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The Aesthetics of Disengagement

Contemporary Art and Depression

2005
Author:

Christine Ross

The Aesthetics of Disengagement

Reveals how artists engage the scientific notion of depression

The Aesthetics of Disengagement shows how contemporary art is a powerful player in the articulation of depression in Western culture. Christine Ross examines the works of Ugo Rondinone, Rosemarie Trockel, Ken Lum, John Pilson, Liza May Post, Vanessa Beecroft, and Douglas Gordon, articulating how their art conveys depression's subjectivity and addresses a depressed spectator whose memory and perceptual faculties are impaired.

The Aesthetics of Disengagement provides a satisfying and profound theory of why contemporary art looks the way it does and how this art is related to broader and deeper structures of subjectivity and meaning in North American and European culture. This is a brilliant and risky book.

Amelia Jones, author of Body Art/Performing the Subject and Irrational Modernism

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than half of the world’s population will have a depressive disorder at some point in their lifetimes. In The Aesthetics of Disengagement Christine Ross shows how contemporary art is a powerful yet largely unacknowledged player in the articulation of depression in Western culture, both adopting and challenging scientific definitions of the condition. Ross explores the ways in which contemporary art performs the detached aesthetics of depression, exposing the viewer’s loss of connection and ultimately redefining the function of the image.

Ross examines the works of Ugo Rondinone, Rosemarie Trockel, Ken Lum, John Pilson, Liza May Post, Vanessa Beecroft, and Douglas Gordon, articulating how their art conveys depression’s subjectivity and addresses a depressed spectator whose memory and perceptual faculties are impaired. Drawing from the fields of psychoanalysis as well as psychiatry, Ross demonstrates the ways in which a body of art appropriates a symptomatic language of depression to enact disengagement—marked by withdrawal, radical protection of the self from the other, distancing signals, isolation, communication ruptures, and perceptual insufficiency.

Most important, Ross reveals the ways in which art transforms disengagement into a visual strategy of disclosure, a means of reaching the viewer, and how in this way contemporary art puts forth a new understanding of depression.

The Aesthetics of Disengagement

Christine Ross is associate professor and chair of art history and communication studies at McGill University and author of Images de surface: L’art vidéo reconsidéré.

The Aesthetics of Disengagement

The Aesthetics of Disengagement provides a satisfying and profound theory of why contemporary art looks the way it does and how this art is related to broader and deeper structures of subjectivity and meaning in North American and European culture. This is a brilliant and risky book.

Amelia Jones, author of Body Art/Performing the Subject and Irrational Modernism

The Aesthetics of Disengagement is, paradoxically, liberating and inspiring. Ross delivers a highly original argument in a richly descriptive, lucid style. This book deserves to be the subject of much discussion and will surely be of great interest to those working in the areas of art theory and visual culture.

Prefix Photo

The Aesthetics of Disengagement

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. The Withering of Melancholia
2. The Laboratory of Deficiency
3. Image-Screens, or The Aesthetic Strategy of Disengagement
4. Nothing to See?
5. The Critique of the Dementalization of the Subject

Notes

Index