Université d'Erfurt

The individual and dividual in modern and contemporary fine arts

My current project is concerned with the concepts of individuals and dividuals and their relationships to each other in the arts.

1. The impact of precarious times on the construction of personhood

In his recent prize-winning book Prekäres Wissen (2012) MWK Fellow Martin Mulsow explores the history of ideas in early modernity through precariousness, a new approach towards the understanding of scholarship in general, namely not through dominant narratives, but through ‘precarious’ ones. Inspired by Mulsow, this project will relate precariousness to the theoretical voyage that begins with the différance (Derrida, 1972) and the hybrid (Bhabha, 1994), continues with ‘passages’ (Benjamin, from 1927) and networks (White, 2008) to some-thing that includes a temporal element in the in-betweeness; ‘precarious’ is connected with the dominant, but, different from Foucault’s marginalisation, it also expresses a sense of change: something might have been dominant, but has, for whatever reason, become precarious; like-wise, the dominant can be actor and brand something as precarious, probably something that is considered dangerous; thus it becomes unsecured, unstable, perilious and fragile and possi-bly even ‘unbearably vulnerable’ (Butler, 2004). With such an understanding of precarious, this project explores exhibitions at commercial art galleries in Second World War London. It thus allows to examine the strategies of curators, gallery owners and artists to construct personhood at a time, when their main source of display was in turmoil.

2. Individual and dividual aspects and the religious/aesthetic

This project will contribute to the exploration of the distinction between concepts of the individual and dividual. Its focus is the role of art objects as dividual and/or individual and as mediating processes of constructing/becoming individuals or dividuals or aspects of each. The individual can be understood as a person who is indivisible, autonomous and rational (Bailecki and Deswani, 2015). Recently, individualisation as such has been the focus of much debate in religious studies (ed. Rüpke and Fuchs, 2015). The dividual has been described as partible (Duncan, 2014), permeable (Fowler, 2016), relational (Brücke, 2004) and ‘porous’ (Taylor, 2007), and has often been associated with pre-modern, non-western concepts of personhood (Strathern, 1988).  In the domain of art, the most prominent writings on the dividual stem from the artist Paul Klee (1922) and the philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1986), who applied the term to paintings, respectively early cinema. Their discussion is dominated by the question of the nature of and relationship between dividual and individual. Moving on from the art object as dividual/individual, I will explore the understanding of personhood as in/dividual with regard to viewership. How do (art) objects provide a medium which produces resonances (Rosa, 2016; Bredekamp, 2010; Gell, 1999) that split the viewer-self and how can these divisions of the self be understood in light of the in/dividual? The focus will be on aesthetic/religious and bodily perception (the latter looks into Julia Kristeva’s ‘abject’), for which contemporary religious art forms an ideal case in point. As has been noted by a number of scholars (James Elkins and Aaron Rosen, 2015), religious themes are not only central to contemporary art, but also play with art and iconography in a sophisticated and complex manner that has led to a wide range of interpretations including iconoclasm and political and legal consequences. It is thus hoped that the exploration of such works in light of dividuals and individuals do not only provide insights into conceptions of the dividual and individual, but also a new perspective towards contemporary religious art.

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