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Open Access Publications from the University of California

At the Edge of Ruin: Seeing Art Under Perpetual Conflict

  • Author(s): Nelson, Rachel E.
  • Advisor(s): Gonzalez, Jennifer
  • et al.

At the Edge of Ruin: Seeing Art Under Perpetual Conflict engages four different art practices that are embedded in current political conflicts and struggles over abuses of power: the seemingly endless warfare in Palestine, the worsening refugee crisis in Europe, the racial injustices of the U.S. criminal court system, and the ongoing environmental catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Focusing on artworks by Emily Jacir, Kader Attia, collaborators Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, and Sammy Baloji, the project considers what insights these art practices can give into the current global conditions of both art and of social and political unrest.

At the Edge of Ruin offers a response to the recent thematic emphasis of global art discourse. Artworks shown at recent large-scale global art exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale or dOCUMENTA, and through museum initiatives like the new global art programs at the Tate Modern and the Guggenheim, have increasingly focused on the disasters and conflicts that roil the 21st Century. Yet contemporary art scholarship has largely failed to consider how global art is being linked to conflict and crises and to grapple with the challenges and possibilities this poses for art interpretation. Instead, artworks tackling different geopolitical issues, for instance, the racialized politics of the mass incarceration of African Americans or the economic and labor issues within immigration struggles in France, are being shown alongside each other in international art venues with little attention paid to how these practices are producing and circulating knowledge about such disparate practices and crises. This project utilizes the conflicted space of global art to better understand worldwide unrest and turmoil. It develops a model of interpretation that investigates unfolding current events and the histories from which they spring through the responses being made in art practices.

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