A theory of critique…in practice: practice as critique

Mary Anne Francis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Addressing an artist's engagement with critique as embodied in an instance of a formalised research process, this text elaborates three distinct phases of association. First it looks at one particular theory of critique that informed the conception of an art-work. Then it looks at how the artwork put that theory into practice; how the theory was embodied, and finally, the issue of how the artwork inflects the theory, when that inflection may be seen as the action of critique - upon critique. Specifically, the understanding of ‘critique’ that this text elaborates (in the form of the report upon the theory for an artwork) is ‘immanent critique’. Informed by Marxist theory, this aims to ‘recognise and free the future from its distorted form in the present’ – as defined by Walter Benjamin. (As such, its values are not transcendental, but found in experience or a ‘work’.) It is Benjamin's discussion of the politics of immanent critique, and the tactics that those politics imply, that informs the artwork's theory more precisely. In particular, this article is concerned to assess how immanent critique is advanced by the semiotic method Benjamin proposed for the Arcades Project, and the role of the pseudonym, which he deployed too, in order to advance his critical objectives. Reviewing how these tactics for immanent critique were adopted by an artwork – The Faust Supplement 2002 – the article then turns to the question of how the actuality of practice adapted them. In mapping the gaps that open up between the ‘theory’ and ‘the practice’, the text proposes practice as a medium of critique in its double sense of acting for (a specified) critique and being critical (of that critique). It notes that the recognition of this mediation has been encouraged by the institution of ‘research in art-practice’. The article concludes by proposing that ‘critical practice’ maybe re-signified to emphasise the criticality of practice – distinct from its deployment of the theories that inform it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Visual Arts Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008

Bibliographical note

Francis also edited this volume of the Journal of Visual Arts Practice, which included articles by Yve Lomax; Suhail Malik; Malcolm Quinn; John Roberts; Michael Schwab; Marina Vishmidt


  • critical practice, immanent critique, intervention, Susan Buck-Morss, Walter Benjamin


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