Covert Cultures: Art and the Secret State, 1911-1989 (4th-5th February 2011)

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CRASSH, University of Cambridge
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Covert Cultures: Art and the Secret State 1911-1989

Keynote Speakers: Prof. Adam Piette (Sheffield)
Dr Trevor Paglen (artist and experimental geographer)

The early years of the twentieth century saw the birth of the age of the covert state. Crises of international relations, nationalisms and revolutionary politics led governments to create secret institutions whose activities would long remain hidden from citizens, while those same governments sought through stricter legislation to map and control the flow of their own sensitive information. As the century progressed, espionage and surveillance moved to the centre of popular culture, while real intelligence agencies became more advanced and more powerful, using cultural production as a weapon in the ideological battles of the Cold War. More recently, covert activity has returned to the public consciousness, with espionage, secret weapons programmes, torture and civil liberties again at the forefront of debates on the conduct of the modern state.

This renewed interest has coincided with the centenary of British intelligence services, and has been well served by the flourishing field of intelligence history. Yet the relation of this new, clandestine world to art has remained relatively under- examined. From the spy novels of the First World War to the CIA's secret funding of art exhibitions and Encounter magazine in the 1950s, visual art, film and literature have acted in complicity with, as well as in resistance to, the aims of secret state action. This conference – which will take place in the centenary year of the 1911 Official Secrets Act – hopes to investigate the terms on which art and intelligence meet, and the cultural ramifications of that interaction. We invite twenty-minute papers from researchers in the fields of intelligence history, art history, film studies, geography, sociology and English and European literatures.

Topics of discussion will include, but are not limited to:

- Restricted Spaces
- Cultural Complicity and Manipulation
- The Visual Culture of the Secret Services
- Berlin: Intelligence East and West
- Defection
- Torture
- Surveillance
- Spy Fever and Public Paranoia

Declarations of interest with an abstract of no more than 300 words, and accompanied by a brief resume, should be sent to the organisers at as soon as possible and no later than Friday 29 October 2010. Accepted papers will be announced on Friday 5 November 2010. Finalised papers should be submitted by Friday 7 January 2011 and will be circulated to participants prior to the event. The organisers will also actively solicit papers.