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T.J. Demos

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T.J. Demos

T. J. Demos is currently Rebele professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the founder and director of the Center for Creative Ecologies, which is embedded in the same department. Demos co-curated the exhibition "Rights of Nature: Art and Ecology in the Americas" at Nottingham Contemporary in 2015 and organized "Specters: A Ciné-Politics of Haunting" at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, 2014. His research interests lie in contemporary art, radical politics, and political ecology. Demos published numerous books and articles, including Beyond the World’s End: Arts of Living at the Crossing (2020), Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today (2017), and Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (2016).

Three Quick Questions:

In a few words, can you tell us about your current research interest?  

My current research focuses on the convergence of aesthetics and politics at the nexus of climate justice, anticapitalist, ecosocialist organizing, and socio-environmentalist concern. Investigating aesthetic practices, theoretical articulations, and methodological innovations that creatively and critically expand the terminology of narrowly defined environmentalism (as a matter of merely atmospheric carbon), my work argues that political ecology—as an expansive modality of naturalcultural relationality—is necessary to articulate the climates, atmospheres, and times of social and state violence, including life in the aftermath of colonialism and slavery, and in the present of extractivism and elemental inequalities. My research considers art beyond the seductions of emancipatory aesthetics within institutional enclosures, and toward strategic practice and worldbuilding within and in solidarity with social movements, labor organizing, and post-identity politics.  

How do you relate the term poiesis to your work?  

Rather than poiesis, my work gravitates around the term aesthetics more readily, owing perhaps to a resistance to poetics’ association with rarified and exclusive literary forms and research modalities. Aesthetics identifies the forms of sensory experience both constitutive of and irreducible to politics, insofar as the spaces and times of the visible and invisible, sound and speech, organize—and are organized by power into—the place and stakes of politics, to invoke a Rancièrian definition. Departing from collusion with the status quo—of racial capitalism, of colonial domination, of socio-economic extractivism—an aesthetic practice of resistance, or, alternately, a counter-poetics of insurgency, intervenes by challenging dominant distributions of the sensible, by revealing new possibilities of appearance and being-together that can reveal and also help build other worlds. Such a practice can be measured, and must be evaluated, by the question of, to what degree it assists in moving us toward a necessarily post-capitalist and antiracist future of equality, justice, and multispecies flourishing.

Which film or other audiovisual format has resonated with you lately and why?  

Presenting an amazing modeling of Indigenous sci-fi and anti-colonial climate justice, TJ Cuthand’s Reclamation, 2018, is a video that figures prominently in my forthcoming book, Radical Futurisms: Ecologies of Collapse, Chronopolitics, and Justice-to-Come. Conceptually, it’s premised upon a near-future settler-colonial mass exodus from Earth—eerily anticipating the billionaires’ space race in our present, and Elon Musk’s desired Mars colonization in particular—which leaves Indigenous survivors behind who inherit and environmentally transform a planet in the ruins of racial and colonial capitalism. As a short piece, its aesthetics are insistently low-fi, crafting an aesthetics of necessity that also provides a stinging ecological critique of Hollywood’s dystopian climate-trauma spectacles and morose wallowing in capitalist realism. Brilliantly cutting in combining environmentalist sensibility with social criticism (of heteropatriarchy, queerphobia, and colonial racism), and doing so with acerbic humor, its cinepolitics of post-imperialist worldbuilding is simultaneously devastating to white supremacy and anthroposupremacist futurity, and inspirational, as much as one can be these days, for its pessimistic optimism.