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Infrastructure, Art & Culture


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

Completion of a 100-level CHS course, ideally What is Culture?


There are vast networks overhead and underfoot, wires and conduits running through walls, waves conducted through the air, and signals linking our personal devices to satellites in orbit. This is infrastructure, a set of largescale systems that support and stimulate most of our daily activities. Not only do these surfaces, tubes, tracks, and webs shape our individual experience, they also make interpersonal interactions possible. Given the omnipresence of such systems, one could argue that infrastructure forms the very substrate of culture. Yet most of the time it is taken for granted. Perennially underfunded, infrastructure goes largely unnoticed until it breaks down, or succumbs to catastrophic disaster.

Recently, artists and activists have been working to redirect attention towards infrastructure and the crucial role it plays in contemporary society. As noted by architectural historian Mabel O. Wilson, protest movements like Black Lives Matter have shifted their focus from the occupation of space (think of sit-ins and rallies) to actions that disrupt infrastructures and block movement through systems. This growing awareness of the power that flows through widely distributed material networks is also shared by certain artists who have used infrastructure to make art. Instead of crafting objects for display in a gallery, some artists have experimented with projects that inhabit the distributed networks themselves.

In order to facilitate our study of the relationships that connect art, infrastructure and culture, the course content will be divided into five categories:

Communication Systems

Transportation Systems

Water Systems

Energy Systems

Waste Systems

We will critically examine each of these categories through a combination of thematic lectures, course readings, student presentations, and the collective close reading of selected artworks.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of this course, students are able to:

*Discuss infrastructural developments and the role they play in shaping culture.
*Describe art practices that engage with infrastructure and use systems as sites of creative intervention.
*Visualize infrastructural systems which pose specific challenges in terms of representation, since they are both omnipresent and often hidden.
*Utilize an expanded set of conceptual tools for the critical analysis of artworks and cultural institutions.
*Write with an expanded vocabulary using key terms and concepts from urban design, art history and digital studies.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course will be taught through lectures and seminars. Students will discuss assigned readings and engage in close analysis of artworks and case studies. Students will present on assigned topics and eventually develop an individual project in the form of a research paper. Attendance at class meetings is compulsory for all students.

Assessment Method

  • Individual Oral Presentation (on an assigned topic) – 15%, ongoing

  • Class Participation (engage in discussion, pose questions, critically evaluate the course materials) – 15%, ongoing

  • Infrastructure Visualization Exercise – 30%, Week 4

  • Individual Research Paper (on a topic developed in consultation with the instructor) – 40%, preparation ongoing, final submission Week 8

Reading list

All course readings will be available online.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Steven Lauritano,