Broken Relations: Infrastructure, Aesthetics, and Critique
A Conference in context of the exhibition Conditions and Frameworks: Infrastructure as Form and Medium.
Broken Relations: Infrastructure, Aesthetic, and Critique is an exhibition, publication, and educational project, collaboratively organized and hosted by the Academies of Fine Arts in Vienna and in Leipzig. This Vienna conference foregrounds infrastructure in the fields of art and education, specifically practices that reflect their infrastructural conditions through methods and topics of display and mediation. Infrastructures are material phenomena and physical networks, immaterial relations and symbolic actions, which, in visible and invisible ways, form our present and, hence, our horizon of aesthetic perception. The interplay of material and ideological conditions of production and presentation directs the (institution-critical) gaze onto nodal points of real and symbolic orders, places, and economies.
Initiated in Leipzig in 2021 with a lecture series and an exhibition, the conference continues this discursive engagement and, in Vienna, is complemented by the exhibition Conditions and Frameworks in the Academy’s Exhibit galleries. A publication bringing together contributions by the lecture and conference participants is forthcoming in the fall of 2022.
Friday, May 20, 2022
Rector Johan F. Hartle and Vice-Rector Ingeborg Erhart
Introduction to conference, exhibition, and reader
Beatrice v. Bismarck
(Re-)Doing Relations: Curatorial Infrastructures and Interruptions
In the museal field, both material conditions—such as institutional equipment, transport media or passageways—and immaterial ways of relating that include networks, orders, protocols, and appropriations can have an infrastructural function. They enable access, mobility, and encounters and, at the same time, produce restrictions, exclusions, and codifications. The lecture explores the potentials of curatorial practice to confront the ambivalence of infrastructures, thereby understanding the curatorial as the ability to generate and shape relationships. Understanding curatorial infrastructures as the supply chains that produce meaning in museum and exhibition spaces, this talk aims to draw attention to procedures and strategies that seek to establish alternative modes of relating.
Beatrice von Bismarck teaches art history, visual culture, and cultures of the curatorial at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. She recently edited the volume Archives on Show: Revoicing, Shapeshifting, Displacing – A Curatorial Glossary, 2022. Her new book The Curatorial Condition is forthcoming later this year.
Infrastructure, Translation and Metaphor: A Reflection on Infrastructure’s Epistemic Framework and Metaphorical Displacements with Michel Serres and Bruno Latour
What is the epistemic background of the term “infrastructure”? In which way is it inhabited by metaphors, and how is infrastructure at times itself being used as a metaphor? This talk looks at the term through a “translational” perspective and investigates its transdisciplinary metaphorical displacements through the writings of Michel Serres and Bruno Latour. Serres’ reflections on structure and its translation as well as his understanding of metaphorical language beyond its mere embellishment can fruitfully be put into practice in epistemic reflections on infrastructure and the embeddedness of its respective meanings. With Latour’s own considerations of the metaphorical impact of “networked infrastructure,” the network-related vocabulary of weaving, knots, topology, fluidity, etc. prove to be central for understanding the relationship between method and object. By drawing connections to “infralanguage,” the metaphorological and translational perspective on infrastructure understands metaphorical displacements of multiple kinds not as embellishments, but as their constitutive, mediatory, and partly unexposed epistemic background helping to explore infrastructure’s conceptual framework and how it determines our epistemic frameworks.
Lilian Kroth is currently working on a doctoral thesis at the University of Cambridge. Her PhD project engages with concepts of the limit in the writings of Michel Serres. She teaches and writes on different topics related to critical theory, philosophy of science and art. Kroth’s exhibition projects inlcude WE COULD ALSO BE SILENT with Elisabeth Wildling and Veronika Mayer, 2018; WHISK with Stefanie Hintersteiner, 2019; BAU2–6, Plan D, Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, 2020.
Material and Symbolic Production in Agnes Denes’s “Wheatfield—A Confrontation”
In 1982, with the support of the Public Art Fund and numerous helpers, Agnes Denes planted a two-acre wheat field on a wasteland at the foot of the relatively new World Trade Centre and cultivated it there until the late summer harvest. This talk focuses on this intervention, bringing into contact divergent concepts of value and value genesis. The economy of exchange values, whose global circulation is symbolised in the crystalline architecture of the Financial District, is juxtaposed with the use value of food, which is created on the flat wheat field through the accumulation of solar energy. Through the history of site-specific art and art practices related to institutional critique, the confrontation staged by Denes’ work “Wheatfield—A Confrontation” can be read as a diagram of the irreducible dependence of human economy and production on chthonic-terrestrial and cosmological conditions.
Sebastian Egenhofer is Professor for Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Vienna. His book Abstraktion – Kapitalismus – Subjektivität (2008) was published in translation in 2017 as Towards an Aesthetics of Production. His latest work concentrates on the ecological turn in contemporary art and its long history. In particular, the relationship of artistic representation to other instances of the “technical mediation” of nature is at the center of his interest.
Direct (Dispositional) Action (via Zoom)
Meeting-ID: 952 2752 2852
In addition to their declared intentions, institutions also enact undeclared dispositions that are inherent in the chemistry of their arrangements and temperaments. Culture may be under-rehearsed in detecting or expressing these potentials that elude the anointed legal, ideological, digital or quantitative languages. Meanwhile, authoritarian political powers routinely manipulate dispositions and temperaments—confusing declared ideologies and generating divisive fights from which to harvest loyalties. The activist espousing singular evils and singular solutions is an easy target for these powers. The activist maintaining a less predictable but no less resolute dissensus can keep power disoriented. They can begin immediately to deploy the most productive aspects of culture—the live community economies that do not respond to homo economicus—to overwhelm capital with spatial and dispositional forms of direct action.
Keller Easterling is an architect, writer, and the Enid Storm Dwyer Professor of Architecture at Yale. Her most recent book Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, 2021, inverts an emphasis on object and figure to prompt innovative thought about both spatial and non-spatial problems. Her book, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, 2014, examines global infrastructure as a medium of polity.
Saturday, May 21, 2022
Introduction to the second day of the conference
Living with a Wounded Planet: Infrastructural Consciousness Raising
This lecture argues that we need to collectively raise awareness for the modern infrastructural condition which affects individual life and the planet as a whole. It situates infrastructure at the crucial intersection of social and environmental justice and suggests a better understanding of how the connectivity produced by infrastructure affects everyone and everything. Socio-environmental and bio-material interdependencies and responsibilities arise from this connectivity. Climate catastrophe, sea-level rise, large storms, wildfires, heatwaves, droughts, and heavy precipitation are connected to modernity’s carbon-heavy infrastructure. Extreme weather events require better and safer infrastructure to breathe, shelter, better access to clean drinking water, sanitation, washing of clothes, and food preparation. Infrastructural consciousness raising helps to imagine new ethical relations between living creatures, non-living matter, infrastructure, and the planet as a whole. A critical historical understanding of life and death in the aftermath of modern infrastructuralization is needed as well as an engagement with infrastructural ethics, currently emerging through changes in international human rights, the rights of nature, and in contemporary feminist, queer, ecofeminist and multispecies thinking. The lecture introduces the notion of infrastructural storytelling to imagine and organize collectively for caring infrastructure as we are living with a deeply wounded planet.
Elke Krasny is Professor for Art and Education at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. She is a feminist cultural theorist, urban researcher, curator, and author. Her scholarship addresses ecological and social justice at the global present with a focus on caring practices in architecture, urbanism, and contemporary art. With Angelika Fitz, she edited Critical Care. Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet together (MIT Press, 2019). With Sophie Lingg, Lena Fritsch, Birgit Bosold, and Vera Hofmann, she edited Radicalizing Care. Feminist and Queer Activism in Curating (Sternberg Press, 2021). Her forthcoming book Living with an Infected Planet. Covid-19 Feminism and the Global Frontline of Care develops a feminist perspective on the rhetoric of war and the realities of care in pandemic times.
Lending Agency, Curating Institution: On Pedagogical Infrastructures
This talk combines reflections on curating education by way of curating agency. Voorhies considers the importance of thinking holistically about how an institution speaks to and with its constituents. While director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts in Cambridge, Mass. (2013–16), his approach to “curating education” was to consider the institution from the initial encounter visitors have with Le Corbusier’s architecture, to encouraging students and faculty to program events and talks, to launching platforms—like a bookshop—a space and concept that served numerous pedagogical functions. His interest focused on creating institutional infrastructure, systemic platforms, spaces, and programs, that would serve this approach to curating education. The talk argues for the prioritization of open-ended curatorial frameworks that offer audiences agency to identify something at stake in the institution in order to give what they can and take what they need.
James Voorhies is a curator and historian of modern and contemporary art based in New York City. He is Executive Director of the Tony Smith Foundation where he heads research programs committed to placing the artist's work in dialogue with the contemporary arts. His forthcoming bookPostsensual Aesthetics: On the Logic of the Curatorial (MIT Press, 2023) reframes aesthetic criteria to account for the cognitive spaces inside and outside of the exhibition.
“A Self-Relating Negativity”: Where Infrastructure and Critique Meet
Five years ago, in a volume charting a “formerness” for the Global West, I proposed a shift from institutional critique to infrastructural critique. This was described as a shift from a critique of the enabling container for a certain discourse or performativity of citizenship (institution) to an embodied critique that necessarily owed more to praxis. Thus the direction was towards a critique based on contingent ruptures, with the interpretation and activation of these ruptures the source of political meaning. The immanence of such an approach registers in the sense that it works with desires that are latent in the infrastructure, thus broadly conceived. It is the notion of infrastructure as a mode of thinking that favours the concrete over the abstract—a concrete that is immanent to real abstraction—that I would like to develop here, concentrating on the epistemic and political relations between infrastructure and critique. Drawing on artistic and curatorial projects, the lecture also looks at how these employ infrastructural critique as a move that takes artistic practice beyond the comfort zone of reflexivity and thus veers away from the “lane” allocated to it by institutional critique.
Marina Vishmidt is a writer and editor, teaching at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her writing has appeared in South Atlantic Quarterly, Artforum, Afterall, Journal of Cultural Economy, e-flux journal, Australian Feminist Studies, and Radical Philosophy, among others. She is currently editing a reader on speculation for the Documents of Contemporary Art series (forthcoming in 2022). Her book Speculation as a Mode of Production: Forms of Value Subjectivity in Art and Capital was published in 2018.
Introductory statement on infrastructures of exhibiting
Ilse Lafer is a curator and currently the director of the gallery at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. Recent curatorial projects include Doing Deculturalization at Museion Bozen, Italy, together with Doris Krüger Per Albin at KÖR Vienna (both 2019) and Radikale Passivität: Politiken des Fleisches (with Kathrin Busch) at nGbK Berlin (2020).
A Conversation about infrastructures of transport and travelling
with Carolin Bohlmann, Stephanie Damianitsch, Rike Frank, Vanessa Joan Müller, and Ursula Ströbele,
moderated by Sabeth Buchmann and Ilse Lafer
This conversation explores processes as social places and puts the format of the travelling exhibition up for discussion. The main case study, the European Kunsthalle focused on institutional structures that open spaces of possibility in which characteristics of stable and unstable places can be combined. Over time, a shift occurred in the idea of what a curatorial infrastructure could be or what kind of infrastructures are contained within the curatorial. The European Kunsthalle, currently directed by Rike Frank and Vanessa Joan Müller, was founded 15 years ago in the wake of the demolition of Cologne’s Kunsthalle, Josef-Haubrich-Forum, and was initially dedicated to exploring the possibilities of a new institution for contemporary art in Cologne, both in theory and practice. Over the years, its focus has changed considerably. As a site-independent institution without its own premises, it continues to define itself as a “Kunsthalle” in order to explore the potential of this form of institution, but also to critically question it. In context of the conference, Rike Frank and Vanessa Joan Müller discuss with Carolin Bohlmann, Professor at the Institute for Conservation-Restoration at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (Head of Institute) and Head of the Department Conservation-Restoration of Modern and Contemporary Art, Stephanie Damianitsch, curator and head of the Contemporary Exhibitions Office at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, as well as with Ursula Ströbele, research associate at the Central Institute for Art History in Munich and head of the Study Center for Modern and Contemporary art there, about the infrastructures of exhibition making.