Jessie Robertson - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Jessie Robertson

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Jessie Robertson

PhD student; Associate Lecturer

Thesis: Surface Tensions: (Un)Masking Political Art Practice, 2011-16

Supervised by Wenny Teo

Funded by Arts & Humanties Research Council

My research focuses on recent socially and politically engaged art and its complex relationship to the increasingly controlled and contentious digital spaces of the Internet. I concentrate on two key global political moments: the Global Uprisings of 2011 and the Snowden revelations on mass data surveillance in 2013 to provide a critical study of how new media artists have engaged with and responded to these events. I also consider how these moments have been represented within the mainstream contemporary art world.

Since the Arab Uprisings and Occupy Movement unfolded, curating and contemporary art writing has given renewed focus to activist art, or rather ‘activism as art’. I aim to unravel this problematic paradigm of art versus activism in relation to the memorialisation of Egyptian artist Ahmed Basiony, and the reframing of the Occupy Wall Street Movement as an aesthetic event by some artists and critics. Building on these questions of activism and/as art, the second part of my thesis examines the rise of surveillance and privacy as major themes of contemporary art in the past five years. Through a series of case studies including: Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite, Trevor Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum’s Autonomy Cube and the Deep Lab collective, I consider aesthetic explorations of masking and concealment, encryption and the deep web in relation to questions of opacity, privilege and accessibility.


  • 2013- ongoing, PhD Candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • 2012-13, Master of Arts, History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Distinction, Special Option: Aestheticising Politics? The Political in Globalised Contemporary Art
  • 2008-11, Bachelor of Arts, History of Art, University of Leeds, First Class Hons


  • Associate Lecturer, BA1 Topic Course: Contemporary Art in London, Autumn Term, 2016/17
  • Teaching Assistant, MA Core Methodologies, 2016/17
  • Teaching Assistant, MA Core Methodologies, 2015
  • Teaching Assistant, BA 1 Foundations Block IX: The Global Contemporary, Spring 2015  
  • Teaching Assistant, MA Core Methodologies, 2014

Research interests

  • Digital Art
  • Internet Art
  • Socially Engaged Art
  • Social Media
  • Political Practice
  • Activism and Protest
  • Opacity

Conference papers

  • ‘Don’t Feed the Network: Encrypted Aesthetics in the Post-Snowden Age’, The Courtauld Institute of Art Postgraduate Symposium: Showcasing New Research, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 10-11 March 2016
  • ‘Reclaiming the Face: A Politics of Opacity After Surveillance’, Facing America: a Visual Art and American Studies Symposium, Eccles Centre for American Studies, The British Library, London, 10 July 2015
  • ‘How Not to be Seen: A Politics of Opacity in the Digital Age’, Modern and Contemporary Research Seminar, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 12 January 2015
  • ‘Re-claiming Anonymity: Surveillance and Aesthetic Resistance in the Post-Snowden Age’, Conformity, Process and Deviation: Digital Arts as ‘Outsider’, CHArt 2014 Conference, part of the UNDERGROUND Kings College London Arts and Humanities Festival, 18 October 2014
  • ‘Digital Currencies: Internet Performance Art & Interventions into Global Capitalism’, Performing Money, Essex Graduate Conference, 6th June 2014

Recent publications

  • The Opacity Paradox‘, NewHive, (September 2016)
  • ‘How Not to be Seen, A Politics of Opacity in the Digital Age’, immediations, The Courtauld Postgraduate Research Journal, (Forthcoming, December 2016)
  • ‘An Ephemeral Magic: Gold and Contemporary Art’, an essay for the exhibition catalogue: Gold: Power and Allure – 4500 years of gold treasures from across Britain, edited by Helen Clifford, (London: The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’, 2012)

Other academic activity

  • Co-organiser of the Courtauld Modern and Contemporary Section Work in Progress Seminar, 2015 – the present

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