Ex-Embassy / Australische Botschaft OST | Talk @ Vierte Welt

Artistic activism:

Shifting the Public Imaginary

Mi. 27.09.17

How is art deployed in order to bring overlooked or intractable social problems into view and intervene with, or even change, public discourse? While today, 'the public' increasingly consists of 'non-overlapping spheres of mutually reinforcing beliefs' (Nina Power), artistic actions and creations can cut across social divides, shift the public imaginary and endow the political world with visible, tangible forms that can inspire change. 

This panel will bring together artists and theorists to consider art’s capacity to contribute to social transformation. Talking through specific examples from their own practice, they will discuss the merging of aesthetics and politics, as well as tactics to engage the mediatised public sphere. Some questions they will consider:

What strategies do artists use to impact or alter the present social order? And how do artists understand or measure the effectiveness of their actions? Is provoking controversy, causing debate and attracting media attention an end in itself? And are there limits to artistic agency, and what might this mean?


Carol Peterson is a researcher in political sociology. She has over ten years experience working for Trade Unions, NGOs and Governments and she is currently completing a MA at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Her research has a twin focus on social movement strategic practices and rationalities of risk and catastrophe. She has over twenty years experience participating in social movements and her current movement focus is on promoting the adaptation of community organising techniques for local struggles.

Camilla Møhring Reestorff, PhD, is associate professor in culture and media at the department of Communication and Culture, University of Aarhus, editor-in-chief of 'Conjunctions: Transdisciplinary Journal of Cultural Participation', and director of 'Center for Cultural Participation'. Her work centers on culture wars, political participation, art activism, mediatization, and affectvity. She has recently published the book ‘Culture War: Affective Cultural Politics, Tepid Nationalism and Art Activism’ (Intellect Press 2017). 

Catherine Ryan is an artist, writer and performer from Melbourne, Australia who works in media including performance, sound, text, video and installation. She writes accompanying creative and philosophical texts for a number of art projects, as well as miscellaneous pieces in academic and not-so-academic publications. These include the Manifesto for the New, Political Pop Song, a tongue-in-cheek polemic about the need for a new sort of pop song that would combat the atomized way in which suffering is experienced under neoliberal capitalism.

Since 2012, Catherine has had an ongoing collaborative artistic practice with Amy Spiers. Together, they work in site-specific installation and live and participatory performance, often employing aesthetics that are disruptive and absurd. Their works explore the control and policing of what is visible and invisible in public space.

Catherine’s background is in philosophy and critical theory. Her academic work focuses on the philosophers Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.



Amy Spiers (b.1982) is a Melbourne-based artist and writer. Spiers makes art both collaboratively with Catherine Ryan, and as a solo artist. Her socially-engaged, critical art practice focuses on the creation of live performances, participatory situations and multi-artform installations for both site-specific and gallery contexts. Her work aims to prompt questions and debate about the present social order — particularly about the gaps and silences in public discourse where urgent social issues are not confronted.

Spiers has presented numerous art projects across Australia and internationally, most recently at Monash University Museum of Art (Melbourne), the Museum für Neue Kunst (Freiburg), MONA FOMA festival (Hobart) and the 2015 Vienna Biennale. As an arts writer and researcher, Amy has published work widely in art journals, books and magazines, including producing texts for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Auckland Art Gallery, Open Engagement and Das Superpaper. She is currently completing a PhD at the Victorian College of the Arts.



Other contributors TBA

Organised by Sonja Hornung & Carol Peterson

English, Deutsche Flüsterübersetzung  

Image credits:

Amy Spiers and Catherine Ryan, Nothing to See Here (Dispersal), 2014

Amy Spiers and Catherine Ryan, No More Public Space, Only Public Order (Water Cannon), 2016

Amy Spiers, Miranda Must Go, 2017