About Us

Art Couples: Relationship Dynamics and Gender Relations in the Arts

The Junior Research Group deploys perspectives from theatre studies, cultural studies and history in order to analyze (re)presentations of interpersonal relations, gender and emotions in the performing and visual arts from the late 19th century to today. Relationships and gender categories are not natural, static givens. Rather, they are produced through performative acts and should thus be understood as dynamic, heterogeneous and historically situated. In many works of art, relationships are explored in complex ways, gender being one important, but not exclusive aspect of this exploration: sexuality, emotionality, love, age, power, work and (inter-)subjectivity are other central topics dealt with by the research group.

Two types of “art couples” make up the focus of the group’s research: first, so-called “artist couples”, which obscure the boundaries between life and art, work and love, fictional and real relationships, hetero- and homosexuality. Secondly, the group’s projects analyze “couples in the arts”, representations of relationships in theater and performance art as well as in photography, painting, media and installation art. The group’s research begins with the assumption that the “couple” is a social product whose concrete manifestation, function and significance are determined in a specific historical context. The arts play a decisive role in this process. Rather than simply representing a given social reality, they stage and produce perceptible images and understandings of couples, emotionality and gender. In turn, these artworks can exert an influence on society, privileging certain conceptions and subverting or modifying others. Different understandings of couple relations circulate between art and society, which for their part can be transformed into reality through the use of various aesthetic techniques and forms, genre norms and artistic contexts. The concept “art couple” underscores the genuine aesthetic and medial dimensions of couples often ignored by relationship studies in the social sciences. Just as well, couples and duos have not yet been widely researched in theater and performance studies, solo performances and performance groups or collectives being the dominant focus of recent research. Additionally, the proximity of labor and emotions makes the notion of the “art couple” interesting for the study of the history of emotions. The questions can be asked: to what extent do practices of feeling and labor condition and influence one another? How do artists live and work together? Which conceptions of love or intimacy stand in the foreground of their relationships? Simply put: Do artists love differently?

With these questions in mind, the interdisciplinary research group has the goal of contributing to a new understanding of the couple by analyzing various presentations of intimate relationships, gender and emotions in the arts. The following questions serve as a guiding thread for the group: Which aesthetic techniques and materials are used to depict couples and gender relations in the performing and visual arts? Which socially dominant models of the couple are used as templates, and which narratives and genres, which iconic, emotive, linguistic, corporeal, musical, cinematic and popular cultural conventions are deployed? What role do pluralistic conceptions of relationships play in art? And the change of intimate relationships in the context of globalization? To what extent do the arts either affirm or subvert traditional forms of intimacy and gender relations? To what extent do the arts transform alternative conceptions of couples?