A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Lifton Lecture

Art History

Monday, October 02

4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. CDT

MacLean Center Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave

Portrait of Irmgard Emmelhainz


The 35th Annual Norma U. Lifton Lecture in Art History

Dr. Irmgard Emmelhainz, MAAH ‘04

Destructive Desires and Other Destinies of Excess 


Malaise, mental and physical and illness traverse the entire social globalized field. Almost a hundred years after Bataille wrote “The Solar Anus,” the excess that he argued, became industrial production, has now been transformed into a global and interdependent economic system that generates excess waste inassimilable by nature’s cycles. In tandem, consumerism and individualist hedonism follow the systemic mandate to pursue individual happiness, which considers suffering as personal failure and negates death. Therefore, human behavior is determined by the fulfillment of desires to increase hedonistic pleasure, decrease pain, and postpone death.  In our toxic world, moreover, we find pleasurable and desirable perfumes, cleaning products, foods, commodities laden with chemicals and commodities manufactured through enslaved labor and extractivism. All of these ultimately damage us and the planet, so, How is it that we are doing this to ourselves?  


Dr. Irmgard Emmelhainz is a global scholar, writer and professor based in Anahuac Valley (Mexico City). She holds a Ph.D. from the Art Department at the University of Toronto (2009) and an M.A. in Art History, Theory and Criticism from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2004) funded by a Fulbright-García Robles and a Jumex Foundation grant. Her work about film, the Palestine Question, art, culture and neoliberalism has been translated to over a dozen languages and she has presented it at an array of international venue. Her book The Sky is Incomplete: Travel Chronicles in Palestine is forthcoming with Vanderbilt (2023). She has also published English Jean-Luc Godard’s Political Filmmaking (Palgrave Macmillan in 2019), Toxic Loves, Impossible Futures: Feminist Living as Resistance (Vanderbilt, 2021) and The Tyranny of Common Sense: Mexico’s Postneoliberal Conversion (SUNY 2021). She is currently curatorial research fellow at the Blackwood Gallery in Canada working on a book project and exhibition co-curated with Cristine Shaw titled Gut_Brain 1: Destructive desires and other destinies of excess.  

The exhibition is on view at The Blackwood gallery in Ontario from Sep 05, 2023 – Nov 15, 2023: https://www.blackwoodgallery.ca/program/gut-brain-1

A list of Irmgard's e-flux articles: https://www.e-flux.com/search?a[]=Irmgard%20Emmelhainz



The Norma U. Lifton Endowed Lectureship has sponsored a quarter century of talks at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago by eminent art historians, including Eleanor Heartney, Linda Nochlin, Whitney Chadwick, Griselda Pollock, Johanna Drucker, Kristine Stiles, Tsongzung Chang, Gerardo Mosquera, Ann Gibson, Jerry Saltz, Anne Higonnet, Roberta Smith, Hollis Clayson, Ming Tiampo and Dori Tunstall. The fund, administered by SAIC’s Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism, was established in memory of Norma U. Lifton, former visiting lecturer in the department.