Imago multitudinis. The Image of the Multitude in Art and Philosophy

The Courtauld Institute of Art, The British Academy and the Collège International de Philosophie are pleased to announce a one-day interdisciplinary conference focusing on the philosophical representation and the artistic conceptualisation of the multitude and its associated concepts: the many, the masses, the crowd, the mob and the commonality.

A spectre is haunting our times: the spectre of the multitude. Uprisings, popular unrests, mass migrations, revolutions—the past ten years have been marked by unprecedented quests for freedom, embodied by unconventional political subjects pointing to the possibility of alternative outcomes of the crisis of both authoritarian regimes and representative democracies. Through the masterful drawing of Abraham Bosse, Hobbes attempted to tame the multitude forever. Constrained within the body politic of the monstrous Leviathan (1651), the multitude was transfigured into an obedient people and its potentia was (apparently) usurped. Yet, the multitude resisted—and still resists—this movement, challenging the predominant definitions of sovereignty. Following the collapse of modern master narratives, such as in the nascent seventeenth century, the multitude has returned.

Our investigation revolves around the political and aesthetic meanings of this omnipresent, if elusive, collective being. In particular, we would like to ask the following questions: how do philosophers represent the multitude and translate their concepts into cogent images? How do artists think about the multitude and its agency? This enquiry, which spans from the Middle Ages to the present, concentrates on the way in which images and iconographic motifs are elaborated in philosophy, as well as how political concepts are articulated in the visual arts. In order to understand the images pervading, and the concepts informing, recent collective political action (from Tahrir Square to the streets of Tunis, New York, Madrid, Ferguson via Rojava and Lampedusa), we intend to focus on their modern and contemporary genealogies. This is not only a historical enquiry. The history of the multitude can help us better understand the present. The aesthetic, agency and ambitions of this political subject do not only survive in books and museums, they also live on among us. The multitude resists, and if this is the conflict that characterises political modernity, then modernity has begun again.

Invited speakers: Horst Bredekamp (HumboldtUniversität); Claire Fontaine (artist); Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York University).


Saturday 10 March 2018

08.30 – 09.00               Registration (Front Hall)

09.00 – 09.15               Welcome and opening remarks

09.15 – 11.00               Session I: The Multitude and the Body Politic – Chair: Jacopo Galimberti (University of Manchester)

Léa Barbisan (Université Paris-Sorbonne / Université de Rouen): Unpresentable Masses: The Crisis of the Body Politic during the Weimar Republic.

Dario Gentili (Università degli Studi Roma Tre):  The Centaur and the Multitude: from Machiavelli to Contemporary Italian Political Thought.

Horst Bredekamp (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin): From Leviathan to Behemoth: the Dissolution of Privacy

11.00 – 11.30               TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided in seminar room 1)

11.30 – 13.15               Session II: The Multitude and the State – Chair: Professor Sarah Wilson (The Courtaud Institute of Art)

Magda Szcześniak (Uniwersytet Warszawski): The Workers’ Collective’s Body. The Forgotten Visual Culture of “Solidarity”.

Maxime Boidy (Université Paris 8): Ten Statements on the Black Bloc as a Composite Image.

Clara Bouveresse (Université Paris 1): Alex Majoli’s Theatre of Migrations: Staging the Contemporary Multitude.

13.15 – 14.15               Lunch (provided for speakers and chairs only, in Seminar room 1)

14.15 – 16.30               Session III: The Multitude and the Artist – Chair: Dr Scott Nethersole (The Courtaud Institute of Art)

James Hall (University of Southampton.): The Noble Art of Exclusion: Michelangelo Against Crowd-Pleasing, Overcrowding and Multitudes.

Pier Vittorio Aureli (Yale School of Architecture): The Undertaker. Leon Battista Alberti and the Invention of the Architectural Project.

Bridget Alsdorf (Princton University): The Crowd Against Theory: Art’s Defence of the Masses in Fin-de-siècle France.

Claire Fontaine (Artist): The Multitude of the Missing People

16.30 – 17.00               TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided in seminar room 1)

17.00 – 18.45               Session IV: From the Riot to the Multitude – Chair: Dr Klara Kemp Welch (The Courtaud Institute of Art)

Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York University): Ungovernable Aesthetics.

Nicholas Thoburn (University of Manchester): Riot / Book: Communist Publishing against Race.

Taous Dahmani (Université Paris 1): Photographic Construction and Deconstruction of a “Riot Iconography”: The Case of England’s 1980s uprisings.

18.45 – 19.00               Closing Remarks

19.00                           Reception (Front Hall)

Imago multitudinis. The Image of the Multitude in Art and Philosophy

10 Mar - 23 Mar 2023

10 Mar - 23 Mar 2023

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London