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Doctoral dissertation project of Christoph Chwatal

Forums, Assemblies, and Arenas: Knowledge Production in Contemporary Art Practice and Theory (working title)

This dissertation project examines works of the London-based research collective Forensic Architecture (2010–), Dutch artist Jonas Staal’s New World Summit (2012–), artist Khalil Rabah’s The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind (2003–), and The Silent University (2012–), a project initiated by Turkish-Kurdish artist Ahmet Öğüt. As paradigmatic examples of contemporary art practices they build on cooperation with art institutions, state agencies, and nongovernmental organizations with the prospect of social and institutional transformation. Ranging from pedagogical to para-institutional and para-legal practices, the works discussed problematize fields of knowledge including the legal apparatus in Forensic Architecture, liberal democracy in Staal, the Western museum in Rabah, and education in The Silent University.

The dissertation project offers to its prospective reader a typology, circumscribed with terms such as forums, assemblies, arenas, and platforms. As dominant expressions and self-designations of art institutions they carry with them a certain complicity with dominant regimes of knowledge in times of imperative participation, collaboration, and co-production. Likewise, the term knowledge production has become ubiquitous in light of educational and discursive formats in the contemporary arts. This went hand in hand with comprehensive rearrangements of artistic practice, institutional programming, and art education since the early 2000s, which this dissertation sets out to sketch.

Centrally, the practices discussed exhibit a shift from short-term project work in the art of the 1990s to mid- and long-term forms of strategic collaboration involving actors from various social fields in the present. This dissertation sets out to shed light on the conditions and theoretical-political premises of this development. Equally, the aim is to reflect the emergence of such work alongside overarching social, political, and economic change. Furthermore, it can help establish a critical vocabulary of both artistic and institutional practice foregrounding the material and discursive conditions and the modalities of “counter-hegemonic” knowledge production in the contemporary arts.

This dissertation project seminally involves a Practice Phase at the Utrecht-based art institution BAK, basis voor actuele kunst in the framework of a Mercator Scholarship for a Practice- and Profession-Oriented Doctorate in the Humanities.


Practice Phase

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. Central to the scholarship is a practice phase at BAK, scheduled between April 2021 and March 2022. It consists of research and archival work within the institution, connected to Chwatal’s ongoing PhD project, as well as the development of the Anticipatory Learning project together with the team at BAK. 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 the increasingly discursive and community-driven nature of the contemporary arts. Anticipatory and speculative modes of learning and researching are at the core of BAK. As expressed by artistic director Maria Hlavajova, this is institution sets out to provide a space to “learn what does not yet exist.” In turn, Christoph Chwatal connects the project to his ongoing PhD-research thus understanding Anticipatory Learning as a space to test and discuss his work in an expanded field.

The term anticipation can, in lay use, refer to both an act of looking forward (e.g. anticipating the re-opening of cultural institutions after months of closure) and, in a narrower understanding, taking into account a possible future event that impacts the present. In the scholarly field 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 departs from 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 as well as in concrete terms. Besides shedding light on the relation of 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 so-called Focus, a forum on BAK’s online platform Prospections. It consists of an Editorial written by Christoph Chwatal, three to four new contributions also commissioned by Chwatal, 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 a range of other media (audio, video, and visual) and will make use of a range of formats (including conversations, interviews, and lectures). In a second step, the corpus of 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 either with online, physical or hybrid components, depending on feasibility in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The public program can be expanded from panel discussions, conversations, and lectures to screenings or performances.


Short Biography

Christoph Chwatal studied art history at the University of Basel, the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the University of Vienna. He earned his M.A. in 2017 from the University of Vienna. Christoph is an EUmanities Fellow at the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities at the University of Cologne (2019–2022), an Affiliated Researcher at the CLUE+ Research Institute at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (2020–2021), and holder of a Practice- and Profession-Oriented Doctorate in the Humanities awarded by the Stiftung Mercator (2022–2023). Christoph’s writing has been published in journals including Third Text, kritische berichte, and the peer-reviewed Stedelijk Studies Journal.


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 springerin and Art Papers. A selection of exhibition and book reviews, essays, and short texts can be viewed 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 is a member of the Curatorial Advisory Board of the Biennale für Freiburg. In 2021 and 2022, together with the team at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Christoph pursues a curatorial-editorial project, titled Anticipatory Learning.

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


Publications (selection)

–––. “Book Review: Tom Holert, ‘Knowledge Beside Itself: Contemporary Art’s Epistemic Politics’ (Sternberg Press, 2020).” Third Text, October 2020.

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

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

–––. “Book Review: Jonas Staal, ‘Propaganda Art in the 21st Century’ (MIT Press, 2019).” Third Text, January 2020.

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

–––. “Notes on Claire Bishop’s Lecture: ‘Information Overload: Research Based Art and the Politics of Spectatorship.’” Kunsthalle Wien Blog, January 2019.

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

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

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


Presentations (selection)

–––. “Von einer relationalen Ästhetik zu einer Ästhetik der Versammlung.” Paper at the XI. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Ästhetik, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Zurich, July 15, 2021. Panel “Ästhetisch-epistemische Potenziale der Gegenwartskünste zwischen Evidenzgewinnung, Propaganda und Versammlung,” developed with Sebastian Mühl and Lisa Stuckey.

–––. “Assemblies after Relational Aesthetics: From Project Work to an Organizational Turn?” Guest lecture at De Appel Amsterdam / Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (invited by Sven Lütticken), December 3, 2020.

–––. “Introduction and Chair to the Panel ‘Propaganda (Art) Research.’” at the conference Propaganda Art in the 21st Century (invited by Jonas Staal), Akademie van Kunsten/Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Amsterdam, March 5, 2020.

–––. “Das Para-Museum im Spiegel institutionskritischer Kunstpraktiken der Gegenwart.” Paper at the workshop Das radikaldemokratische Museum (invited by Matthias Flatscher), Institut für Philosophie Universität Wien/Depot, Vienna, June 24, 2019.


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