The Research Training Group
On the basis of an analysis of performativity- and event-theory aesthetics, the working definition of aesthetic practice can be described as performance or execution, which is not to be understood in terms either of intentional and rule-governed action or of passive experience, but instead refers to a “medium” (in the sense of the grammatical medium), or relational, relationship, in which subjects and objects first take shape. Aesthetic is here particularly used to describe a practice which allows its results to become visible in the light of their performative execution and which allows its performance to become visible through its results. Focusing on this understanding of aesthetic practice, the Research Training Group pursues the following research objectives:
1) We place the focus on the wilfulness of aesthetic activity towards its subjects, institutional framings and results. The production, performance and reception of institutionalised and professionalised art, but also aesthetic forms of activity outside established art institutions are described and analysed from a cultural-studies and philosophical perspective on the basis of the forms of practice that facilitate them and are facilitated by them. Similarly, we are aiming for a practice-theory transformation of the aesthetics of philosophy and individual academic disciplines that are no longer restricted to work-centred approaches and do not primarily analyse aesthetic practices as preliminary to works of art. We here understand “wilfulness” to be an irreducibility of the practical to previous structures or agents.
Using the perspective described above, we thus go beyond a restriction of aesthetic, art-studies and cultural-studies research to artefacts and stagings of high culture. Aesthetic practice of the past or the present is not merely concerned with artworks that have found their way into the established cultural archives (cf. Groys 2007). Thus, aesthetic practice is also researched in day-to-day and decidedly non-artistic contexts. Based on, for example, the research on agency in British cultural studies (cf. Winter 2001), we are thus also interested in the varied forums of communication between (classical) cultural archives and day-to-day aesthetic practices.
2) With the International Congress of Aesthetics in Japan in 2001, international discourse on aesthetics took on a global orientation. The subsequent international congresses in Rio de Janeiro (2004), Ankara (2007), Beijing (2010), Krakow (2013) and Seoul (2016) testify to the further globalisation and also the decolonisation of aesthetic discourses. In order to expand the research perspectives in the Research Training Group beyond the European/western scope, aesthetic practices and theoretical approaches to aesthetics from East Asia will be included in the research. This focus promises, on the one hand, a great potential for comparisons and contrasts with regard to the organisation of the arts and their practices and, on the other hand, no other non-European region has made so many noteworthy contributions within the field of aesthetics – developed in the last hundred years – than Japan and China. These contributions will also be incorporated into the theorisation presented here. The latent eurocentrism of classical aesthetics will be deliberately disrupted by inviting guests with special areas of expertise. Global orientation in the theoretical discourse on aesthetics in Europe is still in the early stages. The Research Training Group is trying to pave the way here.
3) On the basis of the praxeology (Reckwitz 2003, 2008, 2016; Schäfer 2016; Klein/Göbel 2017) and the practice turn (Schatzki 2001; Schatzki/Knorr Cetina/von Savigny 2001; Bernstein 2010) in cultural studies, as well as a renaissance of practice concepts in neo-Aristotelian thoughts on the relationship of second nature, life form and practice form (McDowell 2001; Thompson 2011; Stekeler-Weithofer 2010; Kertscher/Müller 2015), the members of the Research Training Group develop methods that allow aesthetic practices to be described on the basis of experience, in a conceptually differentiated manner and in a concise form. In doing so, we are guided by how the execution of aesthetic production, performance and experience is reflected on in individual arts and practices of daily life. We read works and stagings as an expression of a knowledge of the activities corresponding to them, as an expression of a knowledge of their social efficacy and reception. We investigate what knowledge we can have of artistic and day-to-day aesthetic practices, where the limits of this knowledge lie, and how art and day-to-day aesthetic practices in turn deal with the limits of this knowledge. By focusing on practice, a genuine mode of human activity comes into view, which, as Aristotle already showed, has its end in itself, in its performance, which is contingent insofar as it is not anchored in any of the preceding conditions of its potential and which, at the same time, is shared by many and is thereby experienced as pleasing. As an example of such a practice, Aristotle cites music, which, in its autotelic performability, he considers to be a model for all other kinds of practice, but especially for political practice: As Aristotle writes in Politics, only someone who has learned in aesthetic performances not “to be always seeking after the useful” (Aristotle 1995: 287) can become a good citizen, that means someone who, on the basis of an aesthetically practiced sense of freedom, participates capably in political action.
In accordance with these objectives and topics, the Research Training Group establishes a practice-theory approach to the arts and aesthetic everyday practices that goes beyond the European horizon. It assumes that aesthetic practice as a form of activity cannot be adequately understood in terms of an intentionalist theory of action, nor can it be reduced to mere effects of the self-reproduction of art as an autonomous institution, of a social art system (cf. Luhmann 1995) or of a cultural economy. Using the results of non-reductionist practice theories, as well as classical concepts such as Aristotelian praxis and poiesis, the Research Training Groups examines what happens when people are aesthetically active and experience themselves as aesthetically active. The participants in the Research Training Group investigate forms and ways of talking about this activity which often – although by all means not in all cases – manifests in “works of art”.