Other Couples: Relationships and Gender in Performance and Media Art
Prof. Dr. Jenny Schrödl

The project examines (re)presentations of relationships and gender in performance and media art from the 1960s to today that diverge from hegemonic models of intimate relationships, gender and sexuality, thus bringing forth other, minoritarian understandings of being a couple. The point of departure is a diverse panorama of couples, from man-woman couples (Peter Weibel & VALIE EXPORT, From the Dogness File (Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit); Daniela Comani, A Happy Marriage (Eine glückliche Ehe)), to man-man couples (Elmgreen & Dragset Untitled, 1995; Falk Richter, Small Town Boy), from woman-woman couples (Split Britches; Annie Sprinkle & Elisabeth Stephens) to trans*-couples (Eva & Adele; Diane Torr & Jane Czyzselska, Ideal Homo). The four couple configurations should not be conceived of being stable or ontologically given, but rather as produced, historical and open. They serve as (heuristic) points of reference, the artworks re- and/or deconstructing them in various ways.

The following questions are central for the project: to what extent and with which aesthetic strategies and effects do the artworks examined deconstruct hegemonial models of relationships, gender and/or sexuality and what other, alternative models do they develop? Which social images, forms of representation, stories, styles or genres do they deploy? How do they deal with prejudices, clichés, privilege or discrimination, and to what extent do they develop forms of empowerment? What sorts of characteristics, phases or attributes (such as embodiment, emotions, sexuality, distance/nearness or separation) define relationships in the works examined? What differentiates the various couple configurations from one another, and what are their points of intersection and similarities?

The project takes its point of departure in various studies on performativity and gender, whether they be in the fields of Theatre Studies, Art History or Aesthetics, as well as from research on relationships from the Social Sciences, Gender Studies and Cultural Studies. Nevertheless, it attempts to expand on this research and set new accents. On the one hand, the project seeks to develop an aesthetics and politics of couples and duos. On the other hand, it will add artistic and aesthetic considerations to Gender and Relationship Studies, fields dominated by approaches from the Social Sciences.

Love Works. Artist Couples in the 19th and 20th Century (completed project, duration: 2014-2017)
Dr. Magdalena Beljan

Artist couples of the late 20th century self-consciously stage the intertwining of their art and their relationship. They thus not only exemplify shifting gender relations, but also a historically modified understanding of work, art and self. At the same time, the proximity of work and relationship approaches the Romantic ideals coalescence and autarky. It is thus no wonder that one often attributes artist couples with especially intense, passionate feelings for one another. My project begins by questioning this ascription of intense feeling. I thus assume that love is conditioned by socio-historical factors.

Various modi of subjectivization and intimate relations can be deciphered when analyzing the history of love. The project thus researches the relation between love, work and art in the 19th and 20th century. I do not understand relationships as simple replications of dominant gender relations, opting to take their performative dimension into account. In contrast to other couples, artist couples can explicitly make their relationships into an object of their work. My project not only considers couples who collaborate artistically, but also those who create works in the same artistic field independent of one another, such as Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann or Paula Modersohn-Becker and Otto Modersohn. Relationships in which one partner plays a significant role in the artistic production of the other, such as the couples Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe or Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, will also be taken into account. The focus is thus placed on the visual arts. The visual aspect of art will also be methodologically considered. Alongside diaries and letters, photographs and artworks will be treated as source material and as “image acts” (Bredekamp). The project thus intends to demonstrate that love can be defined as a performative act, constituted and (de)stabilized by the production of images and by artistic work.

[This text appears in similar form on the homepage of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development:]

Relation Work. Relationship Constellations in the Work of Marina Abramović and Ulay
Maxi Grotkopp, M.A.

The works of the performance artist couple Marina Ambramović and Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen), produced in a “symbiosis” of private and occupational life between 1976 and 1988, can be viewed as a radical questioning of and investigation into the dynamics of a relationship. In the wake of postmodern and poststructuralist conceptions of identity, these works – which helped bring along the performative turn in the arts – grapple with questions of identity and difference that were pressing for their time. The project analyzes ways in which the couple’s artistic productions performatively brought forth new forms of relationships. The now legendary series of projects entitled Relation Work (1976/77) plays a central role, a series in which the couple pushed themselves to their physical and psychic limits. Taking up other works as well, such as Rest Energy (1979), The Brink (1979), Nightsea Crossing (1981-1986) and not least The Lovers. The Great Wall Walk (1988), the project analyzes the relationship constellations dealt with in each work. Just as well, it questions the extent to which the (de)figurations present in these works take recourse to and deconstruct traditional relationship models, such as romantic love, biological affinity, friendship, work relationship, etc.

Special focus will be placed on the role of imagery and the artists’ method of combining performance, photography, video and visual art, the intermedial dimension of art increasing in significance with the progression of the couple’s collaboration. To what extent does the performative production of a relationship as “symbiosis” remain bound to perception, perspective, imagination and images? What special qualities are manifested by the staging of a relationship between static imagery and transient performance?

Although the works of Abramović and Ulay stand at the center of the analysis, the project nevertheless attempts to trace connections to cultural history, social-political issues and philosophy. At the same time, their works will be compared with those of other artist duos from the 1960s up to the present.