System Shifts: Politics of Artistic Form in 'Post'-Imperial Britain

Activity: Participating in or organising event(s)Organising a conference, workshop, exhibition, performance, inquiry, course etcResearch


While the histories and ongoing effects of empire have become major areas of art historical focus, the 1970s remains an overlooked decade in this growing field of scholarship. Partly fuelling this oversight is the common narrative of the 1970s as a period marking the end of Britain's empire. This seminar instead asks how the British empire's breakdown abroad spurred imperialism to turn inwards, manifesting domestically in an upsurge in racist discourses and institutionalized practices, deepening conflicts in Northern Ireland, and new state techniques of social control and 'crisis management'. It explores how artistic responses to this context entailed a radical rethinking of art: a repudiation of formalist and object-based practices in favour of conceptually-driven artistic tactics that increasingly engaged social systems as both artistic material and locus of critique.

This seminar invited reflection on the ways these new artistic modalities critically engaged the internal recodings of imperialism, seeking to articulate the 1970s as a period of interconnected ‘system shifts’ in Britain's artistic practices, socio-political situation, and geopolitical position. It featured papers by Dhanveer Singh Brar, Kylie Gilchrist, Adeena Mey, Lynn MacRitchie, Luke Skrebowski, and Catherine Spencer, moderated by Nikhil Vettukattil.
Event typeSeminar
LocationManchester, United KingdomShow on map