Sieglinde Lemke | Precarious Art and the Aesthetics of the Precarious Gaze

Written by on December 20th, 2017 // Filed under 30.2 Precarious Work Precarious Life

Abstract

Precarious art refers to depictions of the economically underprivileged which invite the assumed non- or not-yet-precarious onlooker to face the other of class. In looking at these images, the privileged are forced to acknowledge the suffering of the underrepresented. Precarious art thus does what moral philosophers have urged us to do: it pleads for an emphatic and affective involvement in the suffering of others. The resulting gaze, however, always risks turning into voyeurism. This article explores the dilemma of voyeurism by delineating the concept of the “precarious gaze,” a class-based viewing structure that unsettles the onlooker by disturbing, albeit momentarily, his or her sense of sovereignty. By closely analyzing Tom Stone’s photographs of homeless people, which trigger a precarious gaze, this article contributes to contemporary political critiques of precarity and tries to bridge the gap between the visual arts and the sociopolitical and economic order that has produced mass precarity in the first place.