Back to All Events

Jill Bennett - "Affective Aesthetics: Compassion, Resentment and the Emotional Life of Imagery"

This paper examines the affective circuits that animate images of disturbing events, looking in particular at the politics of pity and compassion. Focussing mainly on an image of famine in the Sudan, incorporated into a video installation by Alfredo Jaar, it analyses the complex of positive and negative affects aroused by the documentary image, and the way in which these are exposed and

redirected within the artwork. The larger aim of the paper is to consider the political and ethical value of 'aesthetic perception', and the justification for the 'aesthetic treatment' of traumatic
events. The paper argues that contemporary art's capacity to map and work with affective forces fosters a new, political approach to documentary subject matter.


Jill Bennett is Professor of Visual Culture, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics, and Associate Dean (Research), College of Fine Arts, at the University of New South Wales. Her recent books include Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma and Contemporary Art (Stanford University Press, 2005).  Her current projects include Construction, Connection and Community (with the Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai) and Practical Aesthetics (funded by the Australian Research Council). She has curated a number of exhibitions including Prepossession (Sydney and Belfast, 2005), dealing with the inhabitation of place in the aftermath of conflict/dispossession. In 2009 she is a Sterling and Francine Clark Fellow at the Clark Institute, Massachusetts, where she is completing a book on the aesthetic perception of events.

Sponsored by the University Seminar on Cultural Memory, and co-sponsored by the Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Department of Art History and Archaeology of Columbia University and the Department of Art History of Barnard College