Contemporary Art


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Session Chair: TBC

Nikki Kane (University of Edinburgh)

Scent as an incidental and intentional artistic material

This paper will present the initial work of my in-progress research into the use of scent – both incidentally and intentionally – as a material in contemporary art. While practices and discourses of contemporary art have moved beyond the purely visual to encompass practices including sound, installation, participatory and performance art, the sense of smell has not yet been so closely examined. In this paper I will attempt to account for possible reasons for this, while working toward a more detailed and nuanced approach for discussing olfactive artworks.

By examining key examples of art works from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with a scent component, I will offer ways for responding to and reflecting on such works, and what doing so might mean for fields such as art history, art criticism and exhibition studies. Crucially, I will present distinctions between the occurrence of fragrance as a consequence of materials chosen for other reasons, the use of materials for their olfactive qualities, and the specific use of fragrance molecules (individually or blended) as artwork. In doing so this presentation will discuss varying artistic practices, including those by artists for whom fragrance is their primary artistic medium, as well those for whom it is but one component.

Angus Conway (University of Edinburgh) 

The Contemporary as the Untimely: Reading Agamben and contemporary art theory

In 2009 Giorgio Agamben proposed in his essay ‘What is the Contemporary?’ that contemporariness is a singular relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it. This is the notion that one might more accurately represent their own epoch through a relationship that adheres to it by means of being out of synch and anachronistic.

Agamben’s reading of contemporaneity emerged from Nietzsche’s supposition that ‘The contemporary is untimely’. This concept is expounded through an analysis of poetry, fashion and cosmology, amongst other mediums. By introducing visual artwork to this discussion, this research aims to expand on the notion of untimeliness and contemporaneity in the field of art history.

This research places the philosophical theory of Giorgio Agamben in conversation with alternate theories of contemporaneity and visual art in order to examine potential shifts in contemporary art theory.