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CFP: Clark Art Institute, Topic Parasitism, Deadline November 12

Published October 30, 2023

Graduate Student Conference:


Research and Academic Program at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA

Conference: April 5, 2024.

Deadline to apply: November 12, 2023

Abstract: 350 Words

Email: parasitism2024@gmail

 Despite its contemporary biological connotations, the term parasite originates in Greco-Roman life and stagecraft, where classical parasites were human subjects who performed obeisance, flattered, and otherwise affirmed the power of dinner hosts, in order to be para (next to) the sitos (grain). The term shifted focus to the sciences through the proliferation of taxonomy in the of the Enlightenment era, as the classical metaphor gained came to describe newfound botanical relationships between vines and trees. However, by the nineteenth century, it became reapplied to culture via the elision of science and society, in part through the rise of fields like epidemiology. In its modern metaphorical usage, “parasite” is equally applied to capitalist tycoons and labor unions, despots and the dispossessed, but no matter the target, the term implies a unique conception of relations, wherein the parasite ambivalently acknowledges the power and status of its host.

We welcome papers that probe these idiosyncratic structural relationships, building upon recent scholarship in political theory, media studies, and contemporary art criticism to consider the implications of the literal, representational, or symbolic pests within disciplinary systems. Additionally, we encourage interventions that go beyond the metaphorical usage of the term, which take aim at the political and aesthetic work of something belonging where it should not be, or, alternatively, supplying a hidden payload of disease.

Without prescribing an ethic or morality to the parasite, this symposium aims to apply interdisciplinary methods to better understand a changing field of study, bringing together MA, MFA, ABD students in the fields of art history, studio art, anthropology, film and media studies, architecture, performance studies, comparative literature, and adjacent disciplines. Through these broad conceptions of the parasite, we hope to identify points of articulation within art history, considering what theoretical, practical, and tactical interpretations of the “parasite” may bring to visual analysis, circulation of artworks, and transmission of meaning.


The following topics are meant to be prompts for thoughts, invocations for projects, or launchpads for discussion, but do not proscribe the entire scope of this convening:

  • Representations of parasitism, disease, or the vampiric
  • Ambivalent relationships to sites of power (studios, galleries, schools, patrons, museums)
  • Semiotic disruption/hijacking (as suggested in Michel Serres’ The Parasite)
  • Parasitic relationships between artmakers and the academy
  • History of piracy, plagiarism, forgery, or copyright
  • Comparisons of parasitism to similar structural relationships or subjectivities (e.g. the worker, the slave, the captive maternal, Homo sacer

Submit your abstract and CV to:

Accepted speakers will be notified by late December. The Clark will provide and arrange travel, accommodation (Thursday and Friday nights), and hospitality at the event.