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The Global Present: Former West - art and the contemporary after 1989


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


From 2008-2016, BAK – Basis voor Actuele Kunst (Platform for Contemporary Art) in Utrecht, the Netherlands, ran the project ‘Former West’, a curatorial and artistic research experiment, realized through manifold partnerships with artists, theorists, activists, as well as art and educational institutions transnationally. In 2016, the project was finalized with the publication of the volume Former West: art and the contemporary after 1989. This publication will serve as the basis of the seminar. The notion ‘former West’ designates a severe inconsistency, namely, that after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, until today we speak in terms of the ‘former East’ (East Block) whereas we never speak of the ‘former West’. The Cold War rhetoric is still in use. This is not just a semantic matter but indicates that ‘the West’ is still seen as the hegemonic center. After the fall of the Berlin Wall it was thought that the unequal division of the world in power-blocks would change; however, the West remained as to be seen and act as the ‘First World’. So BAK took on the challenge to see if they could ‘former’ the West, a conceptual proposition for rethinking the temporal and spatial composition of the political economy of the global present – today even more pressing than ever before. With this extensive project, BAK aimed to assemble and discuss thoughts, artworks and resources (ranging from knowledge and relationships to time and money), for the necessary task of grappling with the world collectively; or, as has become the slogan, of being together otherwise.

In this seminar, we will investigate the debates, thoughts, insights, critiques, propositions, and artworks/art practices that compose the volume as the conceptual multi-tool to negotiate the conditions of the contemporary. The seven parts (Art, 1989, the contemporary; Timing the former; Understructures; Toward another political economy?; Power and truth (after the internet); Constructions of the “we”; Prospects) are more assemblages, rather than themes and will be unpacked and scrutinized in our meetings and discussions.

Course objectives

  • Acquiring knowledge of and insight in the debates revolving around contemporary art and theory/discourse, political economy, activism and refection as well as relevant theories and approaches;

  • Learning how art and curatorial practices interact with and can be productive in exchange with theory and debate;

  • Understanding how art practice and theory mutually challenge each other, and how this interchange stimulates an awareness of diverse positions and a different take on art within national, international/global contexts;

  • Insight into the cultural and societal role and function of art in a globalized, alleged interconnected world;

  • Analyzing works of art, curatorial practices and theoretical positions, and presenting the results of these analyses in oral presentations and academic papers.


The timetable is available on the Master Arts and Culture website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar;

  • Excursion to relevant exhibition.

Attendance is compulsory. Students are allowed to miss a maximum of two seminars, provided they present a valid reason beforehand. Students who have missed more than two seminars will have to aply to the Examination Board of the Ma Arts and Culture in order to obtain permission to further follow and complete the course.

Course Load

  • Seminars: 3 hours per week x 12 weeks: 36 hours;

  • Working on the glossary 24 hours = midterm (ca. 2 hrs per week);

  • Studying compulsory readings for seminars: 80 hours;

  • Preparing oral presentation: 30 hours;

  • Midterm assignment on the basis of the glossary 30 hours;

  • Writing of final course paper: 80 hours (re-reading texts, collecting research material, searching and reading additional literature, composing and writing of paper). .

Assessment method

  • The seminar is a 3 hours a week course, in which we all together discuss students give presentations, participate in discussions, reflect on the issues discussed, collaborate in assignments, write papers (mid-term and final paper);

  • We will jointly make a glossary on key concepts to collectively produce a frame of reference;

  • The seminar will be concluded with a one-day symposium in which, in small groups, the students will present a theme/topic of their mutual interest;

  • Excursion to relevant exhibition;

  • Oral presentation.

ResMa students that take this course will write a paper that reflects the demands of the Research Master. That is, they will have to formulate more complex and original research questions than the MA students, include a critical positioning towards the state of the art of its subject, and produce a longer paper (see below).


  • Midterm assignment/glossary (40 %)

  • Symposium and final paper (60%) (final paper: MA students 3.000, ResMA students 4.000 words excl. bibliography).

Both the midterm assignment and the final paper need to be a pass.


In case of an insufficient grade, the paper(s) needs to be reworked.


  • Please note that if you do not hand in your essay before the first deadline, your essay will be considered as the resit.

  • For the time tables exams 2017-2018 see; Timetable

Exam Review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • information

  • course materials

Reading list

Assigned Literature (course book for the seminar):

Hlavajova, Maria, and Simon Sheikh (eds.), Former West: art and the contemporary after 1989. Utrecht, BAK/Cambridge MA, MIT 2016 ISBN 978-0-262-53383-6


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher Prof. Dr. C.J.M. Zijlmans

Administrations Office Huizinga