‘The State of Things’ closing lecture: The Experience of Defeat by T.J. Clark / Norway at La Biennale di Venezia

‘The State of Things’ closing lecture: The Experience of Defeat by T.J. Clark / Norway at La Biennale di Venezia

Office for Contemporary Art Norway

November 2, 2011
‘The State of Things’ closing lecture: The Experience of Defeat by T.J. Clark / Norway at La Biennale di Venezia

Thursday, 17 November, 18:00

Auditorium Santa Margherita, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 3689, Venice 


The Office for Contemporary Art (OCA), as commisioner of Norwayʼs representation at the 54th Biennale di Venezia, would like to announce ‘The Experience of Defeat’, a lecture by art historian T.J. Clark as part of ‘The State of Things’. Following previous contributions by Jaques Rancière, Leo Bersani, Vandana Shiva, Jan Egeland, Eyal Weizman, Judith Butler, Franco Berardi and Saskia Sassen, T.J. Clarkʼs lecture will be the closing event of ‘The State of Things,’ a programme that for six months has brought to the Venice Biennale a discussion of the urgent issues affecting the world today.


About the lecture


The Left in advanced capitalist countries has lived for the past two decades looking failure square in the face. The disappearance of a Left alternative from the space of politics, or even from the space of political imagination, remains the great fact of our time. Taking its title from Christopher Hill’s great study of radical writing after the English Civil War, this lecture is concerned with the Left’s sense of progress. It asks what it could mean to a Left politics for it no longer to consider itself ‘on the side of history’: not to imagine its task, in other words, as the realisation of the baulked potentials of capitalism and/or modernity, not to see its eventual victory written into the DNA of an economic order, not to posit some version of utopia—not, in a word, to ‘have the future in its bones’. Is a Left with no future a contradiction in terms? If not the future, then what? Is it only the Right that can (imaginatively, politically) dispense with the myth of freedom waiting to be realized—freedom at last in full possession of a technics? What aims and imagery might there be for an ‘un-modernity’ to come?


About T.J. Clark


T.J. Clark (b.1943, Bristol, UK, lives and works in London, UK) has until last year held the George C. and Helen N. Pardee Chair as Professor of Art History at UC Berkeley in California. His writings on art history throughout the 1970s and 80s single-handedly redefined the history of modernism internationally. His books include The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848–51 and Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (both 1973); The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (1985); Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (1999); Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (co-written with Iain Boal, Joseph Matthews and Michael Watts under the name Retort, 2005) and The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (2006).


About The State of Things


‘The State of Things’ is a series of public lectures that is held throughout the biennale period, reflecting upon themes such as diversity, the environment, peace-making, human rights, capital, migration, asylum, Europe, aesthetics and revolution. Each presentation aims to tackle the ‘state of things’ today, drawing from the speakers’ fields of activity and research, and from what they consider the intellectual and political priorities of today. The programme takes its cue from the Nansen Passport, created by Norwegian diplomat and explorer Fridtjof Nansen at the end of World War I in an attempt to enable refugees move across borders in search of political and intellectual shelter. Norway’s representation in Venice in 2011 is commissioned by OCA and organised by its director, Marta Kuzma and its associate curator, Pablo Lafuente, together with Peter Osborne, director of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University, London. Norway’s representation at the 54th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, also includes ‘Beyond Death: Viral Discontents and Contemporary Notions about AIDS’, a graduate programme by Bjarne Melgaard at the Faculty of Design and Arts, Università Iuav di Venezia.


*The lectures are free and open to everyone. They are also available through live streaming and later archived on OCA’s website. A publication compiling all the papers will be published upon the completion of the programme in 2012.


‘The State of Things’ has been generously supported by Fritt Ord.




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November 2, 2011

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