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Workshop | October 21, 2022

Text auf grün-grauem Farbverlauf: Sculptured Surfaces, Bodily Interfaces. The Long 1980s
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On the occasion of the exhibition "Future Bodies from a Recent Past", the academic workshop "Sculptured Surfaces, Bodily Interfaces. The Long 1980s" will take place at Museum Brandhorst. How did artists reflect and react to narratives of body and identity and their correlation with technological developments in the late 1970s to early 1990s? With contributions from international guests, the workshop is dedicated to the changing notions of sculpture of this period—also with regard to its topicality.

Introduction

Numerous works of art from recent years have questioned the human subject and ideas around body and gender. But already in the long 1980s, artists reflected and reacted in their expanded sculptural practices to narratives of body and identity and their correlation with technological developments.

 

With contributions from international guests, the academic workshop focuses on the late 1970s to early 1990s, when the consequences and influences of information technologies on the subject became a tangible reality. These were increasingly discussed and taken up in art discourses, in which the technological infiltration of the subject appears as a dystopian scenario of commodified, monitored, and controlled bodies, as well as a potential space for new performative and relational bodies.

 

During this period, the workshop argues, it is the material and media surfaces of sculptural works that artists used to reflect on the status of the subject. The dissolution and passage of the subject and its “fixed” body into electronic circuits and televisual regimes of representation is accompanied by an attention to its surface, which has become permeable. In this way, the workshop aims to develop a perspective on the interface of sculpture–subject–technology, for which the term “assemblage” has been mainly used so far.

 

“Sculptured Surfaces, Bodily Interfaces: The Long 1980s” discusses works that switch between screen and sculpture, abstraction and figuration, the handmade and the digital, and between the performative and the object-like, as well as bodies that oscillate between material presence and informational absence. Understanding the heterogeneity of sculptural production between the late 1970s and the early 1990s as a symptom, we explore the interconnections of body and sculpture in technological, social, and political contexts, especially with regard to their topicality.

 

The workshop is conceived by Antje Krause-Wahl and Franziska Linhardt. It takes place in conjunction with the exhibition “Future Bodies from a Recent Past—Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s” at Museum Brandhorst and in cooperation with the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.

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Registration

No registration necessary | Participation is possible at any time

The workshop takes place in the lounge and the foyer at Museum Brandhorst, Theresienstraße 35 A, Munich

Program

10:00 AM

Welcome

Patrizia Dander, Museum Brandhorst

 

Introduction: Technology and Materiality: Bodies in 1980s Exhibitions

Antje Krause-Wahl, Franziska Linhardt & Tizian Holzbach

 

10:45 – 11:30 AM

Anything but a Robot: Technological Disfigurations of Sculpture

Simon Baier, University of Basel

 

11:45 – 12:30 PM

Posthuman Self-Creations: Charles Ray’s Hyperrealistic Male Bodies as Biotechnological Reembodiments

Maike Wagner, Ruhr-University Bochum

 

12:30 AM – 1:15 PM

What is the Matter? Robert Longo’s Sculptural Practice in the 1980s

Clara J. Lauffer, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main

 

2:30 – 3:15 PM

Projected Passion, Dismembered Emotion: The Subversion of Expression in the Work of Tony Oursler and Bruce Nauman

Eva Ehninger, Humboldt University of Berlin

 

3:15 – 4:00 PM

A Fragmented Mirror: Renegotiations of Media Realities and the Production of Subjectivity in Theo Eshetu’s “Till Death Us Do Part” (1982–1987)

Lukas Heger, Goethe-Institut Munich

 

4:30 – 5:15 PM

Total Recall: Mediated Bodies in Video Installations by Gretchen Bender and Judith Barry

Kassandra Nakas, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

 

5:15 – 6:00 PM

Mike Kelley’s American Uncanny 

Piper Marshall, Columbia University, New York and Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

 

7:00 – 7:45 PM

Deviant Scale

Jenni Sorkin, University of California, Santa Barbara

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ABSTRACTS & CVS

 

10:45 – 11:30 AM

Anything but a Robot: Technological Disfigurations of Sculpture

Simon Baier, University of Basel

 

The sculptural production of the 1980s can be placed against the background of two opposing theoretical propositions. Rosalind E. Krauss argues in “Passages in Modern Sculpture” (1977) that Modernist sculpture should be seen as the antithesis of the transparency of the machine and the deterministic and programmable model of the robot in particular. The human body is thereby conceptualized as an opaque surface, whose psyche and soma is to remain untouched by the implementation of digital technology. Krauss’s model can be read as a reaction against Jack Burnham’s “Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of This Century” (1968). Burnham argues for a sculptural production, which keeps up with the progress of digital technology. He proposes that artistic production should give up mimetic models of sculpture and instead install cybernetic systems in order to produce and replicate social relations. Following these two propositions sculpture can either produce analogue anthropomorphic surfaces or non-anthropomorphic technological relations. Phenomenology and cybernetics thereby stand in the background of this dichotomy as mutually exclusive, possible theoretical foundations for a theory of sculpture.

In this paper, I would like to argue that the sculptural production of the 1980s marks an overcoming of precisely this theoretical impasse. It develops a new structure in which human embodiment and technological relations are no longer mutually exclusive options, but instate a new, yet highly problematic fusion.

 

Simon Baier is Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He writes on the intersections between digital technology, ecology, and Contemporary art as well as the politics of the historical avant-gardes. His books include: “Feld und Signal: Aporien der Malerei bei El Lissitzky und Kasimir Malewitsch, 1928” (2021); “Kunst ohne Bewusstsein? Materialistische Perspektiven auf Kunst und Technik” (forthcoming, 2022); as well as numerous essays in journals and exhibition catalogs. He received his PhD in the history of art from the University of Zurich and is a member of the Board of Directors of eikones, Center for the Theory and History of the Image at the University of Basel.

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11:45 – 12:30 PM

Posthuman Self-Creations: Charles Ray’s Hyperrealistic Male Bodies as Biotechnological Reembodiments

Maike Wagner, Ruhr-University Bochum

 

Since the early 1990s, the discourse around posthuman bodies has been developing in the visual arts, illustrating the ubiquitous hybrid status of humans and technology and seeking new forms of embodiment beyond binary boundaries. While the role of feminist art has been intensively addressed both in the field of cyberfeminism and in its engagement with body politics since the 1970s, works that deal directly with the technological penetration of the male body have hardly been explored to date.

This presentation will therefore use two works by the American artist Charles Ray, “Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley” (1992) and “Family Romance” (1993), to explore the question of how these sculptural representations of the male body process the optimization impulse of the 1980s and respond to the incipient discussion of the posthuman body at the beginning of the 1990s. In both works, the artist addresses the, at that time, ubiquitous fascination and concern with new developments in genetic engineering by using the medium of hyperrealist sculpture to design uncanny-looking copies of himself, which either interact with each other sexually or are placed in a monstrous family genealogy. In this way, Ray not only denaturalizes patriarchal family constructions and heteronormative sexual constellations, but also opposes the body optimization visible in the 1980s in toned and ultra-fit male body designs, which, at the same time, is in line with a transhuman self-perfection.

As this presentation shows, it is precisely the medium of hyperrealist sculpture that, following on from the motif of the doll as uncanny double, marks the point at which humanity tips over into a posthuman dissolution of the singular subject status. At the same time, in the resolidification of human contours and sculptural surfaces, the real human body is once again invoked as a norm and carrier of patriarchally shaped subjectivity. These ambivalences between the posthuman refusal of a masculine connoted compulsion to optimize, and the simultaneous maintenance of humanist notions of masculinity will be considered in this lecture.

 

Maike Wagner studied cultural studies and Modern and Contemporary art history in Lüneburg, Bochum, and Osaka, Japan. Since 2020, she has been working on her PhD on the topic “Posthuman Masculinities: Optimized and Modified Male Bodies in Contemporary Art” at Ruhr-University Bochum. Since 2021, she has also been a research associate in the DFG-funded project “Masculinities Under (Re)Construction” at Ruhr-University Bochum. She has recently presented her research at lecture series and conferences at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; Humboldt University of Berlin; University of Duisburg-Essen; University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, Windisch; and Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

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12:30 AM – 1:15 PM

What is the Matter? Robert Longo’s Sculptural Practice in the 1980s

Clara J. Lauffer, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main

 

Robert Longo’s ecstatic, bizarre, and aggressive sculptural reliefs show a range of images from naked male torsos and collapsed buildings, to satellites. In his “Combines” series (1982–1986), the American artist transforms images from television, newspapers, or his own previous work into intermedial sculptures. As part of the so-called “Pictures Generation,” Longo appropriated images to address his own experience growing up with the spectacle of television. However, beyond applying Baudrillard’s critique of the information society, I will address the orgasmic ecstasy, masculine stereotypes, and violence in his “Combines.” Unlike previous research, I will situate Longo’s works in the sociopolitical climate of the 1970s and 1980s in the United States (Vietnam War, Culture Wars, Gay Liberation Movement) and argue that Longo produces his own white masculinity through his works. In connection to the exhibition “Future Bodies from a Recent Past—Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s,” I examine the effects and implications of mass media on the sculptural practice and performance of gender in the “Pictures Generation.” Asking “What is the matter?” my lecture will shed light on the material transformation of media images and problematize white masculinity in the 1980s.

 

Clara J. Lauffer is a doctoral candidate in art history at the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, and a fellow of the Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft. Her research interests include masculinity, media theory, critical whiteness, and materiality in American and European art from the 1950s onward. Her thesis “Rewriting the Pictures Generation: the Production of Masculinity in Appropriation Art” explores the limited understanding of masculinity and identity in the works of the “Pictures Generation” from an art-historical perspective. For this project she received a Terra Foundation for American Art Research Travel Grant. She worked at the Contemporary art collection of the European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Main and as a research assistant at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich. Lauffer has a master’s degree from the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.

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2:30 – 3:15 PM

Projected Passion, Dismembered Emotion: The Subversion of Expression in the Work of Tony Oursler and Bruce Nauman

Eva Ehninger, Humboldt University of Berlin

 

In the 1990s the two American artists Tony Oursler and Bruce Nauman combined screen and sculpture to revisit a fundamental and age-old artistic challenge: the expression of emotion. The complex relationship between the emotional state of the artist himself, the emotions he depicts in his figures, and the feelings that are aroused by looking at the work of art have been a regular topic in art theory and practice since the 17th century. Since then, the challenge to depict and interpret emotions correctly has fostered interconnections between art historical and scientific discourses, and the regular application of novel technologies—such as the electric current or photography—to enhance, isolate, and accentuate expressions for further analysis. Expressions occupy an ambivalent space between individuality and community, and between internal movement and socially, as well as technologically, determined code. In the titles of their works, Oursler and Nauman regularly posit the ability to express and interpret emotion as an anthropological constant. Their installations, I argue, address and subvert this trust in human faculty, by framing passion and emotion as technologically predetermined, mediated, and disconnected surface phenomena. Utilizing novel projection technologies, the artists visualize this as a consequence of the constant technological onslaught on the human body. At the same time, they find different ways to forcefully demand emotional responses from their audiences.

 

Eva Ehninger is Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Art and Visual History, Humboldt University of Berlin. Her research focuses, on among other topics, the media history of representation and the history and critique of Modernism. Her publications include: “Vom Farbfeld zur Land Art: Ortsgebundenheit in der amerikanischen Kunst, 1950–1970” (2013), as well as the edited volumes “Bruce Nauman: A Contemporary” (2018),  and “In Terms of Painting” (with Antje Krause-Wahl, 2016). Her writing has appeared in “PhotoResearcher,” “Getty Research Journal,” “Texte zur Kunst,” “Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte,” and “kritische berichte.”

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3:15 – 4:00 PM

A Fragmented Mirror: Renegotiations of Media Realities and the Production of Subjectivity in Theo Eshetu’s “Till Death Us Do Part” (1982–1987)

Lukas Heger, Goethe-Institut Munich

 

Consisting of five individual videos produced over a period of five years, London-born artist Theo Eshetu’s video wall installation “Till Death Us Do Part” (1982–1987) reflects the artist’s experimentation with the medium of video. The, from his perspective, still undefined medium allowed Eshetu to negotiate the aesthetic possibilities and possible “grammar” of video and thus his own multifaceted identity shaped by growing up in Europe and Africa. This engagement with the artist’s self is entangled with challenging patterns of colonial and racist representation in the arts and especially television that links “Till Death Us Do Part” to a larger movement of BIPOC artists at the time it was made (e.g., the British Black Arts Movement).

Taking up the idea of the video monitor as a mirror, I want to discuss how Eshetu probes the functioning of televisual regimes of representation and the inherent modes and mechanisms of subjectivation. This mirror, however, does not show the reflected individual self of either the artist or the viewer, but reflects them in media consumption patterns, desires, gazes, and performative ways. In my presentation, I will thus focus on the body in its relation to the world of sensing reality mediated through technological means and investigate the relation between media and the production of subjectivity and identity in the context of a colonially shaped and medially reiterated representation of the world (with reference to the work of Rolando Vázquez). Eshetu references and uses images from these representations—from ethnographic photo and film footage to images of Black culture and politics in the United States, but destabilizes them by altering their aesthetic quality and mixing them with other images from television as well as self-made ones. I argue that, in doing so, Eshetu creates a fragmented mirror in which the beholder encounters parts of their lived reality yet in an unknown, “cut-up” way. I examine how the work destabilizes colonial regimes of representation and what role his installation/sculptural approach plays within this framework.

 

Lukas Heger holds a master’s degree from the University of Bayreuth where he focused on anglophone literary studies and art and curatorial studies at Iwalewahaus. There, he worked as assistant curator and contributed to exhibitions, including, “Feedback: Art, Africa and the 1980s,” curated by Ugochukwu Smooth-Nzewi. He currently works at the Goethe-Institut’s Visual Arts Division where he was involved in the conception of the “Techno Worlds” exhibition. He contributes to iwalewabooks publishing house as a freelance editor, and is working on a book about Eshetu’s video installation “Till Death Us Do Part.”

 

 

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4:30 – 5:15 PM

Total Recall: Mediated Bodies in Video Installations by Gretchen Bender and Judith Barry

Kassandra Nakas, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

 

“Total Recall” (1987) is the title of a video installation by Gretchen Bender that choreographs found footage from television films and commercials into what she calls an “electronic theatre.” The American artist uses the seductive power of her visual material to direct its affective and ideological consumption against the grain, while at the same time scrutinizing the concepts of subjectivity it entails. While “Total Recall” depicts a kind of “corporate body” of late capitalist society, Bender integrates excerpts from David Cronenberg’s body horror film “Videodrome” (1983) into her video installation “Wild Dead” (1984), and had Cindy Sherman slip into the role of a cyborg in the short film “Volatile Memory” (1988).

Bender belonged, like her fellow American, Judith Barry, to an early generation of media artists who addressed gender and body images as they were established by visual mass media. They countered pessimistic theoretical diagnoses of their time, such as those of Jean Baudrillard, with experimental and often humorous conceptions of subjectivity and what the critic Yvonne Volkart called “unruly bodies.” The mechanization of subjectivity runs as a subliminal thread through both Bender and Barry’s works. They created sculptural or installation video works—“a filmic form of scatter sculpture,” as Barry put it—that present individuals as technological constructs and bodies as electronic impulses. The lecture will discuss some of their works with regards to the relationship between installation/sculptural form, media technology, and subjectivity and will reflect on their relevance for today.

 

Kassandra Nakas is an art historian and currently teaches at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Recent publications include: “Fluidity: Materials in Motion” (ed., with Marcel Finke, 2022); “Bildhafte Räume und begehbare Bilder: Virtuelle Architekturen interdisziplinär” (ed., with Philipp Reinfeld, forthcoming, 2022); and “Körper der Medizin, Körper der Kunst: Physiologie und Ästhetik im 19. Jahrhundert” (forthcoming, 2023).

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5:15 – 6:00 PM

Mike Kelley’s American Uncanny 

Piper Marshall, Columbia University, New York and Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

 

This paper will focus on a series of small tabletop sculptures made by American artist, Mike Kelley and exhibited upon his graduation from the California Institute of the Arts, Santa Clarita, California, in 1978. Because these artworks deploy geometric forms, they are frequently posited within a genealogy of Minimalism, whereby they provoke a phenomenological reading and are interpreted as an aesthetics of “bafflement” or a “joke.” However, bafflement masks what is in fact a fugitive encounter (one which invokes the uncanny) and tests the competing values of the viewer. Read as part objects, and painfully invoking women’s bodies as territory, the scopic drive coalescing these artworks emerges as an oppressive, normative force linked to capitalism, on one hand, and expanded cinema, on the other, thereby delimiting their reception. The works then propose the individual assimilated into a dominant system and gesture to the condition of surveillance and control during the 1970s into the 1980s in the United States. However, these works also fugitively carry and circulate an alternative, queer message. The discussion will be guided by Kelley’s collaboration with the American filmmaker, Ericka Beckman, through which it emerges that since individuals are engendered by larger processes, they avert jurisdiction all the while growing in its midst.

 

Piper Marshall is a doctoral candidate in art history and archaeology at Columbia University, New York and is a Visiting Instructor of Art History at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut. She was awarded the 2021–2022 Ary Stillman Fellowship in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University, and she held the Mellon-Marron Research Fellowship in the Department of Media and Performance at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, contributing to the retrospective of Joan Jonas planned for 2024. Her writing has appeared in “Texte zur Kunst,” “Artforum,” “Art in America,” and “Cura,” and has been commissioned by institutions such as MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Swiss Institute, New York; and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles, France. She has curated numerous monographic and group exhibitions, including presentations devoted to Angela Bulloch, John Miller, Leidy Churchman, and Sadie Benning. In 2019, “Cultured Magazine” named her as one of nine curators to know and in 2016 “Artnet” reported she was “changing the game of curating.” In 2024 she will open an exhibition at the Wallach Gallery, New York, dedicated to Ericka Beckman and her colleagues titled “Childhood, as a Point of View.” She received her BA from Barnard College, New York.

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7:00 – 7:45 PM

Deviant Scale

Jenni Sorkin, University of California, Santa Barbara, California

 

Intense and immersive, the immediacy of cloth is its evocation of the body. Conveying abstraction, embodiment, and corporeality in the shadow of American-based Culture Wars, and the global AIDS epidemic, 1990s-era sculptural textile practices offered dynamic structures in which cloth was manipulated, folded, stacked, clustered, layered, and sewn, through repetitive accretions, to approximate sizes, shapes, and contours of the body. In an era that fostered social and political inequities, textiles were repeatedly employed as allegories of repair, mending, and healing.

This paper will address the complexities and biases aimed at 1990s textile-based installation in relation to the female-identified body, ideologies of abjection, and technologies of sculpture as depicted in the exhibition “Future Bodies from a Recent Past—Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s.”

 

Jenni Sorkin is Professor of History of Art & Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara, California. She writes on the intersections between gender, material culture, and Contemporary art, working primarily on women artists and underrepresented media. Her books include: “Live Form: Women, Ceramics and Community” (2016); “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women Artists, 1947–2016” (2016); and “Art in California” (2021), as well as numerous essays in journals and exhibition catalogs. She received her PhD in the history of art from Yale University, Newhaven, Connecticut, and is a member of the editorial board of the “Journal of Modern Craft.” From 2021–2022, she was Senior Scholar-in-Residence at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

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Concept and Moderation

Antje Krause-Wahl, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main

 

Since 2021 Antje Krause-Wahl has been Heisenberg-Professor for Contemporary Art History at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. Her books include “Konstruktionen von Identität: Reneé Green, Tracey Emin, Rirkrit Tiravanija” (2006); “Art, Fashion, Magazine: A Queer History of Images and Surfaces (forthcoming); “Materials, Practices and Politics of Shine in Modern Art and Popular Culture” (ed., with Änne Söll, Petra Löffler, 2021); “In Terms of Painting” (with Eva Ehninger, 2016); as well as numerous essays in journals and catalogs. In her current project she takes up her research on surfaces: in “Spaces of Touch: Subject Configurations and Community Formation,” the hand is the starting point to explore how artists have used surfaces as interfaces to reconfigure the subject within the social and technological upheavals since the 1960s.

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Franziska Linhardt, Museum Brandhorst, Munich

 

Franziska Linhardt is research associate and co-curator of the exhibition “Future Bodies from a Recent Past—Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s” at Museum Brandhorst. She studied art history at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and completed the master’s program “Curatorial Studies—Theory—History—Criticism” at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Städelschule and Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. In addition to her own projects in Frankfurt am Main and Munich, she assisted with large-scale exhibitions such as “Forever Young—10 Years Museum Brandhorst” at Museum Brandhorst (2019–2020),  and at Museum Ludwig, Cologne, “Here and Now at Museum Ludwig: Home Visit” (2016), and “We Call it Ludwig: The Museum is Turning 40!” (2016–2017).

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In cooperation with

Part of "Future Bodies from a Recent Past"

The workshop is part of the exhibition "Future Bodies from a Recent Past - Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s." It brings to life a hitherto little-noticed phenomenon in art and sculpture in particular: the reciprocal interpenetration of body and technology.

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