Late Capitalism and the Crisis of Pain
The Courtauld Institute of Art
Online from 11th November 2020
Co-edited by Sarah Wilson, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art and Harry Woodlock, (MA2017) Independent Curator and Editor
Contributors: Luc Boltanski, Arnaud Esquerre, Ed Fornieles, Rózsa Farkas, Byung-Chul Han, Lydia Ourahmane, Isabell Lorey and new content added weekly
In 1992 the World Health Organisation published its tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases. Under the diagnostic code for burnout, a ‘state of vital exhaustion’ was recorded for the first time. This term sought to outline an end-state, characterised by acute stress, anxiety and depression, of the individual life that had been rendered unliveable. With some prescience, it has come to capture an experience of increasing ubiquity in the UK today, one that can be located within the emerging public discourse that is often referred to as the ‘mental health crisis’.
A little over a decade earlier, Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government had begun exercising a new form of political ideology that sought to place free market capitalism at the very centre of British life. Under the premise that economic prosperity equated with individual wellbeing, large swathes of trade and industry, then state owned, were transformed through market force and a new spirit of competitive individualism. Denationalisation, aided as it was through deregulation in the City of London, would revitalise the private sector and activate an exponential growth of the British economy.
With increasing vigour, this idea would come to saturate political thought on both the right and left, reshaping social policy in government from Tony Blair’s New Labour through to the current Conservative leadership. In time, the most basic conditions of human existence, from housing and education to labour and the environment, would become subject to the same logic, and subsequent volatility, of free market capitalism. Today, precarious housing, zero-hour contracts and the climate emergency attend widespread loneliness, fear and anger throughout society.
What connections can be made between these phenomena? And how might this be explored within the discipline and discourses of art history and criticism? Vital Exhaustion: Late Capitalism and the Crisis of Pain is a new online initiative that seeks to examine the social, economic and political origins of the mental health crisis through the lens of contemporary visual culture. Through a multidisciplinary series of essays, artworks and conversations this project will aim to go beyond a symptom-led diagnosis so as to unlock the inherent political potential of the escalating crisis.
Creators in the get-rich economy : An ‘In Conversation’ with Arnaud Esquerre, Sarah Wilson and Harry Woodlock