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Venue: Birkbeck Main Building, Malet Street

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With Larne Abse Gogarty, Alex Potts, Fiona Allen, Luisa Lorenza Corna, Alex Fletcher, Onyeka Igwe and Steve Edwards
Organised by: Fiona Allen (Exeter), Simon Constantine (Birkbeck), Luisa Lorenza Corna (Birkbeck/Middlesex)

Over the last two decades, the political turn in contemporary art has entered into a new phase with the ever-increasing popularity of journalistic and forensic strategies. From Trevor Paglen’s pixelated images of military bases and black spots to Forensic Architecture’s Turner Prize-nominated ‘investigations’, the drive to accredit, officiate and authenticate has become increasingly commonplace, both at an individual and an institutional level. This development has been attributed to the re-evaluation of realist strategies which accompanied the decline of postmodernism. However, in recent years, a gulf has begun to emerge between the critical realist practices that inaugurated this trend and their successors. Whereas the work of artists such as Allan Sekula, Martha Rosler and Harun Farocki was premised on a sensitivity to the politics of representation, one indebted to leftist filmmaking and political modernism, figures such as Hito Steyerl and the collective Metahaven have transformed this strategy by applying it to an increasingly frenetic digital landscape. Rather than proposing modest truth claims, John Gerard and Mishka Henner use graphs, statistics and digital modelling in a manner akin to fact checking. What unites these practices is their apparent faith in the potential for artistic objectivity and the ability of lens-based technologies and computer-generated images to pierce the opacity of advanced neoliberal society. In doing so, their work seeks to recast the relationship between art and politics in a more sober, analytical guise; a position that is further reinforced by the tendency to self-theorise, thus merging the figures of the artist and the critic.

Building upon these recent developments, this study day presents a selection of current research which critically considers how contemporary artists have sought to refashion the category of realism. Is their belief in the revelatory, even liberatory, power of technology a form of technological determinism or a mode of immanent critique? What understandings of objectivity underpin the decision to use aerial devices and digital reconstructions to address contemporary capitalism? Do these new forms of realism reflect or function as a form of resistance to the current digital media landscape? To what extent can the call for objectivity be sustained given recent critiques of universalism and their implications for testimony and justice?

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Contact phone: 07939674349

  • Alex Fletcher
  • Alex Potts
  • Alex Potts
  • Dr Simon Constantine -

    Lecturer, History and Theory of Photography

  • Fiona Allen
  • Larne Abse Gogarty
  • Luisa Lorenza Corna
  • Onyeka Igwe
  • Prof Steve Edwards -

    Professor, History and Theory of Photography