Henry van de Velde and the Total Work of Art

12th International Bauhauskolloquium Weimar 04.-07.04.2013
Call for Papers for young scholars and PhD candidates
Even though “the tendency towards the total work of art” (Szeeman) is still a constant presence in architectural as well as artistic concepts, the term itself plays only a minor role in current architectural discourse. The traumatic experiences with totalitarian regimes in the early twentieth century raised scepticism towards attempts at an all-encompassing design of our Lebenswelt (lived world). However, the total work of art cannot be identified exclusively with certain traditional forms of political representation. Generally speaking, it manifests much less a specific aesthetic style than a twofold strategy of removing boundaries: since the 19th century, it has maintained the idea of a unity of art and life within society. Within the horizon of aesthetic modernism, it blurs the boundaries of traditional disciplines. The total work of art is thus regarded as spatial design as well as an intermedial configuration. Architecture is of central importance to this association. As an art form that is unwittingly confronted with the requirement to frame opposing codes into a creative unity (Eco), it is at the same time the prerequisite as well as the stage for the Gesamtkunstwerk. Architecture is, in the words of Henry van de Velde, “the heart of a true unity of the arts.”
The fact that today the ideal of the absolute power of the creative act still seems a desirable goal points to the on going relevance of the Gesamtkunstwerk within the theoretical discourse of 20th- and 21st-century architecture. The special fascination attributed to the total work of art seems to lie precisely in its utopian qualities, which could hardly contrast more with the actual context within which the architecture operates. The “yearning for the total work of art” (Fornoff) is here understood as the motivating force of architectural practice, even though in reality this is hardly ever achieved. Beyond this, terms like “corporate design” and “corporate architecture” show a demand for all-encompassing design. Although these designs respond to current claims for distinction and plurality, it cannot be dismissed that the new, globalized media architecture seeks to aesthetically resolve the contradictions between economy and the public domain. This opens up questions for the architectural discipline that suggest a fundamental re-thinking of its self-conception. Which social, political and philosophical turns form the background on which we have to interpret the modern concept of the total work of art? How much do design tools and media inform the conception of architecture as a total work of art or even as “total architecture” (Gropius)? What is the relationship between more recent theoretical approaches concerning a new aura, presence and aesthetic immediacy to the aesthetic strategy of the total work of art? And – finally – to what extent do total utopias and visions represent a necessary corrective response to dominant political circumstances, making it possible to forge a critical stance in architecture?
The conference will feature about twenty invited speakers and, as a platform to create a lively debate engaging emerging scholars and distinguished experts, a number of workshops with four to six peer reviewed paper presentations each. The topics of the workshop can be briefly described as follows:
1. Totality / Fragment
This section questions the legitimization and the possibilities of the total work of art in architecture and the design of the environment. The architectural total work of artis connected to the ideal image of an autonomous design of space. In the early 20th century this has led to several visionary architectural concepts. In this process the architect was given the role of the demiurgic creator. He designed monuments of a new time that were beyond social polity and political ideology and in favour of a “religion of the collective.” Simultaneously the pursuit of totality is always inseparably connected with the experience of fragmentation. The knowledge prevailed that an aesthetical culture understood as a designed totality of life could only be realized through the abolishment of art as an institution. However, seemingly objective notions such as function, construction, purpose, nature, technology, which are meant to organise modern society, loose their meaning in this process of aesthetisation. As metaphors, they can be used for the legitimisation of different design strategies – that is, its translation in architectural terms is purely subjective. How can the relationship between environmental total works of art and works in the realm of Fine Art be defined today? Are the de-aesthetisation of art and the aesthetisation of the environment two sides of the same medal?
2. Utopia / Critique
This section is dedicated to the utopian character of the total work of art. It questions how far the concept of the total work of art can help to describe the potentials of architecture and urbanism as a medium of political and cultural critique. Just like the arts, architecture proves itself a humane and non-identical counter design with respect to reality when it, as Adorno indicated, refuses duty. This session invites contributions that help to understand urban, architectural and artistic interventions beyond the professional and epistemic boundaries of architecture. How can we think the relationship between ideology, politics and the built environment? If political relations are reproduced spatially – through the very organization of the city, its infrastructure, streets and houses as well as through the ‘rituals’ and behaviours they induce – how could architecture act against power? In a contemporary context in which the ‘idyll of consensus’ has to a degree de-politicised society, the possibility of dissent, articulated as a spatial practice, could make political conflicts (and thus politics) not only possible, but as well visible and effective. The session hopes to analyse theoretical and historical research as well as contemporary design proposals that aim to engage architecture as a way of voicing critique in matter.
3. Medium / Aura
Connected to the architectural total work of art is the idea of a direct participation of the observer and the synesthetic experience of space. Notions such as immersion, presence, authenticity and materiality thus shape the debate of such concepts. From this perspective the total work of art is often connected with an empirical veracity or an auratic effect which stands in opposition to the primacy of viewing, of the image or of new media. Its medial evocation however appears to sometimes be more effective. Therefore, the origin of the total work of art in architecture lies not only in a new self-conception of the modern architect. Just as significant is the paradoxical conclusion that the utopian tendency of the total work of art appears feasible only after the substitution of built reality by pictorial representation, which thus vitally determines the perception of architecture. The image therefore becomes the proper place of the aspired ideal. Approaching the subject from this point of view, the question is raised whether the concept of the total work of art in architecture becomes more radical in the age of digital design tools, since they, much more than analogue ones, serve to suggest a synthesis of space and image that allows for more complex implementations of all-encompassing concepts. This section welcomes papers reflecting the multifaceted relation of architectural form and its media representation.
4. System / Theory
An essential strategy of the total work of art consists of the connection of heterogeneous elements in such a way that the impression of a synthetic unity is created. This is especially so when the concept is used in a radical way to represent not only the arts but also the whole of reality. The total work of art now becomes a point of transfer for a total conception of reality: the system becomes a work of art and a work of art becomes the system. At this point, at least two challenges can be formulated: first, the theoretical challenge to consider the realized total work of art after the age of deconstruction and the postmodern criticism of grand narratives as an open system. The second challenge follows from the first one and is political of nature: how can the present concept of the total work of art avoid the political consequences of a systematical closure after a century of totalitarianism; how can it become compatible with an “open society” (Popper) marked by a liberal, market-driven economy? This second challenge should be viewed in the context of the question after the place of the arts in modern society. It leads to the question after the aesthetic regime of global capitalism as the most powerful realization of the idea of the total work of art today. This section looks for answers to these challenges that can be deduced from contemporary architectural theory and philosophy.
More information regarding the lectures and presentations is available on www.bauhaus-kolloquium.de
To apply for a presentation, please submit your abstract of max. 300 words, with a brief c.v. to bauhaus-kolloquium@uni-weimar.de by January 15, 2013.
Organization: Fakultät Architektur, Abteilung Theorie und Geschichte der Moderne Architektur
Venue: Bauhaus Universität Weimar, Geschwister Scholl Strasse 8, 99423 Weimar, Germany
Contact: Rixt Hoekstra, rixt.hoekstra@uni-weimar.de, phone: +49 36 43 58 31 52
Additional information:  www.bauhauskolloquium.de

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