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Research Area 3: Cultural Transformation and Performativity Studies

The Research Area 3: Cultural Transformation and Performativity currently explores the tension between the body as a theoretical concept and embodiment as a (lived) practice. Keywords of interest include dis/ability, affect, embodiment as an epistemic practice, resistance, performance, (theatrical) public sphere, and eventfulness.

In this broad field the research area pursues these specific questions and foci:

On the one hand, one can conceptualize the body as an active agent of practices of political resistance. On the other hand, the body also passively resists force that is exerted upon it.

Corporeality to a certain extent materially defines what a body is. And still, what the body currently is can’t exhaust its capacity to enter into new relations and what it can do in other constellations, that is, its eventfulness.

The non-determined nature of affect brings out the possibilities for transformative change. As affect arises from encounters of exchange, theater as an affective public sphere, where transmissions from performance to the audience are realized, allows for translating visceral feelings into cultural reflection and potential political activisms.

The area primarily discusses readings, movies, artworks, or other media/cultural products together.
We meet on the second Monday of the month (also during term breaks) from 15:00 until 17:00 CET.
If you’re interested, please check out our channel on Mattermost or reach out to Paul (

Participants: Paul Kaletsch (speaker), Onur Karaköse, Emilio Aguas Rodríguez, Burcu Bacanak Sahin (co-speaker), Dr. Deborah Aline de Muijnck, Antonia Jungwirth, Julia Latzel


Beate Absalon and Juliane Saupe are running the Discussion Series “Ambivalent Aesthetics. Sexual Culture and its (re)presentations”. This discussion series is associated with the RA but decentrally organized by Beate (beate.absalon) and Juliane (Juliane.Saupe).
Please contact them if you are interested in joining upcoming events, would like to co-create an event, or want to receive more information.

Discussion Series: Ambivalent Aesthetics. Sexual Culture and its (re)presentations

Sexuality eludes representation – and is at the same time omnipresent. How do we know that a depiction is referring to something sexual? Is it the nudity? The rubbing of gendered organs? The uneasy feeling evoked in viewers? The way it is censored? This discussion series is currently invested in the aesthetic qualities of the so-called sexual. We are not only discussing artworks and popular culture and the way they are produced and presented, but also the philosophical implications of ‘aisthesis’, taking into account somatic-sensual ways of being affected. We wish to look at different cultural practices of sexualization using our special interest in performativity's double-edged character that cuts between success and failure. Meaning that those practices never happen in fixed and stable contexts and can therefore have unintended and seemingly erroneous outcomes, creating surprisingly new meanings that require explication.

The series will be of particular interest to researchers in the fields of art history, sexuality, feminism, gender and queer studies, but it also offers valuable insights for scholars working on different topics that similarly navigate delicate intersections of intimacy and the public sphere (e.g. mental health, emotions, death, trauma, …) as well as researchers interested in the ‘how’ of their material: How is it made visible or invisible? How is it designed, presented, staged, narrated, displayed? How does it suggest to be used and what other ways of engaging with it could be possible? Your active participation will enrich the depth and diversity of the discussions, fostering a supportive environment for emerging scholars to explore these critical questions.

Participants: Beate Absalon, Juliane Saupe


This independent study group of the Research Area 3 operates decentrally.
Please reach out to the participants if you have any questions.

Participants: Katharina Hacker (katharina.hacker), Helene Heuser (helene.heuser), Cara Illert (Cara.Illert), Onur Karaköse (onurkarakose99)

Masterclass with Jennifer Doyle: "About Sex"

When we say that an artwork is “about sex,” what do we mean? This Masterclass aims to provide a platform for exploring the development of art historical and critical writing about sex, sexuality and gender. We will address the challenges of working with difficult material—art that speaks to vulnerability and trauma—and discuss the process of reckoning with the legacy of art history’s own patriarchal, racist and homophobic structures. This Masterclass will furthermore make room for the exploration of our own writerly voices as we discuss the line between the personal and the confessional, and the relationship between identity, perspective, and insight.  
Key questions to be explored include:
  • How do we recognize sexuality within artworks? To what extent is our ‘radar’ influenced by highly subjective, subconscious, as well as socially ingrained desires? Can we rely on our methodical lens, and what are its blind spots?
  • How do affects like arousal, shame, or disgust come into play when interpreting such artworks? Should we incorporate them in our research - how (not)?
  • What language should we employ to convey our findings? How does an objective jargon sterilize the message or perpetuate the hegemonic methods of Western "scientia sexualis"? Conversely, would a more colloquial or poetic "ars erotica" overstimulate and distract from academic findings?

This Masterclass will be of particular interest to researchers in the fields of art history, sexuality, gender and queer studies, but it also offers valuable insights for scholars working on different topics that similarly navigate delicate intersections of intimacy and the public sphere (e.g. mental health, emotions, death, …). Your active participation will enrich the depth and diversity of the discussions, fostering a supportive environment for emerging scholars to explore these critical questions.

Keynote Lecture: "Scientia Sexualis - A Curatorial Project"

In this lecture, Jennifer Doyle shares her collaboration with Jeanne Vaccaro on Scientia Sexualis, an exhibition of contemporary art which takes up the intersection of sex and science. She will share the exhibition's defining questions and challenges, reflect on the history of queer and feminist work in this space and situate this project in relation to the ongoing fight for bodily autonomy and sexual liberty. Scientia Sexualis will open in the fall of 2024 at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and is part of PST ART: Art & Science Collide, a regional festival sponsored by The Getty. 

Jennifer Doyle is the author of Campus Sex, Campus Security (2015), Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art (2013), and Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire (2006). She has just finished a book about harassment, paranoia, and grief—Shadow of My Shadow will be published in August 2024. She is currently co-curating Scientia Sexualis. A collaboration with trans studies scholar Jeanne Vaccaro, this exhibition takes up contemporary art which confronts the difficult relationship of sex and science. This exhibition will open in October 2024, and is part of Art & Science Collide, a regional festival sponsored and organized by the Getty. She also has a significant sports writing practice and has published this writing in The New York Times, DeadspinFox SoccerThe Guardian, Vice Sports, and The Los Angeles Times.

Seminar mit Insa Härtel: "Ästhetik des Sexuellen - Formen des 'Übergriffs' in Tseng Yu-Chins 'Who's listening 5'

In der Videoarbeit „Who's listening? 5“ des taiwanesischen Künstlers Tseng Yu-Chin (2003-2004) werden auf einem Sofa mit weißem Überwurf spielerische aber keineswegs harmlose Aktionen zwischen Mutter und Sohn im Split-Screen-Modus gezeigt, z.B. Anfassen, Bemächtigen, Küssen, Feixen, Ausweichen. Dieses „Übergreifen“ spielt nicht nur im Bild eine Rolle, sondern auch bezogen auf die Wirkung, die die künstlerische Arbeit auf das hiesige Publikum hat. Ein mögliches Gesprächsthema könnte sein, ob hier durch die ästhetische Form eine Art Verführungsfantasie nicht nur gezeigt, sondern auch agiert wird. Welche Qualitäten sind diesen Formen des Übergreifens eigen, wie verhält sich eine potenzielle „Übergriffigkeit“ des Sexuellen z.B. zu Konsenskonzepten – und welche Möglichkeiten bietet ein psychoanalytisches Vokabular für solche Analysen?

Keynote-Lecture: "Aesthetics of the Sexual - On Sheaths, Scenes, and Screens"

He brings a condom into play, she – mocking him – blows it up like a balloon. This sequence from "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" (USA 1977) is quoted in the film "Test" (USA 2013), set in the gay 1980s San Francisco modern dance milieu. Based on the composition of such scenes and going beyond the actual use of the condom, this lecture deals with interlayers and screens, the performance character of sexuality and the aesthetic constitution of the latter.

Prof. Dr. Insa Härtel is a Permanent Senior Research Fellow at the University of Art in Linz at the Department of Cultural Studies / Institute of Fine Arts and Cultural Studies and works as a psychotherapist for children, adolescents and young adults in Hamburg . From 2012-2022 she was a Professor of Cultural Studies with a focus on cultural theory and psychoanalysis at the International Psychoanalytic University Berlin (IPU).  Currently she is working on a book entitled “Aesthetics of the Sexual” (Ästhetik des Sexuellen). Selected publications: „Reibung und Reizung. Psychoanalyse, Kultur und deren Wissenschaft“ (ed.), Hamburg: textem Verlag 2021; “Kinder der Erregung. »Übergriffe« und »Objekte« in kulturellen Konstellationen kindlich- jugendlicher Sexualität”, Bielefeld: transcript 2014. Insa Härtel is a participant of the editorial board at „RISS. Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse.