April – Socially Engaged Art

Interventions: The Art of Political Timing

With Claire Bishop, Professor of Art History, Graduate Center, City University of New York

This lecture offers a historical and theoretical analysis of the term “intervention” as a way to describe a way of making art that triangulates public gesture, political timing, and media circulation. The first uses of the term “intervention” are found in Latin America during the 1970s, when a weakening of the dictatorships made it possible for artists to exploit and mobilize public space and the media at a moment of political uncertainty. Although the term undergoes a dilution of meaning in the 1990s (devolving into site-specific projects commissioned for biennials and museums), the intervention’s qualities of self-initiated transgression persist in the digital realm of tactical media. Since 2010 there has been a resurgence of interventions in tandem with new forms of political activism and dissent (Russia, Cuba, United States). I connect political timing to the idea of conjunctural analysis (Gramsci/ Hall), but ultimately raise questions about (1) the ability of this method to work with (rather than against) the attention span of social media, and (2) the inherent value of disruption and transgression now that it has been co-opted by the alt-right.

Curator: Hai Ren (任海) (UArizona East Asian Studies and Anthropology)

Lecture (open to the public): Thursday, April 8, 2021, 6-7:30pm Arizona / 9-10:30pm ET

Seminar: Friday, April 9, 2021, 11am-12:30pm Arizona / 2-3:30pm EST

taken as part of the US-Mexico Border Convergence event in October 2016.

Photo taken by Hai REN 任海, Ph.D., as part of the “US-Mexico Border Convergence” event in October 2016.


Claire Bishop

Claire Bishop is a critic and professor in the PhD Program in Art History at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her books include Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (Verso, 2012), and Radical Museology, or, What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art? (Walther König, 2013). She is a Contributing Editor of Artforum, and her essays and books have been translated into twenty languages. She is currently working on two books: a short publication about Merce Cunningham’s Events, and a collection of essays about contemporary art and attention. Her most recent publication is a book of conversations with Cuban artist Tania Bruguera (Cisneros, 2020).  


Seminar readings:

1). Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2012. Introduction, and Chapter 1 “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents”.

2). Bruguera, Tania. “Political Timing Specific Art,” in Tania Bruguera in Conversation with Claire Bishop by Tania Bruguera and Claire Bishop, pp. 45-77. New York: Fundación Cisneros, 2020.

[Optional: “The Artist as Activist: Tania Bruguera in Conversation with Claire Bishop” (2016) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4raYhes7OwI> (85 minutes)].

3). Grobe, Christopher. “The Artist Is President: Performance Art and Other Keywords in the Age of Donald Trump.” Critical Inquiry 46 (Summer 2020), pp. 764-805.

4). Hall, Stuart, and Doreen Massey. “Interpreting the Crisis: Doreen Massey and Stuart Hall Discuss Ways of Understanding the Current Crisis.” Soundings, No. 44, 2010, pp. 57-71.