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The Battle in Seattle


The Ethics of Encounter – Research Workshop

Thursday 3 & Friday 4 March 2011

The University of Edinburgh and Stills Gallery

Call for Papers

Deadline: 28 January 2011

As an increasing number of artists site their practice within the social fabric of everyday life, the encounter has been placed at the heart of a newly defined aesthetic experience.  Participatory, collaborative, community-based and documentary methodologies which engage directly with interpersonal relations and social realities now proliferate both within and beyond the institution.  This move away from traditional forms of representation into the territories of use and action has endowed art’s latest ‘social turn’ with a renewed and expanded ethical significance.  In parallel with these developments, it is claimed that ethics has triumphed in the public debate to reign over culture and displace politics.

This workshop will examine the complex interfaces which have emerged between aesthetics, politics and ethics in the 21st century. Taking into account their historical imbrications in art discourse together with the so-called ‘ethical turn’ of contemporary politics, we aim to develop a critical understanding of their most recent forms and configurations across the diverse terrains of socially-engaged art. The ethical valence of artworks has dominated debates to date – whether interventions into the social fabric can be considered productively ‘good’ or transgressive, ‘bad’ and yet, ultimately, revealing.  If the ethical is now a common route for artists seeking to broach the political and provide a site for critique, is it possible to move beyond this dichotomy and map the potential and limits of ethical engagements in art?

While we are primarily interested in exploring these issues and debates from an art historical perspective, the theoretical tools framing these developments are, of course, not held solely within this territory.  We therefore welcome papers from across disciplinary boundaries.   The following questions are indicative of the types of themes that might be addressed through the workshop:

•   To what extent has ethics emerged as a site for political engagement in contemporary art and beyond?  Does this shift ultimately augment or displace politics?

•   What are the implications of this ethical turn for the processes of reception and interpretation?

•   What is the role of aesthetics in relation to the ethical and the political?

•   Can ‘good’, ethically sound, artistic practices be subjected to critique and, if so, what methodologies and frameworks should be employed?

•   As artworks increasingly resemble other knowledge producing activities such as ethnographic mapping, investigative journalism and even community work, should the artist be subject to the same ethical codes and responsibilities as practitioners from other disciplines? Is the viewer’s relationship with an artwork ethically different from our other encounters with objects, knowledge, individuals and communities?

•   How do today’s transgressive artistic strategies differ from those of the latter half of the 20th century?

•   Questions on the image remain as tenacious as ever in current debates: when considered in relation to art’s broader re-emergence as a social practice (for example in terms of the documentation of social relations) what new concerns arise?

Following an informal public round-table discussion on the evening of Thursday 3 March the workshop will take place on Friday 4 March 2011 at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh.  Selected workshop papers will be organised into themed panels, each led by two participants.  Following two 20 minute papers there will be an opportunity for further debate and discussion.  At the conclusion of the day a paper will be given by the keynote speaker, Anthony Downey.

Anthony Downey is a writer and art critic. He sits on the editorial board of Third Text and is the Programme Director of the M.A. course in Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. He has published essays, criticism and interviews in numerous international journals on the politics of aesthetics, collaborative art practices, civil society and community-based art practices, bio-politics and migration, and the potential for an ethics of artistic practice.

Please send a 300 word abstract accompanied by a brief biography (including your name, institution, phone number and e-mail) to by Friday 28 January 2011.  We will acknowledge receipt.  Final decisions will be made and responses circulated by Monday 31 January 2011.  Five bursaries covering workshop fees and the evening meal are available to post-graduate contributors. If you would like to apply for a bursary, please note your interest on your proposal.

There will be 15 places for workshop participants who will not be presenting a paper.  If you would like to be considered for one of these places please send a note of interest with a brief biography

This workshop has been organised in parallel with The Ethics of Encounter exhibition at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh ( It is supported by the AHRC, Stills and The University of Edinburgh’s History of Art Department.

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

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