restricted access Debt Aesthetics: Medium Specificity and Social Practice in the Work of Cassie Thornton

This article considers the “debt visualizations” of social practice artist Cassie Thornton. Thorton’s works use a combination of photography, performance art, sculpture, non-fiction narrative, text, and hypertext to explore the cost and consequence of the accumulation of student loans. The essay examines Thornton’s use of both traditional and non-traditional artistic materials and practices in order to articulate how the ‘immaterials’ of debt become an artistic medium; her radical departure from traditional media leads squarely back to the problem of the medium itself in Thornton’s assertion that “debt is [her] medium.” While it is tempting to read such a claim as an embrace of a “post-medium condition,” this essay argues that in our highly leveraged present, the very form of unsecured student debt that Thornton works in and on invites a return to and a reconsideration of the seemingly conservative impulses of aesthetic Modernism and its critique.