Instrumental Aesthetics: Contemporary Art, Politics and Visual Culture (V4151S)

30 credits, Level 7 (Masters)

Spring teaching

When politics is increasingly 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, you will consider the complex ways in which 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 political 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 
  • 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
  • Julian Stallabrass.

You will also consider specific examples of contemporary image culture, ranging from advertising to activist videos, online protest imagery to footage from military drones.


100%: Seminar


100%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 278 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.