Critical Issues—Artist as Activist and Educator


Term:  Winter 2014

Course Director          

Marc Couroux
322 J Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts
couroux [at] yorku [dot] ca
Course consultation hours: by appointment

Time and Location

Thursday 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM, Accolade West 103

This class is conceived as a laboratory for investigating alternate activist modalities, frameworks for action gleaned from multiple disciplines and various historical eras. As William Gibson once put it, the future is already here but unevenly distributed. Futurity indeed is a topic of pressing concern. Increased precarization and debt, environmental cataclysms, paranoid security models characterize late capitalism in general, but particularly acutely since the 2008 financial crisis. Despite massively losing any semblance of legitimacy, the system we are embedded in persists nonetheless. Mark Fisher has named the malaise of our times as “capitalist realism”, appended with echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s iconic statement: “there is no alternative”.

And yet, the various epistemic accelerations which have been fueled by the expansion and pervasiveness of communication technologies make possible unprecedented transdisciplinary consolidations and productive collisions. There is more than ever a capacity to pressure existing orthodoxies in new and unsuspected ways.

Given the appropriation of the avant-garde by the military-industrial-corporate complex—who has long understood and readily exploited the potential for sensory redistribution which to a large extent determines what is thinkable, perceptible—it is urgent for artists not only to gain a firm grasp on the specific modalities by which power operates, but also to develop speculative practices as “positive feedback”, essential to ejecting from increasingly tight communication and control. Consequently, much of this course will be devoted to directly engaging with the idea of the FUTURE, which has suffered greatly in light of the so-called “end of history”.

Interrogations of the technical environments in which we are situated (we have long been cyborgs) will constitute a central trope, modulating their potential effectiveness. Technologies often function as pharmaka: both poison and cure.

The course will be divided into 10 themes, with an introduction (week 1) and conclusion (week 12). The themes broadly capture clusters of ideas sharing common valences: (dis)position, acceleration, cooperation, situation, conjunction, hyperstition, contagion, secession, overidentification, levitation.

The first three weeks will involve brainstorming exercises designed to acutely foreground current pathologies within the capitalist system which impede the conceptualization of imaginative exploits, modes of potential ejection, the envisioning of other futures. Weeks 4-11 will involve substantial presentations (in groups of two) dedicated towards developing teaching methods while unpacking the content of a given reading.