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Job title
Co-ordinator of Critical Studies, BA Fine Art
College name
Central Saint Martins
Email address
 Jon Cairns


Jon Cairns is a writer with interests in performance, gender studies, and theories of cultural value. Current work considers affect and the encounter with art, particularly the public staging of intimate interaction, and how to write the contingencies of such an interaction without losing sight of the wider stakes in this endeavour.

Other research has centred on questions of value in the context of cultural retrenchment brought on by cuts to arts funding and education spending. A special issue of Visual Culture in Britain examined the importance of such pressing concerns, while attending to the value and significance of the affective structures of art. The role of collaboration, informality and surprise emerged as significant factors for the various small and independent artist-run initiatives that Jon came into contact with in the course of this project.

Earlier work has explored art’s relationship with various forms of fiction, narrative, and historical fabulation, in tandem with occasional collaborations with artist Julia Spicer, including online work and curation.


Research Interests

Contemporary art and visual culture, photography, performance art, performance studies, queer theory.

Research Statement

Jon's work in the last few years has engaged with queer historiography and the ambivalence of interpretation, hinging on the mobile relationships between photography and performance, and between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’. Recent work examines and articulates ‘ambivalence’ as a key trope in the exploration of intimate affect in the context of public performance, focusing on the role this plays both in participation and interpretation. It explores some of the performative, narrative and affective functions of the domestic photograph in the context of performance, looking at the cross-overs between conventional understandings of the ‘album’ portrait and the performed presentation of self.

This centres on the work of performance artist Adrian Howells, but importantly draws out the anecdotal and autobiographical form of the work to address issues around the ‘subjective’ encounter in writing itself (forthcoming in Contemporary Theatre Review). This is part of developing research on ambivalence as a hermeneutic and the shifting investments we make in the objects of our critical attention/affection.

An ongoing collaboration with Julia Spicer has produced various works that mobilise story-telling and historical documentation, including Ost Property and works for online journal slash/seconds, based on found photographic material and domestic memorabilia; and a forthcoming exhibition, provsionally titled Ben is Gay at Studio 1.1, London 2013. The Ost Property project culminated in an exhibition at Danielle Arnaud contemporary art (2007); a related publication of the same title; and an essay in The Art of Queering in Art(ed. Henry Rogers, Article Press 2008).

Other writings include contributions to Infallible: In Search of the Real George Eliot (Article Press 2005), and to New Formations, Critical Quarterly, and Third Text. Jon is currently editing a special issue of Visual Culture in Britain on tendencies in contemporary British art (November 2013).