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Seeing Witness

Visuality and the Ethics of Testimony

2009
Author:

Jane Blocker

Seeing Witness

Unearthing the meaning of witnessing in contemporary art and politics

In Seeing Witness, Jane Blocker challenges the implicit authority of witnessing through the examination of a series of contemporary artworks, all of which make the act of witnessing visible, open to inspection and critique. Going beyond particular traumatic or sensational events, Blocker contemplates the politics of witnessing and argues that the witness represents a morally unique—and even problematic—position of privilege.

This remarkable book brilliantly articulates that to witness never approaches the real but still implicates. How do we resolve this extraordinary contradiction? Jane Blocker illuminates our path and offers the reader multiple answers to this paradox with intelligent essays that shed profound insight into the process of witnessing. In Seeing Witness, nothing less than our understanding of the world is at stake.

Alfredo Jaar

The act of bearing witness can reveal much, but what about the figure of the witness itself? As contemporary culture is increasingly dominated by surveillance, the witness—whether artist, historian, scientist, government official, or ordinary citizen—has become empowered in realms from art to politics.

In Seeing Witness, Jane Blocker challenges the implicit authority of witnessing through the examination of a series of contemporary artworks, all of which make the act of witnessing visible, open to inspection and critique. Considering such artists as Marina Abramović, James Luna, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Eduardo Kac, and Ann Hamilton, Blocker investigates the artists and spectators who look, the technologies they look with, and the forms of power and moral authority that permit their viewing.

Going beyond particular traumatic or sensational events, Blocker contemplates the politics of witnessing and argues that the witness represents a morally unique—and even problematic—position of privilege. Separating Seeing Witness from previous literature on the subject, she finds that the visual is inherent in witnessing and asserts that contemporary art is integral to questioning and understanding how witnessing is mobilized in culture today.

Seeing Witness

Jane Blocker is associate professor of art history at the University of Minnesota and the author of What the Body Cost: Desire, History, and Performance (Minnesota, 2004) and Where is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity and Exile.

Seeing Witness

This remarkable book brilliantly articulates that to witness never approaches the real but still implicates. How do we resolve this extraordinary contradiction? Jane Blocker illuminates our path and offers the reader multiple answers to this paradox with intelligent essays that shed profound insight into the process of witnessing. In Seeing Witness, nothing less than our understanding of the world is at stake.

Alfredo Jaar

Seeing Witness is a compelling study that crosses over art history, trauma theory, psychoanalysis, literary theory, performance studies, and history to provide a vibrant and elegant analysis of the relationship between humans, historical events, and the complexities of witnessing.

Amelia Jones, author of Self/Image: Technology, Representation, and the Contemporary Subject

Seeing Witness is a very contemporary and sophisticated piece of work. Blocker has made a valuable contribution to the growing academic literature in the field, and this book is certain to continue to open up interdisciplinary sites of investigation that, especially in an age of apparently omnipresent video surveillance, seem as timely as ever.

M/C Reviews

This is a well-written work, one that while adopting some of ‘lit-crit's’ jargon and buzz words, manages to remain conversational in tone and cogent in argument.

Choice

Blocker writes with a keen and lively intelligence, elegance, clarity, wryness, and from a deeply ethical perspective that engages the larger politics of visual representation and artistic practice.

Bibliography

Her writing is perhaps her own love song, full of metaphors which reveal the author’s own subjectivity in interpretation.

Screening the Past

Blocker skillfully illustrates the ubiquity of the invisible witness in modern society and the myriad ways in which witnessing affects our understandings of truth in contemporary culture.

Visual Studies