Heidi Kellett

BAH – York University. Specializing in Art History, 2005
MA – York University. Specializing in Art History, 2008

Specializations: Contemporary art (installation, performance, painting, sculpture and body art), psychoanalytic theory and critical theory

Major Research Paper: “Manifestations of Trauma in the Visual Syntax of John Scott: Violent Mark Making and the Performative Effacing of the Self”


Building upon her previous research, Heidi is currently working on her PhD in Art and Visual Culture at Western University. Prior to commencing her doctorate, Heidi completed her BA (Hons) and MA in art history at York University, Toronto, where she was researching the relationship between trauma, illness and violence within psychoanalytic theory as a way in which to re-assess the aesthetic of Canadian artist John Scott (b. 1950).


Primary Research Project: "Skin Portraiture: Embodied Representations in Contemporary Art"

My current doctoral research project "Skin Portraiture: Embodied Representations in Contemporary Art" addresses the way in which skin is a millieu, a medium and a metaphor that can help us understand the experience of embodiment in contemporary life within the study of humanities. My work, while focused on contemporary visual culture and art, utilizes a tri-partite frame of theory, which includes psychoanalysis, phenomenology and affect in order to flesh out new understandings of skin's critical role in the experience of embodiment. My art historical work on skin positions our largest organ as a site of disruption, problematizing the way we have understood, defined and theorized portraiture in Western art history.

Focusing on contemporary artworks and artists as the case studies for my skin research, I move thematically, touching on topics such as race, political belonging, gender, the emergence of new technologies and biomedicine in art in order to fully explore the impact of human skin in contemporary art practices.

In addition to this current doctoral project on human skin, I have recently joined forces with Dr. Rachel Hurst (Dept. of Women’s Studies at St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia) as principal coordinators of (sk)interlocutors: An International Skin Research Group. Established in 2013, (sk)interlocutors is an interdisciplinary research group devoted to the study of skin across disciplines, including, but not limited to, the arts and humanities, social sciences, and the fine and performing arts. Bringing together diverse scholarly voices and research practices, (sk)interlocutors aims to add to and enrich the discourse of the skin that has emerged over the last thirty years. For more information, please see: www.skinterlocutors.com.

As the creative aspect of my doctoral research, I have a skin blog entitled Haut-Culture where I post interesting tid-bits relating to the presence and use of skin in contemporary art and visual culture. Please see: www.haut-culture.tumblr.com. 

Secondary Research Project: “(Re)Presenting the Skin: Images from the History of Medicine in Canada”

In addition to my current work on skin portraiture, my next project draws on the medical humanities in Canada. As the skin is an important and emergent discourse across many disciplines, particularly the humanities, I consider the place of skin within Canadian medical history. The skin as an organ was first represented in historic medical contexts in Europe and, as a result, my project “(Re)Presenting the Skin: Images from the History of Medicine in Canada” works to assess the way it has been represented in  the history of Canadian medicine. This next project will not only undertake an extensive program of archival research but it will also shift my own scholarly focus to the use of images in 18th, 19th and 20th century, balancing out the contemporary focus of my current primary research project.

Articles, Reviews and Book Chapters

(forthcoming) “Skin Portraiture: Representations of Embodiment in Contemporary Art” in Probing The Skin: Cultural Representations of Our Contact Zone. Edited by Dirk Vanderbeke and Caroline Rosenthal. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholarly Press, 2014. 

“Santiago Sierra: the HOMO SACER and the Politics of the Other.” Inferno: Journal of Art History, Vol. XII (2007/08): 37- 47.

“John Abrams: Cinema Vernis.” C Magazine, v. 99, Fall (2008): 4.

Curatorial Projects

(Co-curator) Heidi Kellett and Damian McGrath, Art of the Human Canvas exhibition, Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA), June 2007, Toronto, Ontario

Professional Conferences

2013 ‘Probing the Skin: Cultural Representations of Our Contact Zone’, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Germany. 

Paper presented: “Relational Skins: A Somatic Understanding of Contemporary Art”

2012 Universities Art Association of Canada (UAAC) Annual Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec.

Paper presented: “Skin Portraiture: Embodied Representations in Contemporary Art”

2009 Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (MAPACA) Annual Conference, Boston, Massachusetts

Paper presented: “Contemporary Tattoos and Graphic Design: Embodying the Popular”

Graduate Conferences

2011 Annual Graduate Student Symposium Articulating Identity in Visual Culture, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

Paper presented: “Fashioning Flesh/Fleshing Fashion: Abjection as Feminist Strategy in Contemporary Portraiture”

2008 12th Annual New Frontier’s Conference in Graduate History, York University, Toronto, Ontario.

Paper presented: “(Re)Engagement with the Bio-Political: The Contemporary Installation Art of Santiago Sierra”

2008 Case Western Reserve University Symposium, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ceveland, Ohio

Paper presented: “The (Un)Veiled Body: Santiago Sierra’s Subversion of the Nude in Contemporary Art”

2007 Association of Art Historians (AAH) Graduate Summer Symposium Art and Power, St. Andrew’s University, Scotland, U.K.

Paper presented: “Santiago Sierra: the HOMO SACER and the Politics of the Other”

Conference Panel Chair

2013 Universities Art Association of Canada (UAAC) Annual Conference, Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta. Panel: “Skinscapes and Skinterfaces: Bodies and Embodiment in Contemporary Art”

2013 “(Re)Activating Objects: Social Theory and Material Culture” Visual Arts graduate conference, Western University, London, Ontario Panel Chair, Bodies as Meaning-makers

2009 Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (MAPACA) Conference, Boston, Massachusetts Panel Chair, Tattoos and Tattooing I

Public Talks

(upcoming) March, 2014. Museum London, London, Ontario. Public Talk: “Colette Urban and the Body in Performance.”

2012 Ignite London, London Cultural Plan, London, Ontario. Public talk: “Tattooed Relations: History, Identity and Community”

Guest Lectures

2013 “Haus of Gaga: Art History, the Archive and Feminist Remix Practices in Lady Gaga’s use of Contemporary Fashion”, What (Not) to Wear: Fashion, Textiles and Art II, VAH 2236G, winter, Western University, London. 

2013  “Contemporary Tattoo in London,” ART NOW II, VAH 2275B, Tattoo class, winter, Western University, London.

2009 “Research Methodologies in Art History”, Introduction to Visual Studies I, LBST 1B03, fall, OCAD University, Toronto.

2009 “Tattoo: The Contemporary Evolution of Design?”, Graphic Design History, VISC 2B39, winter, CAD University, Toronto.


VISA 2B01 - History of Modern Design. OCAD University, summer 2011, 2012 and 2013

VAH1052G - Art and Popular Culture. Winter, 2011, 2012 and 2013

VISC 2B39 - Graphic Design History in the 20th Century. Ontario College of Art & Design, 2009 & 2010