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Research Project A3. The widening of the experience of the object in art and design since the 1960s

ABSALON: Disposition, 1990, installation view, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin 2010, wood, cardboard, white dispersion paint, 6 flourescent tubes, 40 elements, approx. 140 x 928 x 1028 cm (Collection FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon).

ABSALON: Disposition, 1990, installation view, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin 2010, wood, cardboard, white dispersion paint, 6 flourescent tubes, 40 elements, approx. 140 x 928 x 1028 cm (Collection FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon).


Prof. Dr. Michael Lüthy

Research Associates

Bernhard Schieder, M.A. / Lotte Everts, M.A. / Johannes Lang, M.A. / Katharina Januschewski, M.A.

Student Assistants

Natalie Jergeschew / Christian Sinn


The focus of this research project is neo-avant-garde art and design since the 1960s, with their proclaimed dissolution of the boundaries between artistic and non-artistic products and procedures. This tendency towards dissolution is analysed through an interaction between the methodological perspectives of art history, design theory and visual science in order to examine those concepts and practices through which the experience of the object can be extended into as yet disregarded dimensions and given a new theoretical foundation. Two aspects of this extension or redefinition of the experience of the object should be differentiated: 

(a) Within an aesthetic of presence, artworks and design objects aim to be the site and incidence of the conveyance of elements of themselves. They allow their materiality and made-ness to become as noticeable as the specific situation in which they are perceived or utilised. Likewise their constitution is intended to be such that the subject experiences him- or herself as productively involved in it. (b) Despite the emphasis on the situational here and now, the respective concepts of the object also aim to point to aspects beyond the objects themselves. This applies, for example, to the productive processes through which the objects were created, or the thinking that underlies their concept, such as the awareness of ecological correlations or the social dimension of artistic activity.

Accordingly, the extension and redefinition of the experience of the object has self-referential (a) and non-self-referential (b) aspects: in the experience of the subject the objects should refer to themselves, and do so as a part of an overall cultural or nomological context which encompasses the objects as much as the contexts in which they were produced or are now in use. In the research project these two experientially determining aspects are examined both in relation to the particular products of art and design and in their interplay.

Subproject 1: Physical and aesthetic energies in sculptural approaches since 1970

(Bernhard Schieder, M.A.)

This subproject examines artistic approaches in the expanded field of sculpture around 1970 that target the experience of physical energies. It inquires into the forms, materials and procedures of such work, and particularly into the interplay of aesthetic object and subject, and physical and aesthetic energies. Common to the positions under examination – those of Joseph Beuys or Robert Smithson, for example – is that energy is not seen as a merely symbolically represented content, and that the works are understood as the conveyance of the energies that operate in, by means of and through them. They search for ways to concentrate and sensorially manifest even the energies, which normally remain unnoticed or imperceptible. The question is how the artistic organisation of the material interplays with the ‘sensory energies’ and ‘powers’ of the subject. The hypothesis of this subproject is that the interplay of productive and receptive processes and the extension and redefinition of the experience of the object can only be elaborated by drawing a correspondence between the energies of nature, art and the subject.

Subproject 2: Ecological product design as an aesthetic of natural processes

(Johannes Lang, M.A.)

This project examines the aesthetic forms that have been developed since the 1960s in ecological product design. While modernist product design primarily caused the product to become the object of formalist and functionalist reflection, since the 1960s the attention has shifted to the processes that link the product world and the environment. In contrast to post-modern product design, which largely focuses on the communicative processes between product and user, ecological design places importance on the natural or material processes that occur in the course of primary production, manufacture, utilisation and further processing. Other than within the paradigm of modernism or post-modernism, the temporality of the product thus becomes constitutive for its understanding as the natural processes from which it arises, that occur in its use and to which it will be subject after use. The project traces the emergence of this altered understanding, examines the characteristic forms of aesthetic reflection of the rediscovered temporality of the product and inquires into the possibilities of differentiating this product-specific aesthetic from comparable approaches in the artistic neo-avant-garde as primarily examined in SP1.

Subproject 3: The image after the ‘exit from the image’

(Prof. Dr. Michael Lüthy and Lotte Everts, M.A.)

SP 3 examines art after its ‘exit from the image’ around 1960 from the perspectives of visual history and theory. When topical, situational, interactive or processual elements became central to art, in a rejection of mere outside reference on the one hand or self-reflection on the other, the image, and painting at any rate, initially appeared obsolete. In works such as Oldenburg’s Ray Guns or Hesse’s Test Pieces, however, this subproject sees the activation of an iconicity that, in the process of relating thought and perception, co-constructs objects, which appear in a state of becoming. Proceeding from the examination of such works, this subproject hopes to bring forward a performative theory of the image that no longer presupposes the image status of an object of processual image constitution. Wittgenstein’s theory of ‘aspect perception’ offers a starting point from which to describe the interplay of seeing and interpretation. Although the question arises as to whether, according to Wittgenstein’s ‘seeing as’, ‘looking like’ should be seen as constitutive of iconicity. If so, in the face of objects that aesthetically manifest abstract meaning without recourse to figuration, the degree to which these objects too are seen pictorially should also be explored. And if they are, how does pictorial seeing differ from aesthetic perception in general – or where do the two overlap?