Two UC Santa Cruz arts professors receive 2021 Guggenheim Fellowships

UCSC Film and digital media professor Irene Lusztig
UCSC Film and digital media professor Irene Lusztig (Photo courtesy of Irene Lusztig).
UCSC art professor Elizabeth Stephens (right) with San Francisco filmmaker and collaborato
UCSC art professor Elizabeth Stephens (right) with San Francisco filmmaker and collaborator Annie Sprinkle (Photo by Kingmond Young).

Two UC Santa Cruz arts professors have been selected to receive 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship awards.

Film and digital media professor Irene Lusztig and art professor Elizabeth Stephens were among the 184 artists, writers, scholars, and scientists selected this year from nearly 3,000 applicants.

Since its establishment in 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted nearly $400 million in Fellowships to over 18,000 individuals, among whom are more than 125 Nobel laureates, members of all the national academies, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal, Turing Award, Bancroft Prize, National Book Award, and other internationally recognized honors. 

“I am thrilled to announce this new group of Guggenheim Fellows,” said Edward Hirsch, President of the Foundation, “especially since this has been a devastating year in so many ways. A Guggenheim Fellowship has always been meaningful, but this year we know it will be a lifeline for many of the new Fellows at a time of great hardship, a survival tool as well as a creative one. The work supported by the Fellowship will help us understand more deeply what we are enduring individually and collectively, and it is an honor for the Foundation to help the Fellows do what they were meant to do.”

Lusztig is a filmmaker, archival researcher, and visual artist. Her film and video work mines old images and technologies for new meanings in order to reframe and revive forgotten and neglected histories. 

“I will be using the fellowship to continue my work on a feature length nonfiction film exploring the intertwined histories of the Hanford nuclear site and the city of Richland in Eastern Washington,” Lusztig noted. “I am interested in how communities think about their collective history, and how history shapes thoughts, habits, bodies, and physical landscapes.” 

Born in England to Romanian parents, Lusztig grew up in Boston and has lived in France, Italy, Romania, China, and Russia. Her work has been screened around the world in such venues as the Berlin International Film Festival, Museum of Modern Art, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Anthology Film Archives, Pacific Film Archive, IDFA Amsterdam, BFI London Film festival, and on television in the U.S., Europe, and Taiwan.

Much of her work is centered on public feminism, language, and histories of women and women’s bodies—including her debut feature Reconstruction (2001), the archival film The Motherhood Archives (2013) her ongoing web-based Worry Box Project (2011) and her documentary feature film Yours in Sisterhood (2018).

Stephens is a multimedia artist, filmmaker, and professor with a Ph.D. in performance studies. She grew up in Appalachia, which has had a lasting influence on her work. After making visual and performance art about queer identity and other debates stemming from the culture wars in the 90s, Stephens left New York to join the faculty at UCSC. She founded the E.A.R.T.H. Lab (Environmental Art, Research, Theory, and Happenings) at UCSC "to make environmental art more sexy, fun, and diverse.” 

“I will be using the Guggenheim to help produce my newest film, Playing with Fire,” said Stephens. “It will be an environmental justice documentary film with attendant social practice events that weave de/colonized, diverse narratives of climate change, gender/sexuality, and social justice into a kaleidoscopic narrative following the traumatic and transformative effects of fire on California's socio-political, community and ecological environments.”

Stephens received the Guggenheim in tandem with her collaborator, San Francisco filmmaker Annie Sprinkle. Their previous collaborations include 22 large-scale performance art weddings to nature entities, such as marrying the Adriatic Sea at the 53rd Venice Biennale, and the film, Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure. They are also co-authors of a forthcoming book, Assuming the Ecosexual Position: Earth as Lover, which will be published by University of Minnesota Press.