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.