The colours of theory

The theory program in KIT seeks to propose, experiment and play with ever changing notions of theoretical praxis and practicising theories. In principle, art theory is understood as the art of seeing art. It is neither an identifiable body of knowledge, nor a compilation of historical facts nor philosphical history. Rather than being fixed and stable, theory is fluid; it flows like water and therefore needs to be revisited and reinvented over and over again.

In Greek "theory" means contemplation or even speculation. It origins from the "thea" which is view, and "horein" which is to see. Literally, "theory" would be translated to: seeing something being seen or better, "looking at a show".

So, in a certain, etymological way theory seems to exemplify a certain way of approaching art but at the same time it invoces a reflection of this very process. Theory is the spectators view on things and at the same time it is a model of reality anticipated by the artist or creator.

There seems to be no way to escape from theory. Even if one would try to completely ignore theoretical aspects of one's artwork, in one way or the other, one will always have to deal with the manifolded layers of theories and theoretical aspects that are constituted around it, influencing it, corresponding with it, interacting with it.

One might be able to pretend to turn a blind eye on what others may think about what you are doing; but by doing so, in the last instance, one is potentially and effectively producing or reproducing nothing but theory.

In the return, at KIT we understand the production of theoretical knowledge or theories as an activity in the true sense of the word. It is an active endeavor to generate truth or something that can be considered true.

Generally, a theory operates through observations by introducing a model which contains only a few arbitrary elements and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations.

According to Stephen Hawking in "A Brief History of Time", "any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single repeatable observation which disagrees with the predictions of the theory".

In this respect one might see, to a certain extent, every artwork as a piece of theory and every theoretical work as a piece of art. Theory can be characterized as a series of experiments in a production of truth. First of all there must be a problem, and then a model how to deal with it creatively within an experimental set up. These problems are not supposed to be "solved", but they determine thought.

The notion of art theory at KIT is essentially different from what one might learn in philosophy or art history courses. We are not interested in the true or correct interpretation of this or that philosopher, artist, or theorist. We will not torture you with learning to repeat what other people have been already thinking.

Instead, we rather understand theory as the process of figuring out what is the problem or what might become a problem. What constitutes this problem, what are the conditions for truth in it and what might be resulting out of it?

The proposal is to understand theoretical thinking as a sometimes violent confrontation with reality, an involuntary rupture of established categories. Theory changes what we think; it alters what we think is possible.

At KIT theory we are working with a wide range of different formats: Collaborative readings, lectures and presentations, artist’s films and documentaries, movie nights, studio visits, tutorials, one-to-one conversations, curated shows, publications, blogs, websites, lunches, joint archiving and research endeavours and collective art projects. None of these formats is pre-existing. They need to invented and re-invented, created and re-created over and over again.

The french philosopher Gilles Deleuze once wrote: "We learn nothing from those who say: ‘Do as I do’. Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me’, and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce."

In deed, this is what is at stake in KIT theory. It is not about possessing knowledge and then performing its transmission; it is not about teaching what is already known by somebody else. Rather, the idea is to learn with each others or maybe better to say: in collaboration with each others.

Therefore, the KIT theory program is set up as a collaborative learning environment that is open and flexible, that works on both, an individual and a collective basis. Following that perspective, the KIT website has turned out as one of the important tools of the theory program. Originally it was set up as an independent multi-user weblog system, which functions as an archive, as a toolbox, as a platform for note-taking, linking, deepening, extending and multiplying the work of students and teachers.

Meanwhile it has grown to a platform that encompasses the entire program at KIT. It is supposed to be developed on as a resource that does not only reflect and engage with the projects that are realized at KIT; furthermore it holds the potential to link up with discoursive practices in other art schools, institutional or non-institutional educational projects in Scandinavia and beyond.

Florian Schneider June 2009

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