Kirsty Robertson


Dr. Kirsty Robertson, Associate Professor (Contemporary Art and Museum Studies)
Ph.D., Queen’s University, Visual and Material Culture, 2006
M.A., Queen’s University, 2001
B.A., Honours, Bishop’s University, 1998


Kirsty Robertson’s research focuses on activism, visual culture, and changing economies. She has published widely on these topics and is currently finishing her book Tear Gas Epiphanies: Protest, Museums, and Culture in Canada. Since 2008, she has been interested in textiles, the textile industry and textile-based arts. She has also written on textiles, craftivism and technology while investigating petrotextiles (that is, textiles that are made from oil and that disintegrate into plastic microfilaments). Her on-going interest in critical museum studies has enabled her to focus on small-scale collections that work against traditional museum formats.

Current projects

Kirsty Robertson has two major research areas. The first focuses on activism, visual culture and changing economies. Using Canada as her main case study, she asks what the relationship might be between the parallel appearance in the mid-1990s of global anti-capitalist protest movements and a growing discourse around “creative industries” as a sector of great economic potential. Focusing on the international art world, the designation of urban spaces as “creative cities,” and an increasing economic precarity amongst creative workers, she examines specific moments where protest collides with an escalating economization of culture. she is currently finishing up her book on this topic, titled Tear-Gas Epiphanies: New Economies of Protest, Culture and Vision in Canada.

Kirsty Robertson’s second research area is concerned with textiles. In particular, she's interested in the links among a resurgence of seemingly domestic textile work such as knitting, weaving and sewing, changing patterns in the global manufacture and circulation of mass-produced materials and garments, an increased interest in textile-based arts and crafts in the global art world, and research and development in smart textiles and wearable technologies. She looks closely at what happens in urban and rural centres in the Global North where traditional textile manufacturing has died, and has found a fascinating link between dying industries and a redirecting of textile production into new “creative industry” areas – textile factories turned into museums, government monies diverted into smart textile development, art patrons interested in investing in textile-based arts, and a wide-spread growth in hand-made goods. So too, there has been a rise in the use of textiles within activist movements – from radical knitters knitting in the tear-gas, to widespread NGO-led initiatives such as “Afghans for Afghans.” This project is concerned with tracing, mapping and unravelling the “tangled threads” of a rapidly changing, yet ultimately traditional and familiar industry. “Unraveled: Art, Textiles and Technology in a Globalized World” is funded by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant and has employed a number of graduate students in the Visual Arts Department.

Awards, Honours and Grants

SSHRC SRG “Unraveled: Art, Textiles and Technology in a Globalized World” 2010-2011.
SSHRC SRG (Laura Murray, PI, Tina Piper and Kirsty Robertson, co-applicants) “Putting Intellectual Property in its Place: Rights Discourses, Creative Labour and the Everyday” 2010-2013.
University Students’ Council Teaching Honour Roll (2008-2009, 2009-2010)
SSHRC Workshop Grant (co-application) Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada (2009)
SSHRC Internal Research Grant “’More a Diplomatic Than an Esthetic Event: Canada and the Sao Paolo Biennial, (2010)
SSHRC Internal Travel Grant (2008, 2009, 2010)
SSHRC Internal Research Grant “Tear Gas Epiphanies: New Economies of Protest, Vision and Culture in Canada” (2008)
SSHRC Workshop Grant (co-applicant) Copyright’s Counterparts: Alternative Economies of Knowledge in Theory and Practice (2008)


With Keri Cronin, eds. (Image)ining Resistance: The Visual Culture of Activism and Dissent. In production at Wilfrid Laurier University Press, forthcoming December 2010.

Articles and Chapters in Books

“Threads of Hope: The Living Healing Quilt Project.” English Studies in Canada (Aboriginal Redress and Repatriation) 35.1 (March 2009), pp. 85-108.

“Embroidery Pirates and Fashion Victims: Textiles, Craft and Copyright.” Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 8.1 (2010), pp. 86-111.

“Teaching Textiles and Activism (a Case Study).” In the Loop: Knitting Past, Present and Future. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2010, pp. 68-79.

“The Viral Knitting Project and Writing on the Wool.” N.paradoxa (Activist Art) 23  (January 2009), pp. 56-61.

“Crude Culture: Canada and Creative Industries.” Feature Article. Fuse Magazine 30.5 (Spring 2008), pp. 12-21.

“’Try to Walk With the Sound of My Footsteps’: The Surveillant Body in Contemporary Art.” Communication Review 11 (January-March 2008): 24-41.

“Screening the Call: Cell Phones, Activism and the Art of Connection” In Fluid Screens, Expanded Cinema. Susan Lord and Janine Marchessault, eds. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008, pp. 270-83.

“Tangled and Warped: Contemporary Craft and Protest.” In Extra/Ordinary: Craft Culture and Contemporary Art. Maria Elena Buszek, ed. Durham: Duke University Press (forthcoming 2009).

“Battlegrounds and Carpet Bombing: Afghan War Rugs at the Textile Museum.” Fuse Magazine 32.1 (December 2008), pp. 6-13.

“Home, Home on the Range.” Rearranging Desires (Catalogue). Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, 2008. Exhibition: October 6-31, 2008, pp. 22-24.

“Review of Ned Rossiter: Organised Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions.” Culture Machine, April 2008, (Reviews).

“The Revolution Will Wear a Sweater: Knitting and Activism.” Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations, Collecive Theorization. David Graeber and Stevphen Shukaitis, eds. London: AK Press, 2007, pp. 209-22.

“How to Knit an Academic Paper.” Reprinted in Craft Perception and Practice: a Canadian Discourse, Volume 3. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2007, pp. 85-94. Originally printed in Public 31 (2006), np (dvd format), available at

Capturing the Movement: Affect, Anti-War Art and Activism.” Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Activism 34.1&2 ((Fall 2006): 27-30.

“Webs of Resistance: Photography, the Internet and the Global Justice Movement.” In Le Mois de la Photo: Image and Imagination. Martha Langford, ed. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005, pp. 147-58.

Graduate Supervision

Ahlia Moussa, “Point of Origin: The Global Posturing of Recent Vancouver Art and Artists,” MA (in progress)

Emma Arenson (co-supervision with Bridget Elliot), “Bodily Difference: The Absent/Present Body as Signifier of Disability,” MA (in progress)

Jonathan Sarma, “Art and Artificiality: The Re/De(Con)struction of ‘Natural’ Gender in 1990s Visual Culture,” MA (completed 2010).

Andrea Skelly, “Containers of Electronic Art: Displaying Electronic Art in ‘White Cube’ and Experimental Spaces,” MA (completed 2009)

Recent Courses

VAH3392: Tangled and Warped: Textiles and Activism
VAH3385: Museum Studies
VAH276: Canadian Art (Reframing Canada)
VAH391: Art is a Hammer: Contemporary Art, Protest, Globalization
VAH 477: After/Images: Gender, Technology and Art 1900-1945
VAH9768:  Curating Contemporary Trends
VAH5595:  Economizing Culture: Globalization, Art and the Creative Industries