| Veranstaltungen | Ausschreibung | Profil/Programm/Geschäftsordnung | Personen/Projekte

Sasha Rossman



Border Play: Spectacle, Performance and Material Culture of the Border in Early Modern Europe


This project began as an examination of the relationship between contingency and art in late 17th-centry Northern genre painting. An emphasis on paintings of games aimed to investigate the ways in which the doubling of sign systems in images of play addressed shifting ideas of futurity in the early modern era. While researching the games played in the period, however, my attention was directed to the ways in which early modern games tended to focus on three interrelated subjects: sovereignty and exemplarity, geography and territory, and love. Responding to the cues provided by these games, the project away from issues of contingent futurities toward the relationship of space and authority. Specifically, I am interested in the ways in which material objects, like games, tables, and seating – as well as images – played a role in the development of the notion of sovereign territory. The latter is generally considered as a discursive, or literary idea. Yet early modern material culture reveals a rich and diverse terrain of objects that indicate how the idea of territory developed not only discursively, but also materially. Of particular interest in this regard, is the ways in which the limits of spatial territories and sovereignty were visualized, or rendered material. In an era before borders existed as straight lines on maps, material culture and performance played a key role in making borders, boundaries and frontiers tangible. Once rendered material, they were able to be negotiated, laid, and also transgressed.

A set of case studies explore what I would term early modern ‘border spectacles,’ that is to say, performances or performative objects that charted the limits of emerging notions of sovereignty, space and territory. The case studies begin with the marriage of Louis XIV in France, at the Spanish border, and focus on the development of spatial representations in late Baroque France, with comparisons to concurrent border playing practices in the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. The subject of borders has gained increasing urgency in light of today’s refugee crises and a general anxiety over the future of state sovereignty in a globalized world. Returning to a key moment in the development of Western statehood through the lens of material culture and diplomacy, I suggest, might offer ways in which to examine how multiple modes of ‘bordering’ tended to overlap in key ways (gender, cultural, geographic) at a formative moment of Western notions of statehood. These borders occupy a unique place in the history of the notion of the ‘real’ for they are, of course, not found, but made. At the same time, their creation calls into being constructions that have ‘real’ effects, such that we cannot dismiss them purely as concepts and constructs. They seem poised, instead, between notions of the real and the ideal, which themselves have fluid boundaries and tend to seep beyond the boundaries that seek to frame them. How they are made visible and negotiated in the material world is the larger concern of this project.

Kurzinformationen zur Person

Studies in art history and fine arts at the University of California, Berkeley (current affiliation), University of Konstanz, Columbia University, New York University, Freie Universität Berlin, The Cooper Union, Bard College and Wesleyan University.


“On Border Play in Eighteenth-Century Europe”, in Journal18 (November 2016), http://www.journal18.org/1164

“Border Spectacle: ‘Europe’ at the Edges of Representation” in Transit: A Journal of Travel, Migration, and Multiculturalism in the German-speaking World  (Volume 10, Issue 2, 2016), http://transit.berkeley.edu/2016/rossman/

 “The ‘Cutting Edge’ of Fashion: Designs for the Decoration of Arms and Armor on Paper”
with Femke Speelberg, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Blog, Posted: Thursday, April 16,

“Transitional Objects. The Postwar Werkbund and the Design of New, West-German
Subjects (1948-1968)” in Room One Thousand, Issue 1 (2013).