Center of Contemporary Art
GOALS and METHOD:
The Center of Contemporary Art is specifically dedicated to questions and issues arising from within contemporary art and art studies, issues here considered as central to social developments in their current constellation as much as in their historical genesis. Hence the aim is to explore the potential of art in contemporary contexts, with innovative interdisciplinary research to be conducted and cooperations established. The possibility emerges, on the one hand, of drawing together important questions in contemporary culture from a historical and systematic perspective while making use of all disciplines constituting our knowledge of the present and, on the other, of releasing art from the passive state of the purely reflexive medium in order to apprehend its full creative and problem-orientated potential. Thus the center explicitly caters for fundamental research practices involving artists. Five (5) core themes are examined historically, systematically and methodologically with view to forming an overall context in their interplay (see below). The Center for Contemporary Art at the KFU represents a unique opportunity in research, namely of being able to function self-consciously as actor in scholarship and research. Methods, theories and perspectives are not taken for granted, but render possible the observation and validation of the center’s own approaches.
The Center of Contemporary Art explicitly bases itself on the following perspectives:
1. Fundamental research conducted in art and art studies and transferred to interdisciplinary and international contexts. For this reason, the chosen core themes do not follow the principle of coherence in the framework of discipline-specific questions. The aim is, rather, to explore the most active and interesting constellations and zones of exchange. The fact that interdisciplinary projects tend to remain stuck in a rather unsatisfactory form of additive interdisciplinarity – stringing together various different discipline-specific perspectives – can be explained from their primary focus on a specific area of study. The definition of disciplines on the basis of such subject areas, however, is characteristic of the demarcations drawn between the disciplines, something which art historians such as Walter Benjamin and Aby Warburg, among others, tirelessly and polemically criticized as “territorialism”, as “border control”. Against this, attending to different epistemological forms and methods, to techniques and material practices, to figures of knowledge and metaphors enables a refocusing toward those aspects that have always already circulated between the different disciplines and cultures of knowledge. In terms of the center’s aims, then, it seems apt that it would not assemble around particular objects of study, but along the lines of given correspondences. The aim is to transfer dispersed and latent conjunctions into the form of a systematic and manifest exchange, that is, to form a praxis of linking correspondences (in the Benjaminian sense) and to develop them further.
2. In the U.S., it is not uncommon for artists to be integrated into the university as researchers and teachers – not only in the humanities, for instance in art and literature departments, but also in some science departments or research institutions such as Cal Tech (California Institute of Technology) or MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – whereas in the German-speaking parts of Europe, artists are, at best, employed in art schools as practice-experienced experts of art. As much as any other specialists, however, artists engage with particular topics, technological and media-related issues, cultural or political questions – from the perspective of art; yet the reception of their contributions largely takes place on an individual plane. The organization of a systematic, issue-centered exchange between artists and academics requires testing forms of cooperation not limited to coincidence or the occasional encounter at an event. At the Center for Contemporary Art, interdisciplinary project teams made up of artists – among others – respond to topical issues in relation to a concrete core theme set annually.
Involvement at the Center can be advertised – which does not exclude the possibility that individual persons might be pointed to the call for applications.
The conception and organization is developed by the professorship and research group for modern and contemporary art. Together they will (1) sketch points of intersection between current artistic and scholarly work on the respective core theme and its historical genesis, (2) prepare, subsequent to the selection of the team members and in collaboration with them, the annual core theme, (3) monitor the cooperation and (4) evaluate it with view to theoretically reflected questions. Such a center would have the ability, for instance, to investigate and make accessible the role of creativity for social processes.
The results of the cooperation based on fundamental research and the interdisciplinary collaboration between participants will, in a second step, contribute to teaching, introducing innovative approaches and methods. The center explicitly serves the – necessary – specialization of students enrolled in the M.A. as well as of doctoral candidates. In doing so, it not only seeks to respond to the desideratum of specialized, research-based teaching methods in KFU Art History, but also to strengthen the Austrian, European and international visibility of Graz as a site of research and learning due to this significant accentuation of modernity and the contemporary enacted by the Center for Contemporary Art and Culture in concert with the Institute of Art History. It is precisely this process that the annual core themes will set in motion, with distinguished personalities invited to Graz.
In cooperation with other centers situated at the KFU and a number of institutes, a specialized teaching program can be offered that significantly contributes to the internationalization of teaching.
Another point of emphasis is the close collaboration with museums and exhibition sites in Graz, so as to integrate as a stable component into our teaching museum studies and curatorial studies. In this respect, the guiding expertise of our cooperation partners Kunsthaus Graz (Dr Barbara Steiner) and SVA NYC (Prof. Suzanne Anker) will vouchsafe the quality of our teaching.
IV Support of Junior Researchers
The center’s working method – operating on the basis of long-term focalizations – chimes with the long-term approach taken in M.A. programs and, even more so, as part of writing a Ph.D. thesis. For the center enables project-based, applied, research-based teaching units spanning a relatively long period of time (such as an academic year), springboards that help students write their M.A. and Ph.D. theses. Furthermore, students can draw on the excellent networks of the professorship for modernity in regional, national and international contexts.
V Social Objectives
1. The Idea of Europe
The history of the creation of Europe is based on a myth: Europa, the daughter of Agenor, King of Phoenicia, is robbed by Zeus – appearing in the shape of a white bull – and taken from Phoenicia to Crete. In light of this narrativization, Europe has always already been a nomadic figure: it is the homeland of others, yet embodies a break with its own origins. Hence a basic tension underlies the continent, a tension that can be translated – and continuously translated anew – into a political vision: it is not a continent pre-determined by geography, but rather based on the pseudo-geographic, cultural, political and social association of its peoples. This context is especially relevant for the country of Austria, its history having influenced the idea of Europe to such a degree. Contemporary art is especially attuned to the context sketched, as much as to the current political, social, legal and cultural situation of Europe and its position in a global setting. Within the discipline, critical art history is drawing attention to these circumstances, assessing critically the striking Eurocentrism of art historiography.
2. The Idea of America
The continent of America is closely tied to Europe. After all, formulations of ‘The Old World’ and ‘The New World’ are still in circulation, marking both the dividing and the connecting lines between the continents. North America has been of foundational importance for twentieth-century art, as illustrated by Serge Guiltbault’s publication significantly entitled ‘How New York has Stolen the Idea of Modern Art from Paris’, indicating the proclamation and manifestation of the switch of the center of artistic and cultural ‘modernity’ from Europe (specifically Paris) to NYC. This transfer has shaped notions of the modern and modernity in twentieth-century art. These are also notions, however, that are based on foundational myths reinforcing art historiography’s Eurocentrism and that contribute to the unquestioned dominance of North America.
As a ‘country of immigration’, furthermore, notions of identity or the nation diverge from those present in Europe; social, cultural, economic and legal viewpoints refer to inner-continental conflicts. It is from such contexts that ‘Critical Race Studies’ and related fields have emerged, of central importance to art and manifesting themselves in art.
3. ‘Hello World’ – Global Art and Art Historiography
The documenta in Kassel and the biennials of the world show clearly that it is no longer possible to think art from an exclusively European and/or North-American perspective. An art history aware of its relevance and significance for the production of culture cannot ignore these developments and engage with culture only from a European perspective. What is necessary is rather the methodical reflection of the European concept of art in the context of the global, as well as to do justice to a contemporary art practice that increasingly refuses to situate its point of gravity in the Western world.
4. The Interdisciplinary
Interdisciplinary questions are indispensable for the contemporary moment with view to recognizing the increasing complexity of the world and its problem horizons, meeting these circumstances adequately, examining them, and supplying concrete responses that are socially relevant from within both academia and art.
5. Alternative Descriptions of Modernity and the Contemporary in History and Self-Conception
Historically, the Center of the Contemporary conceives of modernity as ranging from ‘around 1780’ to today (corresponding to the approach taken in teaching and research at the Professorship for Modernity at the Institute of Art History), with the period of around 1850 further accentuated in terms of Baudelaire’s paradigm of ‘modern life’. In the historical analysis of modernity, emphasis is placed on the notion of ‘epochal thresholds’ (Klinger) that have characterized modernity to the present and that have been foundational to the ‘cascades of modernization’ (Gumbrecht). Such an orientation, in fact, conditions any critical view on the aesthetic category of the “modern” as much as the “contemporary” in art. Methodologically, both critical engagement with the discipline and addressing its various historical, theoretical and artistic transformations are of significance. Such an approach requires a reconfigured notion of theory.
For there have been historical parallels to this notion of the ‘modern’ since the end of the eighteenth century; it has stood for epistemological approaches to objects that cannot be grasped via traditional methods of observation or categories of analysis and hence necessitate new ways of seeing and forms of access (one might think, for instance, of the discipline of philosophical aesthetics founded by A. G. Baumgarten in 1750, as well as of new forms of aesthetic theorization).
This is the perspective from which discursive shifts and historical experiences are examined, as are the different forms and functions of theory of and about art competing with one another – not least in terms of the distinctions established with regard to other academic subjects such as philosophy, cultural studies, visual studies, etc. Such a historical perspective on theory must not, however, exhaust itself in routines of historicization, but rather be perceived as a problem and theoretical task of its own.