Early life and education
Yana Milev was born in Leipzig, East Germany, the first child of the Bulgarian physician and anthropologist Gancho Milev and the translator and interpreter Karin Fahr-Mileva. Upon completing secondary school, Milev was required to study education at the Pedagogical Academy of Erfurt, from which course of study she withdrew following a year. Between 1983 and 1986 she worked as a production and technical assistant in Leipzig theaters, and pursued evening classes at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig. From 1986 to 1992, she studied scenography and costume design at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, where she continued as a master student—the Academy’s first—under the mentorship of Günter Hornig. In 1997, with the support of a DAAD fellowship, she traveled to Japan, where for two years she studied and practiced traditional Japanese aesthetic theory and martial arts, Geidō and Budō. Returning to Germany, Milev began academic studies in cultural philosophy and the anthropology of art. In 2008, she earned a doctorate from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, working with advisor Peter Sloterdijk and second reader Elisabeth von Samsonow.
Since 1989, she has worked on numerous projects with the musician, photographer, and ethnographer Philipp Beckert. Together, they founded NUXNPhotos, a platform for Photography and Visual Sociology.
Milev sees her work as a modular system, which she has since 1987 assigned the name Association of Black Box Multiple Environments. (In 1994, she founded an associated institution by the name of Institute for Applied Spatial Research and Microtopic Cultural production.) According to the AOBBME website, “AOBBME is an independent platform for applied (socio-)spatial research and microtopic cultural production . . . a complex system that is being continually developed, overwritten, and practically applied in divergent contexts by Yana Milev.”
Artistic and Curatorial Activities
In the 1980s, Milev worked in the fields of sculpture, graphic art, painting, performance and installation art, and experimental film. Working with colleagues at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, and with other East German artists, Milev integrated her films, installations, and performances into larger exhibitions or events, frequently incorporating musical performances and site-specific practices into these works, as well. Between 1992 and 2003, her work was carried by the Galerie Eigen+Art; in this period, she exhibited at Documenta 10 (dX), the Venice Biennale, the PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, the Museum of Visual Arts in Leipzig, and the Kunsthalle Mannheim (among others). In 1995, she was the inaugural recipient of the Max Pechstein Prize, awarded biennially by the city of Zwickau (Saxony).
In addition to exhibiting her own work, Milev has been active as a curator, serving as lead or co-curator at the Zurich University of the Arts, the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, and the Maastricht Institute of Architecture and Design, where Milev conceived and co-curated the 2016 exhibit “The Next Big Thing Is Not a Thing.”
Since 2000, Milev has been active as a university instructor and researcher, having held academic positions at the Academy of Art in Berlin Weißensee, the Berlin University of Arts, the University of Salzburg, the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, the Zurich University of the Arts, and the University of St. Gallen.
Since 2009, she has turned to sociology, beginning a position as research associate at the University of St. Gallen's Institute of Sociology and completing a habilitation on design anthropology and design sociology under the supervision of Franz Schultheis. This research centered on precarity and critical visual ethnography, engaging with the concepts of Pierre Bourdieu. During this period, she also began connecting her practice as an ethnographer to the study of visual sociology.
Her research is conducted at the intersection of cultural theory, sociology, visual sociology, and political philosophy, and draws on theoretical writing and empirical approaches in each of these fields. In addition to being the subject of the artist-focused monograph From Exodus to Exercitium, she has published numerous academic articles and journalistic contributions, and written or edited seven books. Her single-author monographs include Emergency Empire: Transformations of the State of Exception, which was her dissertation on exceptionality, sovereignty, and the theory of empire, and Emergency Design: Anthropotechnics of Survival. An additional work is Design Sociology: The Expanded Design Concept in the Conceptual Field of Political Theory and Sociology. Edited volumes include D.A.: A Transdisciplinary Handbook of Design Anthropology and Europa im freien Fall: Orientierungen in einem neuen Kalten Krieg. A forthcoming project, De-Coupled Society, concerns the experiences of East Germans in the aftermath of German unification in 1990, and will comprise 8 volumes, to be published by Peter Lang in 2018 and 2019.
- 1995: Von Exodus bis Exercitium, Edition EIGEN + ART ISBN 3-929294-15-X.
- 2009: Emergency Empire – Souveränität: Transformation des Ausnahmezustands, Springer ISBN 978-3-211-79811-9.
- 2011: Emergency Design: Anthropotechniken des Überlebens, Merve Verlag ISBN 978-3-88396-300-6.
- 2014: Designsoziologie (D.S.) — The Expanded Design Concept in the Conceptual Field of Political Theory and Sociology, Peter Lang Verlag, ISBN 978-3-631-65670-9
- 2013: Design Kulturen: Der erweiterte Designbegriff im Entwurfsfeld der Kulturwissenschaft, HFG Forschung / Fink ISBN 978-3-7705-5534-5
- 2013: D.A. – A Transdisciplinary Handbook of Design Anthropology, Peter Lang Verlag, ISBN 978-3-631-61906-3
- 2016: Europa im Freien Fall: Orientierung in einem neuen Kalten Krieg, Turia + Kant, ISBN 978-3-851-32822-6
- 2008 (with Gerhard Blechinger): Emergency Design: Designstrategien im Arbeitsfeld der Krise, Springer, ISBN 978-3211487600
- Wojciech, Czaja (20 September 2015). ""Und wenn es nur ein Teppich ist"". Der Standard. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
- Bisanz, Elke. Bildgespenster: Künstlerische Archive aus der DDR und ihre Rolle heute.
- Documenta X: Short Guide / Kurzführer. Berlin & Stuttgart: Cantz. 1997. pp. 152–153. ISBN 9783893229383.
- "City of Zwickau — Max Pechstein Prize Recipients".