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Classroom
September 2020

T. J. Demos: Radical Futurity, Solidarity, and Care in Pandemic Times

Care, Caring, and Repair in Cognitive Capitalism

During Covid-19, the state—as dramatically exemplified by the United States—has stunningly evacuated its responsibility from socio-medical institutions of care, choosing profits over lives. Its priorities have clearly facilitated ruling-class wealth accumulation, even while popular movements have risen in the void to fulfill some measure of mutual aid, and more, to challenge the impunity of racialized state violence. The largest failure of public health in the last century (at once an intertwined structural breakdown of medical care, economic security, and social equity and welfare) has also provided the opportunity for the most successful financial transfer to the corporate elite—all a telling rehearsal for disaster capitalism in the climate-changed near future. Against this forlorn present, what options remain for reimagining solidarity—the political form of collective belonging—that has suffered so much under longstanding attacks on organized labor, neoliberal individuation, social media’s atomized outrage culture, divisive identity politics, and now the zoomification of everything, from education and culture to politics and art? Drawing on widespread examples of radical futurism in activist cultural practice, this presentation argues for a class-conscious and intersectionalist solidarity as the compass of change toward an emancipated not-yet in the midst of capitalist ruins.

T. J. Demos is an award-winning writer on contemporary art, global politics, and ecology. He is Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Founder and Director of its Center for Creative Ecologies. Demos is the author of numerous books, including Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today (Sternberg Press, 2017); Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (Sternberg Press, 2016); The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis (Duke University Press, 2013)—winner of the College Art Association’s 2014 Frank Jewett Mather Award—and Return to the Postcolony: Spectres of Colonialism in Contemporary Art (Sternberg Press, 2013). Demos cocurated “Rights of Nature: Art and Ecology in the Americas” at Nottingham Contemporary in January 2015, and organized “Specters: A Ciné-Politics of Haunting” at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid in 2014. During 2019–21, with the Center for Creative Ecologies, and as a Getty Research Institute scholar, he’s working on a Mellon-funded research project, art exhibition, and book project dedicated to the questions: What comes after the end of the world? And how can we cultivate futures of social justice within capitalist ruins? His new publication, Beyond the World’s End: Arts of Living at the Crossing, is due out from Duke University Press in 2020.

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