HKUK13003U Free topic- Visual Cultures of Commonality

Volume 2023/2024

How do we learn to see in common? What can visual culture teach us about community? What can visual practices offer in an ever-changing world where meaning and difference are never stable? How can visual representations foster commonality or, in other words, activate common matters of concern? Exploring the intersections of visual culture, art history, curatorial studies and activism, this course focuses on the transformative potential of images.

The course will examine such questions from four different perspectives:

In an analytical perspective, we will discuss how to approach forms of representations in a way that also encompasses their modes of production and forms of reception. In a theoretical perspective, we will discuss how to expand and amend aesthetic theories to better understand the relationship between visual culture and social forms of commonality. In a historical perspective, we will examine some of the different ways in which visual practices, i.e. political posters and art exhibitions, have been working actively with (and on) social relations and interactions. And in a political perspective, finally, we will look at how the relation between visual culture and politics can be assessed in this perspective, and also discuss more concretely how cultural policy debates and initiatives have framed the question of social relations.

Introductory classes will provide a critical examination of representation, a key concept in cultural studies. Texts will cover the influential work of Stuart Hall, bell hooks and Raquel Gates. Their contributions offer an understanding of how meaning is constructed and conveyed in various forms of media and culture. Later in the course, the notion of representation will be expanded via theoretical positions in science studies, posthumanism, and curatorial studies (s. below). Also, the second part of the course will be structured along two case study groupings.

One case study grouping suggests a reexamining of the history of Black photographic practices as the lens to examine contemporary forms of visual material/communication. For the second half of the course, students will delve into the history and theoretical groundwork of Black photographic practices in the United States and the United Kingdom. Through a critical lens, students will learn more about the relationship between “movement and medium” and engage with anti-racist campaign material. By the end of the course, students will have a nuanced understanding of the role of visual culture in shaping societal perceptions and the potential for imagery to drive positive social change. The course encourages students to critically assess the impact of imagery on public perception and policy, fostering an understanding of visual culture’s role in shaping social consciousness. 

The second case study grouping will focus on exhibitions, framing curatorial practice in an extended sense as a specific aesthetic and collaborative form of investigation into social or relational modes of existence. Equipped with reflections on current theoretical discussions on “curatoriality” (Beatrice von Bismarck) and “the curatorial” (Maria Lind, Irit Rogoff) we will approach two landmark exhibitions curated by Bruno Latour – in collaboration with various co-curators – at the ZKM | Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe, Germany), “Iconoclash” (2002) and “Making Things Public” (2005). The exhibitions examined disagreements and frictions inherent in forms of representation (in science, religion, art, and politics) – but also their potential for knowledge production, the assembling of actors, and the fostering of commonality.

The course will culminate with a day-long seminar, collaborating with the research centre Art as Forum. Students will have the chance to present their work to peers and teachers to receive feedback before the exam




Throughout the course, we will work with different art forms and genres and preferably with material suggested by the course participants. We will focus on accommodating the writing of exam essays in direct relation to the seminar work. The course will be co-taught by members of the Art as Forum research group.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 283
  • Guidance
  • 1
  • Exam
  • 80
  • Total
  • 420
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Type of assessment