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Ground Zero


Admission requirements

Similar to admission requirements of the MA Arts and Culture.


In this course, we take our personal experiences—rather than theory—as a point of departure. Based on Délia Vekóny’s PhD dissertations Ground zero. The transitional space of contemporary art (Leiden University 2017), we will operate in reverse order: from experience to theory. In her book, she proposes that some contemporary artworks enable their audiences to move beyond their egos, and thereby to inhabit the world in an alternative manner. The author refers to this as the potential of certain contemporary art practices to invite their audiences to what she calls a state of ‘ground zero’. This concept— which is commonly used to refer to the point on the earth’s surface where a nuclear bomb explodes— is in Vekóny’s analysis an empty space beyond the structured symbolic reality which we take for granted as our life. According to the author, some contemporary artworks even immerse us—the beholders— so deeply in this ground zero that we lose ourselves cognitively, emotionally, and even physically. This implies, so she argues, an engagement with our entire being which exceeds the control of the ego.
The arguments expounded in this dissertation do not originate from a theoretical position, rather, they spring from the author’s personal experiences and concerns. That is to say, the author’s personal encounters with certain artworks become the basis for a theory that contextualises this particular force of art.
The participants of the Ground Zero course will engage in an exercise similar to the one by Vékony: they will aim to theorise their personal experiences. Vekóny proposes that if we let art work on us, it is quite possible to get into a transformative space where our ways of being in the world—cognitively, emotionally, and even physically—can change drastically. This implies to consider art as an entity, an agent in itself. It also implies to alter our ways of dealing with art: rather than looking for ‘the’ meaning of an artwork, we ask what it wants from us (the beholders). The theoretical foundation of this argumentation is found in New Materialism, Eco Criticism, and Slow Science.
In this course, we will discuss Délia Vekóny’s dissertation in-depth and, hence, analyse how our personal experiences with art can provide the basis for theoretical explorations. Questions will emerge such as: How can art shape our understanding of the world? How can we theoretically frame experience?

Course objectives

In this course the student will:

  • Acquire knowledge of art conceptualised as a transitional space and gain insight in theories which are relevant when analysing art works and cultural practices in such a way;

  • Learn, on the one hand, how to theorise one’s personal experiences when encountering artworks;

  • And, on the other hand, how to make theories productive in analysing, evaluating, and reflecting on art as a transitional space;

  • Understand the differences and commonalities between an artistic, a theoretical, and an experience-based approach of the world;

  • Gain insight into the cultural and societal role and function of art vis-à-vis the contemporary world;

  • Analyse works of art and present the results of these analyses in oral presentations to each other, in the form of a blog or vlog, a poster, and a (final) academic paper;

  • Practice 21st-century skills such as collaborating, critical and creative thinking, solving problems, self-regulating, social, and cultural skills;

  • ResMA students only: will be required to present orally and in writing a more in-depth discussion of the theoretical foundations of studies under discussion.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction:

  • Seminar

  • Excursion

Assessment method


  • Oral presentation

  • Midterm assignment

  • Final paper


  • Oral presentation: 25%

  • Midterm assignment: 25%

  • Final paper: 50%
    The final grade is the weighted average of the three components. All assignments need to be a pass.


There is a resit possibility for every component.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Course book:

  • Délia Vékony, Ground Zero. The Transitional Space of Contemporary Art. PhD dissertation Leiden University 2017 (pdf will be posted on Brightspace).

  • Other relevant literature will be provided during the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof.dr. C.J.M. Zijlmans