AESTHETICS AND RESEARCH IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS – Holly Eva Ryan’s Lines: Making Friends; Crossing Borders

This post is part of the two-part special series of GPU’s podcast, “Aesthetics and Research in International Politics”, which examines non-conventional IR research methods.

In the first part of GPU’s Aesthetics and Research in International Politics, we explored through James Eastwood’s exhibition Cradles how aesthetics could prompt emotions and reflection about the phenomenon of child removal and disappearance in the world. In this second part, GPU takes you on a journey across frontiers through twinning with Dr. Holly Ryan’s exhibition Lines: Making Friends; Crossing Borders, displayed in February 2023 at Queen Mary University of London.

Entering the exhibition space, one could see some imposing posters with juxtapositions of black and white lines hanging heavily on the graphite walls of Arts One’s Bloc room. Despite the prison-like feeling conveyed by the starkness of the space and the narratives of inequalities perspiring through some of the art pieces on the walls, Holly also showed how twinning emboldens global solidarities and disrupts international borders.

Display in Arts One’s Bloc Room. Image Courtesy: Holly Evan Ryan

Holly sat with Keren Weitzberg and Sarah Wong, her gallery assistant and Ph.D. student from LSE who focuses on the intersection of international politics and visual culture, to discuss her artistic process and the aesthetic turn in International Relations with GPU.

Denver-Nairobi twinning. Image courtesy: Holly Evan Ryan
Leicester-Masaya twinning. Image courtesy: Holly Evan Ryan

No matter how fine-grained, precise, and peer-reviewed an academic research paper can be, it will never really reach its goal if it does not cater to the right audience. Art, like in Holly Ryan’s Lines, or aesthetics, as we’ve seen through James Eastwood’s Cradles, are excellent means to propel important political messages in the public sphere.

Moreover, the beauty of exhibitions resides in the fact that they are unrestricted spaces allowing the collaboration between quote-unquote “creators” – artists – and researchers, for whom the creative environment can be transformed into powerful research channels, ultimately establishing a fertile ground for the birth of powerful creations.

At last, in Holly’s words, you do not necessarily need to be an artist if you want your audience to feel an emotion about your message or be an academic researcher to legitimate the seriousness of it. The power of art, aesthetics, or simply showing something, is that people will feel and talk – positively or negatively – about what you want to put in the world once they encounter it.

Théa Rakotondrajao