Dr. Kristina Van Dyke

Date & Time:

March 24, 2016

1:00 - 2:00pm


The Commons,

UH Honors College


Dr. Kristina Van Dyke












Title: Digital Excavations: Algorithms in the Art Museum




In the past decade, research exploring objects as material evidence has opened new pathways to understanding African pasts.  An exhibition presented at Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis explores this trend, focusing on the 15-year research project of Frederic Cloth, a Belgian computer scientist and African art connoisseur.  Cloth assembled a corpus of “Kota” figures, reliquary sculpture produced before or around the 18th century until the 20th by communities in what is now Gabon.  Collected by European colonialists, missionaries, and others in the context of French annexation, 2,000 of these works are now in European and American collections.  Little to nothing was documented about their collection history or use -- a past thought to be irretrievably lost.  After years of study, Cloth developed an algorithm and detected surprising patterns in the corpus that provide new insights into their creators and use. To introduce their visitors to Cloth’s algorithm-based research, Pulitzer Arts Foundation partnered with game developers, Rampant Interactive, creating a “Kota Data Cloud,” an immersive installation enabling visitors to test their intuitions about object clusters against the algorithm.  This talk explores the Pulitzer’s experiment and the role of technology in exhibition practice.




Kristina Van Dyke is an independent scholar who is currently researching terra cotta figures produced in the Inland Niger Delta of Mali between the 11th and 17th centuries.   Along with Frederic Cloth, she was co-curator of “Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art,” an exhibition presented at Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis where she was Director from 2011 to 2015.  Prior to that, she was Curator for Collections and Research at the Menil Collection. She has taught at the University of Houston, Rice University, and Washington University and received fellowships from the Brown Foundation, Andy Warhol Foundation, Center for Curatorial Leadership, and National Arts Strategies. In 1999, she received her M.A. in Art History from Williams and went on to obtain her PhD from Harvard University in 2005 where she wrote her dissertation on the concept of objects in oral cultures in Mali.