Dr Isobel Harbison

Staff details

Dr Isobel Harbison


Senior Lecturer (Critical Studies) in Art




i.harbison (@gold.ac.uk)

Goldsmiths Research Centres/Groups

Dr Isobel Harbison is an art historian researching the histories of performance and moving image

Harbison writes and teaches students critical studies and histories of modern and contemporary art.

Interested in the relationship between art, media and politics, Harbison has been writing since 2004 for art magazines including Afterall, Art Monthly, Art Review, Frieze and for cultural and literary journals including the London Review of Books, Tolka and The White Review. In 2014, she won a Fellowship in Arts Journalism awarded by the Arts Foundation. Prior to academia, Harbison worked extensively as a curator and now regularly lectures, talks and chairs discussions in museums, universities and other 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 how art’s new media (performance and moving image) are deployed on social media charting the rise and risks of online prosumerism.

She is currently researching her second book.

Academic qualifications

  • 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

Research interests

Harbison has been publishing art criticism 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 might engage the public both inside and beyond the gallery space. Increasingly her research has attended to the challenge that contemporary art presents to corporate or state-sanctioned media within the audience’s experience or viewing encounter.

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 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 fellowship by the Paul Mellon Centre to pursue her current research on independent and artists’ film in and from Northern Ireland from 1968 to the post-Brexit present. The research examines successive waves filmmakers active over the past fifty years in relation to key political events and media histories, patterns of distribution within international contexts, and policies and instances of state censorship. Parts of the research have been published in articles and book chapters, with other elements informing conference papers and public events and screenings.

Grants and awards

2020: Research Fellow
Paul Mellon Centre

2019: Eadington Fellow
Centre of Gaming Research, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

2019: Research Resident
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

2014: Fellow
Arts Foundation, Fellowship in Arts Journalism

2010: Doctoral Scholar
Arts and Humanities Research Council

Publications and research outputs


Harbison, Isobel. 2019. Performing Image. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. ISBN 9780262039215

Book Section

Harbison, Isobel. 2022. Whose time is it anyway? In: Christina Kennedy, ed. The Narrow Gate of the Here-and-Now - IMMA: 30 Years of the Global Contemporary. Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, pp. 22-30. ISBN 9781909792272

Harbison, Isobel. 2022. NOT/ MY/ SCENE. In: Charles Asprey, ed. A.B. Real Life. London: Charles Asprey, pp. 34-39. ISBN 9781399924894

Harbison, Isobel. 2019. Of saving, of hoarding, of keeping to hand. In: Niamh O'Malley, ed. handle. Dublin: Royal Hibernian Academy, pp. 63-69. ISBN 1903875935


Harbison, Isobel. 2022. Try Lizzie Borden: Derry Film and Video Workshop & distribution beyond the Broadcast Ban. Try Lizzie Borden,

Harbison, Isobel. 2021. Here to Stay: On the history of Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery. Frieze Masters(9), pp. 24-29.

Harbison, Isobel. 2021. Or Other, Or Both. Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, 51, pp. 144-155. ISSN 1465-4253

Conference or Workshop Item

Harbison, Isobel. 2022. 'An Inventory of Traces: Rethinking public archives and collections beyond the nation/state'. In: Association for Art History’s 48th Annual Conference. Goldsmiths, University of London/ online, United Kingdom 6 - 8 April 2022.

Harbison, Isobel. 2022. 'The Derry Film and Video Workshop & distribution beyond the Broadcast Ban'. In: Northern Ireland’s Feminist and Queer Art Histories. The Courtauld Institute of Art, United Kingdom 21 January 2022.

Harbison, Isobel. 2021. 'Art Criticism and the Pandemic II - Safer Spaces'. In: Safer Spaces. London, United Kingdom May 2021.


Harbison, Isobel. 2022. Tapes Under the Bed. In: "Tapes Under the Bed", Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ireland, 26 November 2022.

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.

Harbison, Isobel. 2013. Image Games: Ericka Beckman. In: "Image Games: Ericka Beckman", Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom, 28–29 September 2013.

Professional projects

In 2020, Harbison launched, ‘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 a curator with Hayward Gallery Touring, Tate Modern, Auto Italia, Chelsea Space, TBGS Dublin and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. 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.

Research projects

2022-2022: Tapes Under The Bed
A one-day international seminar comprising of talks, screenings and panel discussions exploring how to best preserve endangered film and video archives from the 1980s onwards.

Media engagements

2020: Talk Show, Resonance FM
Regular contributor to Art Monthly’s monthly live talk show on Resonance FM

Conferences and talks

2020: National Gallery London
In-conversation with Artist-in-Residence Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer

2019: Trinity College Dublin
No Longer Peripheral: Moving Image Culture (AEMI conference)

2019: School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Blue-Skying: Social Media and the Arts (conference)

2019: Block Universe, Festival of Performance
Performing the Digital Self (conference panel)

2018: Tate Modern
Performance in Contemporary Art (panel)