Art history

Instrumental Aesthetics:Contemporary Art, Politics and Visual Culture

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

When politics is increaslingly conducted at the level of the image, and artists seek social effects beyond the confines of the gallery, where do we draw the line between art and politics? This module will explore the tensions and possibilities involved in such a dialogue by placing politicised modes of contemporary art practice in the context of a wider image culture.

Focusing on the period from 2001-the present, we will 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 engagenent 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'?

The module will address these questions through the work of artists including 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 and Phil Collins. We will look at key texts by writers including Guy Debord, Henri Lefeubvre, David Harvey, Retort, Martha Rosler, Hal Foster, Nicolas Bourriard, Ariella Azoulay, T.J. Demos and Julian Stallabrass. We will also consder specific 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.