Art Criticism & the Pandemic

These events were organised in collaboration with Chris McCormack, Associate Editor at Art Monthly, the UK’s leading magazine of contemporary visual art. The panels brought together a range of art critics to discuss the implications of current conditions for their work and the broader field of art criticism. Four live seminars across two years considered how the structures of a globalised art world were interrupted or changed in 2020 and 2021 and whether, in the context of renewed activism, the art world is addressing problems of inequity and injustice in its own order.

Part 1: Resetting the Global

Several months into a devastating pandemic, the globalised art world has been grounded and changed. Exhibition models and curatorial pursuits including the ‘blockbuster’, the biennial and the art fair are left in limbo. Are the restricted conditions of movement for many in the western world fostering alternative forms of practice, display and exchange? This event aims to glimpse possibilities for renewal beyond existing globalised systems. It looks for signs of a decolonial art world. Speakers address a wide-ranging set of issues and raise questions of ecological imperative, use of technology and the new status of art, for consideration and discussion.

Session 1: Resetting the Global

Papers from Khairani Barokka, David Dibosa, Juliet Jacques, Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, and Rehana Zaman.

Part 2: Whose Body?

We are witness to how structural inequity has exacerbated the effects of the pandemic including for people in poverty, for keyworkers, for women and for non-white people. Using the frame of the art world, this event queries whose body is cared for and whose is ignored? It turns to the current visibility of long-term racial injustices and the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. It asks how art practice and writing can foster care and healing, renewal and health in the light of the pandemic.

Session 2: Whose Body?

Papers from Larne Abse-Gogarty, Robert McRuer, Jade Montserrat, Neo Sinoxolo Musangi, and Marina Vishmidt.

Part 3: Safer Spaces

How might the tension between individual body control and collective health security during this current ‘disruption’ of the pandemic be constructed through a timeline of conflicting modernities and vaccination? Further, considering the global as one continually remade by colonial forces and extraction, how might histories of pandemics chart our understanding of the way state-craft narratives have made visible the infected, the sick or dangerous body through border control. How might these broader forces be manifested at a cultural and art institutional level, and how might art confront these forces of ‘progression’ or continue to trade in these values?

Session 3: Safer Spaces

Papers from Stella Nyanzi, Sria Chatterjee, Ariane Sutthavong, and Isobel Harbison.

Part 4: Wearing Out

Under the violent normalisation of austerity, the pandemic has exacerbated conditions of increased work surveillance and precarity, deepening an awareness of the consequences of chronic exhaustion. The now commonplace discussion of contemporary fatigue, anxiety, and depression points us, as Lauren Berlant states, ‘to the way living also becomes a scene of the wearing out of life’. From caregivers to lives more at risk of infection through socioeconomic consequences of structural racism and underpayment, how might kinships ‘wear out’ together and apart, how might artworks play a part in redefining the public sphere or enable us to consider the interrelations of equity and collective care.

Session 4: Wearing Out

Papers from Leigh Claire La Berge, Marc Aziz Michael, Dante Micheaux, Monica Narula and Jeebesh Bagchi, Oreet Ashery, and Jackson Davidow.