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PG Work in Progress Seminar

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Location: MS Teams

Chris Earley, 'Adrian Piper's Epistemic Activism'.


Political art often engages in epistemic activism, attempting to change its audiences’ cognitive standing on a topic of political import. In this presentation, I will focus on one instance of epistemic activism in art: Adrian Piper’s installationFour Intruders plus Alarm Systems (1980). Piper’s work is both an exemplary work of epistemic activism, but also reveals the tensions between the epistemic exceptions artists experiment with and the normative demands placed on productive political activity. In Piper’s case, this tension led to an inability to change some of her audience’s cognitive standing. I propose two ways to respond to such tension: conciliation, which proposes that activist artists have distinct reasons to fit their work to their audience’s normative expectations, and steadfastness, which proposes that activist artists have distinct reasons to challenge and provoke their audiences, even if they open themselves up to failure. I claim that steadfastness better captures political art’s humility regarding success and allows us to more clearly account for the riskiness that is necessary for productive experimentation in political life.

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