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Research Network for Transcultural Practices in the Arts and Humanities

ASAP/9 - Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present Hosted by: University of California Berkeley, Venue: Oakland Marriott City Center, Oakland, Date: 26-28 October 2017.

How to cut and share the global pie – transcultural approaches to collaboration, participation and activism in art, 28 October, 13.00 - 14.30
ASAP/9 - Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, University of California Berkeley, Oakland Marriott City Center, Oakland, 26-28 October 2017

Our seminar (re-)visits current approaches to artistic collaboration, participation and activism that adopt a transcultural/transnational perspective concerning their chosen themes, strategies, institutional contexts, histories and particular constellations of artistic collaboration. 

A transcultural critique that addresses the latest ‘global turn’ in art from epistemological and power-related perspectives agrees that Gerardo Mosquera’s claim to “cut the global pie not only with a variety of knives, but also with a variety of hands, and then share it accordingly” (Mosquera 2003) still poses a pressing problem. While the global technological, economic, and political connectivity dramatically increased since the late 1990s and also fueled (cross-)disciplinary debates on how to make art history global (e.a. Juneja 2011, 2013; Belting et al. 2013; Casid et al. 2014), the optimistic attempt to call the prevalence of Euro-American canons in art history to a close did not go uncontested (e.a. Ogbechie 2005; Simbao 2015; Gardner and Green 2013); particularly because the advocates of this stance are largely situated within Northern narratives and knowledge regimes of art and are “seldomly moving beyond the terms of their own art world” (Simbao 2015).

In this context and given the international growth of nationalist (right-wing) identity politics, artists, curators and scholars in different parts of the world critically engage with reductive, binary discourses of identity/alterity, when producing, studying and mediating the arts of the present. They propose(d) alternative modes of practicing art and art history in transnational or transcultural ways, i.e. exploring culturally, historically and discursively entangled perspectives. Their case studies serve to demonstrate the complex field of epistemological and socio-political tensions, in which the three interrelated key concepts - collaboration, participation and activism – are located.

The seminar includes eight presentations spanning different regions, disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. Each participant will respond to at least one aspects of the following questions, when examining individual artists or collectives who explore critical ways of how to “share the pie globally”: 

  • How do artists make/raise alternative voices, narratives and practices of transcultural realities and how are they framing their practices to acknowledge and emphasize transcultural/transnational conditions of collaboration, participation and activism?
  • Is art always already conditioned by processes of cultural exchange, transfer, and translation? 
  • Is the idea of one global pie a fiction and who claims stakes in its cutting and sharing? 
  • What multiple and entangled concepts and histories of “collaboration”, “participation”, and “activism” (in-)form artistic practices in this field?
  • What are suitable methodologies with which to address the conundrum of global art (history)? What can scholars learn from collaborative, participatory and activist artistic practices in order to grasp the complexity of art in the global context and to overcome limiting conventions of a single author-centered research perspective?

Belting, Hans et al. (eds.) 2013. The global contemporary and the rise of new art worlds, Cambridge. 

Casid, Jill H. and D’Souza Aruna (eds.) 2014. Art history in the wake of the global turn, Williamstown.

Gardner, Anthony and Green, Charles 2013. Biennials of the South on the edges of the global. Third Text 27(4): 442-455. 

Juneja, Monica 2011. Global Art History and the ‚Burden of Representation‘. in Global Studies: Mapping the Contemporary, e. by Hans Belting et al., Ostfildern-Ruit: 274–297.

-- 2013. Interview by Christian Kravagna about the Concept of “transculturality.” In Mapping Transcultural Modernism, ed. by Christian Kravagna, New York.

Mosquera, Gerardo 2003. From in Creolite and creolization: Documenta 11_Platform3, ed. by Okwui Ewezor et al., Ostfildern-Ruit: 145-148.

Ogbechie, Sylvester 2005. Ordering the universe: Documenta 11 and the apotheosis of the occidental gaze. Art Journal 64(1):80-89.

Simbao, Ruth 2015. What "global art" and current (re)turns fail to see: A modest counter-narrative of "not-another-biennial". Image and Text 25: 216-286.

Seminar Participants/Talks

Birgit Hopfener (Carleton University Ottawa) & Franziska Koch (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg)

Introductory Remarks 

Mona Schieren (Hochschule für Kunst Bremen)

Operating on different levels of collaboration 


Dorothee Richter (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste and University of Reading)

Fluxus and Participation 


Claire Farago (University of Colorado, Boulder)

Why History Matters to Discussions of Contemporary “Global Art” 


Nanne Buurman (Freie Universität Berlin) 

Curating Global Networks. Potentials and Pitfalls of Affective Labor in the “Art World” 


Petra Lange-Berndt (Universität Hamburg)

Forming Collectives: Mildred’s Lane 


Plenary Discussion - moderated by the seminar organizers

Abstracts and CVs of the speakers

Mona Schieren (Hochschule der Künste Bremen)

Operating on different levels of collaboration

Questions involving collective and collaborative work will be discussed based on Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s operations in the art system.  The spectrum of Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s work is wide, encompassing the forms and formats that best enable her to formulate her artistic concerns: Aside from installations, sound arrangements, performances and artist books she also writes texts, audio pieces and works with radio. She operates alone, with artistic partners or in collectives like Gulf Labour or Tribunal NSU _Komplex auflösen.

Born in Teheran and raised in West Germany, she already began to occupy herself with national attributions and thus the labeling of artists based on their origins in 2007. The CV exchange platform bioswop.net that she developed aims at undermining the purpose of artist CVs. They can be borrowed at this platform, meaning that one can slip into other biographies and thus destabilize its function in the art world.

In her research-based projects, Haghighian addresses transcultural and transnational questions from diverse perspectives. Aside from collaborative projects in Iran carried out below the radar of the art system under censorship, language and voice play a significant role.

Proceeding from her documenta 13 sound installation Trail with onomatopoeic animal noises in diverse languages on a mountain of rubble from World War II, she presents in a further piece research on the entanglements of the Kassel military industry with present-day transnational trouble spots. In 2016, she became one of the initiators of TRIBUNAL NSU_Komplex auflösen, a collaborative project that discusses the murders committed by the German NSU (National Socialist Underground) and the associated court proceedings against the backdrop of structural and institutional racism, new forms of fascism and a transnational history of colonialism and migration. In her recent work for the 2017 documenta 14, she has developed radio pieces on current transnational communication economics.

The paper intends to closely examine the artistic strategies in the work of Natascha Sadr Haghighian: How can subjugated or alternative knowledge be produced and made visible? How are identity politics discussed in a transcultural dimension? Which political agency can artists also create in transcultural contexts by means of collaborative affiliations (for example Gulf Labor, Tribunal NSU_Komplex auflösen)?

Dr. Mona Schieren is a teaching researcher at the University of the Arts Bremen and studied art history and philosophy in Hamburg and Nice. Recent publications: Agnes Martin – Transkulturelle Übersetzung. Zur Konstruktion asianistischer Ästhetiken in der amerikanischen Kunst nach 1945, München: Verlag Silke Schreiber 2016. Kunsttopographien globaler Migration edited and introduced together with Birgit Mersmann, Burcu Dogramaci and Anna Minta In: kritische berichte, Zeitschrift für Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften 43/3, Marburg: Jonas Verlag, (June) 2015.


Dorothee Richter (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste)

Fluxus and Participation

Early participatory artistic work by the Fluxus people was, ironically enough, encouraged by German officials. Anything “American” was seen as something to be encouraged. That Fluxus performances were invited to Germany (to Wiesbaden) in cold war times at all was due in part to a desire for the re-education of Germans. This is quite amusing, given that the chairman of Fluxus was a young Lithuanian who lived in Germany for a number of years before emigrating with his parents to the United States. 

Participation plaid for Fluxus a role on may levels, not only that the public was involved in performances, willingly or not, but they also produced editions together to a degree that it is hard to say, which edition is made by whom. Even if officially an artist’s name is put to it, it might be likely that George Maciunas followed vague scores to create the work. Performances as such were based on scores, they could be reproduced by anybody, anytime in principle, just stating that this is Fluxus. Actually, work was done collectively often in a unforeseeably way, but all of this, new forms of reception, production and distribution were based on the wish to question the art establishment. The established institutions were bypassed; the public was to be involved. Political messages and ideas were presented, even though there was no clearly defined common political stance (not even within a given group). Gender roles and social institutions like marriage were reinterpreted, for example as FluxDivorce. Editions, newspapers, mail art and print productions were intended to make art affordable and, through large print runs, accessible to greater numbers of people. 

Dorothee Richter professor in Contemporary Curating at the University of Reading, UK, is an author, curator, and filmmaker (see www.fluxusnow.net). She runs the Postgraduate Programme in Curating at Zurich University of the Arts (www.curating.org) and is Co-Director of the “PhD in Practice in Curating”, a cooperation of the University of Reading and the Zurich University of the Arts. She is editor of the electronic (and print) journal On Curating (www.on-curating.org) and currently works to establish a digital platform, which will consist of 100 video interviews with various curators.


Claire Farago (University of Colorado-Boulder)

Why History Matters to Discussions of Contemporary “Global Art” (Becoming Animal)

The primary form of collaborative, participatory activism that matters now consists of the entire planetary network cooperating to save our shared home from premature and senseless destruction in the late capitalist era of the Anthropocene. How can we as art historians incorporate climate change into our thinking and writing? With this question in mind, my proposed contribution to this seminar engages with Hans Belting’s widely cited views on global art, specifically stemming from the exhibition catalogue, The Global Contemporary and the Rise of New Art Worlds (2013). Without acknowledging the strong backlash to the exhibition’s premises from postcolonial writers and Australian museum curators, Belting announced that the exhibition Magiciens de la terre held in Paris in 1989 banished [what Belting considered the Eurocentric] concept of world art because paintings by Australian bushmen were shown in the same gallery with bona fide avant-garde artists. Hence global art can be made anywhere by anyone, because the “dualism of art and artifact was put aside when contemporary art production in a professional sense had become general practice and was no longer the West’s prerogative.” [p. 181].

How is the German art historian Belting in a position to declare that a single exhibition at the historical center of European modern art successfully eradicated the effects of centuries of European cultural chauvinism? More to the point, how do local histories enter into global art practices? Present-tist versions of global art history are inadequate either for artificially declaring a level playing field where none exists, as in Belting’s case, or otherwise avoiding the problems of narrating history. How do we account for what Michel de Certeau called the “mnemic traces” of the unresolved past returning to haunt us in displaced form, chief among them now the historical, neo-Aristotelian fiction of “race” recast as human exceptionalism? 

Claire Farago is Professor Emeritus of Renaissance art, theory, and criticism at the University of Colorado-Boulder. The author of fourteen books and edited volumes, her main areas of interest are in Renaissance art theory, cultural exchange between Europe and the rest of the world, processes of globalization, critical historiography of the discipline, the materiality of the sacred, the history of style, museums and collecting practices, and the reception of art and ideas about art. Her recent book, Art Is Not What You Think It Is (Wiley-Blackwells, 2012), co-authored with Donald Preziosi, concerns the question of how to cut the pie regarding the unacknowledged continuing effects of historical ideas of art in the present. 


Nanne Buurman (Freie Universität Berlin)

Potentials and Pitfalls of Affective Labor in the “Art World”

Since the so-called curatorial turn in the 1990s, curators have been discussed as masters of networking and role models of contemporary “entrepreneurs of the self” (Foucault). In my paper, I will speak about the potentials and pitfalls of curating as transcultural networking, building on Donna Haraway’s insight that networking is ambivalent as far as it can be defined as “both a feminist practice and a multinational corporate strategy.” 

Focusing on Gertrude Stein, Peggy Guggenheim and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, I will discuss the political potentials of transcultural networking as a feminist and internationalist strategy as well as the problems that it entails at different points in the history of modern and contemporary art. Like Haraway, Michael Hardt and Antionio Negri have called attention to the fact that the blurring of life and labor in globalized, communication based informal economies bears emancipatory potentials of resistance (make another world possible) on the one hand but also the risk of exploitation by global capitalism, on the other. 

The aim of my presentation is to scrutinize the shifting biopolitical implications of networking as an “affective labor” against the background of the radically changing socioeconomic conditions of the past hundred years: Gertrude Stein was the central node of avant-garde Paris, Peggy Guggenheim’s transatlantic practice has significantly contributed to shifting the center of the “art world” from Europe to North America, and Christov-Bakargiev plays a major role in globalizing today’s “global” art scene. All three women (expatriate Americans, by the way) would not have been successful without their world spanning networks (which, of course, always had their blind spots). Looking at the autobiographies of these three curators (avant la lettre), I will discuss not only the ways in which the transcultural networks of artistic multitudes they have curated changed the map of art but also how their life-styles and self-promotion have affected contemporary norms of subjectivity and curatorship.

Nanne Buurman (MA) is an art educator, curator and scholar based in Leipzig currently working on her PhD in art history at the Freie Universität Berlin, where she was a DFG (German Research Foundation) funded member of the International Research Training Group InterArt Studies from 2012-2015. Her main research areas are curatorial- and exhibition studies with a focus on documenta, authorship and gender as well as socioeconomic contextualization and globalization. She is currently co-editing the conference volume Situating Global Art and the documenta issue of OnCurating Journal, (with Dorothee Richter) both forthcoming summer 2017.


Petra Lange-Berndt (Universität Hamburg)

Forming Collectives: Mildred's Lane

We live at a time when neoliberal global networks are on the rise and collaboration has become an ambiguous term − in the age of Ikea and Google, not every collective action sets up a democratic space. However, in a present that is experienced as an ongoing crisis by many, there is a revival of alternative lifestyles and their histories. A large number of artists pursuing collaborative projects have been resisting institutionalized power structures by living together long term: After the end of the Cold War, in a world of unleashed consumer capitalism, there is a renewed desire to live and work together on a commonly shared platform. What does it mean to assemble as a group, collective, sect, or swarm? 

For example, the artists’ colony and summer school Mildred’s Lane (1998–) in rural Pennsylvania run by Mark Dion and Morgan Puett, is defined by activist eco-feminism, recycling and a hands-on investigation of domestic space. In order to question societal norms this community-in-the-making displays a critical-historical awareness. I would like to focus on how Mildred's Lane explicitly defines to be transcultural to be posthuman: non-humans such as animals as part of the collective. As Jack Halberstam writes, from a queer perspective wildness can be seen as “what lies beyond current logics of rule.” 

Given the weather conditions of rural Pennsylvania, Mildred’s Lane is continually threatened by destruction, death, chaos, and “murky epistemologies;” this uncertainty prevents any order from permanently implanting itself. The premise is that going wild might propel participants into another realm of thought, action, being, and knowing. This project - and this is important for a methodological reflection - does not claim to be an autarkic, self-governed subculture in the midst of authentic nature. Rather, it is a continuous low-threshold movement intended to advance human connection with the environment. 

This plurality is not predetermined but messy; the networks and alternative worlds built in Pennsylvania, with its human inhabitants, snakes, ticks and mosquitoes, can go wrong. The project requires perpetual negotiation and insists on the particularity and the embodiment of knowledge. In short, it embodies the hope that emergent possibilities will result from the freedom to experiment with one’s life within a collectivity.

Petra Lange-Berndt is Chair for Modern and Contemporary Art, Kunstgeschichtliches Seminar, Universität Hamburg. Her current research investigates collectivities and communal living in contemporary art. She also works as free-lanced curator, for instance Singular / Plural: Collaborations in the Post-Pop- Polit Arena, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf Juli-September 2017.


Seminar Organizers:

Birgit Hopfener is Associate Professor and Confucius Chair in the art history department at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her area of specialization is contemporary art with a special regional emphasis on China. Her current research clusters around contemporary historiographic art in the global context, transcultural subjectivities and concepts and practices of transcultural collaborations. She authored the book Transkulturelle Reflexionsräume einer Genealogie des Performativen: Bedingungen und Artikulationen kultureller Differenz in der chinesischen Installationkunst (2013) and is the co-editor of Negotiating Difference: Chinese Contemporary Art in the Global Context (2012). She is the co-founder of the “Research Network for Transcultural Practices in the Arts and Humanities” (RNTP).

Franziska Koch is Assistant Professor to the HCTS-Professorship of Global Art History at the Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies of Heidelberg University. Her area of specialization are modern and contemporary art practices between East-Asia (China, South-Korea) and Europe, the art exhibition as a medium, transcultural approaches to art history, authorship and collaboration. She is the author of “Die ‘chinesische Avantgarde’ und das Dispositiv der Ausstellung. Konstruktionen chinesischer Gegenwartskunst im Spannungsfeld der Globalisierung” (transcript 2016) and co-founder of the “Research Network for Transcultural Practices in the Arts and Humanities” (RNTP). Her current project examines Nam June Paik and other Fluxus artist regarding conditions and limits of collaboration and transculturality, supported by a three year post-doctoral stipend of the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung.