Harbison writes and teaches students critical studies and histories of modern and contemporary art.
Interested in histories of performance and moving image responding to politics and media, Harbison has been writing since 2004 for titles including Afterall, Apollo, Art Monthly, Art Review, frieze, also contributing to a range of catalogues and journals. In 2014, she was awarded a Fellowship in Arts Journalism by the Arts Foundation. Prior to academia, Harbison worked extensively as an independent curator, and regularly lectures, talks and chairs discussions in museums and other art institutions.
Harbison completed her PhD in 2015 at Goldsmiths where she was AHRC doctoral scholar. She published her first monograph, Performing Image, with the MIT Press in 2019, addressing the interrelation and critical agency of performance and moving image in time with the expansion of the attention economy and the rise of the online prosumer. She is currently researching her second book.
- PhD (Art Theory), Goldsmiths, University of London 2015
- MFA (Curating), Goldsmiths, University of London 2008
- BA (History of Art and Architecture), Trinity College, Dublin 2004
Teaching and Supervision
Harbison has been publishing art criticism in magazines and journals since 2004, writing about a range of artists working across media and often in performance and moving image. Harbison’s research has focused on how these media can challenge and engage the public both inside and beyond the gallery space. Increasingly her research has attended to the challenge that contemporary art presents to corporate media, and the political economies it services, within the audience’s experience or viewing encounter. This was the subject of her PhD, The Prosumer Complex.
Performing Image, Harbison’s first monograph, was published by the MIT Press in 2019. It considers what agency contemporary art might have in response to the rise of social media, and the harnessing of different modes of identity performance and DIY video-making by companies like Facebook and Instagram, through which forms of technology global capitalism and political populism intensifies. The book reflects on how artists have long combined performance and moving image to highlight or challenge aspects of media, and the book details these histories with analyses of works by Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, Lorraine O’Grady, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Leslie Thornton, Ericka Beckman, Shu Lea Cheang, Frances Stark, Mark Leckey, Cécile B Evans, Ligia Lewis, Wu Tsang, Every Ocean Hughes and Martine Syms.
In 2020, she was awarded a research grant by the Paul Mellon Centre to pursue her current research, which aims to establish the first comprehensive overview of artists’ film and video in and from Northern Ireland, from 1968 to the post-Brexit present. This study will examine successive waves of DIY film and video produced by artists and film collectives over the past fifty years. These works are analysed in relation to key political events and related media histories, including particular patterns of distribution within US and UK contexts, and policies and instances of state censorship.
Publications and research outputs
Harbison, Isobel. 2014. Pre-Pop to Post-human: Collage in the digital age. In: "Pre-pop to Post-human: Collage In The Digital Age", Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, United Kingdom, 25 January 2014 - 21 June 2015.
Conference or Workshop Item
Harbison, Isobel. 2021. Here to Stay: On the history of Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery. Frieze Masters(9), pp. 24-29.
Gaschke, Jenny; Gould, Sarah; Perry, Gill; Ventrella, Francesco; Lamm, Kimberly; Davidow, Jackson; Harbison, Isobel; Coomasaru, Edwin; Alexander Cameron, James; Hart, Imogen; Fowler, Corinne and Massouras, Alexander. 2021. British Art after Brexit. British Art Studies(20), ISSN 2058-5462
Harbison, Isobel. 2019. What the Instagram Age Learned from Robert Rauschenberg’s Choreographic Pieces. Frieze(206), pp. 136-137. ISSN 0962-0672
Harbison, Isobel. 2018. A bluff, a rock, a hole in the ground. In: Elizabeth Magill and Úna McCarthy, eds. Elizabeth Magill, Headlands. Limerick: Limerick City Gallery of Art, pp. 7-11. ISBN 9780992796914
Further profile content
In 2020, Harbison launched the research group, ‘Northern Ireland: Art, Media and Politics’ in association with the Research Programme’s MARS. Further research is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre (2020). Associated research on art and media was undertaken as Research Resident at the Rauschenberg Foundation, New York (2019) and as Eadington Fellow (2020) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Harbison has worked as an independent curator with Hayward Gallery Touring, Tate Modern, Auto Italia, Chelsea Space, and Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin. She has spoken and chaired discussions at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the Contemporary Art Society, Hayward Gallery, Camden Arts Centre, Whitechapel Gallery, and the Swiss Institute, New York.
She has taught and lectured at the Royal Academy School, Royal College of Art, Slade School of Fine Art, Central St Martins, Arts University Bournemouth, in Ireland at NCAD and IADT, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Goldsmiths Research Centres/Groups
Talk Show, Resonance FM
Regular contributor to Art Monthly’s monthly live talk show on Resonance FM
Conferences and talks
National Gallery London
In-conversation with Artist-in-Residence Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer
Trinity College Dublin
No Longer Peripheral: Moving Image Culture (AEMI conference)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Blue-Skying: Social Media and the Arts (conference)
Block Universe, Festival of Performance
Performing the Digital Self (conference panel)
Performance in Contemporary Art (panel)