CFP: Artistic Subversion

Call for Papers: Artistic Subversion: Exposing Conditions & Cracking the Frame (working title)
Kunstlicht Vol. 38 (2017) no. 1

Deadline proposals: 21 February 2017
Issue release: Spring 2017
In this time of tumultuous politics, the next issue of Kunstlicht will consider the strategies and methods by which artists engage with subversion to consider how art can unveil, resist, or transform structures of power. Subversion, in this sense, is not limited to a critique of a particular political or economic regime, but it does entail that the artist contributes, in some cases radically, to the deconstruction or demystification of reigning systems of classification or exclusion.


The inflammatory photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano – cast into the spotlight by conservative politicians in the throes of the culture wars of the 1980s – or Santiago Sierra’s provocative acts, such as 160 cm Line Tattooed on Four People (2000) or Ten People Paid to Masturbate (2000), have received widespread publicity on account of the controversy they generated. But can these works ultimately be considered subversive?


Writing on the activities of the Situationist International in 1957, Guy Debord argued that subversive ideas were forbidden access to public discourse as a result of the “rigged game of official culture”. Yet subversive ideas, by means of pure suppression, may only grow in influence, left to alternative channels of distribution. In order to disempower them, Debord argues, “[t]he ruling ideology arranges the trivialization of subversive discoveries, and widely circulates them after sterilization”. This recuperation of subversion into spectacle is a reality with which critical artistic practice must contend.


As Chantal Mouffe has noted, today “artistic critique has become an important element of capitalist productivity”. As such, art is implicated in regimes of social control and the consolidation of capital. But (how) can it be called upon to subvert these regimes? Artists like Martha Rosler, with works that combine disparate images such as House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967-72, 2004-08) and If It’s Too Bad to be True, It Could be Disinformation (1985), or Elizabeth Sisco, Louis Hock, and David Avalos who collaborate on public projects such as Welcome to America’s Finest Tourist Plantation (1988) or Art Rebate (1993) that engage directly with media to shape the discourse they generate, continue to devise strategies to generate critical reflection despite the treacherous nature of the terrain.


Kunstlicht invites contributions that focus on specific case studies (past or present), as well as theory-based discussions on subversion in art. How can art be subversive and what does it effectively subvert? How do specific historic, cultural, or socio-economic circumstances influence approaches to subversion, and how do aspects such as the site of the work, its mediation, or the controversy it generates effect its potential? Is the subversive quality of an artwork intrinsically connected to the context of its realization, or is it possible for a work to continue to be subversive, or to become subversive in new contexts? With such questions in mind, this issue seeks to explore the tenuous state of subversion in relation to artistic practice, and the many conditions that must be considered when making an artwork that may be seen as a threat to reigning hegemonies.


Proposals (200 – 300 words) with attached résumés can be submitted via Selected authors will be invited to write a 2,000 – 3,000-word paper (excluding notes). Papers may be written either in English or in Dutch. Authors who publish in Kunstlicht will receive three complementary copies. Kunstlicht does not provide an author’s honorarium. Two years following publication, papers will be submitted to the freely accessible online archive. This issue will appear in print, and additionally a selection of articles published online.