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Michel Foucault and the Arts

Problems of a Genealogy

An international convention
September 1922, 2002
in cooperation with the Center Michel Foucault, Paris

Readings, lectures, films, installations, music and exhibition

Concept :: Peter Gente [Merve Verlag, Berlin]
together with Peter Weibel [ZKM_Karlsruhe]
Project management: Barbara Könches

Venues ::
ZKM_Media Theater/Project Space of the Media Museum/Kubus

Michel Foucault, who would have turned 75 on Oct. 15, 2001, was not only one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, but also practiced a form of thought that was as unique as it was varied, far removed from all schools, isms and ideologies. His major monographs on psychiatry, medicine, the prison, and sexuality all extend far back in history but are written from the vantage point of today. He did not focus on an analysis of forms of behavior and ideas, of societies and their »ideologies«, but on emphasizing problematic areas in which we can and must think of the role of human existence.

In a discussion with Paolo Caruso, back in 1969 Foucault commented: »If my memory does not deceive me, then I got the greatest cultural shock from the French representatives of serial music and 12-tone music from Boulez and Barraqué, with whom I was acquainted. It was they who first tore me from the dialectical universe in which I had lived until then.« From the mid-1950s through to his very last works, we can sense an over-arching connection to the techné tou biou of Classical Antiquity, to the art of life. His books on madness, on the clinic, on the humanities, on prison and on sexuality are accompanied by books on Raymond Roussel and René Magritte, articles on the history of literature, on contemporary literature, on painting, and on architecture. He sought contact to artists and they sought contact to him.

The question of technology led in the arts themselves to a new notion of art colleges, academies, and multimedia centers such as the Beaubourg in France or the ZKM|Center for Art and Media in Germany. The good old question what is art? is back in trend. The focus is on the classification and definition of subjects and disciplines, on the relationship of art and technology in the wake of their divergence 200 years ago following the Querelle des Anciens et Modernes; and on the broad field of the art of life and ethics. Foucault's point of departure has always been the here and now, specifically in his historical studies, and this here and now was always also defined by aesthetic experience. Precisely in this regard he concurs with Adorno. Following the latter's death in 1969, the bond between aesthetic experience and theoretical study was increasingly loosened in Germany. Perhaps, it can be forged anew, if differently, and with the assistance of Foucault.

The international convention will focus not on some ideological for and against, or on some academic »about« Foucault, but instead on the technology of how, starting with or from Foucault we can engage with practices and poetics that have their frame of reference elsewhere: in literature, in painting, in film, in music, in architecture and in philosophy. On the interface of an academic colloquium and an art festival meet, on the periphery of where they impact that is the venue for this convention. Artists, philosophers and scholars meet, friends see each other again. Here, interested members of the general public and critics can encounter Michel Foucault. The convention is intended to be a festival, a celebration and likewise a multimedia show, and informal forum. Films, lectures, readings, concerts, plays, an exhibition, installations and discussions are intended to give the whole an academic and yet playful character, an ironic, restrained and quiet touch.

- Peter Gente -

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