Karen Fiss is a writer, curator, and professor of visual studies at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Before participating in the Zócalo/MOCA panel “Is Art Our Last Safe Space?” she talked in the Zócalo green room and gave her shortest definition of nation-branding—which she studies—revealed her favorite museum, and shared the books she’s re-read the most.
Q: If you had one more hour in the day, what would you do with it?
A: Dance more with my son. He’s a serious ballet fan.
Q: What food are you most likely to binge-eat?
Q: Who was your childhood hero?
A: My grandmother, who was a painter in Germany, who I never met.
Q: What’s your elevator definition for your area of study: “nation-branding”?
A: It’s the application of corporate logic and practices to the marketing of nations. I didn’t come up with the term. It’s actually a trillion-dollar-a-year industry where a small group of very well paid consultants are actually brought in to analyze a country’s strengths around things like culture, tourism, landscape.
Q: What’s your favorite museum?
A: I like quirky museums. I like small museums. I love the Wadsworth [Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut]. That’s not so small.
Q: What’s the best decision you’ve made?
A: To take chances. And to have children. And not to be scared to be outspoken, which gets me into trouble.
Q: Where did you travel to last?
A: New York. Johannesburg. And Accra, Ghana to give a paper.
Q: What book have you re-read the most?
A: Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts. And Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” an essay.
Q: Whom do you go to for advice?
A: My husband.
Q: What comes easily to you?
A: Organic chemistry and drawing.
*Photo by Aaron Salcido.