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Annual Themes

Since 2015, the Centre for Cultural Production and the artsprogram have each jointly set an annual theme for themselves, to which a lecture series, symposia, exhibitions in the university exhibition space "White Box" and other artistic and scientific event formats then orient themselves.
Teaching, research and the arts thus jointly intervene in current social debates and make them visible. After the "Ecologies of the Human" (lecture series, symposium and exhibition "Learning Community") in the year of the so-called refugee crisis 2015/16, a lecture series on "Politics of Simplicity" followed in 2016/17 with an exhibition by the Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi in the "White Box". In 2017/18 the topic "Crises of Reality" was also dealt with in a symposium, a lecture series and two exhibitions (New Eelam and Forensic Architecture). Under the title "Islands of Freedom", two exhibitions (by Martina Mächler and Yoshiaki Kaihatsu), a lecture series and various lectures and performances on questions of freedom in our present day were devoted to 2018/19. 2019/20 is the theme of the year "Economies of Visibility".

Economies of Visibility (2019/20)

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As early as the early 2000s, the Italian philosopher and activist Franco Berardi stated that we were living in an age characterized by an overdose of visibility and a “excess of expressivity”. Even before the development of smartphones and the spread of selfie culture, he diagnosed that our world was determined by a capitalism of signs and images.

Since then, the production of images has become an omnipresent practice that determines social life and is no longer in the hands of few experts. We live in an epoch in which the world is shaped by ubiquitous virally distributed images, bloggers, and influencers, a world in which algorithms direct our gaze, and social media platforms have risen to become the most influential global corporations. Attention economies structure global power relations in a new way and trigger new struggles for distribution. However, not everyone has become an expert in image production, and producers have long since lost control over the use of their images. So, do we live in a context of total visibility and transparency in which little can remain invisible?


In any case the structures and conditions under which visibility, attention or even public perception are attained have changed just as fundamentally as the forms of image production. In his memorable volume of essays “Economy of Attention”, published little more than twenty years ago, the economist and urban planner Georg Franck had already stated that a new era had dawned whose pictorial style was media aesthetics. In this new epoch, it was no longer enough for things to be beautiful and striking; it had to be striking that they are striking.


Today, a young generation often masters this tactic better than some media professionals. Accordingly, contemporary societies seem to be subject to erratically rising and falling waves of attention and swarming. At the same time, however, they are concerned increasingly about the monopoly of power of media groups. The Internet, once a great promise of democracy, has developed into an arena in which dilettantes, large corporations and scattered programmers - only loosely linked - create unpredictable echo chambers. The power of images and the how, when and why of public visibility therefore follow completely different logics from those of a few decades ago. A young politician can use an Instagram story to outdo powerful colleagues in the competition. A schoolgirl starts a mass movement and puts European politics under pressure. Is all this possible because today politics, power and the direction of attention and visibility are one and the same? How exactly do these developments differ from earlier image strategies?


If we want to understand these processes more precisely, it is not only image strategies that need to be analyzed, but also the handling of images and the social effects of the distribution of images. Against this backdrop, the artsprogram and the Center for Cultural Production will be dealing with the outlined topic over two semesters. This is achieved through an exhibition of photographs by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, a lecture series on artistic image strategies, individual scientific events, an interdisciplinary expert symposium on artistic and scientific methods of image analysis, and a series of performances and interventions. Under the title "Economies of Visibility", artistic and sociological image strategies in particular will be questioned and contrasted. 


The exhibition project, which focuses on Bourdieu's photographs as one of the most important sociologists of the post-war period and founders of visual sociology in an open archive and study room, explores the question of how Bourdieu used photography to make visible social structures, power relations and specific culturally and socially conditioned habitus. The project follows in the footsteps of his - as the sociologist himself called it - "understanding gaze". Previously unpublished and barely sighted photographs of the sociologist will be shown in changing constellations in order to test and make plausible various patterns of order. In the context of a larger research project on Bourdieu's visual sociology, led by sociologist Prof. Franz Schultheis, who has been teaching at Zeppelin University since January, Bourdieu's images from Algeria and Béarn will be contrasted with contemporary perspectives of the same places. In collaboration with students, Schultheis has identified and compiled various thematic groups that illustrate Bourdieu's concept of habitus, female hexis, modes of religiously motivated veiling, and the development of rural regions in the Mediterranean. The photographs prove to be a decisive basis for Bourdieu's theoretical research approaches and empirical findings. Last but not least, they also show how the sociologist strives not to turn social conditions and the people he photographs into objects, but to observe and encounter them in an understanding way.
Over the course of a year, various formations of Bourdieu's photographs will be shown from an archive of 800 photographs. These pictures will be juxtaposed by newly and specially for this purpose produced hyper-resolved 4K videos. These videos will be recorded by art students from Alto University and ZU lead by Scots/Irish artist Andrew McNiven who will return to the very places of Bourdieu’s research – for one thing to follow his footsteps and then again to make the transformation of these places visible. As part of an artistic research project, McNiven, who has been involved with pictorial display strategies for two decades, will travel with the group of students to Bourdieu's home on the edge of the Pyrenees and film exactly the locations Bourdieu photographed over half a century ago again using the special opportunities of the high-resolution 4K media technology.


Moreover, the experimental designer team "Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik" will transform ZU´s exhibition and project space White Box into a reading, working and archive situation that will be made available to the public as a public study room. In addition to a digital image archive, videos, selected texts, audio stations, a small specialist library on Bourdieu, visual sociology, image theory and the documented regions will be made available here, so that students and guests of the university can use this space for study purposes or visitors can view the archive.

Parallel to this focus on the French sociologist and his groundbreaking image archive, a public lecture series will take place in spring 2020 that will discuss historical image policy as well as economies and orders of visibility from an art and cultural studies perspective. Here, art and cultural scientists will discuss the connection between power, domination, presence and visibility in exemplary works of art. Over a course of twelve lectures, the antiquity to the present will be explored and examined.

Islands of Freedom (2018/19)

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What does freedom in the 21st century mean? Is it liberal or libertarian? Do political freedoms or personal and economic freedoms count most? What value is attached to freedom when neuropsychological debates deny people freedom of will and digital networking develops into total surveillance? And what effect do these debates and developments have on our personal, political and legal self-image? How can it be interpreted when right-wing populists led by resentment increasingly stylize themselves as freedom fighters?


Obviously, the course of history does not aim at an ever increasing liberalisation. Rather, we live in times in which algorithms and big data increasingly determine thought and action. So where are we still free? Are art and science still suitable bastions of freedom? And if they were, what figures of thought and options for action do they offer in a struggle for freedom?


As part of the annual theme "Islands of Freedom", the artsprogram and the Center for Cultural Production want to explore these questions. In a series of scientific and artistic events over a period of eight months, the question will be discussed which concepts and conceptions of freedom we (can) operate with today and which roles the arts play in this process. This will be done through two exhibitions, a lecture series, performances, student interventions, lunch talks and concerts, as well as presentations following the art research project "Working Utopias" sponsored by the VW Foundation.


While the two exhibitions in the university exhibition and project space "White Box" by Martina Mächler (CH) and Yoshiaki Kaihatsu (JPN) themselves are conceived as islands of freedom and invite visitors to use them as such and to perform in them themselves, from February 2019 onwards, the international public lecture series "Working Utopias" and "White Box" will be presented in the framework of the international public lecture series.a. Art historians, philosophers, literary scholars, and film scholars will present works that deal decisively with the topic of artistic and political freedom and unfold the most diverse concepts and ideas of freedom through a historical and interdisciplinary perspective.


The program is supported by the Baden Württemberg Foundation and the Fränkel Foundation. The project "Working Utopias" is supported by the Volkswagen Foundation.

Crises of Reality (2017/18)

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Crises of reality have often been proclaimed - by the avant-gardes of modernity, by the existentialists, by postmodernism and its radical constructivisms and deconstructions. Yet these were crises proclaimed by the respective movement itself, in most cases even desired: They were crises that testified more to the power and dominance of the realisms of their time. At present, however, the theoretical debates ranging from New Realism to Speculative Realism refer more to the desire to preserve the concept of reality as such. That this is necessary has to do with another crisis, this time not proclaimed but found. So the current reality crisis seems to be different from the previous ones - but what exactly is the difference? This question can only be answered in an interdisciplinary way, because the current crisis does not stem only from a 'zeitgeist' but from changes in the cultural, economic, socio-political and psychological structure. And since the arts have maintained a special relationship to reality since the emergence of the concept of reality, they are particularly suited to making crises of reality observable, perceptible and describable.The artsprogram and the chairs of cultural theory and art theory at Zeppelin University initiated a series of interdisciplinary scientific and artistic events that dealt with the current crises of reality. During the conference, representatives from economics, cultural studies, media studies, philosophy and the arts exchanged their views on the crises of reality. Through the inclusion of examples from literature and the fine arts, light was shed on questions of how: To what extent is our information society no longer a reality society? Which media put reality at risk or out of action? What do they put in their place? Have the concepts of simulation and virtuality perhaps been described too early to do justice to contemporary figurations? Did these theories perhaps contribute to the current crisis of reality? What role do the various artificial intelligences play? What are the political consequences of the current crisis of reality? Is it possible to dispense with reality, or at least its concept? And if so, what takes its place?
The symposium was accompanied by two art and exhibition projects with an accompanying programme. Since 2016, the artist Christopher Kulendran Thomas has been working with an interdisciplinary team on the model project "New Eelam", which seeks to develop identity beyond citizenship or permanent residence. In the White Box, New Eelam set up a temporary artistic project office, in which a team of technology and real estate specialists, designers and students worked on a speculative project for radical flexibilisation of life and reflected and developed questions about global nomadic life forms. In the exhibition "Archaeology of the Present - Memory, Media, Matter", the London collective Forensic Architecture (FA) around the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman showed a presentation of three recent works specially developed for Zeppelin University.
The symposium was accompanied by two art and exhibition projects with an accompanying program. Since 2016, the artist Christopher Kulendran Thomas has been working with an interdisciplinary team on the model project "New Eelam", which seeks to develop identity beyond citizenship or permanent residence. In the White Box, New Eelam set up a temporary artistic project office. In the exhibition "Archaeology of the Present - Memory, Media, Matter", the London collective Forensic Architecture (FA) around the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman subsequently showed a presentation of three recent works specially developed for Zeppelin University.


Politics of Simplicity (2016/17)

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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.
In the lecture series, experts from the fields of art and literature, music, theatre and dance, design and film present works that reach simplicity in a variety of ways and with different specifications.

In the public lecture series "Politics of Simplicity" at ZU, twelve renowned experts from the fields of art and literature, music, theatre and dance, design and film present works that reach simplicity in a variety of ways and with different specifications.

Ecologies of the Human (2015/16)

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Natural scientists call the present Earth Age the Anthropozoan. They thus point out that man himself has long since become the most important factor influencing the geology of the planet and terrestrial life as a whole. Against the background of an increasing hybridization of man and technology, man and machine, and the growing importance of the various forms of artificial intelligence, what could be meant by the term "man" is becoming increasingly vague. Does man become man through specific forms of behaviour and competences or through the genetic programming of Homo sapiens sapiens? What role do subjectivity and individuality play in this context? What is the relationship between the anthropocene and the post-human age?


In film, literature, music and the visual arts, the human condition is often illuminated from its supposed rear side, starting from what is regarded as inhuman, cruel, violent and terrible, in other words as an alternative to the humanistic notion of the rational being human. Thus the philosopher Slavoj Žižek in his volume "The Political Suspension of the Ethical" also poses the question of the human condition from the inhuman or from what man is not. One of his examples is Franz Kafka's story of Odradek - that little mysterious figure who speaks, laughs, breathes, and appears and disappears in the house at irregular intervals. She gives the inhabitants of the house puzzles, because it is unclear whether she is to be treated as a human being. Is she filled with life in the same sense? Is she to be feared?


Along with films and novels, pieces of music and works of art, the lecture series "Ecologies of the Human" focuses on two themes: The inhuman and the topic of hybrid bodies and their identity.