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Portrait: T.J. Demos

ICA Quickfire TJ Demos: The Rights of Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology

29 Jan 2015

The term “nature” has long been a contested term, suggesting the source of ideological manipulation and essentialist thinking as much as gesturing toward a fantasy world apart from human activities that no longer stands—especially in the age of the Anthropocene, when humans for the first time in history have become the drivers of the Earth’s geological transformation.

Whereas theorists from Bruno Latour to Timothy Morton have argued we’ve entered a “post-natural” condition, others, including environmental activists and indigenous peoples have refused to give up the term nature as a mobilizing site for politico-ecological struggle. In addition, legal scholars and activists have been developing the terms of Earth jurisprudence in order to shift law in eco-centric directions, which has been complimented by progressive governments in Latin America recognizing the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth in their recently revised constitutions and legal codes (as in Ecuador and Bolivia).

This presentation will reflect on the theoretical conflicts between these diverse positions, and place them in relation to the work of a range of contemporary artists. The talk will draw on research behind Rights of Nature: Art and Ecology in the Americas, an exhibition T.J. Demos is co-curating, opening 23 January, 2015 at Nottingham Contemporary; and his forthcoming book, The Post-Natural Condition: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (Sternberg Press, 2015).

T.J. Demos has been a critic and Reader in the Department of Art History, University College London since 2005. He writes on contemporary art and politics, and is the author, most recently, of The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis (Duke University Press, 2013), and Return to the Postcolony: Spectres of Colonialism in Contemporary Art (Sternberg, 2013).

In 2013, he guest-edited a special issue of Third Text (no. 120) on the subject of “Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology,” and is currently at work on a new book on the same theme for Sternberg Press, to appear in 2015. He is also presently working on co-curating Rights of Nature: Art and Ecology in the Americas, for Nottingham Contemporary (opening in January 2015), and Specters: A Ciné-Politics of Haunting, a screening series of artist films at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid (November-December 2014). In early 2015, Demos will take up a new professorship at University of California, Santa Cruz in its History of Art and Visual Culture Department.

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