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International Conference 'Art and Contemporaneity'

12.11.2009 - 14.11.2009

International Conference of the CRC 626, Berlin and the AUP, Paris

Organized in co-operation with Oliver Feltham, AUP, by Frank Ruda and Jan Völker, FU Berlin

Participants: Judith Balso, Georg W. Bertram, Howard Caygill, Oliver Feltham, Barbara Formis, Jerôme Game, Gertrud Koch, Jason Smith et. al.


Although art is always in time, its objects, works of art, are characterized by a specific and close connection of contemporaneity and timelessness.

On the one hand, works of art subsist and evolve in historically specific and singular contexts. They attempt to play a part and participate in their time or they distance themselves from their time and declare or create a different time. In any case works of art are always initially situated in their time, their historical present. This might describe a genuinely artistic or art-specific, cultural or political interrelation. It seems evident that works of art relate to their historical present. They refer to the present of art itself or orient themselves from or towards a political or a cultural present. In this first sense, art is historical because it consists of historically situated works. One has to investigate the historical contexts, the conditions of artistic works and production and also the orientational structures, laws and procedures of the works themselves to pose the question of the contemporaneity of art.

On the other hand, works of art open (a) time which they themselves declare and which only belongs to them. This becomes clear due to the fact that artworks generate a proper space of time in which they assign themselves a contemporary relation with other works or with other moments in history; in which they call for this relation. They found a time which is singularly proper to art and which as such did not exist before.  In this way something new in art is always related to a specific new time of this art: Art creates time and thereby an ever specific history (in ever particular historical situations). In this time, that is proper to art, artworks can tie in with a particular tone, a specific color, a gesture or with another moment of history to which they declare themselves contemporary. In this way, the time created and declared by art relates in a second step as well to the historical present as it finds in it something which cannot be traced back to it and explained through its historical conditions. Art is historical in this second sense because its works are capable of creating a new temporality, namely their own proper present which remains irreducible to any other. The singularity of this temporality, of this new time has to be kept in focus to pose the question of the contemporaneity of art.

These two strands make it as necessary as complex to pose the question of the relation of art and contemporaneity, of historical specificity and historical singularity. In ever particular historical conditions (political and material conditions, conditions of production and of reception, history of possibilities and impossibilities, history of color) emerges a specific temporality of the artworks. But starting from these different layers, how to relate contemporaneity and art? Both temporalities, so the thesis of the conference, are superimposed by another one: Namely a timelessness of artworks as such. Although they are historically situated, artworks are able to exceed their own historical narrowness – a piece of art of the ancient world can today still be considered as an artwork. Although it appears to have an immense temporal distance it is capable to establish an over-temporal validity.

The questions the conference wants to address from different perspectives relate altogether to the interplay of these different layers. Firstly and most importantly it will be concerned with the question of how to think a connection and relation between art and contemporaneity without extrapolating one of the three different layers? How to think their interdependence and their interplay? What is the contemporary in art? What is it that makes art contemporary? And, how to relate contemporaneity to timelessness? What are conceptual and theoretical tools and instruments that can capture the specific timeless of artistic works and that at the same time render plausible their historical embeddedness in relation with the creation of something new in art? How to think the creation of something new in art in comparison and in difference to other procedures of creation? How and with which methods, means does art become contemporary? And, in relation to what does it become contemporary?


Contact: frankruda@hotmail.com, jvoelker@zedat.fu-berlin.de

Zeit & Ort

12.11.2009 - 14.11.2009

American University in Paris