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'Utopia Zones: On Some Problems in Contemporary Art (via Joseph Beuys)’.
The basic tensions explored in this talk are between claims for art’s autonomy (art as governed by its own laws) and claims for its heteronomous potential (art as subject to external forces). Both claims have a utopian aspect: on the one hand, by maintaining a provisional and contingent autonomy, art keeps open a zone of freedom for meaningful action and experience; on the other, the extent to which art acts within and upon the external world enables it to contribute to the forging of a better future. But both also have a dystopian aspect: by remaining autonomous, art isolates itself from wider world, preferring instead its sequestered zone; and, conversely, by giving itself up to the sway of powerful external forces, art risks its own co-option, compromise and even dissolution. This talk explores these problems in relation to the legacy of the great German artist Joseph Beuys, examining the tensions between a small number of contemporary artworks which relate to his powerful and controversial programme.