Politics of Simplicity

Annual Theme 2016/17

When populists gain ground in the field of politics, it seems necessary to come to a new understanding on strategies of simplification. The main reason for this is that the problem here is not just simplification, but the way in which simplification is carried out. In the lecture series on the theme of the year it is therefore important to shed light on various artistic concepts that are almost captivating in their simplicity and yet anything but trivial.

One of the key questions in art and literature is what distinguishes the simple elegance of a composition from a trivial structure. What is the difference between narrow-lipped prudery and reductionist sensuality? What separates falsifying simplification from the witty condensate of the complex? What distinguishes artistic from scientific complexity reduction - and both from simplicism?

Compared to 'Ockham's Razor' - the late medieval imperative to always opt for the simpler solution to a problem - simplicity in the arts only becomes central late in the day, but then in radical ways and in manifold varieties. Since modernity, the history of the arts has seen a wide variety of currents striving for the greatest possible reductionism. The poet Ungaretti, for example, reduced poems to often no more than four words about a century ago. In 1947, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe promoted a new unadorned architectural language with the commandment "Less is more", which not only dispensed with any form of ornament, but also reduced floor plans to a simple geometric repertoire of forms, at the same time following a new economy of social space. In the post-war modern era, this requirement experienced an unprecedented boom in various artistic disciplines. This refers to American Minimalism, Minimal Music, Concrete Art and Concrete Poetry in Europe as well as current minimalist tendencies in design, dance and theatre.

The effort to achieve simplicity arises from very different mental states. These range from an existentialist purism to a consumer-critically motivated dogma of renunciation, to spiritual meditation practices inspired by the Far East and Apollonian aesthetics of order. Accordingly, simplicity seems to be tempting for a variety of reasons, and it also has very different qualities. It can be sensual and noble, boring and vulgar, trivial or condensed, modest or elitist, monotonous or surprising.

Within this context the artsprogram and Center for Cultural Production dealt with the outlined subject over two semesters. This took place through an exhibition by the Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi, who designed the white box with his wall-filling "indoor graffiti", and an exhibition by the Danish artist Christian Falsnaes. He showed his video installation "Masculine demeanor as a consequence of social power relations between artist and audience", which revolves around the testing of power positions. The exhibitions were accompanied by a lecture series on "Politics of Simplicity".

Further Information

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