Seeing Power


A fog of information and images has flooded the world: from advertising, television, radio, and film to the information glut produced by the new economy. With the rise of social networking, even our contemporaries, peers, and friends are all suddenly selling us the ultimate product: themselves.

Here curator and critic Nato Thompson interrogates the implications of these developments for those dedicated to socially engaged art and activism. How can anyone find a voice and make change when the world is flooded with images and information? And what is one to make of the endless machine of consumer capitalism, which has appropriated much from the history of art and, in recent years, the methods of grassroots political organizing and social networking?

Highlighting the work of some of the most innovative and interesting artists and activists working today, Thompson reads and praises sites and institutions that empower their communities to see power and re-imagine it. From cooperative housing to anarchist infoshops to alternative art venues, Thompson shows that many of today’s most innovative spaces operate as sites of dramatic personal transformation.

NATO THOMPSON is chief curator at Creative Time, one of New York’s most prestigious art organizations. He is the editor of The Interventionists: A Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life, Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism, and Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History.

“Like an updated version of John Berger’s groundbreaking Ways of Seeing, Nato Thompson’s Seeing Power delivers a smart, accessible introduction to the prevailing artistic predicaments of our time. Written by one of our leading public intellectuals, it covers a wide range of key issues from the cultural politics of Occupy Wall Street; to the use and abuse of accumulated social capital; to the perennial antagonism between sophisticated cultural ambiguity and didactic, artistic impact. Seeing Power is a twenty-first-century user’s manual for the social responsible artist, critic, and curator.” —Gregory Sholette, author of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture

“A thought- provoking manifesto on the artist’s position within a system where making money is inextricably linked to producing culture…Seeing Power isn’t only for artists and activists. It is for anyone willing to re-think their consumer habits and ready to identify the power structures that heavily influence our day-to-day behaviours.” —Peace News


“Living in cities, we need a new way to think about how we move and what we notice. . . This strange, exciting book offers just that—a new way to notice public space. It is the brainchild of Nato Thompson: the results of his fascinations with urban planning post-Katrina, abandoned or unnoticed urban landscapes and public art.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

“Another step in the ongoing quest for social energies not yet recognized as art. . . exploring the politics and infrastructures that can either change or stall the world.” —Lucy Lippard, author of The Lure of the Local

“What could be more delightful—and unsettling—than turning loose a group of contemporary surrealists, disguised as vagabonds and artists, in the ripe fields of the hyper-real? Experimental Geography isn’t about space; it is about terminal strangeness.” —Mike Davis, author of Ecology of Fear and City of Quartz