Pavlensky’s performances are exemplary mobilizations of Pussy Riot’s manifesto entitled “Commit an Art Crime,” the main component to the group’s performative acts. Art Crime becomes art as theory, enacting tactics of queer liberation through the form of the performance itself.In my thesis “Art Crimes: Queering the Revolution through the Work of Pussy Riot and Petr Pavlensky,” I will analyze the concept of art crime as a liberational tactic through three frameworks of bodily performance: public intervention, social terrorism, and queer-femme labour. In the first section, I demonstrate the transformative properties of the art crime in Pussy Riot’s performance at Toronto Pride, as well as the situation of Pussy Riot within the trajectory of Russian art. In section two, I apply the art crime to the performances of Petr Pavlensky, Pussy Riot’s predecessor. Section three of the thesis will nuance the art crime within queer femme labour through witchcraft in The Witches of Pussy Riot clean Manezhka, molding a framework for revolutionary tactics through labour in lived experience.

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Making place in hostile space: what are limits and radical possibilities of arts-based activism utilized by queer racialized activists in Britain today? (2020)

This thesis looks at the various formulations of art-based activism being utilized by queer racialized artists and activists working in Britain today. Much of the scholarship mapping queer arts-based activism has failed thus far to position race as a key point of analysis; this thesis looks to contribute to thinking otherwise. Analyzing a historic genealogy of race-based arts activism in Britain such as the 1979 formation of the BLK Arts Group and the works of Rashead Araeen, I look at the path that was paved for the queer racialized, politicized works we have seen take rise over the past decade. Further I make global links to the historic politicized arts-activism enacted by Black women in the Americas. Confronted by the erasure from both geographic and archival space, I argue that queer people of colour in Britain are “making place” in hostile space while ensuring our rightful place in the archive being made from the history of this moment. Key questions that have guided this research include: what are the possibilities such arts-based activism is enabling? What are the limitations of the activism and how are these being mediated by the activists I look at? What spaces are they operating in and how are they utilizing art as a medium to enact social change? What various forms is the activism I analyze taking on? I find that collectivist formations are the preferred way of working similarly, building and fostering community a key factor underpinning both the process and outcomes of the arts-based activism I look at. I employ the literature of scholars working across a diverse range of fields such as art history, performance studies, critical race theory, queer and gender studies, and sociology to aid my thinking. The inherently interdisciplinary nature of arts-based activism is reflected by the inability to remain in one field when analyzing the various manifestations of the activism which, this thesis argues, is a core strength of employing the use of art in activism.

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