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PhD Project of Wiebke Schwarzhans

Working title:

Artificial Surfaces of Attack. Feminist Perspectives on the Ambivalence of Fashion Phenomena in Contemporary Art

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Hanne Loreck, Prof. Jeanne Faust

Two layers become interlaced in the research process of my artistic-scientific PhD project: (1) The theoretical-scientific part, Artificial Surfaces of Attack, constitutes the first level, in the form of a thesis-oriented analysis of fashion phenomena in selected artistic works, drawing on feminist theories of fashion, consumption, and subjectivity. The artistic practice complements the analytical-discursive approach of the theoretical part, in terms of a sensorial-experiential mode of knowledge production. The realization of projects based on artistic research constitutes as the second layer of my PhD project, for instance, in the form of the video performance Le modèle optique.

The PhD project is situated in the fields of art and art theory and draws on the work of feminist fashion theorists, feminist theories of consumption, psychoanalytic theories of subjectivity as well as gender and queer studies. Informed by a feminist perspective, the main focus of my project lies on ambivalent representations of fashion phenomena in contemporary art. I understand references to fashion, which occur in artistic works, as “fashion phenomena”: for example, allusions to fashion magazines, fashion campaigns and their aesthetics as well as fashionable clothing (vestimentary artifacts), as a form of reference to aspects of “look” and “style.” The citation of fashion phenomena in artistic productions has undergone an enormous upsurge in recent years. At the same time, this causes confusion between the disciplines or is perceived as commercial complicity and thus also as a target of critique:

The PhD project is organized into three main analytical threads:

  1. On the basis of exemplary analyses, the following question is raised: How do modern and contemporary artistic works reflect and/or transform the ambivalence of fashion phenomena – and concomitantly also of consumer culture, gender, and desire under capitalism? And, how do artistic works render these fashion phenomena productive for an emancipatory visual politics, at best?
  2. A critical study of questions of style makes it possible to regard fashion as a potential site for political expression since socio-political positionings can be expressed and also appropriated via clothing, hair styling, and accessories (along various axes of social categories of difference, for instance, across gender and class boundaries but also in the form of “cultural appropriation”). What remains to be discussed is which meanings are produced by references to fashion styles in artistic works.
  3. The “artificial surfaces of attack” are understood as points of contact for discourses of feminist theory. Critical re-readings will enable the actualization of feminist and gender theoretical approaches and take into consideration implicit gender politics in the relation between applied and fine arts.

Thus, the PhD project will contribute to the critical study of contemporary art in its entanglement with questions of fashion and gender theory, from a perspective of artistic-scientific research.

The artistic component of the PhD project, Le modèle optique, examines the construction of reality, subjectivity, and gender, via the medium video, on the basis of mirroring reflections, optical illusions, fashion(able) bodies, and questions of virtual reality. The video performance interlaces a physical experimental set-up, referring to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, with the aesthetic visual politics of current fashion campaigns, in a performative reenactment. In times of pervasive digitalization, our everyday lives are shaped by the reflective glass surfaces of displays and screens, by virtual worlds, and, hence, potentially also by new, virtual relations to one’s self. I understand the video performance Le modèle optique as an inquiry into these phenomena and into the repercussions these phenomena entail for subjects, also concerning their corporeality. The practical artistic work enables the visual-political displacement of viewpoints and of established orders of perception, not only on a theoretical level but also on the level of sensorial perception.


Wiebke Schwarzhans (*1985 in Münster, Germany) lives and works in Hamburg (Germany). She studied Fine Arts and Art Theory as well as Psychology and Gender Studies in Hamburg and Vienna (Austria). Since 2016 she has been working on her practice- and theory-based PhD project, with the working title “Artifizielle Angriffsflächen. Feministische Perspektiven auf die Ambivalenz von Modephänomenen in der zeitgenössischen Kunst [Artificial Surfaces of Attack. Feminist Perspectives on the Ambivalence of Fashion Phenomena in Contemporary Art].” Her PhD project is supervised by Prof. Dr. Hanne Loreck and Prof. Jeanne Faust, at the HFBK Hamburg. She has been a member of the curatorial team for the exhibition series “Folgendes” since 2013. In this function, she regularly organizes and moderates artist talks and edited the “Folgendes” publication Bewegungsformen (published by Materialverlag in 2016). The main areas of her artistic and theoretical research include: mirroring and surface phenomena, psychoanalysis, feminist theories, fashion theory, and fashion-based forms of articulation. She works project-oriented and across media. Currently, she is exploring the likeness of porcelain to accessories as well as porcelain’s materiality, testing its fragile boundaries. She holds a full PhD scholarship by the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation.


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