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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Andrew Forster, Humanities

Clairvoyant Practices for the Designed World (The Job of the Artist is to De-Design)

Tuesday, August 18, 2020 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This thesis uses the concept ‘designed world’ to designate an envelope that contains what is usually understood as public space, including the social and material engagements that take place there. I ask how certain experimental artistic practices can make apparent, from within, the nature of this designed world as our evolving everyday (our human-oriented real). It also asserts that the space between the fields of art and design is one area where the vital importance of such investigations comes into view. A range of concepts – coping, critical spatial practice, de-design, imagination, strange tools, clairvoyance, complicity, real and virtual spaces, the shaping of time, format, design fiction, counter-factual event, and analogy – are introduced to describe how art practices can unsettle or open the designed world to scrutiny. Vito Acconci’s term ‘de-design’ is used as a first step in addressing the kinds of questions that artworks ask of the designed world. Theodore Schatzki’s use of the word ‘art’ to designate ‘clairvoyant practices’ (the singular quality of certain practices to make change evident) and Jane Rendell’s term ‘critical spatial practice’ (embedded artistic interventions in urban space) enlarge the scope of these questions. Bernard Stiegler’s idea of the ‘amateur’ contributes to a critical examination of a contemporary ideology of innovation. Art practice is associated with a fundamental formulation of imagination via Hannah Arendt. This radical idea of imagination is nuanced through David Summer’s spatio-temporal inquiry into form, format, and the virtual, as a critical stand which is then turned towards contemporary digital representation and its manipulation.

The thesis examines several artworks, films, performances, choreographies and designed things that are taken to be ‘clairvoyant,’ each in their own way. It focuses in detail on two contemporary practices that ‘cope’ in a generative manner with the designed world from a position of self-reflexive complicity: Hito Steyerl (in the space of digital practice) and Theaster Gates (in the space of material practice). The thesis concludes with a situated description of my own work, including the studio components of this thesis – the public installation Paraguayan Sea (with Erín Moure) and the video installation The Machine Stops set in Le Corbusier’s Capitol Complex, Chandigarh.

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