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Topologies of Artistic Research. Relational Knowledge Models in Art and Theory


Max Schaffer: Ohne Titel (Objekt a), hybrid adhesive, Kulturtankstelle Linz, 2019. Courtesy: Max Schaffer, photo: Martin Bilinovac

Project Team: Sarah Kolb
Funded by: FWF | Elise Richter Senior Postdoc (project number V 813-G)
Project Lead: Sarah Kolb
Period of Funding: September 2020 – January 2026
Department: Institute for Fine Arts and Cultural Studies, Department of Art History and Art Theory 
Project Partners:  Sabeth Buchmann (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna), Kathrin Busch (Academy of Fine Arts Berlin), Hanne Loreck (HFBK Hamburg), Ilka Becker (University of Applied Sciences Mainz), Jette Gejl (Aarhus University)

In connection with the recent boom of artistic research, there is currently a lively debate about the extent to which art can generate specific forms of knowledge in mutual fertilisation with science and theory. This development ties in with the critical-analytical tendencies of neo- and post-avant-gardism that have developed since the mid 20th century in exchange with phenomenology and post-/structuralism, and are currently experiencing a turn towards new conceptions of agency within the context of new materialism.

The project Topologies of Artistic Research is based on the thesis that the move towards artistic research procedures is closely related to a specific interest in topological concepts that, starting from philosophy and mathematics, found their way into the natural sciences, humanities, and cultural sciences from 1900 onwards and, in continuation of corresponding references on part of the historical avant-gardes, have increasingly been taken up in the arts since the 1960s. In recourse to the topological concepts of relation, transformation, and non-orientability, artists opposed essentialist categories such as work and authorship with process-oriented, performative, and participatory practices that made topological concepts productive not only in the figurative sense, but also on a methodological level.

The project develops a comprehensive genealogy of artistic research that aims to reveal the importance of topological concepts for postmodern art and theory from a discourse analytical perspective. On the basis of case studies, it will focus on process-orientated, performative, and participatory approaches in the contexts of Neoconcretism, Happening, Fluxus, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Institutional Critique, Appropriation Art, Relational Art, and Net Art. From a transdisciplinary perspective and taking into account the theoretical models of new materialism, specific linages of artistic research will be localized within the overlap of the natural sciences, humanities, cultural sciences, and art.

By focussing on the methodological productivity of topological concepts in art and theory, the project opens up a new perspective on artistic research as a forward-looking field of research that can be made fruitful against the rigid concepts of knowledge of established disciplines and that also holds emancipatory potential in terms of an overcoming of gender dualisms. Thus, relational knowledge models can shed a new light on topology as an efficient tool to pave the way for new theoretical and epistemological perspectives and undermine binary categories such as art/science, nature/culture, or subjectivity/objectivity in favour of a non-hierarchic logic of transformation.

Contact Person: sarah.kolb@kunstuni-linz.at