Forms of Engagement

Call for Papers

Forms of Engagement, Concepts of Politics

European Doctoral Seminar in Culture, Criticism, and Creativity
Copenhagen, June 11 - 13, 2009


Questions regarding the relationship between politics and the arts have resurfaced both within the art world and in critical theory over the last ten to fifteen years. Thinkers as diverse as Giorgio Agamben, Nicolas Bourriaud, and Jacques Rancière have linked discussions of artistic form with a rethinking of politics. In much the same manner, phenomena as different as postcolonial literature and relational art have involved not just a rethinking of artistic form, but also of what art engages when we say it engages with politics.

With this seminar, we invite the participants to discuss the relationship between different forms of engagement and different conceptions of politics. We hope to discuss how and to what extent various forms of engagement are determined by the themes they engage with and by different presuppositions regarding what politics is. What kind of artistic engagement becomes meaningful when the arena of politics is understood as the structural relations of economic  inequality? How do they differ from the ones that are meaningful, when politics are understood as resistance against an overpowering state-apparatus or as the propagation and maintenance of societal norms regulating normative versions of ”the good life”? Or other concepts of the domain of politics.

On the other hand, there is no reason to assume that a conceptions of politics necessarily predates the choice and type of engagement. Hence, we would also like to discuss whether the different forms of engagement and different conceptions of politics could be seen as determined by constraints, and openings, in the histories and institutions of art itself. Does relational art’s rejection of the art object and of contemplative aesthetics lead to a conception of ”micro-politics” understood as the establishment of small, transient social spaces, just as one could say that the format of stadium rock lead to Band Aid and its feel-good focus on global poverty?

Surely, other factors need to be considered as well. The seminar does thus not aim to engage in a discussion of the level of engagement (to what degree is, and should, art be engaged in the world in which it operates?), but the different forms this engagement can take, and the way they relate to and presuppose often implicit conceptions of politics. We hope that the participants will do so through the presentation of historical and contemporary “case studies” as well as more theoretical papers.

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