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Elke Bippus, Jörg Huber, Dorothee Richter


This edition of On-Curating.org places ontological and political perspectives on notions of community at the centre of its debate. We believe that such an explicit discussion of community on a theoretical level is an urgent requirement in the context of ‘curating’ since cultural articulations always implicitly or explicitly address and produce communities. It was Jacques Rancière in particular who in The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible pointed out the importance of access to visibility and audibility since these are what enables or prevents access to a community. "The distribution of the sensible makes visible who can participate in the communal according to what he does. A particular activity determines thus who is and is not capable of being communal."[1] In his perspective, aesthetics, visibility and politics are causally linked.

Jacques Rancière defines equality as a fundamental opposition to the police order, to the limiting power structures of a society. It is impossible for the police order to "respond to the moment of equality of speaking bodies"[2] For Rancière, equality is produced as a process in an open set of practices. He draws two conclusions from this: "First, equality is not a state, and it is not a state that an action seeks to achieve. It is not precondition that an action sets out to verify. Second, this set of practices has no particular name. Equality has no visibility of its own. Its precondition must be understood in the practices that bring it into play and derived from their implications."[3]

According to Rancière this process approach corresponds to the traditional leftist notion of emancipation: "Emancipation is equality in actu, the logic of equality between speaking beings, which has an impact on the distribution of bodies in the community, a field characterized by inequality. How is this impact created? In order for the political to exist, there must be a space of encounter between the logic of the police and the logic of equality."[4] Following Rancière one such space of encounter would be art.

Community – how does it exist and how is it conceivable: as preliminary, anticipated, challenged, unrepresentable, inoperative, non-existent, possibly impossible ...? In the modern period the term 'community', as distinguished from 'society', has repeatedly been the subject of much debate and questioning. It is questionable on the one hand with respect to the notion and practice of a holistic ensemble, with its corresponding inclusions and exclusions, and on the other hand with respect to the philosophical and political models of Being-With, in which community is understood as an open process not subject to closure. It is questionable also because of concrete historical experiences and corresponding fantasies, failed utopias and anxieties. The debate around community in the 1980s was therefore perceived as a provocation, particularly in Germany, because of the appropriation of the term by national socialists. Today the term has been rehabilitated on the one hand and subjected to fundamental criticism because of its ontological turn on the other hand.[5]

It is remarkable, in particular, that the desire for ontology manifests in a specific historical situation: The debate around so-called communitarianism, which juxtaposed two irreconcilable positions, one republican-holistic, the other liberal-individualist, raised doubts whether community was possible at all. The notion of community did not seem to correspond with our current horizon. Numerous authors tried to position the terms that revolve around the notion of 'community' beyond concepts of communitarian collectives as derived from Marxism / communism, by relating the debates about the individual to their thinking and marking their distance to the discredited notion of a national community [Volksgemeinschaft].

What is envisioned with these endeavours and strategies is a thinking of community that does not give up a leftist (i.e. utopian or emancipatory) project but which attempts to think it under completely different auspices. The renaissance of the discussion about the community is related to political motivations, to discussions about ecological sustainability and the limits of economic growth. Debates about globalization, too, play an essential role in the strife for an adequate understanding of a postnational global community.

In their endeavour to overcome the implications and imperatives of community thinking and to re-think community as a political demand, authors such as Jean-Luc Nancy, Robert Esposito, Maurice Blanchot, or Georgio Agamben enter a contradictory plea, which finds expression in phrase such as 'community without community' or 'unavowable', the 'inoperative' or the 'coming community'. It can therefore be said that the "quintessence of the thinking of community [consists] not only in a reformulation of the notion of community but most of all in a differentpolitics of community."[6]

The current issue will be continued in a more extensive publication under the title MIT-SEIN. Gemeinschaft – ontologische und politische Perspektivierungen (Eds. Bippus, Huber, Richter / in German), which is intended to provide a platform for the politics of community and to place it alongside other current initiatives[7] through the work of the Institute for Critical Theory (ith) at the University of Arts, Zurich, which deals with questions of a theory of aesthetics and of the political as well
as their mutual relationship. The question of community touches on the problematic issues of the aesthetic and the political registers: How do people live with each other and how do they organize such co-existence? Fundamentally, how is 'being-with' conceivable and representable? How does such 'being-with' exist, how does it happen, and how does it manifest? Such questions bring together philosophical thinking, political theories, the theory of aesthetics and the world of arts, with the aim to produce mutual irritation and inspiration for their practice. In various research projects and previous publications the ith, has already undertaken work relating to the contexts and fundamentals in these fields.[8]

Our interests in this context include the following questions: How is an ontological determination of being possible without giving up historical perspectives? What is the relationship between a community and its parts, i.e. between the communal and the entities or singularities?

Leading up to the publication the editorial team developed sustained project work[9] and a colloquium with various renowned representatives of the community debate. It is from this circle that the authors of the contributions collected here have been recruited. These contributions are concerned with more precise formulations of particular concepts, with conceivable internal structures of communities, with their institutions, practices, discourses and extents, particularly where community is conceived as a relational matter without closure.

Thomas Bedorf’s contribution concerns precisely the question of relations, which need to be conceived as quasi-autonomous with respect to the specific entities, in other words, they need to be singular plural as conceived by Nancy. But according to Bedorf the thinking of community has a normative deficit caused by an insufficient differentiation between otherness and difference.

Jörn Etzold locates the debate about community and practice in Nancy, Aristotle, Arendt and Marx and points out both philosophical and political perspectives.

Lars Gertenbach indicates a number of aspects with which he argues why a theoretical consideration of community, in addition to a careful engagement with its historical semantics and the manifestations within which the concept is embedded, must crucially take place through the aspect of the imaginary.

In Ruth Sonderegger's contribution Rancière's political-theoretical approach is contrasted with his more idealistic view on the visual arts, an interesting point of departure for re-thinking Rancière.

Roberto Nigro locates the French debate about the community between the years of 1983 and 1994. It took place against the background formed by the 'crisis of Communism' and the fall of the 'Socialist' regimes in Eastern Europe. The aim was to interpret these political events in the context of the decline of the Utopian ideals cherished by the 1968 generation. Nigro sketches the debate as one episode in a long chain of intellectual thought and follows the discourse via Georges Bataille, Blanchot, Nancy, Heidegger and Esposito in order to position them both genealogically and historically.

This edition of On-Curating.org is accompanied by an artistic contribution by Michaela Melián. The sewn drawings have a double connotation as their initially harmless messages contain mysterious political subtexts revolving around perverted communities and group formations, with specific reference to real historical events.

We added the article "Lars Gertenbach and Dorothee Richter: The Imaginary and the Community. Deliberations Following the Deconstructivist Challenge of the Thinking of Community", which is based on a German version that was published as follows: Lars Gertenbach, Dorothee Richter, »Das Imaginäre und die Gemeinschaft. Überlegungen im Anschluss an die dekonstruktivistische Herausforderung des Gemeinschaftsdenkens«, in Elke Bippus, Jörg Huber, Dorothee Richter (eds.), Mit-Sein: Gemeinschaft – ontologische und politische Perspektivierungen, Zürich, New York, 2010, p. 119-140. ISBN-13: 978-3709104989.


Elke Bippus, Professor for Philosophy and History of Art at the Zurich University of the Arts, staff member of the Institute for Theory at the Zurich University of the Arts. Focus areas: Modern and contemporary art, theories of image and representation, artistic processes and modes of production, interfaces between art and science, art as an epistemological practice, aesthetics and politics. Research projects: 2005–2007 "Art of Research", since April 2010 "Research in the Arts and the Transformation of Theory". Selected publications: (Ed.): Kunst des Forschens. Praxis eines ästhetischen Denkens (2009), "Die Wirklichkeit der Darstellung. Das Ready-made als Strategie kontextueller Verkettungen und ästhetischer Affektion", in: Alexandra Kleihues (ed.): Realitätseffeke. Ästhetische Repräsentationen des Alltäglichen im 20. Jahrhundert. Munich 2008. http://people.zhdk.ch/elke.bippus

Jörg Huber, Prof. Dr., Professor for Theory of Aesthetics / Theory of Culture at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), Founding Director of the Institute for Theory (ith) (www.ith-z.ch); 1990-2005 director of the lecture and seminar series Interventionen, editor of the eponymous publication series (14 volumes, 1992-2005) and of Theorie:Gestaltung (7 volumes to date, Zurich/Vienna/New York 2001 ff.) as well as the ith magazine 31 (since 2002), director of several research projects; numerous publications.

Dorothee Richter. Art historian and curator; Director of Studies for the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, ICS, at the ZHDK Zurich; prior to that Artistic Director of the Künstlerhaus Bremen; symposia on questions of contemporary art with the following publications: Curating Degree Zero – an international symposium of curators (with B. Drabble); Dialoge und Debatten – on feminist positions in contemporary art; Im (Be_)Griff des Bildes (with Katrin Heinz and Sigrid Adorf); Die Visualität der Theorie vs. zur Theorie des Visuellen (with Nina Möntmann); Re-Visionen des Displays, (with Sigrid Schade and Jennifer Johns); Institution as Medium. Curating as Institutional Critique?, Kassel (with Rein Wolfs), teaching: University of Bremen, Ecole des Beaux Arts, Geneva, Merz-Akademie Stuttgart; University Lüneburg, Zurich University of Arts. Initiator (with B. Drabble) Curating Degree Zero Archive, archive, travelling exhibition and website on curatorial practice, www.curatingdegreezero.org. Other editions: Curating Critique (with B. Drabble): editor of the web journal www.on-curating.org



1 Rancière, Jacques: Die Aufteilung des Sinnlichen, Die Politik der Kunst und ihre Paradoxien, p.26 [English title: The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible]

2 Rancière, Jacques: "Gibt es eine politische Philosophie?" In. Badiou et al: Politik der Wahrheit, 1997 Vienna, pp.64-93, here p.4

3 Ibd. p.5

4 Ibd. p.5

5 A 'return' to ontology can also be observed in authors who stand for a leftist political philosophy such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. In their third work Common Wealththe authors provide 'a new ontological and anthropological foundation' to political developments. Robert Zion, "Die Neukonstitution des Politischen. Mit Spinoza in denCommon Wealth", in: ak - analyse & kritik - zeitung für linke Debatte und Praxis | Nr. 548 | 19.03.2010

Lars Gertenbach, Henning Laux, Hartmut Rosa, David Strecker, Theorien der Gemeinschaft zur Einführung, Hamburg, Janine Böckelmann, p. 169.

7 See among others: Gertenbach 2010, Janine Böckelmann, Claas Morgenroth (eds.), Politik der Gemeinschaft. Bielefeld 2008.

8 We mention, for example, the research projects on issues of migration, the construction of self and other, representative violence; the projects on performativity of theory, on the relationship between artistic practice and scientific research, on the topicality of post-structuralist theory as well as the publication on the culture of not-understanding, the imaginary, contingency and the aesthetics of critique (www.ith-z.ch).

Un/Mögliche Gemeinschaft. A series of events and an exhibition at the ith in collaboration with Shedhalle Zurich. Concept workshop/talks: Elke Bippus (ith), Exhibition concept: Anke Hoffmann and Yvonne Volkart (Shedhalle Zurich) http://archiv.shedhalle.ch/dt/programm/gemeinschaft/index.shtml; Transferzone - Temporary Life – Temporary Communities. Concept: Dorothee Richter. With lectures, workshops and an Archive of Shared Interests, temporary life – temporary communities, curated by Karin Frei Bernasconi, Siri Peyer and Dorothee Richter, (White Space), Zurich. www.whitespace.ch. On the concepts and participants of the events that took place in the project Gemeinschaft – vielleicht see: http://www.ith-z. ch/programm/gemeinschaft-vielleicht/

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