Irit Rogoff is a writer, teacher, curator and organiser. She is Professor of Visual Culture at Goldsmiths London University, a department she founded in This text is the first section of “What is a Theorist?”, see You can find Irit Rogoff’s extended deliberations on criticality in her recent text. Goldsmiths, University of London has launched a series of publications considering the discipline of visual cultures – one of those ushered in by Hall and .

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You can find Irit Rogoff’s extended deliberations on criticality in her recent text: Rather than the accumulation of theoretical tools and materials, models of analysis, perspectives and positions, the irti of theory is to unravel the very ground on which it stands. To introduce questions and uncertainties in those places where formerly there was some seeming consensus about what one did and how one went about it.

Visual Cultures as Seriousness, by Gavin Butt and Irit Rogoff / ArtReview

In the context of a question regarding what an artist might rkgoff, I would want to raise the question of what a theorist might be, to signal how inextricably linked these existences and practices might be. The old boundaries between making and theorising, historicizing and displaying, criticising and affirming have long been eroded.

Artistic practice is being acknowledged as the production of knowledge and theoretical and curatorial endeavours have taken on a far more experimental and inventive dimension, both existing in the realm of potentiality and possibility rather than that of exclusively material production.

Now we think of all of these practices as linked in a complex process of knowledge production instead of the earlier separation into creativity and criticism, production and application.

The narrative of theoretical unravelling, of being undone is a journey of phases in which the thought we are immersed in is invalidated. Those moment of silent epiphany in which we have realised that things might not necessarily be so, that there might be a whole other way to think them, moments in which the paradigms we inhabit cease to be self legitimating and in a flash are revealed to be nothing more than what they are, paradigms.


In my rovoff particular case this was a journey from a discipline called art history, via great roads of critical, theoretical study to some other and less disciplined place which for the moment and very provisionally we might call Visual Culture.

Furthermore, I come to the formations of Visual Culture from a slightly different perspective of cultural difference, and it is one of the privileges of the culturally displaced that their view is always awkward and askance, never frontally positioned and often exists in an uneasy relation to dominant rogofd. Initially I came from a long, conventional and very anti intellectual training in art history which left me at its end at a complete iit on how to navigate the interstices between who I was, what I did and the world that I inhabited.

In my own particular case the distance rigoff these three was such, that fairly acceptable exercises in stretching and expanding a professional practice to make it accommodate one’s concerns seem in retrospect to have not been able to bridge the gaps. Therefore in the first instance my attention was caught by what possibilities there might be for formulating a project not out of a set of given materials or existent categories, but out of what seemed at each historical moment, a set of urgent concerns.

FORMER WEST – Irit Rogoff

Roughly speaking these emerged for me as: In the s a concern with race and cultural difference which resulted in trying to take on the authority of ‘geography’ as a body of knowledge with political implications and currently a concern with questions of democracy and of what modes, parliamentarian and performative, might be open to us to take part in it, which I am currently thinking about as an exploration of participation and of what does it mean to take part in visual culture beyond the roles it allots us as viewers or listeners.

Obviously I am speaking of a long journey of some 18 years now, which has included encounters with on the one hand the ways in which global politics constantly reformulate and reformat themselves and on the other, tremendously exciting encounters with critical theory that asserted that things are’nt necessarily what they seem and gave me the tools to see through them.


But have no fear, I am not about to rehearse upon you the long march from Structuralism to Deleuze with detours through feminism, psychoanalysis and colonialism.

Instead I am concerned with the dynamics of loss, of giving up and of moving away and of being without. These dynamics are for me a necessary part of my understanding of Visual Culture, for whatever iri may be it is NOT an accumulative, an additive project in which bits of newly discovered perspectives are pasted on to an existing structure, seemingly augmenting and enriching it, seemingly making it acceptable to the pressures of the times.

In my own thinking it is not possible to divorce the notion of ‘criticality’ which I see as foundational for Visual Culture from the processes of exiting bodies of knowledge and leaving behind theoretical models of analysis and doing without certain allegiances. It seems to me that within the space of a relatively short period we have been able to move from criticism to critique to criticality – from finding fault, to examining the underlying assumptions that might allow something to appear as a convincing logic, to operating from an uncertain ground which while building on critique wants nevertheless to inhabit culture in a relation other than one of critical analysis; other than one of illuminating flaws, locating elisions, allocating blames.

Critique, in all of its myriad complexities has allowed us to unveil, uncover and critically re-examine the convincing logics and operations of such truth claims.

However, for all of its mighty critical apparatus and its immense and continuing value, critique has sustained a certain external knowingness, a certain ability to look in from the outside and unravel and examine and expose that which had seemingly lay hidden within the folds of structured knowledge. One is after ieit always at fault, this is a permanent and ongoing condition, since every year we become aware of a new and hitherto unrealised perspective which illuminates further internal cultural injustices.