Objects of History

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In this seminar we will explore why, in times of crisis, there is a tendency not only towards collective struggles for bettering conditions and social emancipation, but also towards political reaction, with all its forms of racism, xenophobia and chauvinism? Structured in three stages, titled, ‘Conspiracy: The Rational and the Irrational’, ‘Fascism and Colonialism’, and ‘Afterlives’, we will trace and contextualise a political, aesthetic and social history of twentieth- and twenty-first century art and exhibition making, oriented around the above question. With acknowledgement of T. J. Clark’s diagnosis of analogies as both useful and treacherous at the same time, we will employ various methods of critical and comparative enquiry to consider how fragments, or ‘objects’ of the past appear to burst into the present. We will look to past theories and practices for assistance with locating the co-ordinates of today’s crises including their attendant fascistic tendencies such as conspiracy theories, denials, amnesia, as well as modes of state violence. Building on this, we will consider how we encounter the varying and distinct notions of temporality and modernity, periodisation and historicity that emerge from the body of work that we will explore.

Aiming to provide students with knowledge and skills to develop their understanding of the history of fascist and colonial culture and anti-fascist and anti-colonial resistance, the seminar will explore theories which elaborate on how racism, misogyny, domination and exploitation intersect, how we can understand this both historically and in the present, and how artistic practices, as well as practices of exhibition making, have addressed and resisted this.