The Boston College Art, Art History, and Film Department welcomes Wesleyan University’s Contemporary and American Art History Professor Claire Grace for a lecture that theorizes and historicizes the incorporation of air in contemporary works of art. Western philosophy has tended to figure air as an undifferentiated continuum, an unencumbered infinitude, or a kind of vacancy. Yet, air is a medium of social violence, manifest in an airborne pandemic, ongoing climate crisis, teargas-abetted statecraft, and the agitational Black Lives Matter refrain, “I can’t breathe.” Setting the terms for a number of recent artworks, these urgencies also shed retrospective light on sculptural projects from earlier decades. Circa 1970, Michael Asher, Robert Barry, and Judy Chicago monitored air currents, released invisible gas, and materialized diaphanous clouds of colored smoke. Beginning in 2013, Paul Chan, Forensic Architecture, and Anicka Yi made billowing windsock figures, tracking systems for teargas canisters, and border control-like scent diffusers. Across these disparate examples, artists have insisted upon air as a force of consequential differentiation.
Claire Grace is an assistant professor of art history at Wesleyan University where she teaches courses in contemporary and American art. Her first book, Art Demonstration: Group Material’s 1980s, offers an art historical analysis of a seminal New York-based collective that has become foundational to debates in art and activism. Her writing on this and other topics can be found in Afterall, Art Journal, and October.