Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Universalisms in Conflict | Post-Colonial Challenges in Art History and Philosophy

Date | 09.03.2012 - 10.03.2012
Venue | Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Schillerplatz 3, 1010 Vienna, M13
Symposium organized by the Institute for Art and Theory and Cultural Studies
Concept | Christian Kravagna, Ruth Sonderegger
Participants | Chika Okeke-Agulu, Fahim Amir, Sabeth Buchmann, Marina Gržinić, Monica Juneja, Jens Kastner, Christian Kravagna, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Marion von Osten, Ruth Sonderegger, Isobel Whitelegg, Franz Wimmer
Universalisms in Conflict | Post-Colonial Challenges in Art History and Philosophy Recently, art history in the West has begun discussing the challenges facing a discipline confronted by cultural globalization. New, and at times competing concepts, such as "World Art Studies" and "Global Art History," indicate efforts to overcome the increasingly acknowledged Eurocentrism of Western art history by broadening the scholarly horizon through the inclusion of other regions of the globe. However, the rhetoric of "new challenges" and a necessary "new orientation" of art history often disregards the political dimensions of anti- and post-colonial critiques of the writing of history. Alternative approaches, which are based on case studies of specific constellations in transcultural contact zones, are able to produce deeper insights into the intercontinental artistic and discursive relations under colonial and postcolonial conditions. This conference assembles a selection of case studies in postcolonial art history. It discusses criteria, terms, and methods of choosing, exploring, and framing such cases, which are seen as relevant and paradigmatic for critical revisions of established canons, narratives of modern art, and prevailing conceptions of centers and peripheries. Furthermore, the conference brings to mind projects and discussions preceding the current debates on "global" and / or post-Eurocentric art histories.
Western philosophy, on the other hand, has been characterized by universalistic claims ever since its beginnings. Despite its unifying aspirations, occidental philosophy has never been a completely one-dimensional enterprise. Critical voices from within have challenged philosophy's universalism time and again. Most recently, this critique has come especially from a decolonization perspective. At the same time, universal claims have oftentimes been part and parcel of emancipatory struggles - not least, anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. For this reason, thinking, acting, and struggling in the name of universalist principles cannot simply be rejected as ideological. In light of the manifold affirmative and also critical references of anti- and postcolonial struggles to occidental philosophemes, it seems strange that mainstream occidental philosophy has rarely taken issue with such de-colonial affirmations, variations, further developments, and rejections of occidental philosophy. Our conference thus focuses on precisely such encounters and investigates the content of key contemporary challenges. Furthermore, we would like to address the issue of whether postcolonial philosophizing arises in specific, concrete constellations whose traits are similar to the constellations of postcolonial art history sketched above.
Ruth Sonderegger
Christian Kravagna

Friday, March 9
Moderation: Sabeth Buchmann and Christian Kravagna


Isobel Whitelegg
Towards the Invisible: Signals London 1964-66
My paper approaches the short history of the Signals London gallery by focusing on the distinctive perspective on international artistic practice that was developed by its publishing and curatorial activities. Between November 1964 and October 1966, Signals occupied a prominent "showroom" on the corner of Wigmore Street in central London. A series of comprehensive one-person exhibitions were realized alongside collective shows that assembled and related work by artists of generations, nationalities, and tendencies that were and are more commonly comprehended discretely. Since the 1990s Signals London has come to renewed attention. Artists whose work the Signals gallery and its Newsbulletin introduced for the first time in Britain - for example Lygia Clark or Alejandro Otero - are now seen as precursors to a global contemporary practice. It is the aim of this paper to address the distinction between the conditions under which Signals has entered our horizons more recently and those under which an interest in certain artists emerged from its particular perspective on post-war art.

Isobel Whitelegg is Curator of Public Programmes at Nottingham Contemporary. She was previously director of the MA Curating Programme at Chelsea College of Art & Design, University of the Arts London (UAL), and continues to be an associate of TrAIN, UAL's center for research on transnational art. She writes regularly on modern and contemporary art with a particular emphasis on art and artists in Brazil, and has curated exhibitions in collaboration with artists including Nicolás Robbio and Cinthia Marcelle. She completed her MA (1998) and PhD (2005) in art history and theory at the University of Essex, specializing in modern and contemporary art from Latin America. Ongoing areas of research include the presence and critical reception of Latin American art in England, and the critical history of the Bienal de São Paulo (see "The Bienal de São Paulo Unseen/Undone, 1969/81" Afterall #22, Autumn 2009, and "Brazil, Latin America, The World," Third Text vol 26, issue 1, Feb 2012).

Marion von Osten

L' Art Autre

Until 1989, French art history, and Western art history, in general have conceptualized visual art practices in the frame of two radical changes in geopolitical conditions: the hour "zero" as a radical rupture after WWII, and the binary systemic-level competition of capitalism / socialism, the so-called Cold War. What if art history writing that defines contemporary art in the post-war era within this framework reflected the geopolitical conditions of the empires' decline and the anti-colonial project as a third major geopolitical condition? Would this create a counter-narrative, of even Western art movements, such as the universal language of post-war abstraction? What if we include transnational encounters and transfers of ideas by the many actors who passed through and influenced the Paris art scene in the 1950s and 60s, and created - when leaving Paris - avant-garde movements and art institutions in non-Western localities? With these reflections, I would like to question the Eurocentric historicization of the movement of post-war abstraction, which was constituted and diversified by a multitude of artists from around the globe, within diasporic journeys and translocal conditions in the short century of decolonization and beyond.

Marion von Osten is an artist, curator, and theorist of culture and the arts as well as Professor for Art and Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts, Department of Education in the Arts, Vienna. Her research, writing, and projects are concerned mainly with changed production conditions for cultural work in neo-liberal societies, technologies of the self, and the governance of mobility as well as questions of aesthetics and politics. Her latest curatorial projects include: "In the Desert of Modernity: Colonial Planning and After" at the House of World Cultures Berlin; "reformpause," Kunstraum of the University of Lüneburg (2006); "Atelier Europa," Kunstverein Munich, "Be Creative! The Creative Imperative!" Museum for Design, Zurich (2003); the transdisciplinary research project TRANSIT MIGRATION (2003-5); and "Projekt Migration" (2003-2006), an initiative of the federal foundation of Germany on the history of migration in post-war Germany.

Chika Okeke-Agulu

Art History and Globalization

Faced with the challenge of postcolonial globalization, art historians have in recent times grappled with the idea and modalities of a global art history. The paper sounds a cautionary note on this question, by pointing out the hazard of what seems to be Western art historians' desire to elide the differences of language, focus, and methods of art histories which the recent visibility of art and artists from elsewhere has made manifest. Drawing from African art history, the paper examines some of the intellectual and ideological questions confronting a global art history. It proposes that to imagine the possibility of a truly global art history is to anticipate an overhaul or relativization of normative/Western art history's core assumptions. Put differently, our awareness of the multiplicity of histories of art suggests that global art history, to be meaningful, will have to be, fundamentally, comparative art history.

Chika Okeke-Agulu is an art historian, curator, and artist. He is the author (with Okwui Enwezor) of Contemporary African Art Since 1980, and co-editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. He is assistant professor in the Department of Art & Archaeology and Center for African American Studies, Princeton University.

Monica Juneja

Beyond Backwater Arcadias - Globalized Locality as a Site of Cosmopolitan Practice
My paper underlines the migrant trajectories of objects and practices that make up the aesthetic category of modernism to argue for a transcultural approach to concepts that do not forever remain rooted to their parochial (Western) points of origin; instead, they undergo processes of translation and reconfiguration in new settings. Research on these, however, is itself inhibited by institutional compartmentalization within the humanities, which often follows the logic of national or regional boundaries. Using the example of South Asia, I will address the specific histories and local contingencies of the concept of aesthetic modernism as it navigated a particular set of subjectivities produced by colonization and modern globalization. The quest for artistic selfhood involved a transformative negotiation of a staggering variety of codes available to postcolonial artists for whom the local was both a site to be recuperated from the constellation of empire and simultaneously a communitarian straitjacket, freedom from which was made possible by a globally constituted cosmopolitanism. The ways in which expressive forms and media initiatives - the masquerade, reciprocal mimicry, or performative excess on the one hand and the interfaces between image-making and activism on the other - form a nexus with the quest for artistic selfhood beyond the predicament of being always "somebody's other" (Rustom Bharucha) calls for a more open conceptual articulation. Such practices, I argue, are built into processes of transculturation and their investigation, and adequate theorization would mean transcending the ideological rhetoric of an avant-garde committed to privileging the "new." The availability of new sites of cultural action beyond the West crucial to contemporary art have not only meant a challenge to the premises of the phenomenon avant-garde as it becomes global; they have the potential of stimulating alternative ways of reimagining art. The challenge to art history now is to sharpen its conceptual tools and create a language to provide such practices with a disciplinary anchor.

Monica Juneja holds the Chair of Global Art History at the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context," University of Heidelberg. She has been Professor at the University of Delhi, held visiting professorial positions at the Universities of Hannover, Vienna, and Emory University. Her research and writing focus on transculturality and visual representation; disciplinary practices in the art history of Western Europe and South Asia; gender; and political iconography, Christianization and religious identities in early modern South Asia. Her publications include Peindre le paysan. L'image rurale dans la peinture française de Millet à Van Gogh (1998), Architecture in Medieval India. Forms, Contexts, Histories (Reader South Asia. Histories and Interpretations, 2001), The lives of objects in pre-modern societies (2006, edited with G. Signori), BildGeschichten. Das Verhältnis von Bild und Text in den Berichten zu außereuropäischen Welten (2008, with B. Potthast), Religion und Grenzen in Indien und Deutschland: Auf dem Weg zu einer transnationalen Historiographie (2009, edited with M. Pernau,) and most recently: "Global Art History and the 'Burden of Representation,'" in Hans Belting et al (eds), Global Studies. Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture (2011). She is working on a monograph tentatively entitled Can Art History Be Made Global? A Discipline in Transition. She edits the series Visual and Media Histories (Routledge), is theme editor of the Encyclopedia of Asian Design (Berg), and member of the editorial board of Transcultural Studies.

Saturday, March 10Moderation: Fahim Amir and Ruth Sonderegger


Franz Wimmer
Conflicting Universalisms - The Case of Philosophies Starting from the need for culturally generic concepts and methods in philosophy, this paper aims to discuss the following points:
1) The history of philosophy plays an important role in philosophy, yet the historiography of philosophy still tends to be generally Eurocentric. How can we describe and teach histories of philosophies with a less
centrist perspective?
2) Not only with regard to history, but all fields of philosophy must find ways to overcome colonial and other hegemonic inequalities. Wiredu's proposal of "conceptual decolonization in African philosophy" demonstrates the possibilities as well as the difficulties of such a project.
3) Philosophy in an intercultural perspective aims to overcome monocultural, and also merely comparative approaches. The intention is to discuss philosophical problems by mutually recognizing and criticizing the positions of regional traditions.
4) Since culture-based traditions in philosophy differ in many basic ways, different types or strategies of centrism ought to be distinguished in order to establish complex, i.e., polylogic interactions among philosophers on a global scale.

Franz Martin Wimmer, currently retired, was professor of philosophy at the University of Vienna. He studied philosophy and political science in Salzburg and was a visiting professor in the U.S., Costa
Rica, India, Germany, and Austria. His major publications include: Interkulturelle Philosophie - Theorie und Geschichte (1990), Philosophy and Democracy in Intercultural Perspective (co-editor, 1997), Essays on Intercultural Philosophy (2002), Globalität und Philosophie (2003), and Interkulturelle Philosophie. Eine Einführung (2004, reprint 2009). His research focuses mainly on intercultural philosophy; for details see:

Nelson Maldonado-Torres
What is Emancipatory about Universalism?: Reflections by Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter, and Gloria Anzaldúa
I hereby sketch a position of universalism as radical diversality on the basis of the work of Caribbean theorists Frantz Fanon and Sylvia Wynter and Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa. I begin with a discussion about the traps of universalism, with particular reference to the formulation of its opposite, extreme particularism, relativism, and racism, and continue to elaborate ways in which references to the universal in humanity can serve emancipatory interests and avoid the usual pitfalls of the universal. I present Caribbean, Latina/o philosophy, and parts of Latin American and Africana philosophy as precise efforts to elaborate such a conception of universality, and raise the question about the renewal of European philosophy and of fields that assume its typical universalizing scope in relation to those decolonial intellectual formations. Of particular importance in the discussion will be ideas of epistemology, art, and science as they figure in the works of Fanon, Wynter, and Anzaldúa.

Nelson Maldonado-Torres is Associate Professor in the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies, and the Program in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He is also President of the Caribbean Philosophical Association and Co-director of Critical Caribbean Literature Studies at Rutgers.

Marina Gržinić
Occidental Universalist Thinking and / or the Decolonial Approach?

The major issue I want to explore is what happens at the juncture of occidental universalist thinking and a decolonial approach when both approaches contemplate contemporary theory's possibilities for exposing and undermining racist, anti-Semitic, and colonial realities. After all, these realities are firmly reproduced through the war-State, postmodern fascism (fragmentation of the social), and coloniality. How does contemporary theory deal with an ultra-intensified process of de-politicization that works with capitalist financialization? Is theory capable of infiltrating the processes of exploitation, discrimination, and expropriation in order to dismantle the basis of a neoliberal global capitalist mode of production, rather than simply exuberantly reporting on the representation strategies of this mode? What I, and most of us find necessary is to rearticulate theory in the wider context of the social, economic, and the political. Rather than dispersion into micro-politics, we inquire into ways to elaborate political art as a possibility to talk about racism, introducing "potential history" that develops new formats of epistemologies capable of countering Eurocentric Western genealogies and demanding a re-politicization of life and art with a historicization of biopolitics through necropolitics.

Marina Gržinić is a philosopher, artist, and theorist. She is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Her current research focuses on processes of decoloniality, analysis of global capitalism, and questions of biopolitics and necropolitics. Marina Gržinić has lectured widely (Kyoto Biennale, UC Berkeley's Center for New Media, Tokyo, Berlin, etc.). Her most recent publication is Re-Politicizing Art, Theory, Representation and New Media Technology, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna and Schlebrügge editors, Vienna 2008. Gržinić has been involved with video art since 1982.

Jens Kastner
Equality and Difference on the Move

The social movements that rang the bell for a new round in the debate on universalism present a confrontation of two different approaches. One approach upholds the equality of human beings - regardless of whether they are characterized as speaking, vulnerable, or alienated, and takes this as the starting point for describing novel forms of political mobilization. The other approach founds political agency in class, gender, and colonial differences along with their intersections. However, this is not a confrontation of particularism and universalism, but rather, two kinds of universalism with different foundations: an ontological universalism on the one hand, and a strategic one on the other. The lecture discusses the interdependencies between social movements (from the neo-Zapatist uprising to the precarity movement) and theory production and their varying consequences.

Jens Kastner, sociologist and art historian, currently works as a freelance author and university lecturer in Vienna. He taught at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Muenster (1999-2004), the Center for Latin American Studies (Cela), University of Muenster (2004-2006), the Vienna Art School (2005/2006), the "International Development" study program, University of Vienna (2008 and 2010), the Institute for Economic and Social History, University of Vienna (2008), and the Institute for Art and Design, Vienna University of Technology (since 2009). Since 2008, he has been a research associate/ senior lecturer at the Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Kastner has published articles on social movements, cultural studies, and contemporary art in several newspapers and magazines. Moreover, he is coordinating editor of Bildpunkt, the IG Bildende Kunst journal. In 2011 he was awarded the ADKV-Art Cologne prize for Art Criticism.
For more information, see: http://www.jenspetzkastner.de
Organization: Dunja Reithner
Assistants: Verena Melgarejo-Weinandt, Sophie Schasiepen

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