Abstracts of the lectures and speakers CVs: Luisa Accati, Beatrice von Bismarck, Thomas Fillitz, Dario Gamboni, Werner Hanak-Lettner, Nathalie Heinich, Bojana Kunst, Henrietta L. Moore, Robert Pfaller, Renata Salecl, and Roger Sansi-Roca.
The Importance of the Artist in Constructing a Social Consciousness
Freud claims that a concrete idea (Dingvorstellung) is located at a deeper level than a verbal idea (Wortvorstellung). In other words, artists in their work often confront us with sentiments that are not yet fully and consciously elaborated. By analysing a number of paintings from north-eastern Italy made between the late fifteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, I will show how these images represent the crisis of the conjugal relationship despite the alleged prevalence of the heterosexual imaginary.
Luisa Accati was born in Turin, Italy, where she received a university degree in philosophy and history. She taught ethnology at the University of Trieste from 1975 to 1986; since then she has been teaching modern history at the same university. She also worked in Udine from 1978 to 1986, where she studied the lives of local women and their family relations. Her historical research has focused on a range of topics, from agricultural uprisings in southern Italy between the two world wars to the influence of the symbol of the Virgin Mary on family relations in north-eastern Italy. Since 1997, she has been working on the political thought of Francisco Suarez. She is the author of Il mostro e la bella: padre e madre nell’educazione cattolica dei sentimenti (Cortina, Milan 1998), among other writings. BACK TO TOP
Exhibitions, Cult, and Collectivities
Collective forms of curating have been a trend in recent years. This has become obvious especially for large-scale international exhibitions – from the teams of the Manifesta shows, to various biennials (Berlin, Venice, Istanbul, the Caribbean), to Okwui Enwezor’s documenta 11 in 2002 and the travelling exhibition Utopia Station. While on the one hand these forms of collaboration allow for synergies of expertise, on the other they are related to the accumulation of symbolic capital, in particular, fame and status. In the current curatorial hype, the curator is not only endowed with similar characteristics as artists but has also taken on functions within the cultic context: analogous to the general parallels between the religious field and the art field, the curator has become associated with characteristics and functions conventionally ascribed to figures in the religious context – charismatic leaders, prophets, and priests. Taking account of these attributes and their symbolic capital, the talk will track the specific implications for collective curatorial practices – for the notion of curatorial authorship as much as for the status of the event of the exhibition. In this context, what gains central importance is the capacity of collectivity to accumulate various forms of capital – be it economic, social, cultural, or symbolic – and hence also operational functions the form might gain for exhibition-making.
Beatrice von Bismarck is a professor at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig in the areas of art history, visual culture, and cultures of the curatorial. From 1989 to 1993, she was curator of twentieth-century art at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main. From 1993 to 1999, she was an assistant professor at Lüneburg University, where she co-founded and co-directed the university’s Kunstraum project space. Since 2000, she has been the programme director of the gallery of the Leipzig art academy, where she also co-founded the /D/O/C/K project space. Her areas of research are the curatorial, modes of cultural production connecting theory and practice, definitions of artistic work, the effects of neo-liberalism and globalization on the cultural field, and post-modern concepts of the “artist”. BACK TO TOP
Debating the World Culture of Biennials: Dak’Art, the Biennial of Dakar
From 1984 to well into the 1990s, the world witnessed a plethora of newly founded art biennials. Today, there are well over a hundred such events, with a large number of them in countries of the South. The obvious global success of the institution of the biennial prompts us to reflect on several issues. Can we consider them all as merely the by-product (or copy) of the system created by the European art world? To some degree, the biennials all seem to share certain features, like putting a metropolis on the world map, bringing together art productions from regional art worlds which had been kept apart during the colonial system, and adhering to curatorial principle, or rather, that of the intercultural curatorial board, etc. If such commonalities are indeed true, one might wonder whether the global culture of art biennials is simply a network of immensely similar reproduced spectacles of the global art world (following Debord’s concept of the “société du spectacle”).
In this context, one may ask what the major aims were in the founding of particular biennials. The biennial in Johannesburg, for instance, was created after the apartheid regime fell and the first free elections were held in South Africa (1994). The first biennial took place in 1995, but during its second edition, in 1997, the city council put an (unpleasant) end to the event. However, the overcoming of political forms may not be generalized for the creation of art biennials. The Havana Biennial should be considered as a counter-hegemonic enterprise; on the occasion of its second edition (in 1986) it defined itself as “the biennial of Third World art” and truly aimed at developing new approaches to the art that was exhibited.
The biennial in Dakar, Dak’Art, became famous in the global art world after 1996, when a government decision positioned it clearly as the biennial of contemporary art in Africa. The attention of the global art world declined, however, especially after the 2006 edition. Certain post-colonial artists and art critics had, in fact, radically questioned the role of Dak’Art as early as 2003, claiming that it did not confront the hegemony of the European/North American art world and that its organizers “no longer have any idea why it is there”. I shall discuss some of these issues in the context of Dak’Art’s founding in 1992, its critiques, and its actual spatial organization.
Thomas Fillitz is an associate professor of social anthropology and the chairman of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe. Currently, he is the secretary of the European Association of Social Anthropologists. His field research has been concentrated in West Africa (mainly the francophone countries) and in Europe, and his research interests are art worlds and global art, visual culture, and globalization and transnational processes. His current research is focused on art biennials as a global culture, in particular the Dakar biennial, Dak’Art. His main books are Kulturen und Kriege: Transnationale Perspektiven der Anthropologie (Rombach, Freiburg im Breisgau 2007; co-authored with Andre Gingrich and Lutz Musner) and Zeitgenössische Kunst aus Afrika: Vierzehn Künstler aus Côte d’Ivoire und Bénin (Böhlau, Vienna 2002). BACK TO TOP
The Destruction of Art as Art Event
Iconoclasm transforms the shape and appearance of its objects. It thus introduces a temporal shift in their physical and social life. Unless it disposes of them entirely, it preserves traces of their previous state within the new one, making the “before” coexist with the “after”. A part of the efficacy of iconoclasm also derives from the public staging of the destructive action or from its representation, and it may happen that such a representation is so important as to motivate the action itself. In recent years, the circulation of digital images in real time and their impact on the media and public opinion have made a norm of this reversed causal relationship: assaults against works of art, monuments, and images seem to take place mostly so that the assaults can be turned into pictures. This is obvious with recent political iconoclasm but it is also true of assaults perpetrated by artists, either metaphorically or literally. The spectacular power of collective iconoclastic actions has been emulated by artists staging self-destructions or the destruction of other artists’ works. Such instances of “the destruction of art as art” have become increasingly common, and this paper will ask whether this increase is connected with the rise of the “art event”. I will also argue that works of art are perceptual events, evolving over time, and that their destruction only emphasizes and dramatizes this temporal, experiential character.
Dario Gamboni has been a professor of art history at the University of Geneva since 2004. He has also been a member of the Institut Universitaire de France, the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (Washington, D.C.), a recipient of the Meret Oppenheim Prize (2006), a senior research fellow at the Henry Moore Institute, and a Clark Fellow at the Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, Mass., USA). He has been a visiting professor at universities in Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Buenos Aires, Freiburg im Breisgau, Mexico City, São Paulo, and Tokyo. He has curated or co-curated many exhibitions, including Iconoclash (ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2002) and Une image peut en cacher une autre (Grand Palais, Paris, 2009). His main works include Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art (Reaktion Books, London 2002) and The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution (Reaktion Books, New Haven and London 1997). BACK TO TOP
Giving Space, Taking Time: The Exhibition as a Double-Bound Script
Exhibitions create amazing spaces. Those who have created the show (the curators and designers) have already left the stage. Others (the visitors) have now entered it. Unlike their counterparts, the audiences of theatre, film, and music, the visitors at exhibitions leave the auditorium in order to become actors themselves in this staged space. By spending and investing their time in this dramatic encounter with objects and artworks, they keep the show running. An exhibition is a sensitive and tricky play created and kept alive by curators and visitors. Following this thought, we discover that it is more a play between directors and actors than between directors and an audience. Some questions, of course, remain: Is there a script that lies beneath this sensible act of power balancing? And if so, is it the curator/director who writes it? Are the visitors the ones who perform it?
Werner Hanak-Lettner trained in theatre, film, and media theory. He is the chief curator of the Jewish Museum in Vienna (and a staff member since 1995). He has curated mostly cultural-historical exhibitions, such as Eden – Zion – Utopia: The History of the Future in Judaism (1999) and Vienna: Jews and the City of Music (2003). He also re-curated the Mozart apartment (2006) and the Joseph Haydn house (2009) in Vienna at the commission of the Vienna Museum. In 2000, he was the dramaturgical advisor for Robert Wilson’s laser installation Z2 – The sleeping room of people who did not know each other. In 2004, he was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. He is also the author of Die Ausstellung als Drama: Wie das Museum aus dem Theater entstand (Transcript, Bielefeld 2011). He is currently working on the exhibition project BIGGER THAN LIFE: 100 Years of Hollywood: A Jewish Experience (Jewish Museum in Vienna, October 2011). BACK TO TOP
What Is an Artistic Event?
Is there any objective definition of an “event” in the art world? Since anything called an “event” by some people may be called a “non-event” by others, what should be the position of the sociologist? Wishing to avoid both a naive adoption of the given discourse and a sceptical critique of it in the name of down-to-earth relativism, I will argue, in line with the most recent trends in French pragmatic sociology, that it is possible to propose an objective definition of the “artistic event” without any normative or essentialist definition of what is or should be art.
Nathalie Heinich is the research director in sociology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. She specializes in the sociology of art (artistic professions, aesthetic perception, conflicts about contemporary art), the socio-anthropology of identity crisis (in fiction, authorship or survivors’ testimonies), women’s identity (“states” of women and mother–daughter relationships), and the epistemology of the social sciences. She is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Institute for Modern Korea (2011). She was the Jacques Leclercq Chair of Sociology at the University of Louvain-la-neuve in Belgium (2003) and the Boekman Chair of the Sociology of Art at the University of Amsterdam (2000–2002); in 1996, she was awarded a Fullbright Fellowship. Her most important books are Guerre culturelle et art contemporain: Une comparaison franco-américaine (Hermann, Paris 2010), La Sociologie de l’art (La Découverte, Paris 2001), and La Gloire de Van Gogh: Essai d’anthropologie de l’admiration (Minuit, Paris 1991). BACK TO TOP
The Circulation of Experience: The Flexible Sociality of Contemporary Art Events
It’s not just that, with contemporary events, museums and contemporary art institutions are moving away from quiet and peaceful static production; they are also opening their doors to the restless and active visitor – to people who like to communicate, move around, touch, and participate, who are dynamic and talkative, active and present, and who are always ready to share experiences with others. The audience of contemporary art events, then, seems no longer to be the sum of unsocial, solipsistic individuals, who each look at static works of art in their separate rooms. Today the audience is formed through an endless rearranging and renumbering of unstable but vocal communities who can arise or disappear with each individual art action or artistic gesture. Many contemporary art institutions, indeed, understand and conceptualize themselves as spaces of dynamic and active being, of profane usage, of touching and consuming, and no longer as spaces of distanced looking and solipsistic standing (before a painting, a sculpture, an action). Above all, then, at the heart of the contemporary art event we find the live, material, and flexible experience of the visitors – an experience that must also be slightly exhibitionist, audacious, and adventurist if it wants to remain open to the experiences of others. At the same time, however, despite the liveness of the experience, the collaborative participation of the visitor, and the dynamism of the exchange, this is not authentic experience (that is more often ascribed to the “traditional” act of static looking); rather, it is above all the experience of an event that must be endlessly circulated and shared. For this very reason, the experience in a contemporary art event must be random, temporary, and non-binding, while the visitor often experiences his experience and shares it with others without any sense of belonging or responsibility. Paradoxically, contemporary art institutions, which frequently encourage the live, material, and localized experience of visitors, simultaneously dematerialize it in series of musealized, travelling testimonies, documents, narrations, and anecdotes, by means of which it again becomes possible to look, statically and solipsistically, at the activities of others and, by contemplating their potential activities, to experience their experiences, or rather, to contemplate their sociality. In my lecture, then, I wish to speak in greater detail about the place of experience in contemporary art events and to connect these processes with the more general processes of subjectivization and the formation of communities in contemporary capitalism. Art institutions in recent years have become places of sociality and community processes, laboratories of various ways of cooperating in, testing, and practicing coexistence. But the question is whether this shift of sociality and community formation into the sphere of contemporary art really does open up possibilities for emancipatory political articulations or whether it finds in the contemporary art institution a museum refuge for vanishing processes and possibilities of life.
Bojana Kunst is a philosopher and performance theoretician, dramaturge, and teacher. She is currently an associate professor in performance studies at the University of Hamburg and also teaches at the University of Primorska. She is a member of the editorial boards of the journals Amfiteater and Performance Research. Her essays have appeared in numerous journals and publications, and she has published four books, including Impossible Body (Maska, Ljubljana 1999), Dangerous Connections: Body, Philosophy and Relation to the Artificial (Maska, Ljubljana 2004), and, as editor, Processes of Work and Collaboration in Contemporary Performance (Maska/Amfiteater, Ljubljana 2010). In recent years, she has also conducted seminars and workshops at many European academies and art institutions as a visiting professor. BACK TO TOP
What’s In an Event?
Thinking about art events allows us to pose old questions in new ways: “what does art do for us”; “what do we expect from art”; “what do we hope for when we go to an art event”? Art institutions certainly recognise that the expectations of their audiences have changed, and a large measure of this is evident in the drive towards participation. A strange form of “democracy” has taken shape where we no longer ask what the work might demand of the viewer/participant/gallery-goer, but instead ask what it is that they require of the work. One possible response is to suggest that what is required is the identification of art with life, and particularly with the life of the community. Art events of all kinds are key to this shift which also involves shifts in modes of subjectification. The demand for participation has a certain anthropological flavour to it, as is evident from the character of many contemporary art events and art works which often make explicit use of materials and themes that deal either with fantasies of otherness (for example, fetishes, ritual, exoticism) or with fantasises of engagement with “real life” (poverty, political comment, saving the world). This presentation discusses three recent art events and explores the question of what it seems in the contemporary moment that we demand of art.
Henrietta L. Moore is a cultural commentator and social theorist. She is the William Wyse Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and writes regularly on art and related issues. Professor Moore has a continuing long term research engagement with Africa, where her research programme has focused on gender, social transformation and symbolic systems. She is one of the leading theorists of gender, and her work has developed a distinctive approach to the analysis of the interrelations of identity and sexuality, embodiment and performance, and material and symbolic systems. She has also written and lectured on Social Theory, Epistemology, Feminist Theory, Anthropology, Gender, Space, Development and Social Enterprise. Professor Moore is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and Academician of the Learned Societies for the Social Sciences. She is also the Chair and co-founder of SHM Productions Ltd, a strategy and insight consultancy based in central London. Her most recent book is Still Life: Hopes, Desires and Satisfactions (Polity Press, Cambridge 2011). BACK TO TOP
Matters of Generosity: On Art and Love
Artworks share some crucial features with gifts – even when they are not given as gifts. For instance, they are not useful and they are difficult to possess. Above all, they are created under conditions of transference: they answer to the presumed desire of the Other. This Other, then, is put into the position of the artist’s ego-ideal. This replacement is what Freud called love. Yet it is not always advantageous for love to feel the Other’s physical presence. The same seems to go for art, too: The more we make the Other present, the less we can establish transference and use it to produce its specific artistic effects. The proliferation of the event thus contributes to the disenchantment of art.
Robert Pfaller is professor of philosophy at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and a visiting professor at universities in Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Oslo, Toulouse, and Zurich. He is member of the psychoanalytic research group “stuzzicadenti” in Vienna and the 2007 winner of the Missing Link Prize, awarded by the Psychoanalytic Seminar Zurich (PSZ). His most important books are Wofür es sich zu leben lohnt: Elemente materialistischer Philosophie (Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2011), Die Ästhetik der Interpassivität (Philo Fine Arts, Hamburg 2009), Das schmutzige Heilige und die reine Vernunft: Symptome der Gegenwartskultur (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2008), Stop that Comedy! On the Subtle Hegemony of the Tragic in Our Culture (Sonderzahl, Vienna 2005; as editor), Die Illusionen der anderen: Über das Lustprinzip in der Kultur (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2002), Althusser – Das Schweigen im Text (Fink, Munich 1997). BACK TO TOP
Violent Events: Between the Real and the Semblant
The paper will look at how the violent events we face in today’s society are dealt with in the domain of art. It will take as a starting point Alain Badiou’s provocative thesis that the real, as perceived in its absolute contingency, is never so real that it cannot be suspected of being a semblant. If suspicion is very much part of how we deal with the real, art often comes to the rescue by creating a system of fiction through which we can actually think through the real. The paper will compare how both actual and staged events of violence deal with the real and the semblant.
Renata Salecl is a professor and senior researcher at the Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, at the University of Ljubljana. She is a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, the Benjamin B. Cardozo School of Law in New York, and at Birkbeck College University in London. Her scientific interpretation of contemporary society is interesting particularly because of her astute analysis of the often invisible and imperceptible phenomena and processes in post-industrial forms of capitalism that adroitly present corporate and political power as the everyday choices, wishes, and ambitions of people. She is the author of the books Choice (Profile Books, London and New York 2010), On Anxiety (Routledge, London and New York 2004), Sexuation (Duke University Press, Durham, N.C. 2000; editor), (Per)versions of Love and Hate (Verso, London and New York 1998), and Discipline as the Condition of Freedom (Krt, Ljubljana 1991; in Slovene). BACK TO TOP
The Broom Event: Of Riots and Reciprocity in London, 2011
In response to the London riots of this summer, an art-activist group organized a cleaning “performance” of the streets, a performance I call “the Broom Event”. The objective of the Broom Event seemed to be not just to clean the streets but to restore a sense of community after the disruption caused by the riots. But which community was there to be restored, after all? I will use this case to address more generally some of the themes of the Biennial: the “social effects” of art events, their relation to religious rituals, and how both conform and perform notions of morality and community that can be highly contentious and contested.
Roger Sansi-Roca received his Ph.D. in social anthropology at the University of Chicago in 2003, after studying also at the universities of Barcelona and Paris. He is a senior lecturer in anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he convenes the master of arts programme in anthropology and cultural politics. He is currently teaching the anthropology of art, anthropological theory, and anthropology and history. He has worked on Afro-Brazilian culture and religion and on contemporary art. His research interests extend from art to religion, cultural policy, fetishism, the philosophy of history, money, the event, the gift, and so on. His most important books are Sorcery in the Black Atlantic (Chicago University Press, Chicago 2011; edited with L. Nicolau) and Fetishes and Monuments: Afro-Brazilian Art and Culture in the 20th Century (Berghahn Books, Oxford and New York 2007). BACK TO TOP