[ˌɛfeˈmeːɐ̯] – Processuality, Decay and Dissolution in Art

University of Hamburg · Art History Seminar · Winter Semester 2019/20


Decay and decomposition are traditional motifs in art. Corresponding images address transience, disgust, but also the tradition of the memento mori and thus contemplation, devotion and humility. The seminar concept, however, focuses less on these conventions than on ephemeral artistic works that are actually processual and decompose to the point of dissolution.

Due to the use of decaying materials, the factors of chance and time become part of authorship as “collaborators”. This goes hand in hand with the revision of the concept of original as well as the negation of claims to preservation or the concept of an everlasting work of art. Processuality, decay and dissolution question traditional patterns of reception and are discussed, for example, in the context of the anti-form or extended concept of art.

Works of art in the process of decomposition address their viewers in a multisensory way. For example, strong smells and the visual experience of a mouldy art object are able to lead their audience to question normative patterns of reception and thus act as catalysts for disruptive or expanded aesthetics. At the interface of transforming materials in the process of dissolution, the views and intentions of different actors meet: these concern the artists themselves, the recipients as well as the institutions involved.

The seminar looks at artistic positions from the 1960s to the present. The focus is on material-specific questions as well as aesthetic and sensual perceptions, semantics, art politics, institutional critique and practice-related aspects.

Practical elements are part of the course in that the participants gain insight into the fields of activity of artists, restorers, art historians as well as gallery operations. The focus here is on approaches and the handling of transformative materials in the context of the creation of works, exhibitions or the art market. Visits to the studios of contemporary artists, a restoration workshop and museums were part of the course.

Cooperation partners

Sonja Alhäuser · Artist (Berlin)

Niels Bacher · Âme Nue · multidisciplinary exhibition space for contemporary art and culture (Hamburg)

Carolin Bohlmann · Restorer at Hamburger Bahnhof · Museum für Gegenwart (Berlin)

Dr. Dirk Dobke · art historian (Hamburg)

Dr. Belinda Grace Gardner · art historian (Hamburg)

Karin Seinsoth · Director Artist & Estate Liaison · Galerie Hauser & Wirth (Zurich)

Johannes Speder · artist (Hamburg)

Warburg House · University of Hamburg Dieter Roth Museum (Hamburg)

Toni R. Toivonen, Portrait of a Hare 14, 2019, Brass, original substances of a dead animal (no animals were harmed or killed for the production of the works), 38,5 x 32 cm, Private Collection, Hamburg