Doktoratsprojekt künstlerische Forschung

Performative Materiality

Michael Kargl

Following the debates about immateriality around the turn of the millennium, an increased awareness for the materiality of works can be observed in current artistic production. Discussions center around things again: things that can be touched; things that possess tangible corporeality; things that also exist beyond human perception – material things.

Without doubt, the materiality of artworks plays a vital role in their perception and reception. Already early on, special objects that transcended the ordinary, such as divine images or holy architectures, were crafted from substances, materials, and fabrics that promised durability, while everyday objects, in contrast, were made of perishable materials. Over the course of history, codes and regulations evolved that stipulated certain materials for certain purposes or, even stricter, reserved their usage to specific people.

Besides these ascriptions and assignment of values also the properties of materials are employed as parameters in the design process. Qualities like warmth or coldness, hardness or softness, heaviness or lightness can convey content that is intrinsic to an artwork and cannot be separated from it without altering the entire scope of the work: “Material needs no longer to be understood as detachable carrier for a form or an idea, but can be regarded as indissolubly interwoven with it. […] In the self-referential systems of ‘autonomous’ artworks, there is a tendency for the idea, the medium and the material to converge”,[1] writes art historian Monika Wagner, underpinning the special position material has had in the development of the arts since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Stepping back from the final state of the artwork to the process it results from, it is clear that the materiality of a work is not necessarily determined from the start. The artistic work process involves a great deal of experimenting in order to arrive at the most suitable material to realize an idea. In this test phase one also risks altering the complete work, its parameters, characteristics, and not least its final appearance. This process of material-based transformation has a two-fold effect: first, on the artwork itself (its haptic conditions), and then on its perception, which in turn influences the specific form of aesthetic recognition actuated by the artwork.

The objective of the dissertation project titled “Performative Materiality” is to investigate and specify these processes of transformation and effect with the aim of implementing these moments of change in the own artistic practice. The departure point is a notion of material that considers the tangibility of objects while incorporating the materiality of the immaterial, such as programming code and technical devices in the case of media art or the human body and language as sites where artistic ideas manifest.

[1] Monika Wagner, “Material,” in Materiality, ed. Petra Lange-Berndt (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2015), 27.