Jessie Robertson

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Jessie Robertson

PhD student; Associate Lecturer

Thesis: Hyper(in)visible. Art, Protest & Surveillance, 2011-16

Supervised by Wenny Teo

Funded by Arts & Humanties Research Council

My doctoral research focuses on recent socially and politically engaged art and its complex relationship to the increasingly controlled and contentious spaces of the internet. I concentrate on two key global political moments: the uprisings of 2011 and the Snowden revelations on mass data surveillance in 2013, to provide a critical study of how artists, curators and scholars have engaged with and responded to these events.

Since the Arab Uprisings and Occupy Movement unfolded, curating and contemporary art writing have 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 discourses in artistic practice in the past five years. Through a series of case studies, including Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite, Trevor Paglen’s Autonomy Cube as well as works by Hito Steyerl, E. Jane and Maddy Varner, I consider explorations of masking and concealment, encryption and the deep web in relation to questions of opacity, privilege and accessibility.

My investigation of socio-political art practices from this period is centred on the complex dialectic of the seen and the unseen in contemporary digital culture. I examine the relationship between the hyper-visibility perpetuated by the selfies, memes and celebrity culture that dominate our social media feeds and the active non-visibility increasingly being practiced by activists and hackers who seek greater anonymity online. My research considers political art practices that operate not just within the polarities of the hyper-visible and the opaque but also in the shadowy and shifting spaces in between.



  • 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, BA2 Constellation Course: Object, Subject, World: American Art 1945-1975, 2017/18
  • Associate Lecturer, BA1 Topic Course: Contemporary Art in London, 2016/17
  • Teaching Assistant, MA Core Methodologies, 2017/18
  • Teaching Assistant, MA Core Methodologies, 2016/17
  • Teaching Assistant, MA Core Methodologies, 2015/16
  • Teaching Assistant, MA Core Methodologies, 2014/15
  • Teaching Assistant, BA1 Foundations Block IX: The Global Contemporary, 2014/15

Research interests

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

Conference papers

  • ‘Bodies of the Multitude, Performing Protest/ Protest as Performance in the 2011 Global Uprisings’, Bodies of Art: Transgressing Race, Gender and Sexuality, AAH Annual Conference 2017, Loughborough University, 7 April 2017
  • ‘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, 6 June 2014

Recent publications

  • The Opacity Paradox‘, NewHive, (September 2016)
  • ‘How not to be seen: the political aesthetics of opacity, 2011-2014’,  immediations, The Courtauld Postgraduate Research Journal, (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 – 2016
  • Editorial Board Member of The Courtauld Postgraduate Research Journal immediations, 2015

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