Concrete Aesthetics
From Representation to Presence: Artistic Research on Performative Spaces


In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.
Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, 1964

Performative spaces are temporalised, emergent constellations of space, objects and actors, based on sculptural situations which are subject to change over time. My role as the artist, basically, is to produce an initial infrastructure which I then hand over to a participatory process. I provide for configurations of modular elements which do not form an invariant order, but can be used, moved, rearranged, reshaped, expanded, destroyed or replaced when worn out. They might be replicated in a different location, spread or modified without restriction. They are not bound to a physical space, especially not to an institutional framing. They are prototypes rather than originals, forms of common property rather than economic products (in a broader sense, objects are all material outcomes of joint action which might also include cooking, gardening and similar practices). Their semantic openness allows the integration in action and communication sequences which build up their own order in a non-determined, infinite proceeding. This calculated loss of artistic control aims at an empowerment of the viewers who become receptive and, at the same time, productive parts within the artistic operations. They may employ their individual aesthetic potentials and experience themselves as authors of meaning. I am aware that the central challenge—and my responsibility as the artist—lies in the activation and sensitisation of the participants which requires the investment of time, on both sides. This will also reshape the conventional character of the artworkʼs presentation: It will have to shift from the form of an exhibition or a staging towards that of a workshop or a seminar in which I act as a moderator of the collaborative discourse.


Methodological notes

My project establishes performative spaces both as a theoretical concept of aesthetic reflection and as a practical programme for artistic production. It looks at art as an immanently reflexive process which, through self-observation, permanently conditions its own operations: It generates the problems it then solves, if only to discover new problems within the supposed solution. I will apply this mechanism as a strategy to radicalise my work by refining it in contact with its own theoretical re-description. The objective is to create a series of performative spaces as experimental arrangements that might involve other artists, professional performers, members of specific social groups or random visitors. The empirical knowledge gained from these experiences will be used to develop a consistent epistemological frame that serves for describing and analysing my work and consequently beeing refeeded into my artistic practice. It is important to note, however, that every art is an exploratory access to the world; consequently, artistic research does not necessarily require a verbalising transformation of art into theory, and a scholarly observation of artistic practise is only one of several possible means of reflection (among immanent ones like sketches, drafts, bozzetti, rehearsals, variations, improvisations).

For analytical purposes, the elements of performative spaces—situations, processes and objects, their meanings and logical structures—are dynamically described as open, liquid, provisional and migrant. I propose a concept that temporises and liquifies the work, but which is nevertheless decidedly sculptural in that it refuses to fully dissolve the material dimension of art in communication and action. It employs objects as means of reflection, as anchor points that store aesthetic operations and open them up to debate and critique by making them visible and undeniable. As physical condensates of collective negotiations, they incorporate social conflicts—disparities, hierarchies, problems of inclusion and exclusion—and make them processable within the artistic production. In this respect, performative spaces are immanently critical and emancipatory: Not necessarily in their contents, but as political forms.

An aesthetics of the concrete is a post-image approach. It takes into account the paradigm shift from representation to presence in many contemporary fields of artistic production like concept, performance or activist art that do not draw their significance from being visual or referential. For a general description of performative spaces, I will operationalise progressive pedagogical ideas from the 1920s. Workable parameters that derive from there are the notions of prepared environment, material, play as a purposeless, yet meaningful activity, and self-organised learning as a coupling of bodily and intellectual practice. Models of system theory will serve as an instrument for analysing the autopoietic emergence and the internal logic of communication structures, while I will refer to field-theoretical designs to discuss their inherent mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. Other relevant approaches I will apply are those of productive reception (Michel de Certeau), presence (Ulrich Gumbrecht), the open work (Umberto Eco), quasi-objects (Michel Serres), concepts of non-human agency developed by theorists of the material turn and the actor-network-theory and thoughts on performativity and space delivered by authors like Juliane Rebentisch, Martina Löw or Erika Fischer-Lichte.


Christian Hartard / Donnersbergerstraße 43 / 80634 München (Munich) / Germany

studio@hartard.com / www.hartard.com

2019 icaros.org