Edward Bacal writes about art and visual culture from the perspective that artworks are not objects to describe as much as things to think through. In pursuing the ideas that emerge from the dialogue of theory and the arts, his work aims to understand how aesthetic experience can serve as a model for being in the world. This interest underlies his research and writing, his pedagogy, and his efforts organizing academic programs.
Edward received his PhD and BA from the University of Toronto, respectively in 2018 and 2011, and received his MA from University College London in 2012. His research centres on the intersections of aesthetics, politics, and ethics in modern and contemporary art, with particular focus on abstract and conceptual art from the 1960s to present. His work also encompasses cinema and visual culture. From this research, he is planning to develop two book-length projects: the first, an expansion of his dissertation, examines how contemporary artists have revisited 1960s Minimalism in relation to global political crises; the second, a new study, theorizes how aesthetics mediate the relation between embodied sexuality and the external world.
My research centres on modern and contemporary art and visual culture from North America, Latin America, and Europe. I am especially interested in abstract and conceptual art from 1960 to the present and, more specifically, practices that explore the political implications of art’s post-60s formal innovations, encompassing minimalism and post-minimalism, installation, conceptualism, experimental cinema, and related movements.
My work is rooted in recent art theory, critical theory, and continental philosophy, touching on interdisciplinary debates in aesthetics and politics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, bio- and necro-politics, embodiment, ethics, Marxist critique, and various other topics.
My dissertation (supported by a SSHRC doctoral fellowship) considers the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Doris Salcedo, Teresa Margolles, and Santiago Sierra, artists that redeploy the aesthetics of 1960s minimalism in relation to contemporary political crises. I look at how these artists use minimalist formal strategies to convey the socio-political abstraction of human life and, further, to address the conditions in which certain bodies fail to appear. I argue that these artists demonstrate how the body’s disappearance produces an abstraction: not the sign of a body but the index of its withdrawal from appearance (to invoke the etymological meaning of abstrahere). By portraying the material traces of the figure’s negation, they account for the aesthetic and political challenge of presenting anonymous bodies and beings. Their work thereby inverts minimalism’s concern with the relation of objective forms to embodied viewers, revealing art’s contradictory relation to inaccessible bodies. By exposing viewers to unknowable and imperceptible beings, they reject dominant ethical models based on the inter-subjective relation of autonomous individuals. Instead, they illustrate an ethics of co-existence that is irreducible to subject-object binaries and to the subjectivization of embodied life. In these respects, these artists make an important case for the political and ethical relevance of aesthetic abstraction today.
(So the academic career path didn’t pan out, but I’m still very interested in these topics and hope to still keep thinking and, maybe, writing about them).
I plan to develop my dissertation into a manuscript that will focus on Salcedo, Margolles, and Sierra. Together, these artists provide a critical account of globalization’s effects in the twenty-first century, encompassing the politics of citizenship, migration, security, violence, detention, and neoliberalism. I aim for this study to offer a new theory of globalization itself, understanding it as the set of aesthetic and political technologies that organize bodies in space and time.
Additionally, I hope to begin a new research project on modern and contemporary art practices that explore the aesthetic relations between sexuality, sensate bodies, and the external world. Provisionally titled “Three Essays on the Aesthetics of Sexuality,” this study builds on my efforts to theorize the aesthetic relation between the body and the external world. In this case, I examine how artists have drawn on sexuality to challenge that relation, particularly by freeing bodily sensation from the confines of individual subjectivity.
My teaching interests encompass art and visual culture from the 1700s to the present. I am prepared to lead a wide range of courses in this field, ranging from general surveys to specialized graduate seminars, and to supervise appropriate research projects. I can also lead general courses in theory and methodology, architecture, cinema, and media. My experience and training has prepared me to lead innovative, experiential, and creative forms of learning and to effectively engage with cognitively and culturally diverse student bodies.
My Teaching Dossier details my experience, training, and methodology and includes my statement of teaching philosophy; teaching evaluations and feedback; teaching log; diversity statement; and sample syllabi, assignments, grading rubrics, and exam questions.
My teaching experience includes…
• Independently designing and instructing three separate undergraduate courses: ““Aesthetics and Politics since 1968”,” “Art and Ideas: Bodies and Embodiment,” and “Modernism and Anti-Modernism: 1750-1900.”
• Leading tutorials in two separate art history courses
• Serving as a teaching assistant for eight classes.
• Delivering guest lectures in four undergraduate courses.
• Organizing pedagogical workshops for undergraduates.
I have completed the following training programs
• “Teaching in Higher Education 500,” a semester long doctoral seminar on university pedagogy (Woodsworth College, University of Toronto)
• “Community Engaged Learning Seminar for Doctoral Students,” a full-year program in socially active, experiential pedagogy (Centre for Community Partnerships, University of Toronto).
• “Advanced University Teaching Preparation” certificate (Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, University of Toronto).
• Graduate Professional Skills certificate (School of Graduate Studies, University of Toronto).
Examples of Online teaching content: