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Artistic Research. Prof. Dr. Christoph Brunner's DFG Network: “A Different Form of Cognition in Artistic Research and Aesthetic Theory”

2017-12-13 Prof. Dr. Christoph Brunner has been a junior professor of cultural theory at the Institute of the Science of Arts and Philosophy since 2016. In his DFG-funded research network, he investigates the relationship between artistic research and aesthetic theory.

Artistic practices and scientific work stand by no means in opposition to each other, but re-join in artistic research. Christoph Brunner examines what kind of thinking and collective processes come to the fore and how they relate to traditional aesthetic theories. “Academics involved in the Arts, Humanities and Natural Sciences are very similar. All three of them deal with certain materials, make them vibrate and create something new in their own way” he explains. 

Questioning knowledge

In this context, it seems reasonable to suppose that the question of knowledge about scientific and artistic practices as arising from different perspectives within their own contexts must be asked. Is that some kind of cognition in two areas or are they both different? Can they be compared? Taking this as a starting point, Brunner examines the meaning of the term ‘cognition’ and checks where it fits and where it falls short of the mark. In artistic work, something happens that is not grasped by the classical concept of cognition, but what the network revolves around: namely, to what extent is a form of knowledge generated there on the level of sensation and experience, on the sensual level, which is not meant to be grasped with classical conceptual senses? Brunner adds: “For me, a fundamental question is: Does the concept of cognition still help us? Or is it actually about something else?”He applies the methods of the Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza to theoretically grasp this reciprocal contingency of knowledge and perception. He was the first to establish a clear connection between physical sensation and thought. Thus, his philosophy methods contrasted with those of his contemporary René Descartes, who maintained a distinction between the two, which has been established in everyday understanding to this day. Spinoza, on the other hand, avoids placing thought at the centre of people’s minds and distinguishing them from other activities. Instead, he argues at the level of affects where there is no hierarchical difference between thought and feeling. Therefore, Spinoza is a good reference point when it comes to crossing borders, such as that between art and science. With Spinoza, the question arises whether this separation, as we know it, actually makes sense. This is how the second part of the network sees itself: can artistic research explain how something can be understood as art?

“The Visitors” by Ragnar Kjartansson

In his works, Brunner deals with various artistic practices. He recently published a text called “The Visitors” by the Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson. The work is a performance shown on nine screens with eight musicians. They play music in a hip house in Upstate New York. This is based on a poem by the artist's ex-partner and runs in a loop. Visitors walk through the exhibition and meet on the screens the musicians connected by headphones, who play in different rooms of the house. The work ends with the musicians, who all gather on the veranda (one of the screens) one after the other, singing together and walking down the meadow to the Hudson River.

Video: The Visitors (5:40 Min)


“The visitors”, says Brunner, “gather together in a kind of communitas in front of the last screen. Due to the aesthetic form that this work takes, it has a very strong affective and social effect. It is, of course, in a very small frame and rather exclusive. Nevertheless, the work demonstrates for me an exploration of what research on the sensory level means and to what extent this experience has an activating and political impact”.

In this context, the constitutive level of experience as a form of research is highly relevant, because no knowledge exists on its own in the world, so to speak. This insight results from the discourse on artistic research, which has produced some epistemological questions about the research landscape itself: What is knowledge? What different forms of knowledge are there and what are the forms of knowledge in relation to physicality, perception and sensuality? There are also some rather material questions, which belong to the production of knowledge: On the one hand, artistic research is an institutionalisation discourse, that is to say ‘How to obtain research funds for artists in the context of university structures’. In addition, there is artistic practice itself, which repeatedly deals with the problems of feeling, perception and location in research and institutional critique, in certain collaborative as well as extra-artistic contexts” Brunner explains.

Working with Artists

“I work a lot with artists because, in my mind, they are those who pose the much harder, more existential questions. By this is meant: What does it mean to come together and read a text, for example?” Brunner explains. Collaboration with artists reveals the many unquestioned facts and power relations of research and science. That is to say, therefore, that it's not just about negotiating the content of a text, but how you deal with it? Do we organise something to eat when we get together? How much time do we have? This, the acceptance of further dimensions of existence on a media and aesthetic level is what makes the collaboration with artists, among others, so exciting for me. There, the aim is to integrate affective dimensions of existence that are immanently political”.

The Network

The German Research Foundation provides financial aid to the network. In Brunner’s comment: “The interesting thing about the network was, and is, for the DFG that we can connect aesthetic theory to the questioning of artists and thus play through other forms of thought”. The project runs in a classic network format with six meetings. The first has already taken place at the UDK in Berlin. Two guests from the world of Arts will be invited to the next meetings. These will not only be available as interlocutors, but will also carry out experiments and create workshop situations. “It's not a simple matter of exchanging ideas in discourse”, says Brunner. The same applies to the publication formats that will emerge from the network. There will be no more than one classic anthology. Otherwise, experiments will be carried out in the forms of publication, including blogs and wikis. The network will finally be concluded by an exhibition in the Kunstraum (Arts’ Room) to enable artistic research to be sensually experienced in the context of the exhibition. This is important to him: “Not to spend the time talking about things”.

Brunner likes to work with diagrams in the ArchipelagoLab. “To me, it's a lot more than a reminder or an illustration. It has much more to do with what I also try philosophically: relations and relationships, the dynamics of things, to see and represent them”.    


Further Information

Prof. Dr. Christoph Brunner

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