WG Definitions of Art: On Art Terms between Autonomy and Functionalisation

By the 1990s at the latest, and not only in Germany, art has been increasingly integrated into various areas of society. That development inevitably led to a change in the (self-)image of players in the field of art. A middle-class, patriarchal approach manifested in “inspired works” shifted to societal acts, often in groups, in a variety of differing formats, and in new venues such as project spaces or clubs. That development benefitted from the special situation in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Affordable rents and the temporary availability of empty buildings opened up a “free space,” allowing -for a short time -artists to work without financial pressure, away from the art market. At the same time, the state institutions withdrew from involvement in the areas of art and culture. Even the institutions that continued to receive public funding were subject to draconian austerity measures and increasing pressure to justify their existence. The comprehension of art began to shift from a self-determined practice to a concept of putting art into operation.

The current debates in Berlin about cultural policy and the desire to understand them both theoretically and strategically, make the uncertainty of the players visible. The dichotomies that have prevailed to date are eroding and the balance of power is becoming more complex. The relationship between autonomy and functionality in the field of art needs a discursive and theoretical adjustment.

In July 2014, at the invitation of Haben und Brauchen, a workshop was held at the Berlin University of the Arts with philosopher and art theorist Ruth Sonderegger. It was dedicated to exploring how the concepts autonomy on the one hand, and functionalisation (or heteronomy) on the other hand have shifted in meaning in recent years, and whether or to what extent they are still relevant now to the work of Haben und Brauchen.

What follows are selected excerpts from the discussion.