Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere (March 18-19, 2016)

Media@McGill international colloquium
Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
March 18 and 19, 2016

March 18, 2016 colloquium video
March 19, 2016 colloquium video

Colloquium Description

In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (first published in 1962 and translated into English in 1989), Jürgen Habermas defined the modern public sphere as a realm of social life where public opinion takes shape. This realm constitutes around rational-critical deliberations between individuals who “come together as a public” as they debate on matters of general interest and common concern. Its ideal type is the 18th-century public sphere whose efficiency lay in its capacity to act as a normative principle of democratic legitimacy, producing public opinion that influenced political action against the domination of the state. In subsequent revisions, Habermas emphasized the role of deliberative language and communicative rationality in the consolidation of the public sphere, which he redefined as “a network for communicating information and points of view” where “participants enter into interpersonal relationships by taking positions of mutual speech-act offers and assuming illocutionary obligations” (Between Fact and Norms, 1996: 361).

The Habermasian formulation of the public sphere has been contested from the start. Critics have questioned its presumed universalism and unity, as well as its rational-critical discourse. Nancy Fraser has shown that the bourgeois public sphere was constituted through a considerable number of exclusions — of women and other social groups, who in fact constituted counterpublics where members could formulate oppositional understandings of their identities and interests (“Rethinking the Public Sphere” in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, 1992). Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge have disclosed the interdependency between the bourgeois public sphere and the proletarian counterpublic sphere (Public Sphere and Experience, 1993). Chantal Mouffe has contested Habermas’s rationalistic model of argumentation, to propose instead an agonistic model where antagonism is the necessary passion of politics (Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically, 2013). Media scholars have shown that the interpersonal relationships composing the public sphere were much more actively mediated than Habermas initially presumed and that the development of mass media does not necessarily lead to the degeneration of the public sphere (John Thompson, The Media and Modernity, 1995; Manuel Castells, “The New Public Sphere,” 2008). Other critics have highlighted the surveillance capacities of media, together with the increased privatization and commercialization of the internet, as well as the neoliberal depolitization of publicness. They maintain that these operations have contributed to the weakening of the public sphere as a democratic space (S. Low and N. Smith, The Politics of Public Space, 2006; D. Barney, G. Coleman, C. Ross, J. Sterne and T. Tembeck, eds., The Participatory Condition, forthcoming). Habermas himself has postulated that the public sphere has been in decline since the 19th century.

In light of these critiques, what remains of the public sphere, and what is to be saved from it? Much more multiple, porous, passionate, mediated and mutable than initially formulated, can the public sphere nevertheless function as a motivating ideal? More importantly: how can and how does art participate in this impetus? In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere Habermas locates the origins of the public sphere in 17th– and 18th-century cultural spheres, which progressively developed into a politically-oriented public sphere. Institutionalized by the coffeehouse, the journal of opinion and the art and literary salons, the cultural public sphere was composed of readers, spectators, listeners and critics engaged in deliberations (analyses of meaning, judgments of taste and moral discussions) around artistic, literary, theatrical and musical works. These deliberations unfolded through processes of identification and disidentification, as well as judgments on a variety of subjects aesthetically represented and performed (private life, the humanness of the family described in sentimental literature, beauty, the imagined life of others). The cultural sphere—the subjective themes and empathic author-reader relationships it introduced; the meeting places and critical arguments by which it unfolded—both prepared for and enriched the deliberations of the political sphere.

While it is difficult today to maintain the universal and rationalistic presuppositions of these spheres, and although the cultural sphere is increasingly privatized, the role of culture in the shaping of the public sphere is worth reexamining. Some components of the public sphere—critical publicness; the aesthetics of its deliberations on matters of general and common interest; a public body’s capacity to reconfigure common sense—are worth defending. They are defended in recent developments in contemporary art where humans and nonhumans are invited to assemble in specifically designed sites to constitute common worlds or simply to provide a sense of the common (e.g., installations; situations; street art; participatory and relational sites; expanded monuments; physical and digital agoras and salons; specially created public spaces). Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere’s working hypothesis is that art that explores the common creates a realm for the reconfiguration of the critical public sphere. The colloquium asks two fundamental questions related to this hypothesis: how is the public sphere rethought aesthetically (in terms of forms, media, materialities and sensibilities) in contemporary art? And how does an artistic public sphere succeed in permeating a political public sphere?

Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere brings together artists, designers, art historians, curators, philosophers and scholars in urbanism and media studies to reflect on emerging models of the public sphere and the role of aisthesis (αἴσθησις: the faculty of perception by the senses and the intellect) in this emergence. These models represent different ways to challenge common sense through reformulations of common concern. They rethink the human/nonhuman relations of the public sphere’s communality, following a reinvented dialectic between mutuality and individuality, agreement and dissensus, common good and common activity. Some of the aesthetic models considered here include: the atmospheric; the magnetic; speculative realism; the edge and the action of edging; worldly cosmopolitism; the communism of the senses; the reinvention of the salon as an interspecies site; unbecoming communities; the performed and virtualized public space. They evolve alongside and sometimes in dialogue with new political and philosophical models of public life, including: the inoperative community (Jean-Luc Nancy); the meeting of species (Donna Haraway); the (non)relationality of human and nonhuman objects (Graham Harman); cruel optimism (Lauren Berlant); the multitude (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri); hermeneutic communism and the end of emergencies (Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala); tolerance (Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst); world-forming (Nancy); spherical expansion (Peter Sloterdijk); and a political co-activity by which the common is instituted through participatory actions rather than as a thing to appropriate for the common good (Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval).

When (more than what) is the public sphere? When does contemporary art deploy spacious in-common worlds, which make room for a diversity of beings in conversation, new and old ways of relating through sensibilities, perception, thought, affects, movement, circulation, media, speech and body acts? Worlds that redefine what it is to be human. How do aesthetics and politics intertwine? And how are cultural public spheres spatialized and temporalized in different geographies, in relation to globalization? Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere is an occasion to raise and discuss some of these questions, all of which revolve around the place of aisthesis in contemporary reformulations of the public sphere.


FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 2016

9:00-9:15     INTRODUCTION

Christine Ross, Media@McGill/McGill University

9:15-10:30   OPENING KEYNOTE

Jean-Luc Nancy, Université de Strasbourg [FR]

Moderator:  Christine Ross, Media@McGill/McGill University


Santiago Zabala, ICREA/Pompeu Fabra University [ENG]

Pierre Dardot, Laboratoire Sophiapol, Université Paris Ouest [FR]

Moderator:  Jean-Philippe Uzel, Université du Québec à Montréal


Frances Dyson, University of California, Davis/UNSW: Australia [ENG]

Caleb Kelly, UNSW: Australia [ENG]

Moderator:  Jonathan Sterne, McGill University


Nadia Myre, Artist [ENG]

Romeo Gongora, Artist [FR]

Marjetica Potrč, HFBK Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg [ENG]

Moderator:  Tamar Tembeck, Media@McGill/McGill University


9:00-10:30    SHARING SPACE

Nermin Saybaşılı, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University [ENG]

John Paul Ricco, University of Toronto [ENG]

Moderator: Amanda Boetzkes, University of Guelph


Adriana de Souza e Silva, North Carolina State University [ENG]

Gerard Goggin, University of Sydney [ENG]

Moderator: Olivier Asselin, Université de Montréal

13:30-14:50   THE DIGITAL COMMON

Dominique Cardon, SENSE Orange Labs/LATTS Université de Marne la vallée [FR]

Dietmar Offenhuber, Northeastern University [ENG]

Moderator: Suzanne Paquet, Université de Montréal


Nikos Papastergiadis, University of Melbourne [ENG]

Marsha Meskimmon, Loughborough University [ENG]

Moderator: Johanne Sloan, Concordia University

16:40-17:55  CLOSING KEYNOTE

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea/ Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino [ENG]

Moderator: Christine Ross, Media@McGill/McGill University

17:55-18:00   CLOSING WORDS

Colloquium Programming Committee
Prof. Christine Ross, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Dr. Tamar Tembeck, Academic Associate, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Prof. Amanda Boetzkes, School of Fine Art and Music, University of Guelph
Prof. Olivier Asselin, Département d’histoire de l’art et d’études cinématographiques, Université de Montréal
Prof. Suzanne Paquet, Département d’histoire de l’art et d’études cinématographiques, Université de Montréal

Colloquium Organizing Team
Prof. Christine Ross, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Dr. Tamar Tembeck, Academic Associate, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Sophie Toupin, Project Administrator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Mary Chin, Administrative Coordinator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Caitlin Loney, Graphic Designer and Web Administrator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Research Delegates
Camille Brechignac
Hera Chan
Zoë De Luca
Sandra Evoughlian
Anastasia Howe Bukowski
jake moore

Media@McGill Colloquium Partners:
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Mediatopia research team, “Aesthetics, New Media, and the (Re)configuration of Public Space” research project, funded through the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Société et Culture (FRQSC); McGill University – Dean of Arts Development Fund, Department of Art History and Communication Studies Speaker Series, Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship (CSDC), Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), Grierson Chair in Communication Studies, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, James McGill Chair in Culture and Technology, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy.


Dominique Cardon
« Internet et la représentation du commun » [FR]
(“Internet and the Representation of the Common”)

Abstract: Web-based practices have given new strength and vitality to the idea of the common, doing-in-common and community. This presentation means to retrace the trajectory of this figure in the history of digital practices by going back to the political forms initiated by the pioneers of the network, which sought to oppose the common to the general interest. Wikipedia, free software and networked communities’ self-organized forms have fostered original modes of construction and collective appropriation of the common good. They have also established political forms set to watch over common goods, distribute meritocratic authority within the community, and guarantee its accessibility to all. We would like to show how this form of representation of the common has rested upon an understanding of the “intelligence of crowds” that refers back to two universes of meaning – one substantial, the other procedural. We will attempt to offer a sociological interpretation of the way in which these ideals have met with contemporary societies’ forms of individuation and have been put to the test by the spread of Internet usage on a mass scale. The collective forms with which individuals identify are expected to be devoid of substance (be it programs, orientations, ideological ambitions, a principle from which to frame or select information…) and rather be shaped on the basis of public, verifiable and controllable procedures. At the same time, individuals grant themselves a monopoly over the substantial definition of their centres of interest, but also of what constitutes for them the general interest.

Bio: Dominique Cardon is a sociologist at the Orange Labs Laboratory of Uses and Associate Professor at the Université de Marne la Vallée. His work looks into the uses of the Internet and transformations in digital public space. His recent research focuses on the Internet’s social networks, forms of online identity, amateur self-production and the analysis of forms of cooperation and governance in large online collectives. He is presently conducting a sociological analysis of the algorithms that allow for the organization of information on the web. He has directed the publication of special issues of the journal Réseaux on “Internet’s Social Networks” (No. 152, Dec. 2008), “Web 2.0” (No. 154, Mar. 2009), “A Politics of Algorithms” (No. 177, Apr. 2013) and “Digital Methods” (No. 188, 2015). He has published La Démocratie Internet, Paris: Seuil/La République des Idées, 2010, with Fabien Granjon; Mediactivistes, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po’, 2010 (2nd expanded edition: 2013) and La Société des Calculs, Paris: Seuil, 2015 (forthcoming).

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
“On Love and Gardens: the Life of Art Exhibitions” [ENG – via videoconference]

Abstract: In 1945 Vita Sackville West wrote, “… therefore, in the midst of war, of gardens I boldly tell.” When does gardening, or making exhibitions, produce joy and constitute a transformative and composted form of politics of flourishing, both literally and through the life of exhibitions, and against the expulsions that characterize our times? This lecture explores committed gestures, speech acts and artistic acts that create provisional places of porosity, with consequences, rather than bounded spaces of expulsion. With examples from dOCUMENTA (13), 2012, and the 14th Istanbul Biennial,  2015.

Bio: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University (2013–15), Getty Visiting Research Scholar (2015), and was recently appointed as Director of Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea and GAM – Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino, commencing on January 1, 2016. She drafted the 14th Istanbul Biennial, titled SALTWATER. A Theory of Thought Forms (5th September – 1st November 2015). Previously, she was the artistic director of dOCUMENTA (13) (2012); the artistic director of the 16th  Biennale of Sydney, Revolutions—Forms That Turn (2008); and senior curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, a MoMA affiliate in New York, from 1999 to 2001.

Pierre Dardot
« Le sens du commun » [FR] (“The Meaning of the Common”)

Abstract: “Common” (singular) is the name of the political principle in virtue of which there is no co-obligation (cum-munus) but that which proceeds from co-activity, that is, from the participation in a common task. As such, it excludes political obligation that would be founded in a given belonging, independent from all activity. The implementation of this principle consists in practices of putting in common which, in very diverse forms, carry out the institution of “commons” (plural). By “commons” we do not mean things (rivers, forests, land, etc.), information or knowledge content, or places (urban space, theatre, social centre, etc.) defined by their material properties, but rather the indissoluble bond between this thing, object or place and the collective activity that, always being required by this thing, object or place, institutes it as common, takes charge of it and brings it to life. Consequently, the meaning animating these practices is not and cannot be “common sense,” but only a sense of the common. Such a meaning is none other than the affective effect of participation in a shared activity and in no way depends on some “affective community.”

Bio: Pierre Dardot, born on October 28, 1952, is Associate Researcher at the Sophiapol Laboratory of the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense and a professor of preparatory classes in Paris. University diplomas: Agrégation de philosophie (1980) and Doctorat en lettres et sciences humaines (philosophie) at the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense (1988). Facilitator of the « Question Marx » study and research group since 2004, with Christian Laval. Publications: Sauver Marx ? (with Christian Laval and El Mouhoub Mouhoud), La Découverte, 2007; La Nouvelle Raison du Monde (with Christian Laval), La Découverte, 2009; Marx, Prénom: Karl (with Christian Laval), Gallimard, 2012; Commun (with Christian Laval), La Découverte, 2014.

Adriana de Souza e Silva

“Creative Appropriations: Mobile Interfaces in Art, Games, and Education” [ENG]

Abstract: Research on mobile technology use in the developing world has often focused on how low-income and resource-constrained populations appropriate and adopt technology either for economic development (Donner, 2009) or to creatively subvert its intended uses (de Souza e Silva, Sutko, Salis, & de Souza e Silva, 2011). However, creative appropriations of mobile technology are not limited to the poor. Brazil’s well-established media art and gaming community includes figures who embraced mobile technologies as interfaces for art making early on. For example, in 2001 Giselle Beiguelman developed a series of screen savers for mobile phones called Wop Art. And in 2005, start-up company M1nd Corporation developed the first location-based mobile game in Brazil, Alien Revolt (de Souza e Silva, 2008). In addition, several media artists and researchers such as Claudio Bueno, Gilbertto Prado, and Fabio Fon have been using mobile technologies as creative interfaces for artmaking.

Based on interviews with the most prominent mobile communication researchers and media artists in Brazil, this presentation focuses on the creative uses of mobile technologies in the domains of art, games, and research. It analyzes the interrelationships among mobile technology, art, and public spaces. In doing so, I address the potentials of mobility spaces as new sites for creative interventions, public participation, social interaction and politics.

Bio: Adriana de Souza e Silva is Associate Professor at the Department of Communication and Director of the Communication, Rhetoric and Digital Media (CRDM) program at North Carolina State University (NCSU). She is also affiliated faculty at the Digital Games Research Center at NCSU. Dr. de Souza e Silva’s research focuses on how mobile and locative interfaces shape people’s interactions with public spaces and create new forms of sociability. She teaches classes on mobile technologies, location-based games and Internet studies. Dr. de Souza e Silva is the co-author (with Eric Gordon) of Net-Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World (Blackwell, 2011), and (with Jordan Frith) of Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Control, Privacy, and Urban Sociability (Routledge, 2012). She holds a PhD in Communication and Culture from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Frances Dyson

“(Non)Economies of Sound: Experimental Sound and the Common” [ENG]

Abstract: In the rapid appropriation of the public sphere, what were once public spaces have become sites of institutionalized spectacle, where participation and engagement are not only severely restricted (in terms of access within and to the site), but increasingly beyond the reach of those they were meant to entertain. Price per square metre is now the overriding vector in the reconfiguration of public space. But how is price per square metre figured in terms of sound? In this paper I argue that sound art and experimental music encourage forms of political, economic, and social organization that can resist the deracinated public sphere of neo-liberalism. In the same way that sound’s ephemeral and atmospheric nature circulates outside of exchange, the (non)economy of performance/sound art and live experimental music creates a public sphere relatively free from monetization. As such, it offers an avenue through which social relations can be re-negotiated, via a focused listening praxis that asserts the politics and existential condition of the “in-common.” From here, the movement towards a shared sensibility, a “communism of the senses” that builds sense, the common, and common sense simultaneously, might be possible.

Bio: Frances Dyson is Emeritus Professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies at the University of California, Davis, and Visiting Professorial Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts, University of New South Wales. She is the author of The Tone of Our Times: Sound, Sense, Economy and Ecology (MIT Press, 2014), Sounding New Media: Immersion and Embodiment in the Arts and Culture (University of California Press, 2009), and the web-based media project “And then it was Now”  on E.A.T., 9 Evenings and Pavilion (Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology, Montreal 2007). Dyson has exhibited installation/performance works in the US, Canada, Japan and Australia, and has been a regular contributor to Australia’s premier audio arts program, The Listening Room, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Her audio works can be found on She currently serves on the editorial boards of Evental Aesthetics and CTheory (see recent talk at

Gerald Goggin

“Disability Commons: Culture, Technology, and New Publics” [ENG] 

Abstract: In recent years, we have experienced the rise of new conceptions and relations of disability across many societies, places, and environments. It could be argued that disability arts, culture, and media, in particular, envision and construct new worlds, which require us to radically rethink our ideas of the human, non-human, bodies, and the social.

In this paper, I bring emergent concepts of disability, culture, and technology, in particular, into dialogue with the organizing and interlinking concepts of aisthesis and commons. I wish to suggest that disability offers an especially rich and provocative set of resources — as well as notable imperatives — in the project of rethinking public spheres.

First, I explore the concept of aisthesis from critical disability standpoints. The invocation of the senses, alongside the intellect, offers an important cue — as considering the sensory dimensions and modalities that the diversity of disability entails makes it clear that traditional theories of public sphere have as yet given little regard for how people with disabilities might participate. Shifting the model and implied communicative and cultural architecture of a public sphere from decision-making or deliberation to ideas such as sensibility offers some very interesting possibilities. So I consider how specific publics — for instance, constituted via Deaf or Blind people, people with autism, people with cognitive impairments, mental health disabilities, or episodic conditions — could be understood, and indeed revolve, around particular sensibilities.

Secondly, I look at case studies to do with the new kinds of perception involved in constituting publics, pivoting on the intersection among disability, cultural and digital technology (or what are often called “virtualized spaces”). Still relatively under researched, there is a fascinating, consequential, and suggestive range of ways in which the innovations associated with people with disabilities’ appropriation of digital technology — starting with early Internet platforms, evident now in mobile media, and dramatically expanding across a wide range of new digital technologies — do actualizing just and democratic public spheres.

Bio: Gerard Goggin is Professor of Media and Communications and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Sydney. He has published widely on digital technology, media, culture, and disability. His books include Digital Disability (2003; with Christopher Newell), Cell Phone Culture (2006), Internationalizing Internet Studies (2009; with Mark McLelland), Global Mobile Media (2010), Locative Media (2015; with Rowan Wilken), Disability and the Media (2015; with Katie Ellis). He is currently co-editing the Routledge Handbook to Disability and Media (with Beth Haller and Katie Ellis), and writing a book on Disability and Listening (with Cate Thill).

Romeo Gongora

« Commun Commune » [FR] (“Common Commune”)

Abstract: This presentation will explore the concept of common space developed through the Common Commune project. Inspired by Quebec utopias and the commune culture of the 1970s, this project consisted of life in a commune, in June 2015, in order to “rethink the world through creation.” Motivated by the desire to create a space for collective exchange and authentic human relations, the commune developed activities meant to help “leave the paths traced by our logical/production-oriented society and rethink our social structures, experiment art in a collective and communitarian way, take on the risk of living an experience of personal and collective growth, enter in profound connection with the environment and the contact of the other.” We will examine how this experience attempted to reconfigure the common through the introduction of a non-violent communication method (Marshall Rosenberg), a sociocratic mode of decision-making, opening a space for the experiential and the elaboration of an unexpected life experience.

Bio: Romeo Gongora (Canada/Guatemala) is a visual artist. He completed a Master’s in Media Arts at UQÀM in 2005. He has received many grants and presented his projects notably at the Kin Art Studio (Kinshasa), HISK (Ghent), CAC (Lagos), The Office (Berlin) and the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal. He was recently invited to work at the Récollets (Paris), the Centro de la Imagen (Mexico) and the Neumünster Cultural Center (Luxemburg). In 2007, he began a two-year residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (Amsterdam) and, in 2009, represented Canada at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin). “I consider myself to be a researcher: my purpose is not an art object, but a research project that materializes in a trans-disciplinary form (performance, encounters, writings, installations, etc.). Thus putting the emphasis on the process rather than the final product, my work makes use of dialogue, empathy and trust as a production strategy. This procedure implies a period of research in close collaboration with various communities. The result is an in situ work of deep emotional intensity that seeks to analyze the socio-psychological constructions of a physical and mental environment.”

Caleb Kelly

“Intervention and Isolation: Sound in Public Art Space” [ENG]

Abstract: The art gallery has long been held as an architectural environment for the quiet contemplation of visual art, yet there have been numerous interventions into this space that are anything but contemplative. Artists having emptied the art space of visual content, leave an empty sounding gallery. The expectation of a visual experience or in more recent years entertainment in the art museum forces an audience to discover an aesthetic experience in unexpected places. The paper will discuss works within the empty gallery that traverse the spectrum of deep quiet to miasmic volume and physicality.

Focusing on art and music within the public space of the white cube, the talk will look at Marco Fusinato (Aus), Bruce Nauman (USA), La Monte Young (USA), David Haines (AUS) and Joyce Hinterding (AUS) and lead to a noisy conclusion.

Bio: Caleb Kelly is an academic, event director and curator working in the area of the sound arts at UNSW: Australia in Sydney. His research interests are focused on sound as it relates to media art and experimental music. Kelly is the author of Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction (MIT Press) and the editor of Sound (MIT Press and Whitechapel Gallery), and his forthcoming book Gallery Sound (Bloomsbury Academic) will be published in 2016. In 2015, he was the Edgard Varèse Guest Professor at the Technische Universität Berlin.

Marsha Meskimmon

“Materializing Transversal Worlds: The Question of Cosmopolitan Public Art” [ENG]

Abstract: This paper explores the question of a “cosmopolitan public art” and the role that it might play in articulating the intersectional dynamics of world citizenship within an increasingly global public culture. Debates concerning the function of public art, the role of heritage and the value of participatory and/or community arts projects are widespread. Likewise, the more traditional uses of art in the provision of monuments, memorials and markers in public spaces are now accompanied by a wide variety of new forms of art designed to intervene in the public sphere. Some of these use ephemeral, performative and/or participatory strategies to challenge the concept of public culture, whilst others seek to redefine the contours of art’s “publics” or move toward a “new genre” of public art.

Despite this variety in practice, much of the critical discourse focused upon contemporary forms of public art remains resolutely representational. By this, I do not mean that it is centred upon figurative works of art (representations), but that it presumes that art operates within the logic of representation and that public art thus “represents” (or “fails to represent”) the individual or collective identities that form “the public.” This paper seeks to move away from questions of reflection and representation toward an analysis of “public art” as a diffractive, materializing force. Exploring the idea that a cosmopolitan public art may offer the potential to materialize, rather than represent, embodied, transversal forms of citizenship suggests a different role for public/art as it makes worlds from within.

Bio: Marsha Meskimmon is Professor of Art History and Theory at Loughborough University (UK). Meskimmon’s research focuses on transnational contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on feminist corporeal-materialisms, global ethics and cosmopolitics. Her publications include: The Art of Reflection: Women Artists’ Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century (1996), We Weren’t Modern Enough: Women Artists and the Limits of German Modernism (1999), Women Making Art: History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics (2003) and Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination (2010). Women, the Arts and Globalisation: Eccentric Experience (co-edited with Dorothy Rowe), was published in 2013 and the anthology Home/Land: Women, Citizenship, Photographies (co-edited with Marion Arnold) is forthcoming. With Amelia Jones, she edits the series Rethinking Art’s Histories for Manchester University Press, and with Phil Sawdon, she has just completed the book Drawing Difference: Connections between Gender and Drawing (since the 1960s).

Nadia Myre

“The Scar Project” [ENG]

Abstract: Pick at the scab and what do you see? A story you love? A story you hate? A story you are too afraid to share or one you can’t stop talking about? Love them or hate them, our stories are wounds that have shaped and influenced our lives. The Scar Project, a participatory artwork that evolved and traveled to different communities from 2005 to 2013, was about recognizing, naming and sharing them – listening, and in so doing, bringing compassion and love to each other and ourselves.

Bio: Nadia Myre is a visual artist from Quebec and an Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. For over a decade, her multi-disciplinary practice has been inspired by participant involvement as well as recurring themes of identity, language, longing and loss. Myre is a recipient of numerous grants and awards, notably: Sobey Art Award (2014), Pratt & Whitney Canada’s Les Elles de l’art for the Conseil des arts de Montréal (2011), Quebec Arts Council’s Prix à la création artistique pour la region des Laurentides (2009), and a Fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum (2003). Her work The Scar Project was selected for both the 2011 Montréal Biennale and 2012 Sydney Biennial. Myre’s work has received accolades from the New York Times, Le Monde, The Washington Post, Le Devoir, and has been featured in ARTnews, American Craft Magazine, ETC, Parachute, Canadian Art, C Magazine, Monopol, and ESSE.

Jean-Luc Nancy

« Le Sens commun : Essai de réinterprétation » [FR – via videoconference]

(“Common Sense: A Reinterpretation”)

Abstract: How does the common make sense? Sensation? Feeling? Intelligible sense?

Bio: Jean-Luc Nancy, professor at the Université de Strasbourg (France) and visiting scholar at many universities throughout the world, has published over a hundred books looking into the themes of “being-with,” arts and literature, and the “deconstruction of Christianity.”

Dietmar Offenhuber

“Mining the Public Sphere – Technologies of Transactionalization” [ENG] 

Abstract: From an economic perspective, a public good is public because people cannot be excluded from its consumption, regardless of whether this is because of ideological or just practical reasons due to a lack of enforceability. In infrastructure services, the ability to measure individual consumption is frequently a central agent determining the location of the boundary between public and private. Technologies such as the Internet of Things, Bitcoin, and the block-chain allow measuring even miniscule consumptions of any infrastructural service, threatening to convert traditional public goods into purely private ones. In my talk, I will trace the contradictions between these tendencies and the pervasive rhetoric of the “sharing economy,” and reevaluate the notion of the commons in the transactionalization of the public sphere.

Bio: Dietmar Offenhuber is Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in the departments of Art + Design and Public Policy. He holds a PhD in Urban Planning from MIT, a MS in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab, and a Dipl. Ing. in Architecture from the Technical University Vienna. Dietmar was Key Researcher at the Austrian Ludwig Boltzmann Institute and the Ars Electronica Futurelab and professor in the Interface Culture program of the Art University Linz, Austria.

His research field could be described as Accountability Design – focusing on the political responsibility of visual design in urban governance and civic discourse. Dietmar led a number of research projects investigating formal and informal waste systems and has published books on the subjects of Urban Data, Accountability Technologies and Urban Informatics. His PhD dissertation received the Outstanding Dissertation Award 2014 from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT; his research received the Best Paper Award 2012 from the Journal of the American Planning Association.

In his artistic practice, Dietmar frequently collaborates with the sound artist Markus Decker and composers Sam Auinger and Hannes Strobl under the name “stadtmusik”. His artistic work has been exhibited internationally in venues including the Centre Pompidou, Sundance and the Hong Kong International Film Festival, ZKM Karlsruhe, Secession Vienna, and the Seoul International Media Art Biennale. His awards include the first price in the NSF Visualization Challenge, the Jury Award at the Melbourne International Animation Festival, the Art Directors Club Silver Award, a Special Mention at the 12th International Media Art Biennale WRO07 and Honorary Mentions from File Festival, Ars Electronica and Transmediale, Berlin.

Nikos Papastergiadis

“The Cosmopolitan Scene in Contemporary Art” [ENG]

Abstract: The complexities of cultural hybridity and mobilities of artists in contemporary society have been the subject of much celebration and derision. I will argue that this scene furnishes some glimpses of a cosmopolitan imaginary. However, to grasp the outlines of this imaginary, we must also clear up some confusion about the difference between a globalizing world, and the worldliness of cosmopolitanism.

Globalization refers to a program of integration and unification. In a globalizing world, everything ultimately becomes the same. This is a regime that assembles the diverse and disparate parts, measures their discrete value according to a standard code, and coordinates their relationship within an inter-locking network. Standardization brings efficiency and greater connectivity, not just in commercial transactions, but also in the delineation of cultural values and political rights. The globe is flat and even, because all the relations between the past and future, near and far, foreign and familiar have to submit to the regime of integration.

The worldliness of cosmopolitanism starts elsewhere and moves in different ways. As Axelos and others have argued since the 1950s, the world begins in the imaginative and creative encounters with others, and leads not to smoother levels of integration, but inspires novel forms of interaction and interpretation. Art is a primal example of world-making activity. It keeps understanding and creativity alive through the productive encounters of difference.

In this lecture, I will explore the role of large-scale exhibition as a world-making activity.

Bio: Nikos Papastergiadis is Director, Research Unit in Public Cultures and Professor, School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. He studied at the University of Melbourne and University of Cambridge. Prior to returning to The University of Melbourne, he was a lecturer and the Simon Fellow at the University of Manchester. He have provided strategic consultancies for government agencies on issues relating to cultural identity and worked on collaborative projects with artists and theorists of international repute, such as John Berger, Jimmie Durham and Sonya Boyce. His current research focuses on the investigation of the historical transformation of contemporary art and cultural institutions by digital technology. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Fellow of Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, Member of Clare College Cambridge, Visiting Fellow at the University of Tasmania School of Art, Advisory Board Member to the University of South Australia School of Art and Architecture, and co-chair of the Greek Centre for Contemporary Culture.

Marjetica Potrč

“The Soweto Project: Ubuntu Park” [ENG]

Abstract: For two and a half months in spring 2014, students of the Design for the Living World class (University of Fine Arts/HFBK, Hamburg, Germany) engaged in The Soweto Project in Soweto, South Africa. The project is an example of participatory design, with the students and the community planning and realizing the project together. The project designs community using relational objects and performative actions, such as the construction of a performance platform and the organization of a Soweto Street Festival. Ubuntu Park in Orlando East is a former public space that has been used as a dumping ground for more than 40 years. Working together, the community and the students cleaned up the area and made a number of improvements: they built a stage, benches and tables, and braai stands. On 9 March 2014, the space was given the name Ubuntu Park. The public space is managed and organized by the community, who have elected the Ubuntu Park Committee and formed a community-based organization, Environ Ubuntu Park Projects. The Soweto Project is an initiative of Nine Urban Biotopes – Negotiating the Future of Urban Living. The project is a collaboration between the students of the Design for the Living World class, the residents of Orlando East, morethanshelters Berlin, PlanAct Johannesburg, and the Goethe-Institut South Africa.

Bio: Marjetica Potrč is an artist and architect based in Ljubljana and Berlin. Potrč’s artworks have been exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the Americas, including at the Venice Biennial (1993, 2003, 2009) and the São Paulo Biennial (1996, 2006), and are shown regularly at Galerie Nordenhake in Berlin. Her many on-site community-based projects include Dry Toilet (Caracas, 2003), The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbour (Amsterdam, 2009) and Between the Waters (Essen, 2010). Since 2011, she has been a professor at the University of Fine Arts/HFBK in Hamburg, where she teaches the course Design for the Living World, in which students develop participatory design projects over long-term residencies. One of their most recent projects is The Soweto Project (Soweto, South Africa, 2014). In Potrč’s view, when communities implement and disseminate sustainable solutions, they both empower themselves and help create a democracy built from below.

John Paul Ricco

“Edging, Drawing: Queer Spatial Praxis of the Common” [ENG]

Abstract: Bodies are exorbitant extremities, and not enclosed and discrete or “embodied” entities. This is just one of the reasons why we do not speak of a body having a centre or margins. Ontologically speaking, any material-physical thing that is open and always in excess of its limits is a body. Thus not only are there non-human and inorganic bodies, just as there are human bodies, but the matter of bodies and how they come to matter and mean, happens in those indeterminate and undecidable zones where it is often impossible to know where one body begins and another ends. Edge is the name that we might give for this shared spacing, there where bodies partake in a sense of the intimacy of the outside. In my paper I consider works by three contemporary artists, Francisco-Fernando Granados, Shaan Syed, and Sarah Kabot, in which a performative praxis of drawing traces the non-mediating line of the edge as the space-time of the common—its tense, tension and extension. In the public performance of repetitively tracing a facial profile (Granados), or a portrait of lost lover posted on city streets (Syed), or in which all of the lines in a public bathroom are shifted by half-an-inch (Kabot), these works peri-performatively open up spaces around bodies, and places and things. Spaces that are virtual rather than possible, inoperative rather than productive, anonymous rather than identitarian. Indeterminate zones but never empty voids, these edgings are where appearing and disappearing, becoming and unbecoming persist as the immeasurable infinities that they are. The sense and experience (aisthesis) of the common lies in the pleasures and risks of our affinities to these edges.

Bio: John Paul Ricco’s work on social-sexual ethics and aesthetics lies at the intersection of art history, continental philosophy, queer theory, and architecture. He is the author of The Logic of the Lure (University of Chicago Press, 2003)—the first published monograph in queer theoretical art history—and The Decision Between Us: Art & Ethics in the Time of Scenes (Chicago, 2014). He is currently completing a third book in this trilogy on “the intimacy of the outside,” titled: The Outside Not Beyond: Pornographic Faith and the Economy of the Eve. Ricco is Associate Professor of Contemporary Art, Media Theory, and Culture in the Department of Visual Studies, and Graduate Professor in the Centre for Comparative Literature, at the University of Toronto. He is a 2015-16 Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto, where he will pursue a research project on “The Collective Afterlife of Things.”

Nermin Saybaşılı
“Magnetic Istanbul” [ENG]

Abstract: The paper proposes the notion of the “magnetic Istanbul” in relation to Occupy Gezi and in reference to Sounds of Resistance (2014), a sound art piece by the artist and the musician Erdem Helvacıoğlu. The notion of “the magnetic city” corresponds to a spatial practice, combining space and event, subjectivity and mobility in a very particular way. Turning the whole city into a camp space temporarily for the act of resistance and the desire for liberation, Occupy Gezi marks a paradigm shift as being at the centre of emerging questions of public space, identity, residency, safety, freedom and mobility. From this perspective, “the magnetic city” is not a space for governmental architecture, but a place for a subject who has particular, excessive sphere of activity with the others in the space by generating a surplus place operating both inside and outside of the city. Judith Butler conceptualized resistance as a “performative power” which has to do with the demands of bodily action, gesture, movement, congregation, persistence, and exposure to possible violence. “The magnetic” is a metaphor for a force that stretches upon its energy and creativity through a network of places and people tracing out the invisible, the inaudible, the temporal, the detachable, the connectible, the reversible, and the modifiable. As has been investigated by Helvacıoğlu through his sound assemblage, during the resistance, sounds, voices, and bodies are animated through other bodies, sounds and voices, echoing each other and moving constantly across spaces. Moreover, his sound piece in its extended and replicable audible dimension extends the scenes of resistance audibly and participates in the transposability of the scene in the gallery context.

Bio: Nermin Saybaşılı is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. Saybaşılı works as visiting scholar in the School of Arts at Columbia University with a Fulbright Fellowship beginning from September 2015 until September 1, 2016. Amongst her many essays published in books, catalogues, journals and magazines, Saybaşılı’s most recent publications include chapters in Globalisation and Contemporary Art (Wiley-Blackwell), Mobility and Fantasy in Visual Culture (Routledge) and Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (IB Tauris).

Santiago Zabala
“Emergency Through Aesthetics” [ENG]

Abstract: The goal of my presentation is to introduce the end of emergencies through aesthetics. Philosophy in the 21st century is not meant to disclose the emergencies we face, but rather the ones we are missing. This is why Heidegger believed the “only emergency is the absence of emergency.” Following his distinction between those who thrust us “from” and “into” emergencies, I will try to outline hermeneutic communism aesthetic ambitions through artists as Filippo Minelli, Jennifer Karady, and others.

Bio: Santiago Zabala is ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the Humanities Department of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. He is the author of, among others, The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy (2008), The Remains of Being (2009), Hermeneutic Communism (2011, co-authored with G. Vattimo) all published by Columbia University Press and translated into several languages. He also edited The Future of Religion (2005), Weakening Philosophy (2007), Art’s Claim to Truth (2008), Consequences of Hermeneutics (2010), and Being Shaken (2014). His forthcoming books are Only Art Can Save Us and Being at Large. He also writes opinion articles for The Guardian, The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, and The Los Angeles Review of Books.

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