Forschungszentrum Institutionelle Ästhetik




About the Research Centre

Arts disciplines such as art history, music, theatre and film tend to focus almost exclusively on the artistic products and producers of their respective art forms past and present including self-fashioned ones (practice as research). Much academic inquiry attempts to translate aesthetic response into scholarly, intersubjectively verifiable categories of analysis. This work-centered approach has, not surprisingly, led to a high degree of specialization and particularization within disciplines, which are usually organized around epochs and geocultural regions.

In place of a work- or artist-centred approach, the concept of Institutional Aesthetics proposed here seeks to investigate the crucial effect of institutions in the production, distribution and reception of artistic products on a collective level. Conversely, it necessary needs to ask how aesthetic develops impact on the institutions themselves, both positively and negatively. For example, it is often argued that the high level of subsidy in German theatre - roughly 80-85% of costs - has led to a neglect of audience needs. It has become a largely self-reflexive artist-centred system unresponsive to audience tastes.

Although interest in institutional questions is not in itself new, their application across the different artistic disciplines differs considerably. Whereas art history has successful integrated questions of patronage, and latterly museum studies, into research paradigms, this has been less pronounced in the performing arts, although the institutional focus would seem to be particularly relevant for the latter because of their traditional reliance on labour-intensive organisations and usually expensive, purpose-built buildings for reception.

There is no doubt that institutional questions are coming into focus and that scholars across disciplines are beginning to explore these complex relationships. Shannon Jackson’s Book, Social Works : Performing Art, Supporting Publics, investigates the need for ”support” in the production of performance and examines amongst other things how institutional critique manifests itself as a way of reflecting institutionality within the work itself. Christopher Balme’s work on the theatrical public sphere is also institutional in focus in as much as the theatre itself more than individual works is the object of the many debates the book deals with.

In a recent special number of Performance Research entitled ‘On Institutions’, Gigi Argyropoulou and Hypatia Vourloumis edited an intriguing exploration of the question how performance scholars could engage with institutions beyond the usual pejorative understanding of constraints, restrictions and limitations. Perhaps their key insight is that institutions are themselves performative, even self-reflexively so: they quite literally institute themselves. They proceed from the premise that institutional structures are formed through repeated sets of practices, patterns and relations. They call for “a performance studies lens that approaches the figure of the institution as a verb”, which asks “how institutions are performance and in turn how performance practices may enforce, destabilize and initiate new modes of organisation.”

The idea the that institutions are performative rather than fixed and unchanging is not a new but corresponds with an insight of neo-institutionalist theory that has been largely ignored by theatre and performance scholars. Neo-institutionalist theory is highly attentive to the importance of human actors in creating, stabilising and ulti-mately changing institutions and is particularly interested in historical perspectives on these processes. In the words of a major exponent, Paul DiMaggio: “an institution can only become enacted and active if it, like a garment or a house, finds someone who finds an interest in it."

The aims for the “inaes” research center are the following:

  • Establishing an international network of scholars interested in questions of in-stitutional aesthetics
  • Developing and adapting theoretical concepts as a foundation for a research perspective Institutional Aesthetics
  • Encouraging teaching and research in this new field