Postgraduate Doctorate Programme “Aesthetics of the Virtual” at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg

In collaboration with the Performance Studies Master Program, the Cluster of Excellence "Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction" (CliSAP) and the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg.

Spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Lenger, Prof. Michaela Melián.
Artistic-scientific coordinator/research associate: Peter Müller.

Funded within the Landesforschungsförderung by the Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg.

The programme has been completed. This website documents the programme's course from 2015 till 2017.

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Future II: It will have been: possibilities of anticipatory inscribing

ANna Tautfest

Animism and figures of animation in the visual media

Christian Blumberg

Back to the Future of the Time-Image (AT)

Joachim Glaser

The territorial ambitions of Google Maps

Moritz Ahlert

A history of the present written in the future

Tobias Muno

Resonances of the virtual: the movement profile and the time profile of music

Benjamin Sprick

Principles of image combinatorics in post-digital art practice (WT)

Merle Radtke

The virtuality of devastation: Nuclear landscapes and their reproducibility

Eva Castringius

From Universe's View: on the significance of the vertical perspective in political iconography

Vera Tollmann

GoogleEarthArt. Google's mapping services in contemporary art

Hanny Oldendorf

(Trans*) bodies //without bodies

Joke Janssen

yet incomputable: catalogue for the final exhibition

Metastases of War

Visuality and Abstraction: an actualisation of the figure-ground organisation


Peter Müller works in the field of video/installation art, and from a cultural studies and socio-philosophical perspective on subjectivation relationships through mass media formatting.
He studied Visual Communications, specialising in Fine Art at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach am Main, as well as Sculpture at the University of Cape Town.

Peter Müller was doctoral stipend-holder of DFG-Graduiertenkolleg “Visibility and Visualisation – Hybrid Forms of Knowledge” at the University of Potsdam. Other research positions have been held at the Comparative Media Studies program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at the Fine Art department of the Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht, and at the Art, Science & Business programme at the Akademie Schloss Solitude Stuttgart.
He received one-year stipends from the German Academic Exchange Service and a two years-travel grant for Ireland and Japan by the Hessische Kulturstiftung.

Artistic contributions (as collaborator) have been shown in Berlin (Haus der Kulturen der Welt; Archive Books), Cape Town (South African National Gallery), Cologne (Museum Ludwig), Madrid (Cineteca), Munich (Lothringer13), Paris (Palais de Tokyo), Oberhausen (Short Film Festival), or Stuttgart (Projektraum Römerstraße).

For some decades now, techniques of the “virtual” have been gaining in social and artistic importance. By contrast, until now, the aesthetic and epistemic structure of the “virtual” has remained unclear. It is to this desideratum that the artistic-scientific postgraduate doctorate programme (Graduiertenkolleg) “Aesthetics of the Virtual” devotes itself. The objective is to give ten scholarship holders and two associate candidates the opportunity to conduct artistic and academic research as part of the Graduiertenkolleg at University of Fine Arts (HFBK) Hamburg.

Their efforts will be supervised with great care by artists and scholars from HFBK and the University of Hamburg. The substantive debate is conducted in depth in interdisciplinary colloquia, seminars and method workshops. The Graduiertenkolleg enters the public domain by means of symposia, lectures, exhibitions, screenings and publications.

To put things in a shortened way, different layers can be observed in the term “virtual”.

1. In current usage, it is, in the first instance, inspired by digital technologies, in which it is associated with ideas of what Jean Baudrillard calls a “simulation” of the kind of realities that are uncoupled from the “real” one and follow their own logics. Accordingly, Internet forums, worlds of “second lives” and computer games seemingly create “virtual worlds” which display all the characteristics of the apparent. Here, “real” and “virtual” worlds are in strict opposition to each other. When terms describing the “virtual” came into more extensive usage they constituted a “projection” of data structures into our material reality, one that is produced under the conditions of “technical performativity” – as an illusion, chimera or hallucinated reality. This approach doubtless reflects actual processes in various areas of society. Not only the electronic media, but also other fields of design bear witness to the fact that shaped entities are increasingly being generated by digital programs (spline modelers, illustrations of data) and by machinery (3D printers). In particular, where the term design has been extended, for example, into socio‐design this proves that economic, social, political and technocratic structures are also increasingly displaying “virtualities of the first order”, something that engenders new questions and problems in the fields of knowledge and of the arts.

Accordingly, new disciplines have emerged over past decades within research into the history of art and visual culture, namely digital art history and digital visual cultures, subjects that deal with the aesthetics of the virtual and with digital art (data art, software art, virtual art, mapping art).

2. These “virtualities of the first order” are accompanied by specific techniques which produce a “second‐order virtuality”. They are no longer separate from social realities. Nor do they articulate the dictates of any overarching, non‐sense‐related hierarchy that could come to hold sway over reality as latent paranoia might suggest. In particular, under today‘s conditions of technical miniaturization and multiple switching, such technologies migrate into the pores of realities themselves. They are highly real and, at the same time, they demonstrate their virtuality in what Hans‐Dieter Bahr calls their “versatility”, lending things and circumstances an unexpected twist. Examples include drawing up the kind of profiles of people‘s movements and interests by means of which subjectivizations are, in part, conditioned and wishes gauged, anticipated and engendered. Moreover, theories of the new media and of the discourse surrounding what is known as “big data“ are becoming more and more relevant and being reflected in info‐aesthetics and digital design.

At the same time, in this context, ways of symbolization and artistic practices come into play that initiate other kinds of subjectivization and the formation of collectives. Ceaselessly alternating between “application” and “versatility” – beyond hierarchical structures – new and uncontrollable micro times and spaces are opening up in which perception, cooperation and the worlds we live in change in leaps and bounds. These distribute the visible and invisible, the effable and the ineffable, the portrayable and the unportrayable in a different way and regroup their relationships.

By this point at the latest, artistic experiences become productive in understanding current processes because they raise questions about the interaction between “arts” and “technologies”. This is because the arts have always moved in the “virtual” domain when working on problems of “creating”, i.e., problems of genesis, of its rules and of what has come into being.

3. “Third‐order virtualities” go even further than the approaches that see the virtual as no more than the projection of a technological structure into the real world or as the interplay between applications and flexibilities in reality. Current philosophical debates are concerned with the status of the “real” itself. For example, Gilles Deleuze rejects all attempts at contrasting the virtual with the real, even stating that the former is itself one of the latter‘s dimensions. Unlike the organization of terms based on the relationships between reality, possibility and necessity, philosophies of this type either concede the virtual a degree of reality content or they allow a reality to emanate from something virtual that precedes it and is inseparable from it. But how can we comprehend this intertwining of the virtual and the real? To what shifts are spatial and temporal arrangements subject in particular, if they in turn are of a virtual nature? Of course, these three “orders” cannot be completely segregated from one another. In this respect, their character is purely methodical. They constantly interfere with and merge into one another, producing a restlessness that the Graduiertenkolleg‘s research programme will be looking into.

Designed to last three years, the course of the programme has five focal topics, each of which will be at the heart of debates, lectures, conferences and symposia for six months. In this context, the doctoral candiates will have the opportunity to put up their research questions and results for extensive discussion. The relevant focuses can be delineated as follows:


Currently, new kinds of shifts are occurring, accompanied by the overlapping of “physical” and “virtual” spaces. This has involved simulation techniques not only being used to generate “virtual worlds” but also to shape realities and intervene in “physical” spaces. Current microtechnologies such as cell phones, 3D printers, computers, motion detectors etc., are also autonomous tools and media for the production of art. They are effective in graphic design and typography, when designing e‐books or in the changing practice of “reading” in modern culture. They are to be found in photography and the ability to manipulate digital pictures. They are equally involved in design and in sculpture, where objects are shaped on the computer and manufactured using CNC cutting tools. Musicians and filmmakers discuss questions of copyrights and copylefts following the way that films are made in the age of YouTube. However, this applies equally to the measurement of climate change and to the development of military technologies, something that has been anticipated in artistic experiments in cyberspace and in computer games. The realities of the financial market and the “money creation“ technologies that equate to taking out a loan, however, also point to something like “virtual“ usage in the future, one that is to be “realized“ at some indefinite point. This point corresponds to demanding too much of a present that is, so to speak, imploding. Everything from new military technologies (drones), surveillance technologies and cyberwar all the way to cyborgs and mind enhancement is the result of the kind of virtualisation which fundamentally makes self‐images, selfies and selfunderstanding available. Investigating the technologies of the virtual culminates in the question of the relationship between an art of enablement and the technologies of monitoring, controlling, regulating and destroying. After this, we shall reflect on in what areas models of the world based on simulation have determined reality, our perception of physical space and the development of trading models


Visualisation technologies are to elucidate, to throw light on things – sometimes to allow things to be seen – but always with the possibility of a flip side. Whenever it becomes easier to look at something, for instance by using optical equipment and interpretations of what we have seen, at the same time, a dark zone, something opaque forms in it – in this respect, brushes with the sinister, fantastic or surreal themselves have their own “tale of being seen“. Accordingly, in the debate on visualization in should be understood that there is a movement in both directions. Firstly, a kind of visibility should be inferred, one that always springs from the invisible, with the focus on the relevant historical function of the media at the time. Secondly – and this is even more fundamental –we should withdraw from visibility and turn our attentions to invisibility. It is important to see the latter as an overlay and as an aesthetic function that, not least, links a “reality“ of the visible to the effectiveness of the invisible. This means that alongside disguise or camouflage mimicry and mimesis also play their part. Accordingly, the state of becoming (partially or relatively) invisible allows for an enhanced visibility that develops an emancipatory potential, for example in the case of postcolonial mimicry and masquerade or the kind that focuses on gender theory. This lends virtuality – as becomes apparent from the history of the word (vir) – a vector that reflects the fact that traditionally and genealogically it is men and not women who have been furnished with the authorisation to lead governments and military affairs. Moreover, since camouflage techniques as specifically modern design for surface areas are historically closely linked to the “invention of abstraction“, another objective is to focus on abstraction as an era and an approach to art.

Repetitions and differentiations

This key topic reflects the artistic/academic research on the real, with all the ambiguity associated with the term today and in light of virtuality. This focus on the versatility inherent in the real opens up shifts in both the aesthetic/philosophical spheres and in the artistic domain insofar as the contrast between the terms “original” and “copy”, “production“ and “reproduction“ entail questions of iteration/repetition and differentiation. Particularly in the age of the globalisation of art, it appears inevitable to analyze aesthetic and epistemic postulates as kinds of repetition, intensification and recontextualisation, and to bring out the minimal differences between these which lend them a certain aesthetic/epistemological particularity. Artistic/academic research is increasingly depending on the methods for compiling and including factors of framing and timing, on the latter‘s possible intercultural relationships and on their technological presentation and distribution. Here, a variety of questions become relevant, such as self-reflexive repetition, critical appropriation by means of aesthetic modification or recontextualisation, of conscious and reevaluating quotation, of multiple references, in part to what has been articulated by other cultures.

In this way, the program will also come close to the scientific and sociological considerations such as are outlined in Bruno Latour’s “actor/network theory”. Latour not only frees hitherto unrecognised elements from their virtuality, but also develops a new “physical sociology”. In a related manner, the self‐reflexive artistic/academic research of today generates, “interdisciplinary” articulations and other aesthetics that oscillate between rendering something real and rendering it virtual: labels such as “docufiction” attest to this. Above all, the changed understanding of reality calls for the simultaneous reflection on artistic, epistemic and technological approaches and their mutually influential conditions, iteration and differentiation – something we try to approximate by splitting up the virtual into its sub‐connotations and at the same time analyzing these.

Media revolutions

Media revolutions in past decades have raised numerous questions that refer to the increasing dovetailing of scholarly, artistic and technological approaches. Firstly, it is very clear that technocratic structures of power are to an ever greater extent infused and shifted by semiocratic logics such as occur with technological/media developments. Everywhere, machine‐based sign systems condition in multiple ways and through technical media our social relationships, public spaces, power relationships, the structures of our bodies and minds, and how we perceive things. What philosophers like Gilles Deleuze call the “control society” that has taken the place of traditional disciplinary powers, refers to new constitutions of social realities: they not only call for new concepts, but also for new ways of structuring perception and a corporeal state that can respond with resistance to such semiotic regimes.

At the same time, this trend unleashes virtualities that do not fit the brief, as they generate no less uncontrollable effects. It is not only in the Arab Spring (where they served to help coordinate the uprisings) that microtechnologies such as mobile phones, cameras, blogs or Internet postings played a key role. Even in the highly developed systems of the West, micro‐technologies subvert the centralised apparatuses and expose them to growing erosion. The crisis in the newspaper industry, in the public radio and TV stations, and the open issue of how they can respond to media advances show this clearly. In fact, heterogeneous public spheres go micrological and increasingly evade the control of a media “HQ”.

Economic and social determinants do not suffice to analyze such processes. Each upheaval questions the hegemonial semiotic regime, tears its semiologies out of the existing orders, reconfigures them and turns them into elements of differential and differing states. Questions of aesthesis play a decisive role here.The corresponding semioses permeate the social fabric via the vritual and shatter it. It is, not least, in the arts that we find their harbingers and sensory devices. This is the starting point for exploring the relationships between “art”, the “media” and “revolts”. What importance, for example, do aesthetic and media semiotic orders or semioses have, what impact does the music have in the heart of a multiple upheaval, and what different approach to technological media and artistic experiences thus restructures the relationships of sensory data and thought? So how can revolutionary militancy be generated by creativities other than those traditionally encountered in revolutionary theory?

Time and temporality

Temporal structures are increasingly threatened by ruptures and turbulences that break all linearity, cause time horizons to collapse and shatter the continuity of any simple “course of time”. The interlocking of escalating speeds and paralysing inability to move is already shaping how life is lived and things perceived at the level of everyday phenomenologies: the experience of what Paul Virilio calls “rushing standstill” infuses biographies and even their micrologics. Dis‐synchronicities arise in political, military, social and cultural domains that combine the structure of archaic mythemes with ultramodern IT and weaponry, as in terrorist movements today, creating asymmetrical armed conflict. Economically speaking, the linearity questioned since the mid‐19th century of time also implodes. While the principle of credit and debt once rested on the unlimited deferral of outstanding claims until some future, the unlimited has now invaded the immediate “present” in the form of algorithmic trading. Temporality is subtly devastated and fragmented in what Joseph Vogl calls a “thicket of non‐linear historical developments”. In philosophy and cultural theory, the notion of there being temporal continuities of sequences of “present‐tense points” has been questioned since the mid‐19th century if not before, and the structure of art has always also articulated different forms of temporality than that of the consistent progression and orderly line of identifiable “temporal sequences”. In escalating bursts the virtuality of society as a whole erupts in temporal orders, increasingly thwarting all planning, any “projection of a future” and increasingly undermining the abilities of “forecasting”. Developments are becoming as unplannable as is an assessment of the risks they entail: it is no coincidence that the awareness of presence is gradually becoming one of their catastrophic possibilities. An academic and artistic enquiry into these experiences, such as the planned program wishes to undertake, is expected to establish more precisely how scholarly and artistic methods can take these virtualities into account. Problems of iteration take center stage here, hinging as much on questions of design and on those of an epistemic nature.

The intention is to explore “the aesthetics of the virtual” in both a scholarly and an artistic vein. Artistic/scholarly practices at the University of Fine Arts (HFBK) Hamburg are separated between meaning and usage of the term as already reflected in Programme. It is precisely this variety that shows the breadth of artistic and academic enquiry at the HFBK.

The program is thus geared not least to artists who likewise see themselves as academics. The programme’s work is just as much artistic/experimental as it entails academic research. The interdisciplinary interaction between the two specialist areas allows the two abovementioned orders to permeate and intervene in each other. Questions of the virtuality of art are investigated not just from a scholarly perspective (meaning in terms of cultural studies, philosophy and aesthetics...), but also through artistic experimentation that will be inputted into the findings through the respectively specific forms of exposition and representation. Creativity of the output is, in other words, not the “object” of possible knowledge; instead, it becomes part of generating it. The research projects are therefore scientific/theoretical, artistic/exploratory or a hybrid thereof. This diversity of methodologies is itself something the programme reflects on, as it sees itself not just as thematically addressing the subject matter but as an experiment for “artistic research”. This approach is in line with the artistic/scholarly teaching and research method as it is used in Performance Studies at the University of Hamburg. It is up to the doctorate candidates of the programme to flesh out the parameters set with their own academic and artistic efforts.

Internal Events


with Dr. Elke Bippus
Professor for Kunsttheorie und -geschichte at Zurich University of the Arts
Head of Vertiefung Bildende Kunst im BA Medien&Kunst, Associate at Institut für Theorie


with Julia Scher
Professor for Medienkunst/Multimedia and Performance Surveillant Architectures at Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM)


with Jörg Franzbecker, independent curator, Berlin

Summer Semester 2015

"Virtualities in Aesthetics / Philosophy / Kunstwissenschaft and Technology"

in conncetion with lecture "Sexistenz" by Jean-Luc Nancy

with Dr. Jean-Luc Nancy,
Prof. em. for Philosophy Université Marc Bloch, Strasbourg
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Chair at European Graduate School (EGS), Saas-fee, Schweiz

und Dr. Georg Christoph Tholen
Ordinary em. for Medienwissenschaft mit kulturwissenschaftlichem Schwerpunkt at University of Basel


with Natalie Bookchin
Professor of Media and Associate Chair in the Visual Arts Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University

Winter Semester 2015/16

Continuation of "Virtualities in Aesthetics / Philosophy / Kunstwissenschaft and Technology"

Winter Semester 2015/16

„Non/Visibility: Seminal Readings on Media Historical, Media Theoretical, Kunstwissenschaftliche, and Artistic Questions about Models of Visibility“


with Dr. Ines Schaber
Professor of Photography and Media at California Institute of the Art



with Ingrid Cogne (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna) and Mareike Bernien (Art University Kassel)


07-08/07/2016; 17-18/11/2016; 13-14/04/2017

with Mareike Bernien, Art University Kassel

Workshop "Deleuze and Cosmology"


with Dr. Daniel Falb, author, Berlin

Workshop "About the Actuality of Bergson's 'Duration and Simultaneity' "
07/04/2017, 11-15 Uhr

with Dr. Christina Vagt
Visiting professor of Wissens- und Kulturgeschichte at the Humboldt University Berlin

Workshop "Virtuality and Exhaustion"

with Dr. Toni Hildebrandt, Institue of Art History, University of Bern

Doctoral candidates

Moritz Ahlert

Christian Blumberg

Eva Castringius

Joachim Glaser

Joke Janssen

Tobias Muno

Hanny Oldendorf

Merle Radtke

Benjamin Sprick

ANna Tautfest

Vera Tollmann


Prof. Wigger Bierma


Prof. Dr. Friedrich von Borries

Design Theory

Prof. Robert Bramkamp

Experimental Film

Prof. Thomas Demand

Sculpture (Focal point on Photography)

Prof. Jesko Fezer

Experimental Design

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Klein

Sociology of Human Movement and Dance / Performance Studies

Prof. Martin Köttering

Curatorial Advise, Education in Art

Prof. Dr. Hans‐Joachim Lenger

Spokesperson, Philosophy

Prof. Dr. Hanne Loreck

Art and Cultural Sciences / Gender Studies

Prof. Michaela Melián

Spokesperson, Mixed Media / Acoustics

Prof. Dr. Michaela Ott

Aesthetic Theories

Prof. Anselm Reyle



Peter Müller

Artistic-scientific research associate