Visual Cultures Lecture Series

The School of Fine Art's flagship lecture series

The Visual Cultures Lecture Series enables us collectively to learn as we produce new knowledge. The lectures address questions pertinent to our understanding of Fine Art and its broader context today. Guest speakers range from distinguished artists and writers to curators and academics, who are invited to speak about their work in relation to a given line of enquiry. Each lecture series, together with related seminar and workshop activity, contributes towards a body of material which is collated as a source of new insights in the field and made available within the Royal College of Art and to our broader community.

Visual Cultures Lecture Series 2015/16: Rise Up and Envision

During the previous academic year our Visual Cultures lecture series addressed the theme of contemporaneity as an ungraspable concept always to be defined. The series started with presentations from artists and expanded to include contributions from historians, theorists and cultural critics.  

For 2015/16, to understand the context in which art is made and received, we plan to extend the debate from contemporaneity to a cultural and contextual awareness of global transformations.

We aim to create a platform for knowledge exchange through this series of public talks. Each event will host two to three guests in conversation to debate subjects that we feel need to be addressed not only within education but also within a broaden context. Observing societal changes, with instability and uncertainty of this year ahead, we will ask how we can transform existing practices, disciplines and structures in order to meet these challenges in a sustainable way. Themes to be addressed will include destructive heritage, global transformation, transgender politics, de-colonised institutions, sustainable resources, activism and the commons, technology and its use, and post-human.

The big questions for us will be to do with how we continue to operate effectively and sustainably in a context of huge political and economic uncertainty; with diminishing resources, we can’t simply continue to build new structures, so how can we recycle our existing disciplines and institutions without becoming determined by their all too apparent shortcomings? How can we deconstruct presupposed territories/ideas/models and create other ways of seeing the future? 

Lectures are free and begin at 6.30pm in the Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Dyson Building, 1 Hester Road, London SW11 4AN.

No booking is required but early arrival is advised. Doors will open 10 minutes ahead of the event. For enquiries please email

View recorded talks here.

16 October 2015: Special Frieze Event 
ÅYR and castillo/corrales(6:30–8pm) with an afternoon of performances by Bar Vulkan (4:30-6:30pm & 8–9pm)

With presentations by ÅYRBRB and Castillo/Corrales, who will be part of Frieze Projects. Both will talk about their respective projects. Bar Vulkan from Berlin will also install their performative, Bar, for the afternoon/evening.

17 November 2015: Noboru Hidano & Suhail Malik

On understanding values and economics in art.

19 January 2016: Richard Sennett & Jonas Staal

On the public sphere and global transformations. How do we operate in a changing political environment and what makes sense?

16 February 2016: David Cunningham and Adrian Lahoud

On stories of the city. How can we repurpose our environment and places?

8 March 2016: Marina Warner & Catherine David

On myth and gender politics, feminism, minorities and representations.

Visual Cultures Lecture Series 2014/15: Contemporaneity and Other Tales

In 2014/15, the RCA School of Fine Art hosted its third Visual Cultures public lecture series with a focus on today’s art production and culture. The theme, Contemporaneity and Other Tales, invited audiences and cultural figures to consider the world around them through various artistic mediums. Guest speakers, including distinguished artists, writers, curators and academics engaged audiences in conversations about today’s artistic production process and the broader cultural discussion that their art inspires.  

The series began with leading American artist Richard Tuttle to coincide with the opening of two of his major London exhibitions at Tate Modern Turbine Hall and the Whitechapel Gallery. Additional speakers included the 'father of conceptual art' Joseph Kosuth in conversation with Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist; artist Susan Hiller; curator Mihnea Mircan and academic Saskia Sassen.

Lectures are available to watch on RCA Talks.

17 October 2014: Richard Tuttle  

Richard Tuttle is one of the most significant artists working today. Since the mid-1960s, he has created an extraordinarily varied body of work that eludes historical or stylistic categorisation. Tuttle’s work exists in the space between painting, sculpture, poetry, assemblage, and drawing. He draws beauty out of humble materials, reflecting the fragility of the world in his poetic works. Without a specific reference point, his investigations of line, volume, colour, texture, shape and form are imbued with a sense of spirituality and informed by a deep intellectual curiosity. Language, spatial relationship and scale are also central concerns for the artist, who maintains an acute awareness for the viewer’s aesthetic experience. Tuttle lives and works in Mount Desert, Maine; Abiquiu, New Mexico and New York City. Solo exhibitions include a commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall from October 2014 alongside a major exhibition, I Don’t Know or The Weave of Textile Language, at the Whitechapel Gallery.

In conjunction with Richard Tuttle show at the whitechapel Gallery & his Tate Modern Turbine Hall commission, two events will be happening on the 16th & 17th of October.

For more details visit the White Chapel Gallery website.

Portrait of Richard Tuttle
Richard Tuttle

28 October 2014: Joseph Kosuth in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist

Portrait of Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth
Kosuth is an American artist who is often referred to as 'the father of conceptual art'. He is credited with initiating appropriation strategies, language-based works, and the use of photography in the 1960s. Through his practice and writing, Kosuth consistently explores the role of language and meaning within art. His most renowned work is One and Three Chairs and his recent solo exhibitions include Ni Apparence, Ni Illusion in the Musee du Louvre in Paris and An Interpretation of this Title: Nietzsche, Darwin and the Paradox of Content for the Edinburgh International Festival.

Hans Ulrich Obrist is a Swiss curator and currently holds the positions of Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes, and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Since 1991 Obrist has curated over 150 international exhibitions in venues such as the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Museum in Progress in Vienna. In addition to curatorial work, Obrist is known as the artworld’s Studs Terkel, or its default oral historian, as he has many interviews saved as video exhibitions or in book series. 

25 November 2014: Mihnea Mircan  

The RCA School of Fine Art is pleased to welcome Mihnea Mircan for the third Visual Cultures lecture of the series 2014/15. Mircan will give an insight on his latest project at Extra City Kunsthal in Antwerp.

A Breathcrystal 

A 2010 archaeological study found that the prehistoric Bradshaw paintings in Australia 'paint themselves', colonised by ‘living pigments’ whose rejuvenation and symbiosis may account for the paintings’ vividness, in spite of their age and the drastic changes in temperature or humidity to which they are exposed. A biofilm of cyanocacteria and black fungi replenish the paintings permanently, while also etching them deeper into the quartz wall. At least 40,000 years old, ‘alive’, the paintings maintain an idiosyncratic pictorial temporality and economy – or ecology – of signification. They are as much a product of prehistory as they are made now, in a radical contemporaneity. What they mean cannot be disentangled from what they are, from the chemical and aesthetic metabolism that revitalises their contours. I will propose a ‘curatorial’ take on the Bradshaws: while their living self-identity eludes both visual inspection and art-historical categories, can it be apprehended as mental model for an ‘exhibition’?

Mihnea Mircan is the artistic director of Extra City Kunsthal, Antwerp, where he has curated A slowdown at the museum1:1. Hans van Houwelingen and Jonas Staal, the series Cross-examinations, and Jean-Luc Moulène, Endwards. In September 2014, he presented his long-term research project 'Allegory of the Cave Painting', with an exhibition and the first volume of the accompanying reader in September 2014. Mircan has also curated exhibitions at institutions including the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest; Museion, Bolzano; Stroom Den Haag, Den Haag; Spinnerei, Leipzig; David Roberts Art Foundation, London; and the Venice Biennale, as curator of the Romanian Pavilion in 2007. He was the editor of the book Hans van Houwelingen: Undone (2012), and has contributed essays to monographs on Pavel Büchler, Nina Beier, Patrick Nilsson and Remco Torrenbosch, and to the catalogue Six Lines of Flight. His writing also appeared in journals such as Mousse, Manifesta Journal and Afterall.


Portrait of Mihnea Mircan
Mihnea Mircan

2 December 2014: Susan Hiller in Conversation with Sarah Wilson

Emerging in the early 1970s, after initially studying as an anthropologist, Hiller is now one of the most influential artists of her generation. Hiller’s output has taken many different forms, and frequently derives from a process of collecting, cataloguing, restaging, and transforming cultural artefacts and experiences as a means of exploring the subconscious and unconscious mind.

Hiller’s practice has infused conceptual and minimalist strategies and aesthetics with the influence of feminism, popular culture and psychoanalysis, creating works in a diverse range of media: notably sculpture, performance, video, photography, drawing and installation.

'To enquire, and to transform,' these are the leitmotifs that run throughout Hiller’s oeuvre over a 30 year period, according to curator James Lingwood, who continues, 'In a remarkably consistent way, Hiller has sustained an open-ended enquiry into the elusive nature of our selves, the forces at work in the making and re-making of subjectivity and its potential for transformation.'

In 2011, Tate Britain presented a major survey exhibition which provided a timely focus on a selection of her key works, from assembled postcard images made in the 1970s to her pioneering mixed-media installations and video projections. The exhibition focused on Hiller’s interest in the subconscious or unconscious mind, whether in the form of dreams and memories or as supernatural or visionary experiences. Highlights included the menacing video installation An Entertainment, 1990 and the compelling audio-sculpture Witness, 2000, alongside many other examples of her extraordinary and diverse practice.

Hiller has exhibited extensively. Recent solo exhibitions include Channels, Adelaide Festival, Adelaide (2014), Matts Gallery, London, UK and Centre d’art contemporain La Synagogue de Delme, France (2013); From Here to Eternity, Kunsthalle Nürnberg (2012); Tate Britain, London (2011); and Susan Hiller: Recall – A Selection of Works 1969 — 2004, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead; travelling to Museu Serralves, Porto (all 2004) and Kunsthalle Basel (2005). Hiller has been included in many group exhibitions and projects, including: MIRRORCITY, Hayward Gallery London (2014), Voix, Toulouse Festival, France (2014), True Colors, Yebisu International Art Festival, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan (2014), dOCUMENTA [13], Kassel (2012); September 11, MOMA/PS1, New York, USA (2011) and the Moscow Biennale, Russia (2011). 

Susan Hiller is represented in numerous international public collections including the Tate, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Deutsche Bundestag Art Collection, Berlin; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the UBS Collection Zurich.

Susan Hiller lives and works in London.

Sarah Wilson is an art historian and curator whose interests extend from postwar and Cold War Europe and the USSR to contemporary global art. She was educated at the University of Oxford (English Literature) and at The Courtauld where she took her MA and Ph.D degrees. In 1997 she was made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government for services to French art and culture. In 2008 she was a presidential candidate for the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). She holds a chaire d’excellence at the Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin for the years 2012 and 2013, where her project ‘Globalisation before Globalisation : Modernisms, Academies, Revolutions’ has so far established contacts with Russian and Chinese  Fine Arts academies and  intends to rewrite and rethink the standard ‘isms-based’ curriculum.

she was principal curator of 'Paris, Capital of the Arts, 1900-1968’ (Royal Academy of Arts, London and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao in 2001-2) and the Pierre Klossowski retrospective exhibition (with 'The Vicious Circle’) for the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (Ludwig Museum, Cologne, also 2006, Centre Pompidou, in 2007). 
Throughout her career she has worked with intellectuals and curators and artists from Europe, contributing to several Centre Pompidou catalogues, including Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, Face à l'histoireFéminin-masculin, Le Sexe de l'art, Beaubourg La Trentaine, Traces du Sacré(2008), and Voids (2009)

Susan Hiller - 2014
Susan Hiller

17 February 2015: Saskia Sassen

Systemic Edges as Spaces of Conceptual Invisibility

The language of more  – more inequality, more poverty, more imprisonment, more dead land and dead water, and so on-- is insufficient to mark the proliferation of extreme versions of familiar conditions. In the talk Sassen will argue that we are seeing a prolifration of systemic edges which, once crossed, render these extreme conditions invisible. She will focus on this interplay between extreme moment and the shift from visible to invisible --the capacity of a complex system to generate invisibilities no matter how material the condition. The talk is based on her Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity (Harvard University Press 2014).

Saskia Sassen is the Robert S Lynd Professor of Sociology and Chair, The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University. Her new book is Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Harvard University Press 2014). Recent books are Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages ( Princeton University Press 2008), A Sociology of Globalization (W.W.Norton 2007), and the fourth fully updated edition of Cities in a World Economy (Sage 2012). Among older books is The Global City (Princeton University Press 1991/2001). Her books are translated into over 20 languages. She has received diverse awards, from multiple doctor honoris causa to being chosen as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy-2011, Top 100 Thought Leaders by GDI-MIT 2012 and 2013, Top 50 Global Thinkers Prospect Magazine 2014, receiving the 2013 Principe de Asturias Prize for the Social Sciences, and elected to the Royal Academy of the Sciences of the Netherlands. 

Saskia Sassen
Saskia Sassen

2013/2014: Current Modes of Artistic Production

The Royal College of Art’s School of Fine Art continues its Visual Cultures lecture series with a focus on sculpture and moving image. The series invited artists to investigate various aspects that contribute to the production, circulation and reception of their work. Through in-depth focus on a specific project of each guest speaker, the series aims to give an insight into the complex fabric of artistic production and explore what it means to work as an artist today.


12 November, Mark Leckey
26 November, Gerard Byrne
11 February, Christine Borland and Brody Condon
25 February, Laure Prouvost
4 March, Ulla Von Brandenburg
11 March, Thomas Hirschhorn

Mark Leckey on the 12 of November for his Visual Cultures Lecture at the RCA
Mark Leckey
12 November 2013: Mark Leckey

Leckey's practice ranges across performance, film, sculpture and sound, often creating a space where personal and cultural histories merge and transform. Leckey has exhibited widely, with recent solo exhibitions at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Serpentine Gallery, London, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne; ICA, London; and Le Consortium, Dijon. Leckey was awarded the Turner Prize in 2008.

Watch video

26 November 2013: Gerard Byrne

Gerard Byrne is a visual artist working with photographic, video and live art. In 2007 he represented Ireland in the Venice Biennale. Other major presentations of his work at international biennials include the biennales of Gwangju and Sydney in 2008, Lyon in 2007, the Tate Triennial in 2006, and the Istanbul Biennale in 2003. Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented at the ICA Boston and the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (both 2008), Dusseldorf Kunstverein, the Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver (2007), the Frankfurter Kunstverein (2003) and at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2002). In 2006 he was a recipient of the Paul Hamlyn award.

11 February 2014: Christine Borland and Brody Condon

Christine Borland and Brody Condon, RCA Visual Cultures Lecture Series
Christine Borland and Brody Condon
UK-based artist, Christine Borland, works around the topics of ethics and bio-politics in art. She investigates collaborations between arts and medicine. Borland was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1997 and has shown internationally in numerous museums and large-scale exhibitions, most recently at Glasgow Sculpture Studios and Camden Arts Centre, London. Borland collaborated with artist Brody Condon for the Edinburgh Art Festival 2013. Condon, based in New York and Berlin, creates performances, videos and sculptures that relate to obsession with fantasy in contemporary culture. He explores the world of games, fiction and collective experience. He recently presented work at the Machine Project, LA (2012); Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, NY (2011); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010); Greater New York, MoMA/PS1 (2010); and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2010).

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25 February 2014: Laure Prouvost

Laure Prouvost, RCA Visual Cultures Lecture Series
Laure Prouvost

Laure Prouvost works with films and installations characterised by richly layered stories, translation, and surreal moments. Her seductive and disorienting tales toy with the audience’s ability to become fully absorbed by a single narrative. Her unconventional approach to text, montage, cinematic conventions, and imagery create a distinct visual language that is engaged in an ongoing conversation with the history of art and literature. Prouvost lives and works in London. She studied at Goldsmiths College and Central St Martins, London. Winner of the Tuner Prize 2013, her recent solo presentations include the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, Whitechapel Gallery, London, and Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia (2013); Schwitters in Britain, Tate Britain, London (2013); Why Does Gregor Never Ring? Shut Your Lips, Somewhere Under That Bridge Lies the whole Truth (The Wanderer Sequence 5), MOTINTERNATIONAL, London (2012); and Frieze Projects, Frieze Art Fair, London (2011). Her numerous group exhibitions include 12th Biennale de Lyon, Meanwhile... Suddenly and Then, Lyon (2013); Soundworks, ICA, London (2012); Time Again, Sculpture Center, New York (2011); and Flaca, Portikus, Frankfurt (2011). In 2011, she received the Max Mara Art Prize for Women and in 2009 the EAST International Award in Norwich, UK.

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4 March 2014: Ulla Von Brandenburg

Ulla von Brandenburg
Ulla von Brandenburg
Photographer: David Dixon
Ulla von Brandenburg lives and works in Paris. She works with film, drawing, installation and performance, and creates multi-layered narratives that explore boundaries between reality and artifice. Von Brandenburg engages with popular cultural forms from multiple epochs as a means through which to explore contemporary collective experience. Working within seemingly archaic traditions such as the tableau vivant, von Brandenburg appropriates historical source material and transforms it into the present to tacitly reveal the rules that govern our social reality. Recent solo exhibitions of the artist’s work include: Secession (2013), Kunsthaus Hamburg (2013); Mirror Song, Pilar Corrias, London (2012); The Common Guild, Glasgow (2011); Chisenhale Gallery, London (2009); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2008); Stedilijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008); Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco (2008). Recent group exhibitions include: Film as Sculpture, WIELS, Brussels (2013); 1966-79, Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne (2013); Tools for Conviviality, The Power Plant, Toronto (2012); Intense Proximite, Palais de Tokyo (2012); Secret Societies. To Know, To Dare, To Will, To Keep Silence, CAPC Bordeaux (2011).

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11 March 2014: Thomas Hirschhorn                                                                           

Visual Cultures Lecture: Thomas Hirschhorn
Visual Cultures Lecture: Thomas Hirschhorn

Swiss-born artist Thomas Hirschhorn creates mixed-media installations, often using everyday materials such as cardboard, foil and duct tape, juxtaposed with found imagery such as violent scenes and pornography. Hirschhorn previously worked in a group of political graphic artists in 1980s Paris which influenced his use of common materials as a political statement. With each exhibition - in museums, galleries, alternative spaces – as well as with specific works in public space, Hirschhorn asserts his commitment toward a non-exclusive public. Hirschhorn’s work has been shown in numerous museums, galleries and group exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1999), Documenta11 (2002), 27th Sao Paolo Biennale (2006), the 55th Carnegie International, Pittsburg (2008), the Swiss Pavillion at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), La Triennale at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012), the 9th Shanghai Biennale (2012), and Gladstone Gallery New York (2012).  A selection of his writings, Critical Laboratory: The Writings of Thomas Hirschhorn, has recently been published by MIT Press (October Books).

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RCA Visual Cultures Lecture Series

Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Dyson Building, 1 Hester Road, London SW11 4AN

Lectures are free and begin at 6.30pm - No Booking is required but early arrival are advised - Doors will open 10min ahead of the event.

For enquiries please email

View recorded talks here.