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Doctoral dissertation project of Christoph Chwatal


Art and Organization in the 21st Century: Contemporary Art’s Strategic-Organizational Complex (working title)

In the aftermath of the popular movements of the past decade, political theorists have paid renewed attention to the question of how to transform the powerful yet transient coming together of people in public assemblies into sustainable forms of organization. A similar reconfiguration has taken place within contemporary art discourses: Here we can see a shift in focus from interventionism and the tactical to a broader interest in practices driven by longer-term, strategic-organizational approaches.

Practices in the strategic-organizational complex of contemporary art conceptualize and initiate, negotiate for, and sustain organizational forms, habitually involving varying degrees of fiction. This complex encompasses a diversity of manifestations. We can start with practices located around archives, as exemplified by the work of Walid Raad, nongovernmental organizations as explored by Khalil Rabah, museums reimagined as artworks in the practice of Not An Alternative, artistic research agencies like Forensic Architecture, learning platforms such as The Silent University, local cooperatives co-initiated by Jeanne van Heeswijk, and ersatz parliaments as envisioned by Jonas Staal, among others. While situating these practices within the broader art historical discourses from the 1960s to 1990s, this dissertation takes its cues from political theories of organization as put forth by scholars such as Judith Butler, Jodi Dean, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter, and Rodrigo Nunes.

Conceptualizing organization as a “shared worksite” in line with the insights of Nunes, this Ph.D. project challenges the notion that the development of complementary organizational forms is confined solely to socially engaged art, where organizing and sustainability are commonly emphasized. Instead, the strategic-organizational complex outlined in this project extends its reach to critical-archival practice, research-based art, and institutional critique. The core argument in this dissertation is that the discussed practices are indicative of a critique of short-term “project work.” They instead reflect an increasingly pronounced inclination towards longer-term strategic collaborations involving actors from diverse social and political spheres. The ensuing chapters will explore the implications of a temporal shift from short-term to long-term, an operational transformation from tactics to strategies, and a functional transition from project to organization. This serves as a springboard for a discussion on aesthetic, epistemic, and political dimensions of contemporary art.

The Ph.D. project takes shape through a cotutelle de thèse, a joint doctoral program between the University of Cologne and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.



Practice Project

In collaboration with the team at the Utrecht-based art institution BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Christoph Chwatal is developing the curatorial-editorial project Anticipatory Learning. This is taking place within the framework of a scholarship for a Practice- and Profession-Oriented Doctorate in the Humanities, awarded by the Stiftung Mercator. It consists of research and archival work within the institution and the development of the Anticipatory Learning project with the BAK team. Since the early 2000s, BAK has developed into an internationally renowned institution driven by an experimental, community-based, and discursive agenda bridging art, activism, and academia. Having broadly facilitated and exhibited the work of Jonas Staal, Jeanne van Heeswijk, or Forensic Architecture, BAK emphasizes contemporary art’s increasingly discursive and community-driven nature. Anticipatory and speculative modes of learning and researching are at the core of BAK. As expressed by artistic director Maria Hlavajova, this institution provides a space to “learn what does not yet exist.”

In lay use, anticipation can refer to both an act of looking forward and, in a narrower understanding, taking into account possible future events that impact the present. In the scholarly field of Anticipation Studies, anticipation features less as simply “an epistemic orientation toward the future” but also as “a moral imperative, a will to anticipate.” Anticipatory Learning aims to add to the debates by diverting the focus to artistic-aesthetic potentials in anticipating future(s). It begins with three interconnected topoi, taking a scholarly and artistic-aesthetic perspective: Anticipation, learning, and non-linear conceptions of time. The project sets out to map the arts’ capacities to anticipate and prefigure future outlooks, both in speculative-imaginary ways and in concrete terms. Besides shedding light on the relationship between anticipation and prefiguration, Anticipatory Learning will put anticipation in dialogue with concepts such as utopia, the not-yet, and proposition.

Anticipatory Learning will unfold as a Focus, a forum on BAK’s online platform Prospections. It consists of an editorial, three to four new contributions, as well as three to four reprints of existing texts. Existing contributions will feature new introductions by the respective author(s) to contextualize, rethink, and position their texts in the context of Anticipatory Learning. Reprints are primarily text-based, while new commissions expand into other media (audio, video, and visual) and will use a range of formats (including conversations, interviews, and lectures). In a second step, the contributions will be complemented by material sourced from BAK’s publications, connecting to the institutions’ past, ongoing, and upcoming research trajectories and exhibitions. As an integral part of Anticipatory Learning, a public program will be developed with online, physical, or hybrid components, depending on feasibility in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.



Short Biography

Christoph Chwatal studied art history at the University of Basel, the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the University of Vienna. Christoph was an EUmanities Fellow at the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities at the University of Cologne, an Affiliated Researcher at the CLUE+ Research Institute at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and holder of a Practice- and Profession-Oriented Doctorate in the Humanities awarded by the Stiftung Mercator. Christoph has also worked as a Lecturer at Berlin University of the Arts and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His writing has been published in journals including Third Text, kritische berichte, and Stedelijk Studies.



Professional Experiences

Christoph has pursued diverse curatorial projects, given invited lectures, and contributed to panel discussions in art contexts. Since 2016, he has worked as an art critic for publications such as Art Papers, springerin, and Texte zur Kunst. A selection of exhibition and book reviews, essays, and short texts can be found here. Christoph is an elected member of the AICA (Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art) and holder of the 2017 AICA Austria Award for Young Art Criticism. He was a member of the Curatorial Advisory Board of the first edition of Biennale für Freiburg. In 2021 and 2022, together with the team at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Christoph pursued a curatorial-editorial project titled Anticipatory Learning.


Contact: christoph.chwatal(at)uni-koeln.de



Publications (Selection)

———. “In the Mothership: Christoph Chwatal on Yto Barrada at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.” Texte zur Kunst Online, April 28, 2023.

———. “Von Beuys Lernen? Ökologie und künstlerische Nachhaltigkeit.” Voices – Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, September 17, 2021.

———. “Versammlung und Commoning: Formen und Formate des Trainierens für die Zukunft.” springerin 26, no. 2 (Spring 2020): 40–45.

———. “Tom Holert, Knowledge Beside Itself: Contemporary Art’s Epistemic Politics (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2020).” Third Text Online, October 12, 2020.

———. “Forums: Representation and Collaboration in the Work of Forensic Architecture and Lawrence Abu Hamdan.” Tijdschrift Kunstlicht 41, no. 1 (2020): 66–74.

———. “Jonas Staal, Propaganda Art in the 21st Century (Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press, 2019).” Third Text Online, January 16, 2020.

———. “Witnessing and Community-Making in Bouchra Khalili’s Essay Films.” Art Papers 43, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 13–17.

———. “Decolonizing the Ethnographic Museum: Contemporary Art and the Weltmuseum Wien.” Art Papers 42, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 13–18.

———. “Publishing as Archival Form.” Simulacrum 26, no. 3 (2018): 34–39.

———. “Ruins and the Void in Post-War Beirut: Spaces of Contestation and Imagination.” kritische berichte 46, no. 3 (2018): 39–46.

———. “Labyrinth and Rhizome: On the Work of Walid Raad.” Stedelijk Studies Journal, no. 7 (Fall 2018): 1–14



Conference Organization

———. Workshop “Organization as a Medium of Contemporary Art,” Leuphana Universität University/Kunstraum der Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, November 13–14, 2023. Co-organized with Timon Beyes and Sven Lütticken.

———. Conference “a.r.t.e.s. forum 2022: Wissenschaft trifft Gesellschaft,” University of Cologne, July 7–8, 2022. Co-organized with Paulina Andrade Schnettler, Isabel Köhr, Melanie Schippling, Mona Schubert, Kim Schumann, and Tabea Thies.

———. Panel „Ästhetisch-epistemische Potenziale der Gegenwartskünste zwischen Evidenzgewinnung, Propaganda und Versammlung,“ XI. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Ästhetik, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, July 15, 2021. Co-organized with Lisa Stuckey and Sebastian Mühl.

———. Symposion “‘A Commonplace is not a Cliché’: Perspektiven auf Öffentlichkeiten, asynchrone Allgemeinplätze und infrastrukturelle Intimitäten,” July 9–10, 2021, Biennale für Freiburg/Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe. Co-organized with Lisa Stuckey.



Presentations (Selection)

———. Paper “Re-Imagining Intimacies: An Account of the Contemporary Arts,” Paper at Across Distance – 2021 Cambridge AHRC International Conference, September 15, 2021.

———. Paper “Von einer relationalen Ästhetik zu einer Ästhetik der Versammlung,” July 15, 2021, XI. Congress of the German Society for Aesthetics, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste.

———. Lecture “Assemblies after Relational Aesthetics: From Project Work to an Organizational Turn?” December 3, 2020, De Appel, Amsterdam.

———. Paper and Panel Moderation “Propaganda (Art) Research,” March 5, 2020, Akademie van Kunsten/Akademie van Wetenschappen, Amsterdam.

———. Lecture “Forums, Assemblies, and Arenas,” October 7, 2019, Tanzquartier Vienna.

———. Paper “Das ‘Para-Museum‘ im Spiegel institutionskritischer Kunstpraktiken der Gegenwart,” June 24, 2019, Depot/Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna.


Portrait photo: Patric Fouad


a.r.t.e.s. EUmanities has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 713600.

Call: H2020-MSCA-COFUND-2015 | Proposal: 713600 – artes EUmanities
CORDIS: http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/203182_de.html