MA in the Contemporary: An Interview with Juha Virtanen

Astrid Korporaal

11 May 2015
We learnt more about the MA in the Contemporary, an exciting interdisciplinary programme run in partnership with the University of Kent.

Dr. Juha Virtanen, who will be leading the collaborative MA in the Contemporary between the University of Kent and the ICA from September 2015, discusses his plans for next year with Astrid Korporaal, ICA Associate Curator of Education Partnerships.

AK: Could you tell us a bit more about your background and what you are planning to bring to the MA in the Contemporary?

JV: Although I started my post as Lecturer in Contemporary Literature in January 2015, I have a long history with the School of English at Kent. Broadly speaking, my research is keenly interested in the intersections between literature, the visual and the performing arts, culture, politics, and philosophy. I work extensively on experimental and radical poetry from the 1970s to the present day, but in addition, I have recently begun a new project that investigates graphic novels and contemporary politics. At the moment, I am revising a forthcoming monograph about poetry and performance in the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, I have recently completed an article about contemporary poetry and the visual practices of collage and graffiti, and I’m working on a piece about Batman in relation to Giorgio Agamben’s state of exception, protest, and violence. I am also a poet; my first collection, Back Channel Apraxia, was published by Contraband Books in 2014.

In terms of the MA in the Contemporary, I am excited to build upon the existing cross-disciplinary strengths of the degree programme. Many of the topics that students will encounter in modules such as Reading the Contemporary have an increased sense of urgency due to recent political developments; for instance, I think it’s crucial that we consider how subjects like ‘the art of resistance’ might apply to our daily lives now. I am also keen to introduce new objects of study into degree programme, including spoken word performances and paraliterary materials like graphic novels. I also want to encourage and support our students in pursuing their own collaborative projects. Endeavours such as the zine project undertaken by the current cohort are a quintessential part of the MA’s dynamic spirit, and it would be fantastic to see our future students continue this kind of activity by organising even more projects, events and interventions of their own. This is something I’d be thrilled to facilitate.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed the MA so far, especially the core Contemporary module we took last term. This has been a great way to academically and practically think about galleries, contemporary art and our current cultural/political environment." Jade French (current MA student)

What is most unique about this partnership between the ICA and the University of Kent in your view?

I think this partnership allows for a uniquely panoramic understanding of our highly complex cultural moment. In pedagogical terms, it means that we are able to provide a degree programme that is not only informed by cutting-edge research in a university context, but also by the innovations and aesthetic practices that arise directly from one of the UK’s flagship arts institutions. Because of this, the students’ research and learning experience will benefit greatly from the resources and expertise of the ICA through our mutually taught modules and the study residency. The recent introduction of the MA in The Contemporary (Paris) is also a very exciting prospect, as it will permit our students to become familiar with—and develop connections between—contemporary cultures in the international settings of London and Paris.

What do you see as the opportunity for students applying to this MA programme?

First and foremost, I think the MA programme will furnish them with an incredibly exciting and varied course of study, which will let them explore various perspectives about contemporary literature, creative writing, film, drama, and history and philosophy of art. In addition, the study residency will enable students to gain vocational experience at the ICA. Thus, the critical and vocational skills that form the core of this MA will help the students with progressing into areas such as academia, artistic practice, arts management, and a number of other careers including broadcasting, journalism, and publishing.

How important do you think interdisciplinarity is in the contemporary context?

I’d say it’s vital. Nothing happens, or exists, in a vacuum; it occurs through collective and collaborative ideas and acts. So if we think about the contemporary context, it would be pretty myopic to do so without observing the connections and oppositions—or the solidarities and resistances—that occur there. This applies to the different disciplines of the arts, yes, but also to how those disciplines might relate to the social realities and politics of our time. ■

For more information on the programmes, and to apply, please visit the MA in the Contemporary and MA in the Contemporary - Paris websites or contact