Dr Luke White – conference organiser, panel convener (Lecturer in Visual Culture and History of Art and Design)
Suzannah Biernoff – conference organiser, panel convener, panel chair (former Lecturer in Visual Culture, Middlesex University)
Claire Pajaczkowska – project adviser, panel chair (former Reader in Psychoanalysis and Visual Culture, Middlesex University, 1980-2008)
Adrian Rifkin – chair of conference round-table (Professor of Visual Culture at Middlesex, 1999-2007)
Rob Stone – speaker (former Senior Research Fellow, Visual Culture Research Group, Middlesex University, 2004-2011)
William McDonald – panel co-convener (former Lectuer, Middlesex University)
The Sublime Now
19th-20th October 2007
“The Sublime Now” was a two-day symposium, held at Tate Britain in October 2007. It included invited speakers from across Europe and America, drawn from a range of disciplines, including artists, curators, philosophers, critical theorists, and historians of technology. The symposium marked the 250th anniversary of Edmund Burke’s groundbreaking essay in the definition of the notion of the sublime, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), which had a major impact on aesthetics and art criticism, most notably through Immanuel Kant’s response to it in his “Analytic of the Sublime.” Since the 1970s, the concept of the sublime had received renewed attention from writers as diverse and prominent as Lyotard, Jameson, Derrida and Žižek, giving it a new lease of life.
In such a context the symposium sought to celebrate Burke’s continuing legacy through an interdisciplinary, critical investigation of the role of the sublime in contemporary aesthetics, art, politics and ecology. We asked our speakers: Why the sublime now? In what ways has the sublime acquired an added urgency at the start of the twenty-first century? To what extent is it a useful or dangerous tool for understanding contemporary history and culture?
Speakers included: Esther Leslie (Birkbeck), Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins), Cornelia Parker (artist), Peter de Bolla (Cambridge), Jan Rosiek (Inst. For Human Sciences, Vienna), Marina Wallace (Central St Martins), Rob Stone (Middlesex), Iain Boal (University of California), Gene Ray (independent critic and theorist), and there was a screening of Isaac Julien’s True North (2004).
The symposium emerged from the interests of an informal reading group on the sublime, consisting of teachers and research students from Middlesex University, the London Consortium and the University of the Arts. The symposium was supported by Middlesex University and the London Consortium, and by the Tate Britain, whose AHRC-funded research project “The Sublime Object: Nature, Art and Language” it served to inaugurate. (This project went on to include the development Tate displays and exhibitions, commissioned artworks by contemporary artists, a further series of conferences, and a PhD studentship.)
The conference became a launching pad for the development of the book, The Sublime Now, edited by Luke White and Claire Pajaczkowska. This selected presentations from the conference for expansion, and added work by other writers to develop a fuller exploration of some of the ideas introduced in the day, also adding extensive introduction and editorial commentary.
Middlesex University’s Luke White also returned to take part in a further conference in the Tate’s “Sublime Object” research project programme, “The Contemporary Sublime” (20 Feb 2012), delivering a paper which was later published in Tate Papers 14 (Autumn 2010), and republished in the Tate’s online project publication, The Art of the Sublime, ed. Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (2013).