Marsha Meskimmon

Materializing Transversal Worlds: The Question of Cosmopolitan Public Art” [ENG]


Abstract: This paper explores the question of a “cosmopolitan public art” and the role that it might play in articulating the intersectional dynamics of world citizenship within an increasingly global public culture. Debates concerning the function of public art, the role of heritage and the value of participatory and/or community arts projects are widespread. Likewise, the more traditional uses of art in the provision of monuments, memorials and markers in public spaces are now accompanied by a wide variety of new forms of art designed to intervene in the public sphere. Some of these use ephemeral, performative and/or participatory strategies to challenge the concept of public culture, whilst others seek to redefine the contours of art’s “publics” or move toward a “new genre” of public art.

Despite this variety in practice, much of the critical discourse focused upon contemporary forms of public art remains resolutely representational. By this, I do not mean that it is centred upon figurative works of art (representations), but that it presumes that art operates within the logic of representation and that public art thus “represents” (or “fails to represent”) the individual or collective identities that form “the public.” This paper seeks to move away from questions of reflection and representation toward an analysis of “public art” as a diffractive, materializing force. Exploring the idea that a cosmopolitan public art may offer the potential to materialize, rather than represent, embodied, transversal forms of citizenship suggests a different role for public/art as it makes worlds from within.


Bio: Marsha Meskimmon is Professor of Art History and Theory at Loughborough University (UK). Meskimmon’s research focuses on transnational contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on feminist corporeal-materialisms, global ethics and cosmopolitics. Her publications include: The Art of Reflection: Women Artists’ Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century (1996), We Weren’t Modern Enough: Women Artists and the Limits of German Modernism (1999), Women Making Art: History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics (2003) and Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination (2010). Women, the Arts and Globalisation: Eccentric Experience (co-edited with Dorothy Rowe), was published in 2013 and the anthology Home/Land: Women, Citizenship, Photographies (co-edited with Marion Arnold) is forthcoming. With Amelia Jones, she edits the series Rethinking Art’s Histories for Manchester University Press, and with Phil Sawdon, she has just completed the book Drawing Difference: Connections between Gender and Drawing (since the 1960s).