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Brigid McLeer

PhD Work

Withholding ‘us’: aesthetics, politics and elliptical appearance

This artistic research project proposes to conceive the space between art and politics as a recuperated and reinvented ‘space of appearance’. To do so, it re-turns (to) a vital overturning of Platonic contemplation (‘vita contemplativa’) with human action (‘vita activa’) that is at the heart of political theorist Hannah Arendt’s proposal for a public-political ‘space of appearance’. By placing images in which political subjectivities are 'withheld' (as ‘those who are no longer or not yet present’) into Arendt’s space of speech and action, the project revises her rhetorical gesture of overturning with its own, and revivifies contemplation as a form of action in which ‘we’ can be encountered as radically opaque, inchoate and incommensurable. Utilising what I call 'the gesture of equants', the research project produces elliptical encounters that refigure the ‘space of appearance’ in ‘non-contemporary’ and cosmopolitical ways to include the (non)presence of those who are dead, disappeared and displaced.

Responding to and incorporating images that include Paul Fusco’s 1968 photographic series RFK Funeral Train, Gustave Courbet’s 1850 painting The Burial at Ornans, and mid-nineteenth century British Workers’ Association or Trade Union emblems, the work brings civic, ethical and spectral imaginaries to bear on certain figures of the demos. By remobilising these images through visual montage, live performance, sculpture, and writing in accompanying scripts, essays and visual text, the research activates ‘political’ participation (with others both present and not) as an aesthetic as well as a social and ethical encounter.

In doing so, the research stages and realises contemporary forms of heterogenous, multicentred and relational ‘spaces of appearance’ in both the thesis/written component and two key visual projects: The Regent’s Street and N scale (along with a supporting work, The Triumph of Crowds). Extending beyond the practices and discourses of 'representation', in which art remains separate from politics, or 'instrumentality', in which art disappears into politics, it aims instead to hold open the space between both through 'figuring' and 'partaking' in order that another mode of ‘praxis’ might appear; one situated in transversal ways across and between art, activism, social and public engagement and various forms of writing and publishing.


  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities


    Arts & Humanities Research, 2013–2019

  • I am an Irish artist based in London. 

    I'm interested in ideas around contingent subjectivity and the capacity of images to 'act' in the context of politicised art practices. I work in various media/modes including video, durational performance (live and to camera) photography, drawing and writing. My work has been shown in galleries, public sites, as online projects and on the page.
    Recently I have begun to produce more collective and participatory performance events and projects, sometimes underpinned by a written script. 

    I also produce and publish critical and art writing. 

  • Degrees

  • Higher Diploma, Fine Art: Media, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, 1993; BA (Hons) Fine Art, University of Ulster, Belfast, 1991
  • Experience

  • Lecturer in Fine Art and related subjects (clients: UCA, Royal Academy, Goldsmiths, Coventry University, Dartington College of Arts), 1995-2019
  • Exhibitions

  • The Triumph of Crowds, Downtown Art, New York, 2017; Diagrams, Pallas Projects, Dublin and QSS Gallery, Belfast, 2015; One + One, Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda and Wexford Arts Centre, Ireland, 2012; Horizontal Ontologies, Art Currents Institute, New York, 2012; Platform, In the Making, Site Gallery, Sheffield, 2013; A Game of Two Halves, Lewis Gallery, Rugby, 2011; L’ultima cena, Refettorio di San Michele, Pescia, Italy, 2011; Beyond Fontana, Studio 1.1, London, 2010; Creekside Open 09, selected by Mark Wallinger, APT gallery, Deptford, London, 2009; Unspeaking Engagements, Chulalongkorn University Gallery, Bangkok, 2009; Drawing Breath, Lugar Do Desenho, Foundation of Julio Resende, Porto, 2008; Vexations, Site Platform, Site Gallery, Sheffield, 2007-8; L’Isola Di, San Servolo Servici, Venice, Italy, 2007
  • Awards

  • Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Performance Writers, 2016
  • Conferences

  • Returning in the House of Democracy, Convocation, Research Pavilion, Venice Biennial, Venice, 2019; Name Without End, Why Would I Lie?, Research Conference and Exhibition, RCA, London; Artist's presentation, International Association of Word & Image Studies, University of Ulster, Belfast, 2010; Artist's presentation, E and Eye; electronic poetry, visual art and writing’, Tate Modern, London, 2006; ‘Dear Alaric..’ with ‘taking place’ at Technologies of Place Conference, Academic Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, 2005; ‘taking place’ (collaboration) Presentation at ‘Becoming Space’, The Living Art Museum, Reykjavik, 2004; Collapsing Here, Alterities: feminism and architecture, Ecole De Beaux Arts, Paris, 1999; Artist's Presentation, Visual Cultures, IAWIS Scripps College, Claremont, California, USA; On photo-text work, Mixed Messages; Image, Text, Technology' University of North Carolina, USA
  • Publications

  • The Triumph of Crowds, Litmus Press, New York, 2019; Returning in the House of Democracy, The Creative Critic: Writing for/as Practice’ Edited by Dr. Emily Orley and Katja Hilevaara, Routledge, London and New York, 2018; N scale: Caring to Begin, Repertorio, Teatro e Danca’ ed. Jane Linden and Patrick Campbell, Brazil, 2016; I have drawn away, I have not left my place, Building Material Journal, Architects Association of Ireland, 2009; ‘Stray Sods, 8 Dispositions on the feminine, space and writing, Altering Practices, ed. Doina Petrescu, Routledge, London, 2007; Axis: a line about which a body, contextualising photo-text work, 'Visible Language 33.1' Rhode Island School of Design, USA, 1999