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Profile of the CRC 626

The collaborative research centre 626 on Aesthetic Experience and the Dissolution of Artistic Limits has been working at the Freie Universität Berlin since January 2003. The third four-year funding period began in January 2011 with a grant of 10.5 million euros from the German Research Foundation (DFG). The CRC is housed in the former director’s villa of the Botanical Gardens in Berlin-Dahlem.

Objectives of the CRC

The overall objective of the CRC throughout the three funding periods has been the reciprocal exposition of (a) the concept of aesthetic experience, (b) the status of art and the aesthetic in the recent past and present, with comparative recourse to classical modernism and earlier epochs, and (c) the relationship of the arts to one another. The timeliness of the research carried out in the CRC results from two tendencies towards dissolution that can be observed in the art of recent decades: the increasing interconnectedness of the arts themselves, and the destabilisation of the boundary between art and non-art. This second tendency ensues from the often criticised aestheticisation of the lifeworld, but also from the contrary programme of a re-politicisation of art. The CRC reflects a problematic with a long history from an awareness of the far-reaching changes in aesthetics and art brought about through recent and current developments. The research projects proceed from concrete phenomena and artworks, and put innovative interdisciplinary approaches to the test which enable both the methodical variety of the disciplines and their differing emphases to be utilised in shared areas of research.

Shifts of emphasis within the overall objective have been made during the three funding periods. The first period concentrated on the concept of aesthetic experience, both as constitution and as communication of the aesthetic subject and aesthetic object. An examination was undertaken of the historical transformation of aesthetic experience in the various phases of modernity – and also in earlier, pre-modern epochs –, of the specifics of aesthetic experience in the individual arts, and finally of the historical and cultural extent and boundaries of the concept of aesthetic experience. The second funding period took a closer look at the phenomenon of dissolution. It addressed the dissolution of the arts in themselves, as can particularly be seen in their development since the 1960s, which has undermined the understanding of the individual arts as auto-poietically closed systems. And it also examined the reciprocal transfers between art and non-art, or between the aesthetic and non-aesthetic, and the concomitant implicit or explicit controversies surrounding the autonomy of art.

In the third, concluding funding period the approaches of the first and second will be continued and brought together by directly relating experience and dissolution to one another. Aesthetic experience is understood as a time-based mental and object-related process that is constitutively linked to certain dynamisations which have always included dissolution. This dissolution, which is immanent in aesthetic experience, is examined in two complexes. The CRC focuses (1) on the forms that bear and facilitate this type of processual experience and (2) the processes of judgement it involves. Experience, judgement and dissolution are related to one another in such a way that in aesthetic appraisal the boundaries of art and the arts, and the relationships between the arts, are redefined. These two complexes provide the subject matter for two cross-CRC research teams in which the interdisciplinary work of the centre comes together. The complexes are merged by a third working group on spaces of experience of art, which examines the topological interplay of self-referentiality and non-self-referentiality within the experience of art.

The research architecture of the CRC

The CRC comprises 16 research projects (14 belonging to Freie Universität Berlin and two to the Humboldt-Universität Berlin), the majority of them in the area of art history and aesthetics, but also in other disciplines with significant connections to questions of art and aesthetics. Aside from the work of the individual research projects and the cooperation between them, the interdisciplinary collaboration particularly occurs in the above-mentioned cross-CRC working groups.

Working group 1: generic forms and their transfers

The focus of the first working group is the heuristic term ‘generic form’. The aim is to clarify both the extension of the term and its explanatory value in relation to the phenomena of dissolution within the arts and to the reference of art to aspects beyond itself. Examples of ‘generic forms’ examined by the working group are perspectivity, the serial, the documentary or the fictional. From the perspective of aesthetic experience the question posed is whether and how generic forms relate to particular forms of experience; from the perspective of production aesthetics the inquiry is into the relationship between generic forms and particular artistic or non-artistic procedures. The initial assumption to be examined here is that generic forms have implied experiences, i.e. that they are involved in the way in which particular processes of aesthetic experience become its object. Because generic forms, as we currently define them, are not associated with particular arts or media, the approach taken by the working group differs from both inter-media examinations of the arts and the discourse about the ‘aestheticisation of the lifeworld’. The working group investigates as concretely as possible the motivations, procedures and aesthetic consequences of the transfer of generic forms in relation to significant material – in the expectation that not only these aspects of the transfer can be more exactly determined, but also that the phenomenon of artistic dissolution can be more precisely conceived.     

Working group 2: aesthetic judgement

The object of scrutiny for this working group is the dynamic of processes of aesthetic judgement as an interaction of prejudices, sensory experiences, existing experience and knowledge, aesthetic ascription and conceptual determination. The group focuses on the way in which the interdependency of processes of experience and judgement confirm or counteract these different aspects, but also how processes of experience affect those of judgement and vice versa. Against the background of the conceptual triangle of experience, judgement and dissolution that is the CRC’s discursive basis, the group is particularly interested in how processes of aesthetic judgement have been and are being modified by the recent tendencies towards dissolution. This is examined through a comparative survey of contemporary and earlier practices of art criticism, and a correlation of appraisive processes in art and non-art. Processes of dissolution and judgement are here related to one an other in such a way that in aesthetic appraisal the boundaries of art and the arts, and the relationships between the arts, are redefined.

A further issue is the characteristic qualities of the complex practices of judgement in the analysis of artworks, above all those of interpretation and criticism, and the extent to which recurrent inconclusiveness is specific to aesthetic judgement.

In the light of the experiential turn in both aesthetics and artistic practice, the working group will also examine what it means for the processes of aesthetic judgement when the object of appraisal is not an artwork that is considered in terms of its individual characteristics, but rather an aesthetic experience for which the respective artworks (e.g. Duchamp’s objects) or artistic events (e.g. the happenings of the 1960s) are simply an instigation. Particularly in the case of artworks which attempt to create a situation that includes the viewer, the dynamic between immersion and detachment should be taken into consideration and more exactly described as a temporal structuring of experience involving processes of judgement. For experiences can only be judged if they are had, although having them always relies on an appraising reference to what they proceed from. 

Working group 3: spaces of experience of art

The third working group is devoted to the tension between immanence and reference to the wider world in the experience of art. Art opens up particular spaces of experience: particularly in comparison to non-artistic spaces of experience, but also to other artistic ones. These will be examined, with reference to applicable examples, in their internal structures and external references, and particularly where these interweave.

According to the initial hypothesis of the CRC, the nexus of self- and world-reference is brought about in art through the transfer of generic forms (more closely examined by working group 1) between art and non-art, but also through the processes of judgement inherent to aesthetic experience which relate art to other objects, concepts or experiences (examined by working group 2). In working group 3 these perspectives are brought together by considering artistic experience in the light of these processes of transfer and appraisal, which have always taken the experience of art into non-artistic realms of experience. The aim is to develop a perspective on art that avoids the onesidedness of either the self- or non-self-referentiality of art, and instead attempts to understand how both interplay in its experience.