A Symposium on „Socially Engaged Art”

Archiv für Soziale Plastik | Installation by Christof Salzmann based on Rainer Rappmann's collection
Archiv für Soziale Plastik | Installation by Christof Salzmann based on Rainer Rappmann's collection

Just a few years ago, socially engaged art was considered as a marginal phenomenon. Today, however, activist art has become synonymous with social movements and political networks. The symposium 'From Social Sculpture to Art Related Action' is an effort to understand the boom and the development of socially engaged art and activism. It will examine what has changed since Joseph Beuys developed his concept of 'Social Sculpture' in the 1970s and how this idea has been discussed and developed within an international discourse. The starting point of the symposium is the Archiv für Soziale Plastik (Archive for Social Sculpture), a collection of materials put together by the German publisher and art educator Rainer Rappmann. Housed at Zeppelin University since 2015, the archive documents the activities of the Achberger Kreis: a group of social scientists, teachers, designers and artists (among them Joseph Beuys) who met at Achberg in the Allgäu region to debate alternative models for society. During the symposium, international experts will try to contextualize these historical developments and discuss them from a contemporary perspective.

The symposium is sponsored by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg with funds of the "Innovationsfond Kunst 2015".



Just a couple of years ago, “Socially Engaged Art” and “Activist Art” were still discussed as contemporary 'isms' and art historical genres. Likewise Joseph Beuys' famous notion of “Social Sculpture” was perceived to be an idiosyncratic concept, mainly relevant for the academic discourse on art. This has changed radically so that today social and political movements are inconceivable without “Activist Art” and “Socially Engaged Art”. Meanwhile activist strategies no longer serve an elite art audience but have taken center stage for political protest, informal urban planning and community building projects. Art theorist and curator Peter Weibel thus declared "Artivism" to be the first art movement of the 21st century. Suzanne Lacy already introduced the term “New Genre Public Art” in the1990s to describe "art with a public interest". Today, artists and theorists speak of "useful art" as a matter of course.

Given this background of far-reaching developments – in which Kant's notion of “purposelessness” seems to be abandoned –, it seems crucial to have a closer look at the historical development of this transformation. How have political art and “Socially Engaged Art” changed since the 1970s? What are the relevant experiments, strategies, opportunities and failures within this field and how have they been perpetuated to the present day? It is the aim of the symposium „From Social Sculpture to Art Related Action“ to discuss these questions.

The symposium takes as its starting point an important archive of post war German history: the "Archiv für Soziale Plastik“ (Archive for Social Sculpture), which has been hosted at Zeppelin University since 2015. It contains relevant material on the origins of the concept of “Social Sculpture” that was developed by Beuys in the context of the "Achberger Kreis". It was in the early 1970s that a group of social scientists, teachers, designers and artists met at Achberg at the Allgäu region of Bavaria to search for a 'third way', an alternative to the dominant social models of the time. From 1973 big summer congresses were organized that were inspired by the wider intellectual pioneering spirit of the time and which sought to discuss possible alternatives to communism, state-socialism and capitalism. This context also stimulated the founding of the Germany's "Green party" and a debate on direct democracy. It was also here that Beuys developed his “Expanded concept of art”.

Collecting notes and documents over a period of decades, publisher and art educator Rainer Rappmann formed the "Archiv für Soziale Plastik". It consists of Super-8 films, audiotapes, hundreds of letters, post cards, books, posters and editions. The material serves as documentation for the pioneering spirit and the evocative atmosphere that emerged around the newly founded Free International University and Beuys’s social-political activities of the time.
In 2015, the archive was transformed into an experimental, artistic display by the artist Christof Salzmann and permanently installed at the university where it is also used for research purposes.

The topics of the symposium will revolve around the historical documents within the archive and therefore be grouped in three different slots: In a first slot, contemporary witnesses will provide an introduction to the historical movement in Achberg and its concepts and practices. Subsequently, the second slot's aim will be to contextualize the various approaches, which originated with Beuys and the Free International University during the 1970s, from an art historical point of view. A special focus will be given to the question, which of these concepts can be seen as obsolete and which still hold relevance in contemporary discourse and must be seen as hitherto unexplored terrain. Finally, a third slot will be devoted to contemporary approaches within the field of “Activism” and “Socially Engaged Art”, asking what social relevance can be attributed to these approaches today.


Friday, 28.10.2016

17.00 – 18.15 

Welcome Reception with guided Tours through the „Archiv für Soziale Plastik“
and the White Box-Project of Christian Falsnaes (Danish Artist)

Ulrike Shepherd (Curator artsprogram, Zeppelin University)

18.25 – 18.45
Keynote: From Social Sculpture to Art Related Action
Prof Dr Karen van den Berg (Professor of Art Theory and Curating,
Zeppelin University)

18.45 – 19.45
Denker, Künstler, Revolutionäre – Achberg und der Dreigliederungsimpuls
Rainer Rappmann (Publisher, FIU-Verlag)

Final Discussion

Transcultural Kitchen

Saturday, 29.10.2016

9.00 am
Coffee and Croissants

9.30 - 10.30
URSACHE ZUKUNFT- Joseph Beuys: Die Freie Internationale Universität (FIU),
der Erweiterte Kunstbegriff und die Direkte Demokratie

Johannes Stüttgen (Artist, Teacher, Author)

Discussion until 11.00

11.15 - 11.45
Little Pieces -– Images from the “Archiv für Soziale Plastik”
Student Impressions, from the Seminar of Dr. Andrew McNiven (British Artist,
Senior Lecturer at Zeppelin University)

11.45 - 12.30
"Open to Interpretation: The Resonance of Social Sculpture in the United States"
Cara Jordan (Art Historian and Critic)

12.30 Discussion

13.00 Lunch break

Was bewegt? Zur Gegenwärtigkeit der Sozialen Plastik
Christiane Meyer-Stoll (Curator Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein)

until 15.15 Discussion

15.15 – 15.45
Coffee break with Snacks

15.45 – 16.00
Little Pieces – Images from the “Archiv für Soziale”
Student Impressions, from the Seminar of Dr. Andrew McNiven (British Artist,
Senior Lecturer at Zeppelin University)

16.00 -16.45
Art, Neoliberalism and the Fate of the Commons
John Roberts (Professor of Arts and Aesthetics, University of Wolverhampton)
until 17.15 Discussion


17.30 -18.15
Adorno and Beuys: Action and the Critique of Action
Grant Kester (Professor of art history in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego)

Ths symposium takes place at
ZF Campus | 88045 Friedrichshafen | Fallenbrunnen 3 | Graf von Soden Forum


Cara Jordan is an art historian, writer, and educator whose research focuses on contemporary political, activist, and socially engaged public art. As a PhD candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center, CUNY, she studies the role of Joseph Beuys’ theory of social sculpture in socially engaged art in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. Her research has appeared in Public Art Dialogue (2013) and Seismopolite Journal for Art and Politics (2016). Cara has taught at CUNY’s Hunter College, Kingsborough Community College, and City College, and has curated numerous public art projects and events in New York. She currently serves as editor of Peter Halley’s catalogue raisonné (expected Spring 2017) and works as a freelance editor in Berlin.

Grant Kester is professor of art history in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego and the founding editor of FIELD: A Journal of Socially Engaged Art Criticism. His publications include Art, Activism and Oppositionality: Essays from Afterimage (Duke University Press, 1998), Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (University of California Press, 2004, second edition in 2013) and The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context (Duke University Press, 2011). He has recently completed work on Collective Situations: Dialogues in Contemporary Latin American Art 1995-2010, an anthology of writings by art collectives working in Latin America produced in collaboration with Bill Kelley Jr. which is under contract with Duke University Press.

Christiane Meyer-Stoll has been the curator of the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein since 2000. She was the first curator to be honored with the Justus Bier Award for the publication and exhibition of the Rolf Ricke Collection in 2010. Her curatorial work started in 1990 with her graduation in Art History at the Kunstraum München e.V. From 1993 to 1999 she was the curator of the Private Museum Goetz. She worked as managing art director of the Exhibition of Contemporary Art Lothringerstraße in Munich from 1998 to 2000.

Andrew McNiven was born in Edinburgh in 1963 and studied fine art at Goldsmiths' College in London, graduating in 1987, a contemporary of many of the artists who rose to international prominence during the 1990s. He received his MA from Goldsmiths' in 1995, and completed an AHRC-funded, practice-led PhD at Northumbria University in 2010. His work has been shown internationally since 1990. He is currently a Senior Lecturer within the Department of Communication, Culture and Management at Zeppelin Universität.

Rainer Rappmann is a writer, editor, publicist and founding editor of the publishing house FIU-Verlag. He edited parts of the lectures and the spoken work of Joseph Beuys. The concept of the “Free International University” | FIU continues to live in Rainer’s FIU-Verlag as well as in many other international organizations. He initiated and organized the Beuys-Symposiums in Achberg and his Socially Engaged Art Association, the Verein Soziale Skulptur e.V. Rainer studied German and Philosophy at the Landau College of Education / Palatinate and graduated with a paper on “Joseph Beuys’ impact on Society”.

John Roberts studied fine arts, English literature, and art history in Northwich and London. He received his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton, where he is currently Professor of Arts and Aesthetics. Since 2009 he has been a member of the advisory board for Philosophy of Photography and Art and the Public Sphere at Intellectual Ltd. Roberts is the author of several books dealing with the cultural context of art production, among them The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art after the Readymade (2007), as well as the editions of Photography and Its Violations (2013) and The New Avant-Garde (2014).

Christof Salzmann studied literature and sociology at the University of Konstanz. Later he pursued his studies of Public Art at the Akademie der Bildenen Künste in Nürnberg and the École Nationale des Beaux Arts in Lyon. From 1998 to 2001 Christof Salzmann was the editor of the public art journal “fuzzy space”. In 2001 he founded “daily soup®”. In his numerous exhibitions and projects Christof Salzmann examines and scrutinizes social systems from an artist’s, documentarist’s and an archivist’s point of view. His space installations usually are text-based works. His research focuses on different forms of archiving. Christof Salzmann lives and works in Upper Swabia.

Johannes Stüttgen is a German artist, author and partner of the association “Omnibus für direkte Demokratie”. His work is based upon Joseph Beuys’ Expanded Concept of Art and his idea of Social Sculpture. In 1967 Johannes Stüttgen was a co-founder of the German Students’ Party. Joseph Beuys and Johannes Stüttgen were the two founders of the German organization for direct democracy by means of a referendum. From 1971 to 1980 he was an art-teacher at the Grillo-Gymnasium in Gelsenkirchen and a visiting lecturer at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg from 1992 to 1993. For his oeuvre/work in Social Sculpture he received the Honorary Fellowship Award from Brooks University in Oxford in September 2004. Johannes Stüttgen works as a free artist in Berlin.

Karen van den Berg studied art history, archaeology, and Nordic philology and received her doctorate in art history from Bâle University with at dissertation on Matthias Grünewald. She is Professor of Art Theory and Curating at the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, and the academic spokesman of the university’s “artsprogram”. Since 1988 she has been working as an independent exhibition curator. From 1993 to 2003, she was a lecturer in contemporary art at the Witten/Herdecke University and co-founded the university’s art program “Art in Dialog”. Her research focuses on art and its social context and the politics of exhibiting; she has edited and written numerous publications on contemporary art, including topics such as artistic labor and studio practice, artistic epistemology, theory and history of curating and exhibiting, museum architecture, art in the public sphere and activism.

Organized by

The Symposium is organized by the Zeppelin University’s “artsprogram”. The “artsprogram” provides a platform for diverse artistic activities and enables students to gain curatorial and artistic experience. Self-initiated projects such as exhibitions, performances, choir performances and concerts will be accompanied by the artsprogram team and supported by artists. Artist who realized projects and exhibitions invited by the “artsprogram” were, among others, Alfredo Jaar, Oliver Ressler, Gregory Sholette, Irene Hohenbüchler, and Gunilla Klingberg (https://www.zeppelin-university.com/university/artsprogram/). In 2017 the “Archiv für Soziale Plastik” will be shown in the exhibition “who pays?” at the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. The Symposium will be held in German and English, translation will be offered.

Getting here

The symposium takes place at the ZF Campus
Address for navigation systems: Fallenbrunnen 3, 88045 Friedrichshafen

By car
From Lindau direction: From Albrechtstraße, make a right at the Landratsamt Friedrichshafen onto Glärnischstraße. Follow this street straight ahead for about 800 m until you are in the grounds of the former barracks. The former ContainerUni is on the left, while 300 m after the next right-hand turn you will find the new ZF Campus. FAB 18 and the student dormitories are straight ahead. Parking: There is a large gravel parking lot past the ZF Campus. (signposted)

From Meersburg: Take the B 31 through Fischbach towards Friedrichshafen Stadtmitte. At the Landratsamt Friedrichshafen make a right from Albrechtstrasse onto Glärnischstraße. Follow this street straight ahead for around 800 m until you are in the grounds of the former barracks. The ContainerUni is on the left while the ZF Campus is on the right. FAB 18 and the student dormitories are straight ahead. Parking: There is a large gravel parking lot past the ZF Campus. (signposted)

Public transport

From Stadtbahnhof Friedirchshafen take bus 10  (towards Fallenbrunnen Süd) and alight at the station Fallenbrunnen Süd. From here the ZF Campus is only a fife minutes walk away. Alternatively, take bus 12 (towards Bildungszentrum Markdorf) or bus 5 (towards Klinikum Friedrichshafen) and alight at the station Glärnischstraße. From here it takes 10 minutes of walking.

Time to decide

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