Art history

Instrumental Aesthetics:Contemporary Art, Politics and Visual Culture

Module code: V4151A
Level 7 (Masters)
30 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

You explore the tensions and possibilities of art and politics by placing politicised modes of contemporary art practice in the context of a wider image culture.

Focusing on 2001 to now, you'll consider the complex ways in whch images act both to subvert and reinforce aspects of neoliberal capitalism, through a series of key questions:

  • What part did the online circulation of images play in revolutions in the Arab World, and how have artists responded to this?
  • How does the artistic manufacture of experimental social relations figure in relation to recent modes of performative protest?
  • What roles have images played in the 'war on terror'?
  • Does a creative engagement with the memories of European socialism reinforce a historical remove, or provide the means for rehabilitation?
  • Is it possible to use art to critique the politial and economic operations of globalization, when structural aspects of the art world reinforce them?
  • Can images ever work against the logic of 'the spectacle'?


You'll address these questions through the work of artists such as:

  • Jeremy Deller
  • Broomberg and Chanarin
  • Omer Fast
  • Steve McQueen
  • Santiago Sierra
  • Ronnie Close
  • Thomas Hirschorn
  • Anthony Livera
  • Julian Germain
  • Corinne Silva
  • Thomson and Craighead
  • Yto Barrada
  • Phil Collins.

You will look at key texts by writers including:

  • Guy Debord
  • Henri Lefeubvre
  • David Harvey
  • Retort
  • Martha Rosler
  • Hal Foster
  • Nicolas Bourriard
  • Ariella Azoulay
  • TJ Demos
  • Julian Stallabrass.

You'll also look at examples of contemporary image culture, ranging from advertising to activist videos, online protest imagery to footage from military drones.

Module learning outcomes

  • Engage critically with relationsips between politicised art practices and a wider image culture.
  • Place these practices in a variety of social, cultural and theoretical contexts.
  • Carry out independent research into relevant topics.
  • Engage critically with a range of primary and secondary sources relevant to the study of contemporary art and politics.
  • Present and discuss relevant topics in a seminar environment.