Abstracts

1.

Why objectivistic concepts dominate modern art historiography


In my book Vorm en betekening. Kunstgeschiedenis, semiotiek, semanalyse (Form and signifying process, art history, semiotics, semanalysis) the concept of signifiance, as we know it from the writings of the French psychosemiotician Julia Kristeva, is confronted with the nineteenth century approach of the signifying process, as represented in particular by the Einfühlungstheories. The concept of signifiance implies the relationship between the work of art and the observer. Kristeva's theory is one of the many theories originated during the last decades that pay attention to the process of signification, the constituent role of the signifier and the position of the beholder. Also contemporary art history has been affected by these theories, which from different disciplines, such as philosophy, reception-aesthetics, semiotics and psycho-semiotics. Because of the present interest in this topic, we are inclined to forget that modern art historiography, almost from its origin, has tried to evade this difficult question. But not only modern art historiography, also the above-mentioned aesthetic theories of the nineteenth century have replaced some 'subjectivist' terms by more 'objectivistic' ones. This tendency gets its zenith in the early works of Erwin Panofsky, in which he tried to get out of the beholder-oriented concepts of for example Karl Mannheim and changed his position from a more semiotic one to that of the influential iconologist. More interesting than the establishment of this fact is the question, I like to discuss, why and how 'objectivistic' concepts came to dominate modern art historiography.

2.

Beyond the opposition of objectivistic versus subjectivistic aesthetic theories

In my book Vorm en betekening. Kunstgeschiedenis, semiotiek, semanalyse (Form and signifying process, art history, semiotics, semanalysis) the concept of signifiance, as we know it from the writings of the French psychosemiotician Julia Kristeva, is confronted with the nineteenth century approach of the signifying process, as represented in particular by the Einfühlungstheories. The concept of signifiance implies the relationship between the work of art and the observer. Kristeva's theory is one of the many theories originated during the last decades that pay attention to the process of signification, the constituent role of the signifier and the position of the beholder. Also contemporary art history has been affected by these theories, that came from different disciplines, such as philosophy, reception-aesthetics, semiotics and psycho-semiotics. Because of the present interest in this topic, we are inclined to forget that modern art historiography almost from its origin has tried to evade this difficult question. But not only modern art historiography, also the above-mentioned aesthetic theories of the nineteenth century have replaced some 'subjectivist' terms by more 'objectivistic' ones.In my paper I will argue to what extent the psychosemiotic theory of Julia Kristeva and the concept of signifiance is able to solve the opposition of 'objectivistic' and 'subjectivistic' concepts that are so typical for the German psychological aesthetics during the second half of the last century.

3.

Excreta in Art


At the end of the nineteenth century the concept of art as a mirror of nature was replaced by other concepts, such as the ideas that art has a ethical-educational mission, or that it should solve specific artistic 'problems'. Art needed no longer to be beautiful. The first aesthetic of the ugly was written by the German philosopher Karl Rosenkranz; it brought the ugly into a system, in which also the grotesque, the ordinary, the repulsive, the caricatural, the comical, etc. were situated. My presentation will deal with the abject or repulsive as one of most characteristic features of the art of the nineties. These artworks use sperm, blood, shit etc. as artistic material. They have by their own means a strong appeal to our senses. A main point in discussing these artworks is if abject materials that are used in a representation, keep their repulsive nature or that they are sublimated, in spite of the intentions of the artist to shock or to provoke emotive reactions. From a semiotic point of view these artworks make the question topical if a relation and distinction between the immediacy of a ‘physiognomique’ mode of signification and other, culturally determined modes of signification can be argued. At what point loses abject material its (indexical) ‘nature’ and becomes a symbol?

4.

Art and abjection

One of the most characteristic features of the art of the nineties is the use of abject material, e.g. excreta, rotten material. Although one should consider this material as artistic material, it has by its own means a strong appeal to our senses, causing often physical reactions. A main point in discussing these artworks is, if the abject materials that are used to represent, keep their repulsive nature or that they are sublimated, in spite of the supposed intentions of the artist to shock, to irritate, or to provoke emotive reactions. From a semiotic point of view these artworks make the question topical of the relation between the immediacy of a so-called physiognomique mode of signification and other modes of signification, that are culturally determined. In other words at what point loses abject material its (indexical) nature, if it ever possesses a nature, and becomes a symbol.

5.

Fresh blood: the art of the abject


The question I want to pose is in which respects the presentation of abject materials (in this case blood) in recent art differs from its representation in earlier times.The representation of dead bodies, rotting or bleeding meat has always taken place within the tradition of Western Art. Well known subjects, allowing this kind of representations were themes such as Judith and Holofernes, Salome and the head of John the Baptist, the Crucifixion of Christ, the Descent of the Cross, the Flagellation, the different Vanitas- motifs in Dutch still life painting of the 16th and 17th centuries etc. These representations usually stayed within the scope of what was generally accepted; they were represen­tations in the proper sense as they referred to the suffering of Christ, the finiteness of the earthly existence and the human body. As a rule these representations are not praising the ugly or the repulsive, nor do they transgress the ruling norms and values. However a few works of art are reputed to be an expression of an excessive fascination for the repulsive. One of these works is The Slaughtered Ox by Rembrandt, that centuries later was admired and copied by artists such as Delacroix, Daumier, Soutine and Fautrier. In my presentation I will compare these representations of a representation with the performance art of the seventies as well as with the art of the nineties that uses abject materials as dirt, excrement, dead animals and blood to confront taboo issues and to disturb identity, system and order.By starting from different theoretical propositions I will not only analyse the differences between these categories, but will also show the adequacy of the mainly semiotic and psycho-semiotic theories.

6. 

The representation of the true artificial body

In post human art the idea that the artist is capable to construct the human body by way of new technologies and a new consumer culture, goes together with explicit expressions and representations of primary libidinal drives: oral, anal or genital. In one way or the other, most of these artists make use of the natural drives, of the sexual-loaded mechanical, the ugly, the abject, the uncanny and of the bizarre qualities of the applied materials and representations. What we see is that the traditional opposition of artificiality and naturalness is denied or even disclaimed. The idea of a post human art was first presented in a show organized by the New York based curator Jeffrey Deitch who related this idea to the biological era we are living in. He was inspired mainly by the work of Jeff Koons who emphasized and celebrated “the artifice in art”; the only trustworthy thing artists can aim at in a time in which indexical sign functions are loosing their credibility.

7.

Replay and Interplay. Marina Abramovic’s stage performances as a polysemic device


My presentation deals with the recent theatre performances of Marina Abramovic (Belgrade 1946). The main point of my talk will be Abramovic’s use of a combination of sign-systems taken from visual arts and sign-systems taken from (modern) theatre.In the late sixties and early seventies artists were beginning to use the medium of performances as a “transgressive art-form”, because they wanted to transgress the limits of their own physical or mental state. They were using un-traditional substances - but mainly their own body- in order to confront their audiences with their own obsessions. Some performances still had a kind of script, scenario or choreography, while in others the accidental or fate prevailed. Performances presented reality: the reality of place and time, but also the corporeality of the performer. As far as the content was concerned, almost all performances appeared in the end to have some autobiographic elements. Marina Abramovic’s performances are still the best examples of the performance art of the seventies. In these performances she was looking for a new kind of “energetic” state, that could be reached using her body as material and a conductor of energy. Her audience not only watched her performances, but became in some cases directly involved.While her performances in the 70’s were a denial of the artificiality and bourgeois character of theatre forms, her more recent performances are taking place in a traditional theatrical setting. The older performances showed her obsession with a present situation but her more recent ones, called Biography (1992/4) and Delusional (1994), show her dealing with her own past, as a child, a lover and an artist. This development is completely opposite to that of modern theatre in the 20th century, where the corporeality of the actors became more important than ever, diminishing so it seems the border between performance art and theatrical performances.Biography and Delusional could be considered as a new form of art or theatre, but in my opinion these theatrical performances could be better characterized as a functional synthesis of both discriminate art forms, using the specific qualities of its diverse sign systems. In my presentation I will analyse how she communicates with her audience by using the visual sign systems as well as verbal and textual signs.

8.

M.M. Bakhtin and German 'Kunstwissenschaft'

In my presentation I want to discuss the inheritance of German 'Kunstwissenschaft' in the (early) writings of the Bakhtin circle. During the twenties of this century the art historical principles and other concepts developed by German art historians like Alois Riegl and Heinrich Wölfflin were widely discussed, not only by art historians but also by literary scholars. Well known is, for example, the influence Wölfflin's Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe had amongst archaeologists, ethnologists, psychologists ant theoreticians in the field of literature, music etc. Less known, not to say almost unnoted is the reception of German Kunstwissenschaft by Russian literary scholars whom we now classify as belonging to an early phase of modern semiotics, namely the Russian formalists and postformalists.In the years following the second international congress of the Vereinigung für Aesthetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, which was held in 1924, and devoted to Wölfflin's concept of style, Russian formalists like Boris Eijchenbaum, and the postformalist circle around M.M. Bakhtin (1895-1975) responded to the theoretical concepts of Wölfflin, whose books were translated in Russian from 1912 onwards. These authors subscribed in particular to his topoi of 'Art History without names'.Although Wölfflin was admired by the formalists, his ideas were in my opinion much closer to the postformalists, who were particularly interested in both a general but non-idealistic aesthetics, and in the dynamics of author, work of art, and beholder. Contrary to, for example, the literary scholar Oskar Walzel, they were focused not so much on application of his art historical principles as on a synthesis of knowledge concerning the arts within the context of a philosophically orientated aesthetics. Karl Vossler was in this respect an important link between Wölfflin and the Bakhtin circle.The Russian authors apparently did not consider Wölfflin's Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe as a rupture in his development, but acknowledged the relation between his Einfühlungs-psychologically orientated writings and this book of 1915.Not only Wölfflin played an important part, but certainly also Alois Riegl. Both Bakhtin and Medvedev, one of the two most important members of the Bakhtin circle, agreed with Riegl in their devastating criticism of material aesthetics that modalities like ability (können) have no formative influence on artistic volition. Riegl's Kunstwollen concept was obviously of crucial importance to Bakhtin's semiotic theory. Although the early publications of Bakhtin and Medvedev are most relevant in this matter, also themes of the later writings of Bakhtin could possibly be connected with Riegl's thought. These authors had a remarkably comprehensive understanding of the diverse and complicated implications of Riegl's theory of intentionality and perception.

9.

Empathy and modernity: a willy-nilly relation

At least in three different, not to say opposing ways we are confronted with the concept of empathy (Einfühlung) in the wri­tings of Walter Benjamin. In the first place it is considered and criticised as an assumption on which historicism is based, the notion that identification with the past is possible and necessary for a good understanding of historical situations and figures. In the second place it is accepted, willy-nilly, as a fundamental concept in relation to modernity and a world in which experience is no longer ground for our perceptions. And in the third place it seems to figure, not without strong melancholic overtones, as a straw at which one clutches when all other means of communicating are exhausted. Bertold Brecht, who, in the same way as Benjamin, was quite ambivalent about this human capacity, has attacked the concept of empathy, theorised by several philosophers and psychologists at the end of the nineteenth century, thereafter, not only by Walter Benjamin, but also. Recently Julia Kristeva, semiotician and psychoanalyst, has made empathy a topical subject again. In more than one respect her views are familiar to those of Walter Benjamin. In my paper I will not only pay attention to the ways the concept of empathy is embedded in the writings of Walter Benjamin, but also to the new understanding of it, one we owe to its conceptualisation by Kristeva. My thesis is, that to a certain extent, it seems possible to reconcile the different explanations and evaluations when we take her approach into account.

10.

Footsteps on the screen. Net Art, its project, its orientation, its destination


In Net Art - the way it developed in the last couple of years - a clear division came out between on the one hand “the artists-semioticians”, who investigate either the conventions, procedures and signifying processes of the internet or the intrinsic relation of web art to the visual arts and on the other hand the entertainers, the producers of flash and animation art. The first category is usually looked upon as the avant-gardists who follow the footsteps of modernist art in general and conceptual art in particular. The second category has stronger ties with “the lower culture”, with the culture of hackers, of game makers and of VJ’s. By calling the first category “semioticians”, I want to point out that their activities can be considered as a meta-lingual and often a critical comment to the Internet. In the terminology of the late sixties, Julia Kristeva explained paradoxically, that the aim of semiology is both a better self-understanding and a criticism of semiology: “semiology can only be established as the criticism of semiology.” These words seem to count for the first category as well. The second category corresponds more to her idea of a joyful art practice. Colours, design, moving images and sounds make this second category almost as attractive as computer games. Its audience or, to use the more appropriate term, visitors, become quite often participants as well. They play the game and make it to a certain extent of their own. Generally, this category seems to be less appealing to the official art world leaders, who can easily filter it out of the whole reservoir of net art. But what are the differences between them if one considers it from a semiotic point of view? How can we approach this question? I will try to give an outline of the ways this question could be answered, using some typical examples of recent net art.

11.

The bite of the bytes

For a long time we were used to talk in terms of real versus fictitious or real versus artificial or reality versus virtual reality, knowing what was meant by it. But since we have become deeply conscious of the fact that we are living in a media culture, this has changed. Baudrillard learned us years ago that our culture is dominated by simulated representations. These simulacra brought about that a marked authentic reality disappeared. If we have learned his lesson well, then we would no longer talk in dialectical or opposite terms. How can something that has disappeared exist as the twin term of the fictional or the virtual? However, during the last ten years numerous efforts are made to let the real exist. Film and television producers, visual artists and dramatists seem to be obsessed by the real or at least by what it stands for, namely: authenticity, against the falseness of simulacra. The media have been brought in as a means to stage the real the best it can, better to say to reach the strongest possible effect of the real. Manuel Castells, one of the most notable spokesman of the Network Society, introduced the notion of a real virtuality. He made “the real” the attribute of virtuality, not its opponent. How does this work? Is “real virtuality” more than a sheer slogan? Does it describe the obsession I just mentioned or is it itself a product of this same obsession?

12.

Art and Language UK en USA; een vergelijking

Art and Language heeft binnen de conceptuele kunst vanaf het begin van zijn bestaan altijd een bijzondere positie ingenomen. Daar heeft het zelf in belangrijke mate toe bijgedragen. Om zich te onderscheiden van andere kunstenaars die het predikaat ‘conceptueel’ kregen, noemden Joseph Kosuth, de bekendste representant van de Amerikaanse tak van Art & Language, en de Engelse kunstenaars Terry Atkinson en Michael Baldwin zich ‘pure conceptualisten’. Het verschil tussen hen en andere conceptuele kunstenaars was eigenlijk even groot als tot welke andere kunststroming dan ook. Alleen Sol LeWitt paste in hun straatje. Volgens Art and Language is de kunstwereld verantwoordelijk voor de misvatting dat het kunstkarakter toegeschreven moet worden aan fysieke objecten, hoe minimaal of gedematerialiseerd hun beeldende kwaliteiten ook mogen zijn. Art and Language zocht naar andere wegen om hun ideeën over te brengen naar een publiek, waarbij deze kunstenaars analoog aan de wijze waarop wetenschappers communiceren, een beperkte groep van deskundigen voor ogen hadden. Door Kosuth werd, hiertoe geïnspireerd door het werk van de taalfilosoof A.J. Ayer, ‘de propositie’ ter vervanging van het fysieke object gepresenteerd. In mijn lezing wil ik ingaan op de achtergronden van zowel de Engelse als de Amerikaanse Art and Language kunstenaars, die geheel verschillend zijn, maar van waaruit hun kritische stellingname wel verklaard kan worden. Terwijl de Engelse Art and Language kunstenaars vooral politiek actief waren in het kunstonderwijs, dat in 1968 zwaar onder vuur werd genomen, manifesteerden de Amerikaanse kunstenaars zich vooral “op straat”, samen met actiegroepen binnen de vrouwenbeweging, de Black Movement en kritische schrijverscollectieven. Hun protest was vooral gericht tegen musea, die volledig aan banden waren gelegd door machtige trustees en waar kunstenaars nauwelijks enige invloed op konden uitoefenen. Daarmee vergeleken waren de acties van de Engelse kunstenaars veel kleinschaliger, ook al kreeg het studentenprotest van de kunstopleidingen eind jaren zestig relatief veel landelijke aandacht. Uit mijn verhaal zal blijken dat meer dan bij de Amerikaanse kunstenaars er een directe lijn te trekken is tussen hun politieke inzet en de aard van hun ‘beeldende’ werk eind jaren zestig en begin jaren zeventig.

13.

Fire and Ashes. Modes of Time in the Work of Anselm Kiefer

One of the most striking characteristics of the works of the German artist Anselm Kiefer (1945), is his preoccupation with Germany’s history. Frequently his works refer to the operas of Richard Wagner, the German legends on which these operas are based, or to the more recent past of Nazi-Germany. Other marks are its huge proportions, the use of heterogeneous materials and its melancholic atmosphere. Although the days that are gone, but still exist in one’s memory, seem to play the most dominant part, certainly when we focus our eyes on the level of representation other di­mensions of time appear to be relevant as well. I will demonstrate this by an analysis of the iconic level, as well as by an analysis of the indexi­cal and symbolic sign-functions. Both analyses will generate several modes of time, which however quite often co-exist in one and the same art­work. With a view to a good un­derstanding of the art of Anselm Kie­fer an analysis of the different sign-func­tions and their actu­al cohe­ren­ce within or between his works of art is fundamen­tal. So both a syntagmatic and an intertextual analysis are needed. I will concentrate on those works of Kiefer in which fire and ashes play an im­portant part. These motifs can be considered as crucial with regard to the construction of modes of time as there are past, present, future and eternity.

14.

Infectious or immune?  The semiotic systems of medical science and art

One way in which the indexical sign was traditionally illustrated was by means of red spots as the symptoms of measles.  In major viral illnesses, such visual signs usually remain hidden from view, however. The theory of symptoms was originally an important semiotic discipline within medical science, but its importance has been diminished first by X-ray technology and now even more emphatically by the diagnostic possibilities of new scan technologies that visualize our internal body. When we consider the diagnostic value of MRI scans, we base ourselves on the authority of the scan as an advanced iconic sign, a so-called “hard icon” (Tomas Maldonado), and not as an indexical sign. The semiotic system of scans seems to coincide with the return of the first approach to photography (as iconic sign) that stands in opposition to the notion of photography as indexical sign, stressed since the eighties (amongst others by Dubois and J.M. Schaeffer). I wish to consider whether contemporary cultural productions in the field of art, the body and biotechnology follow the same direction as the developments in medical science and photography – at least the way I have presented them so far.  In what respect(s) do they relate to each other, and if they do not, why not? How do sign systems, sign productions, intentionality and objectives interrelate? I will investigate these questions by an analysis of a few examples taken from the scientific and artistic production examined by participants of the round table. 

15.

Art in the age of the post-medium condition. Theory and practice surrounding De Appel in the mid-seventies

It is not the question Is it art? that dominates the current debate but rather the question Is the medium still a condition of art? Years ago, Joseph Kosuth concluded that the result of the modernist approach of painting had been that art did not become more specific but on the contrary more general. A point of view endorsed by Thierry de Duve in his Kant after Duchamp(1996). The ‘conceptual’ approach rejected the material outfit and its commodity form in favour of the production of a theoretical status. At about the same time Marcel Broodthaers launched his idea of the medium condition of art. According to Rosalind Krauss in her A Voyage on the North Sea. Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, Broodthaers symbol of the eagle expressed not the end of art but the termination of the individual arts as medium specific. What did this mean? Is art  ‘free at last’? Not according to Broodthaers. Yes, free to fly, but flying means also reaching certain destinations, certain sites, each with its own condition. 
Shortly after Broodthaers introduced his idea of the eagle, De Appel opened in Amsterdam as the first European centre specialised in performance art, installation and, in practice, also video art. At first the organization tried  to follow the modernist path by excluding conceptual art and video work because of their commodity forms. Their eagles could land in museums, galleries or shops but did not need a specialised  institute.  This idea conflicted with anti-modernist notions because the inherent theatrical character – in the sense of Michael Fried – of  performance and installation art. But at the same time it was still ‘modernist’ as performance art was made distinctive of theatre representing a totally opposite medium. However,questions remain: how did De Appel’s program and ideas correspond to the actualised events themselves? To what extent was the practice a plea against the modernist vision? 
De Appel introduced right from the start the portapak video camera to recordevents, be it performances, lectures or installations. In addition, artists had access to video equipment also and in their hands it became an instrument to make videos, video-installations or a vehicle to experiment with broadcasting – video as overture for a new television practice. How did these experiments relate to Broodthaers and Krauss’ ideas? How important still was the medium as message? But was this medium/message idea the same as the modernist based medium concept brought into action by Krauss? So my talk will confront the position of Rosalind Krauss, with the performance and media art practice of the mid-seventies, taking the program of De Appel as my case analysis. 

 16.

Experience and conceptualisation of installation art. 

 (with reference to two cases from the project 'Preservation and Presentation of Installation Art': Jeffrew Shaw's and Tjebbe van Tijen's Revolution (1990) and Joseph Kosuth's One and three glasses (1965/1977) ) 

Contemporary Installation Art has a history and many predecessors in Dada, Constructivism, Arte Povera, Happenings and the art of the seventies. Everyone agrees about that. More disputable is the beginning of what we now call installation art, having the installations of the nineties in mind. Jeffrew Shaw’s and Tjebbe van Tijen’s Revolution is a work of the nineties, but should be considered as imbedded in the history of intermedia or multimedia art that goes back to the sixties and seventies. Kosuth’s One and three glasses dates actually from this time. In my talk I will discuss some historical facts, considerations and definitions that form the background of our contemporary understanding of the installation, paying special attention to the role played by De Appel Foundation that has been mentioned as the first venue for installation art. I will argue that most of the installations at that time were still performance related and that this heritage is still relevant for the approach and consequently the preservation of Revolution. I will plead for a methodology that starts with the implied experience of the installation. Kosuth’s One and three glasses has a different background, but the question is which. The work belongs to a series of proto-investigations, that were important for his later conceptual artworks but were not yet considered pure conceptual. For the presentation of this work it seems to me crucial to situate the work in relation or opposition to Minimal Art, his later conceptual art and the activities of Art & Language, the group he, as the American editor of Art-Language, belonged too. In stead of experience, the conceptualisation as another, more mental than physical activity of the perceiving agency should form the kernel of the proposed method of approach.

17.

New Babylon or a virtual house for the artworld citizen

The subject of my paper, which is related to my (ASCA) research project Practices in art as network practices, are several conceptions of the term ‘glocalisation’ and how this concept is conceived by artists as well as by curators. In the last decade old object orientated art practices are ousted by new global as well as local socio-artistic communities and/or network practices. Remote areas got access to the international art discourse that stimulated new democratic structures to bridge cultural, ethnic, social and gender related gaps. The globalisation of technology and telecommunication, that according to some people implies a de-particularisation and homogenisation, has called for an accentuation of particularities and differences, also expressed by the concept of relational specificity. It is this duality of global/local, often contracted in the adjective ‘glocal’ that I will focus on, asking questions such as: how is it defined, what kind of world views does it express, what sorts of operations are brought into action, who is the addressee and what are the goals of these art practices? It is mainly because the concept of glocalisation reveals but also covers up what is relevant for the art of today, that I think it is necessary to pose these critical questions.

18.

The sign-ificance of showing insign-ificant pictures

Two expositions will be the subject of my talk. The first, called Breaking the Silence, is an exposition of snapshots made by Israeli soldiers and accompanied by their written and spoken testimonies. No ‘art’ pictures, no photo press pictures, but just ordinary, not to say trivial pictures of their lives as soldiers and their daily confrontations or meetings with the Palestine. The other exposition, better to say two-part installation, is made by a well known artist, Aernout Mik. The first part, called Raw Footage, is a two-channel video installation for which Mik used documentary footage made during the Balkan War, that are stored in media archives. War rushes, they call it, insignificant and therefore not commercial interesting footage. The second part, also a video installation, called Scapegoats, is a fiction staged by the artist. In my presentation I will compare Breaking the Silence and the first part of the installation of Mik. What do they have in common? The one being made by soldiers, the other by an artist, the first a photo exposition, the other a topical installation work. In principal both have to do with war and are intended to comment on war in a critical sense. Both are using trivial or insignificant pictures. But also pictures of which one might ask ‘how do they speak?’ Mik shows his material without any comment, the photo exposition on the contrary uses a surplus of additional ‘texts’ explaining the subject of the pictures but also preventing us of misunderstanding. Having seen the exhibition first makes one suspicious about how to interpret the footage: Are we able to understand us these pictures? In short: how do these pictures with text communicate compared to the images without text? How Mik’s artistic installation tells its story? Is there a relation between the insignificance of the pictures and the possibility, not to say probability of misunderstanding?

19.

The Dutch Neo-Avant-Garde. One of a kind?

Two years after Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde was published, German literary scientists and only one art historian, better known as an architectural historian, published their ‘answers’ on this, at that time already in Europe, very influential booklet. It would take another 20 years till an American art historian wrote his answer, namely Hal Foster in The Return of the Real of 1996. His answer dealt with the question of the relation of the historical avant-garde of the visual arts and the neo-avant-garde, about which he had a far more positive opinion, even so that he stated that our reception of the historical avant-garde is based on the fact that the neo-avant-garde draw the attention on the historical avant-gardes or even created this idea of an avant-garde. There are two presuppositions in his ‘Theory’ that need to be investigated. The first is his idea of a forgotten historical avant-garde and a reawakening by the neo-avant-garde of its memory. The second that this is a general phenomenon, so that what counts for the US also counts for the different European countries. Also Andreas Huyssen confirms the idea of a forgotten historical avant-garde, but is only referring to the US and Germany and its post-war relation. In my presentation I would like to draw the attention to the Dutch situation, and the Dutch memory of the historical avant-garde by the so called neo-avant-gardes. As in Italy, I think, one cannot speak here about a forgotten historical avant-garde, which however does not automatically imply another relation between the two. Nevertheless, I will argue that the Dutch neo-avant-gardes distinguished themselves in quite a few respects: 1. Its relation to the political avant-gardes of that time. I will take Provo as an example; 2. The liberal political and cultural climate of the Netherlands; 3. The lack of a dominant Father of Modernism as in the US; 4. Related to the last point: a lack of fear for kitsch and a loss of autonomy. This last point I will show by discussing the work of Willem de Ridder, founder of several underground magazines and venues and also chairman of the European branch of the Zero Movement and Wim T. Schippers, who called himself a A-dynamical artist and has been a highly influential television maker. Boundaries between art and politics, high art and low culture and artistic groups amongst themselves, such as Fluxus, Zero/NUL and the A-dynamic Group, were in the Netherlands easily transgressed. Does the Dutch situation represents at best the postmodern condition?


20.

Semiotics and New Art History. Should we be happy over the application of semiotics?

Semiotics has greatly influenced the different approaches within New Art History. The term New Art History (NAH) is an English term, which was coined in England in 1982 but which embraces approaches and fields of studies that became topical already in the late sixties in several other countries, especially in Germany. These approaches injected semiotics into social historical, psychoanalytical, gender theoretical and poststructuralist approaches of the visual arts. It is now one of the two new art histories that has a chapter in Wikipedia, most likely superseding the place social art history would have had if there had been such a Wikipedia file years ago. What are the main topics of the New Art History and which of these concerns is of interest to semioticians? To summarize its features: NAH is viewer oriented (intentio lectoris); it puts the individual art work in the center; several meanings or interpretations are possible; facts are not given, but constructed and selected and the context is a frame or a selection of ‘texts’. The terminology of semiotics is everywhere present in contemporary new art historical texts. We stumble over signifiers and signifieds, icons and indexes. But do we want to stumble over other concepts as well? What are the consequences when NAH hardly makes any difference between Saussurean and Peircean semiotics, when other directions and semioticians are seldom mentioned, when the status quo of the situation of semiotics in the seventies is still sufficient? Is the influence of semiotics on NAH not big enough or maybe too heterogeneous to be really influential? Is one of its most important research questions ‘how is meaning constructed?’ too far from the NAH’s bed? What are the priorities of semiotics itself if new art historians would ask for it?These questions of semiotics become more difficult but also more relevant if we take the new developments in visual culture in consideration. To give two examples that concerns me most: 1. the development of new digital media and 2. the blurring boundaries between high and low culture, in particular between contemporary art and (fashion) design.During my presentation I will introduce these questions a bit more and will shortly  illustrate them with examples from NAH texts (Rosalind Krauss, Griselda Pollock, Francis Frascina, Mieke Bal e.a.), and elaborate on topics in the field of digital photography and fashion design. Because these developments in my field, art history, are far from being settled, I look forward to the discussion about these issues.

21.

The Phantastic history of the Sonsbeek exhibitions 1949-2008

The history of the Sonsbeek exhibitions goes back to 1949, years before the first Dokumenta in Kassel started.  At first it was meant as a biennale, soon after as a triennial, but since 1958 the interval became irregular.  The first four editions were very successful, in terms of the public response and the number of visitors. They all gave an overview of international classic modern art, often with subjects related to the Second World War. The fifth edition however could not compete anymore with other international events, and therefore the policy changed radically.  Since then the Sonsbeek exhibitions showed contemporary art. The next one, Sonsbeek buiten de perken (1977; curator: Wim Beeren), is still the most world famous, in spite of the fact that the number of visitors was low and the local reception was very critical.  Sonsbeek buiten de perken (Sonsbeek beyond lawn and order) was called an event or activity, not an exhibition, crossing literally the borders of the park, even the borders of the Netherlands, and going far beyond the exhibiting of ‘normal’ sculptures. This manifestation set the tone for the spatial metaphors all the curators of the later Sonsbeek exhibitions used, to characterize and to legitimize their conceptions, however different these appeared to be.  Sonsbeek 86 (curator Saskia Bos) stayed in the park and showed the colorful works of artists of the arte povera generation and younger new sculpture movements; Sonsbeek 93 (Valerie Smith) and  Sonsbeek 9 (2001; curator Jan Hoet) created three circles, representing geographical and, in the case of Sonsbeek 93 also social areas of the city of Arnhem.  The last Sonsbeek exhibition of 2008 (curator: Anna Tilroe), called Grandeur, is best known for its so-called procession bringing art works through the town and symbolically back to the park.In this lecture Marga van Mechelenen discussed the history of the two traditions, the curatorial concepts of the second series, its spatial metaphors, the art works shown in the exhibitions, as well as its public response and the cultural policy of the city of Arnhem.

22.

Survival Kits. Artistic Responses on Globalisation

The subject of the related paper, part of the  (ASCA) research project Practices in art as network practices, starts from several conceptions of the term ‘glocalisation’ and how this concept is conceived by curators but on the first place by artists and designers. In the last decade old object orientated art practices are ousted by new global as well as local socio-artistic communities and/or network practices. Remote areas got access to the international art discourse that stimulated new democratic structures to bridge cultural, ethnic, social and gender related gaps. The globalisation of technology and telecommunication, that according to some people implies a de-particularisation and homogenisation, has called for an accentuation of particularities and differences, also expressed by the concept of relational specificity. It is this duality of global/local, sometimes contracted in the adjective ‘glocal’ that is focused on, asking questions such as: how is it defined, what kind of world views does it express, what sorts of operations are brought into action, who is the addressee and what are the goals of these art practices? Because the concept of glocalisation reveals but also covers up what is relevant for the art of today, it is necessary to put these questions.


 23.

Art after conceptual art – a few statements and questions

Conceptual art still continues to raise new questions. It is described as a turning point, but a turning point between what? And where and when should this pivotal moment be placed? The canonical texts by Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth and the Art & Language group already lead to different answers. Whereas LeWitt emphasizes the rift between his own artistic practice and that of ‘expressionist’ art, and Art & Language make a distinction between the purity of their own conceptual art and the relative impurity of others, Kosuth has always advocated a broader approach: art after (and in keeping with) Duchamp. The concept of ‘the idea’ that all parties adopt has mainly concealed their mutual differences. The broader approach is not limited to Kosuth, it is also apparent in Lucy Lippard’s Six Years (1973) and, far more recently, in the book compiled and introduced by Peter Osborne Conceptual Art (1996), which follows Kosuth by including a pre-history and which also includes performance artists, broadly speaking consistent with Lippard. Marga van Mechelen's approach is critical of a limited canonization of conceptual art, particularly one apparently based on Seth Siegelaub’s stable of artists, and above all it aims to raise questions concerning the differences in artistic, socio-political and cultural environment in which conceptual artists, including performance artists, are rooted all over the world. A second series of questions is intended to address the continued effect of notions derived from conceptual art in art education and thus in the later practices of art. How, for example, does an artist today legitimize his or her working process and social position?

24.

The precious history of the Sonsbeek exhibitions

 

The history of the Sonsbeek exhibitions goes back to 1949, years before the first Dokumenta in Kassel started.  At first it was meant as a biennale, soon after as a triennial, but since 1958 the interval became irregular.  The first four editions were very successful, in terms of the public response and the number of visitors. They all gave an overview of international classic modern art, often with subjects related to the Second World War. The fifth edition however could not compete anymore with other international events, and therefore the policy changed radically.  Since then the Sonsbeek exhibitions showed contemporary art. The next one, Sonsbeek buiten de perken (curator: Wim Beeren), is still the most world famous, in spite of the fact that the number of visitors was low and the local reception was very critical.  Sonsbeek buiten de perken (Sonsbeek beyond lawn and order) was called an event or activity, not an exhibition, crossing literally the borders of the park, even the borders of the Netherlands, and going far beyond the exhibiting of ‘normal’ sculptures. This manifestation set the tone for the spatial metaphors all the curators of the later Sonsbeek exhibitions used, to characterize and to legitimize their conceptions, however different these appeared to be.  Sonsbeek 86 (curator Saskia Bos) stayed in the park and showed the colorful works of artists of the arte povera generation and younger new sculpture movements; Sonsbeek 93 (Valerie Smith) and  Sonsbeek 9 (2001; curator Jan Hoet) created three circles, representing geographical and, in the case of Sonsbeek 93 also social areas of the city of Arnhem.  The last Sonsbeek exhibition of 2008, called Grandeur, is best known for its so-called procession bringing art works through the town and symbolically back to the park.

After a short introduction of the first series by showing  2 minutes of  films produced for the Dutch film theatres at that time, Marga van Mechelen will discus the curatorial concepts of the second series, its spatial metaphors, the art works shown in the exhibitions, as well as its public response and the cultural policy of the city of Arnhem. 

25. 

Today’s writing history of the year 1969: Nowadays approaches of landmarks such as When Attitudes become Form and Op losse schroeven

Modernism and avant-garde art have always been connected to ‘the international’, ignoring national differences and often also the relation to specific political circumstances. Paradoxically, the later global developments urge us to reconsider these approaches of art and culture. This reconsideration is done in different ways and will be continued expectantly. Only to mention the series Exhibition Histories, the Former West project or L’Internationale – Post-War Avant-Gardes Between 1957 and 1986 and Museum of Parallel Narratives. Projects that are explicitly motivated by contemporary global relations and artistic practices. What are the further intentions of these projects, in what kind of methodologies and epistemological conceptions are they grounded? More often than  not these projects circle around landmarks for reasons that also ask for critical reflection. The exhibitions When Attitudes Become Form and Op losse schroeven of the year 1969 were such landmarks. These exhibitions recently gained a remarkable widespread attention again by publications and reconstructions of – partly – the exhibitions themselves.

In my contribution I will report on the outcomes of my master course, entitled 1969/1989, in which we investigated the contemporary, after 1989 reception of 1969 artistic events, mainly exhibitions, but also larger installations and organisations, in comparison with earlier approaches of this time period and especially the events that are now subject of renewed interest. The histories of the two exhibitions mentioned above, were part of this research, but more artistic events were investigated and considered, not only from different art historical perspectives but also taking into account historical evaluations and approaches of more recent date.

26.

All the World’s protesting artists

My topic will not concern the third question about the aesthetics of the protest movements, nor one of the other three questions and fields of the conference, but the contemporary aesthetics of critical and protesting artists or collectives operating in the art world and often beyond this scene. One of the main, notable features of artists that are associated with political or social actions is that they found ways to escape from the idea of being part of and subservient to a movement or constituting a program with clear activist goals. Not to be so easily tangible seems to be one of its characteristics. Though protest movements, such as Occupy, developed a new sign language that infected other movements or actions, the most intriguing strategies, positions and action tools using different sensory levels, are to be found elsewhere. The Venice Biennale of the year 2015 organized by the Afro-American curator Okwui Enwezor presented a good selection of these artists and collectives, that I would like to present in my paper. With the exception of one or two, none of them put in the vocabulary or the visual language of older protest movements. As far as the last part of the question of this section of this conference is concerned, namely the challenge to dominant cultural regimes, I think that these examples have much to offer, in daily practice but also as a theoretical object. 

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