Visibility is Relevance

lizzie in cctv screen

Recently I read somewhere the phrase, “VISIBILITY IS RELEVANCE”.

But now I can’t remember where I read it, and google returns nothing useful.

I’m pretty sure it was in relation to art and its histories – the way that the perception of some artwork having “relevance” to a particular time and place is NOT related to any inherent quality of the work itself, but rather to how visible the thing is in society.

That is, once something is granted a substantial amount of “airtime”, it becomes relevant to current debates around art and contemporary culture, regardless of whether or not we think it “deserves” to be relevant. Thus relevance and visibility are “intrinsicly interwoven”.

Does this explanation make any sense at all? I wish I could find the original reference…

4 thoughts on “Visibility is Relevance

  1. Mel Curtiss

    it makes plenty of sense. I think of lesbian women and visibility most often in this sense, since it was raised in a workshop I attended – it seems to me that lesbians are less visible in culture than gay men …not that this makes them irrelevant! Maybe “I am visible, therefore I am” would be more apt…in this case at any rate. LOL…not sure what this adds to your post though!

  2. Lucas Post author

    another position on this question is here in the essay “Renaming Untitled Flesh: marking the politics of marginality” by Meiling Cheng, in the book Performing the Body/Performing the Text, edited by Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson.

    Cheng writes:

    …Peggy Phelan launches a brilliant critique against ‘the ideology of the visible’ in her 1993 book Unmarked: the Politics of Performance. Phelan interrogates the ironically similar assumption held by progressives and conservatives alike concerning the equation between representational visibility and political efficacy. Because of a mistaken judgement about ‘the relation between the real and the representational,’ Phelan diagnoses, both groups believe that ‘greater visibility of the hitherto under-represented leads to enhanced political power.’ Thus, progressives promote a greater circulation of visibility for the racial, ethnic and sexual others in the representational economy, whereas conservatives dedicate themselves to defaming or censoring such a circulation. Phelan maintains that the tactics used by both groups reflect insufficient understanding ‘of the relationship between visibility, power, identity and liberation.’ ‘If representational visibility equals power,’ Phelan comments wryly, ‘then almost-naked white young women should be running Western culture. The ubiquity of their image, however, has hardly brought them political or economic power.’


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