Critical Legal Conference 2013

The Art of Dissent

Stream Organiser: Petr Agha (Centre for Law and Public Affairs, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic).

 “Urban modernity” brought about a division within the cities, breaking them into systems of hierarchy organized according to the idea
of governance. Street art becomes a way to reclaim and reappropriate urban space, and provides a new understanding of the city as rightfully belonging to the people. Precisely because it seeks a dismeasure in both the art world and society, street art always occupies the position of the minority or heterodoxy. But street art also demonstrates quite a few parallels with political democracy. That doesn't make art into politics, but it does belong to the domain of ‘the political’, especially if we see this notion, as Jacques Rancière puts it, as ‘expressing living together in form’ (2000). Interventions by artists and activities by art institutes also mould social interaction.

Public spaces as constructions of the ruling order represent a particular vision of public space, one attempting to regulate the polis by keeping it relatively free of passion or disturbance?. This activity, governance, continually brings about pacification and order and what Ranciére
refers to as the “dark side of the idyll of consensus”. Street-art represents both the outcome of attempts to impose an “ordered” view of public space originating “from above”, and the act of resistance “from below” by those seeking democratic spaces of “unscripted” interaction eroding the official narrative. Establishing or maintaining obstacles to upward cultural, intellectual and social mobility reduces the opportunities for civil participation. This constant possibility of dismeasure is why confrontations with artistic expressions in the streets often lead to debate and dissent. It is precisely this debate that has been at the core of the artistic ever since modernity: the principle of contingency makes it necessary to argue that other visions, opinions and interpretations are always possible. The point is not so much whether this alternate vision is more beautiful or more interesting or comes closer to the truth, but rather that there is always another way of looking at things. Art thus not only reflects, but actively intervenes. Just like democracy, modern art is also polyphonic and post-fundamental.

Questions addressed by this stream include (but are not limited to):

  • How to contribute to the production of meaning rather than simply to its consumption?
  • Who makes choices that shape the city, where and how do these operate?
  • What is the function of street-art within capitalism?
  • Would there also be a direct connection between a kind of art and a kind of political regime that dominates the public sphere?
  • Is there a link between modern art and the democracies in which it is embedded?
  • Is there a specific art of democracy?
  • Which cultural groups are being represented in these projects, by who and for whom?

Please send paper abstracts of 300 words to Petr Agha ( before the 15 June 2013 deadline.

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QUB Lanyon Building

Belfast City Hall

Photo of H&W cranes
Photo of H&W cranes

QUB Gates

Stormont Building

Beacon of Hope Sculpture