- Speculating on Change
- Branding Democracy
- Public Domain
- Considering Forgiveness
The Vera List Center for Art and Politics develops our programs in cycles, habitually identifying a topic of particular urgency and broad resonance that brings together artists, scholars, activists, public intellectuals, and political and cultural leaders to discuss and explore thematic issues and questions, curating a wide-ranging program over the course of four semesters.
AlignmentWhat commits us, and what joins us? In its 21st year – as our planet enters the Age of the Anthropocene, where everything is infused by human activity – the Vera List Center embarks on an extended investigation of Alignment, usually referred to as the "proper or desirable relation of components." With distinctions blurring between nature and culture, individual and group, and political and economic spheres, we will explore how alignments take place, and why. Art will provide the transdisciplinary lens for this examination.
Over the next two years, the center will address the formation of alignments in science, law, and politics and, in so doing, will ask where correspondences are sought and found, and how individual entities relate to larger bodies. Such discussions will invariably encompass those about democracy and the newly emerging regimes in the Arab world; those about purpose and usefulness – ethically, politically, and otherwise – and whether intentional communities can be defined through notions of alignment; those about entitlement and rights; about theory and practice; and those on the space of alignments, and how the term might be applicable to an enhanced definition of civic space. Alignments, or correspondences, require translation, and with it a reflection on language, interdisciplinarity and cognition. They can be organic and artificial, accidental and constructed, permanent and transitional.
We propose Alignment as the term that supports an expanded, comprehensive examination of how the parts of this world fit together, how they will be in a symbiotic position to one another, to a limited extent, for a limited time. Art enables such an examination.
Related itemsIn the face of virtual realities, social media, and disembodied existences, the Vera List Center for Art and Politics embarked on a two-year exploration of the material world, turning a focus back to the material conditions of our lives and examine "thingness," the nature of matter.
Russian Constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko once declared that "our things and our hands must be equal." More recently, political scientist Jane Bennett has spoken of "vibrant matter" and called for a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between objects and people that may provoke more responsible, ethical and ecologically sound politics. Over the course of four semesters, "thingness" was dissected, and thematic program clusters were formed around topics such as forensics, ecology, speculative materialism, and biology. This far-ranging inquiry involved New School faculty and students with scholars, thinkers, and artists from outside our community.
Speculating on Change2009-2011
Related itemsIncreasingly, individuals speak of "peace time" versus "war time," or "the recent past" and the "immediate future." Economically, politically, and technologically, we are experiencing change as never before. Explicitly tied to difference, change is most easily measured in terms of chronological time, comparing a "before" to an established "after." Speculation on change entails projection, prognosis and risk, and reflects perhaps most clearly the fluid, divergent and simultaneous time space continuum of our contemporary existence.
The Vera List Center's goal with the theme of change was to contribute to a multi-disciplinary conversation about being in a state of change, in a continuous projection into the future. The programs invariably attempt to define President Obama's "change we can believe in," building on the previous program year's exploration of democracy as an eternally deferred state. The "Speculating on Change" cycle addresses topics as diverse as momentum and political movement; institutional infrastructures and collapse; speculative urbanism and design; humor; performance; credit and risk; the moment of environmental crisis; and the global economy.
At a moment when the catch-word "democracy" is ubiquitous and evoked by a plethora of regimes internationally, this program and accompanying exhibition looked at the design and packaging of the notion of democracy, and how it became a consumer brand. The Vera List Center gathered thinkers from the arts, law, the social sciences, the media, and other fields to engage in a multi-disciplinary investigation of "Branding Democracy," positioning this form of governance in terms of marketing and market shares, design and visual concepts, and consumer culture and agency. Practitioners from various fields examined this phenomenon and uncover possible reasons for it, thus indirectly also indicating a way out.
For the first time, Vera List Center public programs were accompanied by an exhibition presented at Parsons The New School for Design, "OURS: Democracy in the Age of Branding." The exhibition was complemented by a range of lectures, talks, performances, workshops and participatory events, many of which took place in the gallery, within an "open" structure designed for this purpose by British artist Liam Gillick.
AgencyWhile the concept of "Agency" lends itself to multiple interpretations within multiple contexts, the word and its varied meanings possess an intriguing specificity: the very idea of agency exists as a challenge to power, and probes where power rests, and how power shifts over time. At its core—and through its philosophical reiterations by pillars of Western thought ranging from Kant to Marx, from Descartes to Althusser—agency refers to the dynamics of human social relations, the relationship between object and subject. Our agency is unearthed at the intersection of our awareness, our identity, and our efficacy.
For some, people are agents of change in the same way that they are carriers of disease. Others define the subject as moral agent, and subjectivity as the coincidence of knowledge, identity and agency. The theme of agency is intended to provoke and stimulate, asking not how we can structure or assemble meaning, but, rather, how meaning is being implemented and applied, what the effects are of our being.
Questions of action and intervention in social relations and political life were at the core of this year's multilayered expeditions into the concept of agency. A growing number of artists and thinkers create their own language in exploring agency, and in so doing touch on ideas such as responsibility, consciousness, connectivity, ecology, and momentum. As participants in the Vera List Center's programs, they develop and showcase innovative models for collaboration and engagement.
Public DomainPublic space is traditionally defined as a domain of free exchange, welcoming the participation of all citizens: meeting places in the city, the market, newspapers and other public media. The rise of digital technologies has a great influence on the structure of this space. Is today's "public domain" more scattered or broader and richer than before the "digital revolution"? This question is crucial in debates about architecture, urban planning and art, and about the roles they play in society. Is the public domain still a place for acting and intervening? Where does the "public" take place nowadays and who shapes it by developing spatial and cultural strategies? How can one claim these new public spaces?
To define what's public, and to name and identify what and who is considered to be part of the common cultural and intellectual heritage of humanity, is a fundamentally political act that affects humans and matter in different ways. While copyright or patent restrictions may expire and be renewed, the opportunity for an individual to integrate (or reintegrate) into a community may not present itself as easily. Arranged around the topic of the "Public Domain," many these programs considered notions of the public and how they relate to objects, people and knowledge in terms of economics, law, politics, religion, culture and psychology.
Related itemsPolitical engagement is rarely viewed in terms of forgiveness. The willingness to confront injustice—to name and identify it—is by its nature a bold act. But since injustice (and justice) are controversial concepts that involve highly polarized parties—the accuser and the accused—forgiveness encompasses a vast range of emotions and procedures, and constitutes one of the most complex forms of human commitment.
Offering neither calls for forgiveness nor a granting thereof, the programs dedicated to the theme of "Considering Forgiveness" examine this form of commitment in interdisciplinary terms. The first step in this process is a review: what actually occurred needs to be established both historically and emotionally. With history never completed, the work of remembering becomes an act of the present and a blueprint for the future. In considering the work of German artist Anselm Kiefer, art historian Andreas Huyssen states that it examines the "unbearable tensions between the terror of German history and the intense longing to get beyond it." It is in this confrontation between the past and the future where forgiveness lies.
Related itemsDuring the year 2004-2005, many of the Vera List Center's programs were dedicated to an interdisciplinary exploration of the theme of "Homeland." Topics of inquiry included the effects of the war in Iraq on American political life; the history of the concept of Homeland Security; the émigré experience and the state of being between two "homes"; contemporary and traditional perspectives on homeland in a Native American context; and the debate surrounding what constitutes a country.