Ethics and Hermeneutics beyond Formal Aesthetics: Anslem Kiefer’s art and the architectural artefact, by Stephen Wischer

This paper explores the way the entwined relationship of poetry, history, and culture, presented in the art and  architecture of Anselm Kiefer reveals vital lessons for architectural practice that reach beyond a reductive notion of formal aesthetics closely tied to modern conventions inherited from Enlightenment ideals. For over forty years and across the gamut of photography, painting, sculpture, and architecture, Kiefer’s hermeneutic approach not only critically confronts the traumatic historical grounds of postwar Germany but establishes a continuum of human knowledge mediated by the historical cultural tradition. Resisting popular formalist experimentation endorsed through Bauhaus aesthetics and Abstract Expressionism, Kiefer restores the narrative function to art, probing history, myth, past ideologies and personages, which re-presents the knowledge human beings have of themselves. Insisting on a critical approach to creation, Kiefer’s work challenges (and broadens) the common definition of aesthetics, restoring the understanding of techné to modern artistic practice, reframing our creations as the embodiment of cultural knowledge.

In particular, this paper explores how the materiality of Kiefer’s work provides essential lessons for architectural thinking and doing. Exploring the way Kiefer’s paintings and architecture enfold us into a thick materiality, which delivers its historical content, allows us to consider the poetic depth of our own creations. In the fleshy textures of his paintings, and the ruinous atmospheres of his architecture, we are inscribed into the ledgers of his work, invited to confront a multiplicity of meanings. Similarly, our own creations used at the fore of architectural projects may reveal particular qualities, stories, events, and circumstances that metaphorically evoke qualities for the coming architecture. These open sites for communication and translation, essential narratives that provide sites for meaningful envisioning. In a similar overlapping of themes that emerge in Kiefer’s work, these creations seem to resist the reduction of myopic focus by drawing upon a plasticity of lived knowledge that makes our experience of architecture alluring and resonant.

Framed through the philosophies of Aristotle, Hans Georg-Gadamer, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, this paper will elucidate how both Anselm Kiefer’s creations as well as examples of architectural artefacts may create empathetic connections to other people, particular situations, and larger contexts. Working obliquely, beyond a direct transcription of one-to-one signs, this paper explores how these creations invite us to reconcile architectural questions via translation, demonstrating a reciprocal relationship between ourselves, our creations, and the world. Relating both Kiefer’s work and the architectural artefact to the horizon of contemporary philosophy as well as the original spaces of dramatic representation, will suggest a reframing of architectural practice as the creation of vital sites of participation; ones that resist a reduction to isolated objectives and visual aesthetics/representation alone. This seems pertinent amidst the fragmentation of cultural grounds at the heights of (post) modernity.

Stephen Wischer, North Dakota State University, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Wischer, S. (2012) Ethics and Hermeneutics beyond Formal Aesthetics: Anslem Kiefer’s art and the architectural artefact, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s