Robert Felfe: Line and linearity - dimensions of a "Kulturtechnik"



Current thoughts about the line and linearity in visual culture seem divided into two very contradictory aspects. On the one hand, widespread opinion takes it for granted that the line and linearity have to be seen as a signature of certain traditions in western culture which are, without doubt, historic, even old-fashioned and somehow idealistic. In an often diffuse way the line stands in for a visual culture obsessed with the idea of pinpointing the world in pictorial representations, for normative aesthetics, for the misleading belief in a predetermined ‘telos' of history and its narratives.

On the other hand, since Modernity, the line has been an important operator in a process within the fine arts that is often summarized as a profound liberation. This revolutionary development includes a liberation of the means of graphic rendering from any traditional paradigm of pictorial mimesis as well as from conventional patterns of ideal beauty. As one consequence of these tendencies, the understanding of drawing and related linear practice was progressively extended towards a categorically incomplete, self reflective process and a universal form of spatial relationship set free from any pictorial ground.

Both tendencies - the presumed history of the line's predominance and decline, as well as the straightforward process of its increasing emancipation and freedom since Modernity - suggest gravely unbalanced views of the whole topic. In contrast to this simple opposition, it is the central intention of the project to unfold an astonishingly rich culture of linearity from the 16th century until now. It aims to show that pictorial techniques based on lines can be considered as a profoundly relevant "Kulturtechnik" within European art and visual culture. The historical areas to be investigated are: 16th- mid 17th century, the decades around 1900, and the time between the 1970ies and today.

The seminar will give an occasion to present some artworks that embody exemplarily significant aspects of the project and to discuss its diachronic structure.

Robert Felfe received his Ph.D. in art history in 2000 at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. After this he worked at the Research Center for Performing Cultures founded at Freie Universität Berlin, and taught at Institutions in Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland. A habilitation was submitted in 2011; the title is: Naturform und bildnerische Prozesse. Elemente einer Wissensgeschichte der Künste im 16/17. Jahrhundert (Natural form and image processes. Elements of a history of knowledge in the art of 16/17th century). Since then he was research fellow at The Collegium for the Advanced Study of Picture Act and Embodiment at the Humboldt-Universität Berlin, taught at the Universität Hamburg and is curatorial advisor for the Kunstkammer at the Humboldt-Forum Berlin. His writings focus on the history of collecting, on the visual culture of early modern natural sciences, on the theory and practice of printmaking and on photography. From December 2012 til May 2013 he was visiting scholar at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz/Max-Planck-Institute. Currently he is visiting professor at the Universität der Künste Berlin.

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