History of Art


Past Imperfect

Past Imperfect is a visual culture seminar in which we hope to share recent concerns with the past and its place in the present, a present increasingly overinvested in the value of contemporary. Each academic year we explore a particular theme, such as 'Obsolescence', 'Disorientation' or 'Confinement' 

Upcoming Seminars

Monday 15th March 2021, 5pm 

The Disappointing Apocalypse: Visualising Climate in Art Since the 1960s

Andrew Patrizio (University of Edinburgh)

Register here

Much of Andrew Patrizio’s recent writing and teaching has promoted the value of art history to represent and resist the climate crisis. His work, alongside a rising number of other scholars and artists, seeks to mobilise the discipline to make visible and tangible the conditions of the Anthropocene.

This talk is based on a work-in-progress chapter exploring the complex relationship between the idea of eco-apocalypse and visual art practice since 1960. It will offer a picture of the current apocalyptic condition as deeply undramatic and, in that sense, disappointing. 
‘Apocalypse’ has been depicted by numerous artists globally (from medieval manuscript illuminators to the Romantics), first as a visualisation of Christian doctrinal warning and then more generally as a cultural trope for a variety of apocalyptic forms (nuclear war, migration, racial tension, famine). Climate collapse, global warming, pollution, toxicity and plastic proliferation, genetic mutation and viral spread are recently ecologically-framed manifestations on a similar register. These formations are worked on by artists, particularly those employing systemic, critical, relational and conceptual approaches. The disaster is now materially unfolding and seems disappointingly unconcerned with redemption and human futures, whilst being at the same time entirely caused by industrialised humans (expressed through resource depletion, rising waters and mass extinction). It is now difficult to imagine in the visual arts the notion of apocalypse without registering the material presence of climate crisis.

Among the art practices discussed will be Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, The Lagoon Cycle (1974-1986), Ursula Biemann, Black Sea Files (2005), Trevor Paglen, The Last Pictures (2012), Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World) (2012) and Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim, Crochet Coral Reef (2005-ongoing).

Recent Events 

Wednesday 3rd February 2021, 2pm

The Whole Picture: A Conversation with Alice Procter of Uncomfortable Art Tours

In collaboration with the Research Seminar Series. More details: 

Monday 10 February 2020, 5.30pm

Past Imperfect visits "Witnessing terror"

Please join us for the first Past Imperfect event of this term: a discussion of the exhibition Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints, 1792-94 at UCL Art Museum.

On Monday 25th November 2019, at 5pm, we will kick off the year with a “potluck” in which members of the department will be invited to bring along a single slide to discuss briefly in relation to the theme. The point is to get us thinking creatively in preparation for the conversations that will be taking place around the seminar in the coming months. The event will be followed by a drinks reception. All are welcome.
Two minutes will be allotted to each speaker. The images will be arranged in random order in a single PowerPoint. The only requirement is that the image and discussion relate to the theme of “activation”. Part of the delight of this event will be seeing the diverse responses to the theme, and we encourage speakers to interpret activation according to their own research interests. The brevity of the presentation keeps the commitment small while opening up possibilities for exploration and play.

CANCELLED due to industrial action.
There will be a teach-out organised along similar lines, date to be announced soon. PhD students, fellows, and members of staff are all encouraged to participate. Please contact Edward Christie (edward.christie.14@ucl.ac.uk) by if you would like to present.


Events archive