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Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh
Abstract Feminine Forms in the Work of Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters
In my project, “Abstract Feminine Forms in the Work of Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters,” I consider the abstract forms of Hans Arp’s and Kurt Schwitters’ sculptures as potentially feminist depictions of the female form. In this project I will consider the abstraction or decontextualisation of the female body through the Schwittersian notion of Entformung (unforming or dissociation) and through the feminist-queer idea set forth by Jack Halberstam. The latter proposes that a woman does not have to “become woman” but rather can “unbecome woman.” (J. Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011, p.12.5). In this the definitions of femalehood, woman, and feminine are all skewed or recontextualised by a queering of gender.
I also explore notions of womanhood as defined by explorations of motherhood in both Schwitters’ and Arp’s work: in Schwitters’ collages and sculptures, I consider his representation of the Madonna, or Mother of God; and in Arp’s sculptures, I focus on his concentration on the navel. The Madonna is a feat of conventional motherhood, impregnated while maintaining her virginity, and so contravenes traditional notions of motherhood and conception. The navel is unformed in the works of Arp and particularly in his sculptures, it is hollowed out. The navel is the initial and life-giving attachment the foetus has with the mother, and once we leave the womb, the umbilical cord is detached from the mother, and the navel heals. However, the navels are never healed in Arp’s sculptures, and so their unformedness questions the notions of motherhood and subverts traditional biological functions. As such, I propose that both queer and feminist theories might be used to analyse these depictions. Beginning with the notions of unbecoming, unbeing, and conditional language that creates, or rather destructs, the image of woman as proposed by Halberstam, I examine how this might translate into sculpture using abstraction and collage, and incorporate other queer and feminist theorists such as Judith Butler, Lauren Berlant, and Michael Warner, among others.

Northcumbria University, UK
Hans Arp’s Collaboration with the Art Magazine and Gallery Cahiers d’Art
The project seeks to reassess Hans Arp’s collaboration with the art magazine and gallery Cahiers d’Art. It takes as a point of departure Jan Brzekowski’s presentation of Arp’s art in terms of suppression of the system of –isms in Cahiers d’Art in 1934 and proceeds with the close examination of Arp’s formal qualities that secured him a place in Christian Zervos’ magazine and gallery. Arp sought to inscribe his art in collective efforts, as evinced in his participation in the Abstraction-Creation and Cercle et Carré groups as well as his early book The isms in Art, which he co-authored with El Lissitsky in 1925. However, his art was presented in Cahiers d’Art as the epitome of individual expression. My research proposes to shed light on the individualist and collectivist aspirations of Arp, his biomorphic approach to form as opposed to the anti-naturalist viewpoint of non-objective art and the way these qualities affected the reception of his work by formalist critics of the order of Zervos. The views presented in Brzekowski’s 1934 article on Arp and Sophie Tauber-Arp were in keeping with the policies of the Cahiers d’Art magazine and gallery that favoured the presentation of individual expression as well as with Zervos’ 1935 text “Les Derniers Aspects de l’Art Non-figuratif” published in the volume Histoire de l’Art Contemporaine: La Peinture, which was edited by René Huyghe and Germain Bazin. Together with Joan Miró and André Masson, Arp is listed as one of the three most promising artists of the young generation and is praised for his individual expression.
Following the exhibition “Abstrakte Malerei und Plastik” at the Zurich Kunsthaus in 1934 and Zervos’ conflict with Sigfried Giedion and the direction of the Kunsthaus over the selection of the artists for the show, it is interesting that Arp continued to collaborate with Zervos due to the latter’s appreciation of the plastic qualities of his art. It is important that the magazine did not espouse abstraction in terms of non-objective approach to form. A 1931 survey published in Cahiers d’Art called upon artists to comment on four common accusations against abstract style: its cerebral excessiveness, its geometric objectiveness at the expense of emotion, its ornamental character, its limited possibilities for formal evolution and development. The survey sought to prove, as mentioned in a relevant note, the magazine’s impartiality with regards to contemporary expression. It included responses by Piet Mondrian, Hans Arp, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger and Willy Baumeister. Although Kandinsky and Léger distanced themselves from the concept, Arp, Baumeister and Mondrian appeared more apologetic. The project seeks to fill critical gaps in the broader understanding of Arp’s dedication to abstract form and to reassess the aspect of individualism and naturalism in his art through the close examination of a series of texts, archives and exhibitions relating to his collaboration with Cahiers d’Art.


University of Cork, Ireland

Arp Constructed: Photography and the Reproduction of Legacy

This project proposes looking at the corpus of photographs that Arp had taken of himself and his work, beginning in the mid 1920s and reaching into the 1960s, in order to study the interpenetrations of subjectivity and sculpture as mediated by the camera. I intend to analyze not only the deliberately staged portraits of Self, in which the artist presents a particular if ever-shifting persona for the camera, but also Arp’s self-portraits with his sculptural objects, attending to the way artistic identity and sculpture constitute one another within the photographic frame and beyond. Photography transforms its objects, manufacturing a semiotic structure — a significant thing — out of the matrix of the banal everyday world. What new iterations of Arp and his sculptural work did his photographs summon into being?
Though the portraits are meant to be iconic, I am particularly interested in the serial and processual aspect of their making, which includes the “mistakes” and “failures” as well as widely reproduced pictures. I therefore intend to map the changing rhetorical modes of his photographs vis-à-vis his shifting ambitions for public presentation. Ranging from play to introspection, from active agent to protected recipient, Arp’s photographs of himself and his sculpture narrate a mutating sensibility of his artistic self-presentation to the public and what it means to be a maker of abstract sculpture in the twentieth century.
Drawing on the compelling body of recent scholarship that interrogates the photographic representation of sculpture, I will embed this study of Arp’s sculptural self-portraiture in my current research into the technological representation of the individual in the interwar era, framed by the concurrent development of psychoanalysis. The study of Arp’s incorporation of photography into his practice will thus be informed by recent and ongoing scholarship pertaining on the interpenetrations of medium, subject construction, and history. Rather than reinstate the myth of the artist as lone creator, this study of Arp’s self-portraits emphasises Arp’s collaboration with the photographer. Often treated as a transparent picture, the photograph is of course a mediated interaction between and among the operator, the photographic apparatus, and the subject. It is through such photographs – both of the artist and of his work — that his reputation is circulated and reinforced. But they are constructions, mediated by a camera, whose terms and stakes this project seeks to lay bare.

Report Sabine Kriebel



Independent Art Historian, Paris, France

Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans Arp: New Aspects of their Collaboration

Gabriele Mahn’s project centres on the artist couple Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans Arp’s collaborative works. On the one hand, she is interested in the connections between specific works. On the other, she would like to engage with lesser-studied works. Additionally, she will analyse both artists’ comments on certain groups of work that have not yet been clearly identified. The rich holdings of library of the Stiftung Arp, e.V. will also lend insight into the lesser known aspects of the artists’ collaboration, including the Duo works and especially the Duo Collages.
Art historians have not yet been able to clarify the precise nature of the artist couple’s collaboration on the wood sculptures. It is therefore her aim to illuminate the context in which these works were created by closely examining a series of sketches for wood sculptures by Sophie Taueber-Arp. Some of these were never realized as sculptures, and some of the sketches are lost, although old photographs testify to their existence. One exception is the Construction Drawing (Konstruktionszeichnung) (c. 1930) in the collection of the Stiftung Arp. Taeuber-Arp’s sketches are closely related to the wood sculptures Hans Arp created before he began working in plaster, such as Forest Table (Waldtisch). Additionally, there is a connection between the Construction Drawing and sculptures where Sophie Taeuber-Arp is named as co-creator, such as One Large and Two Small (Ein Grosser und zwei Kleine) (1931) and Tie and Navel (Kravatte und Nabel) (c. 1931). Gabriele Mahn will also analyse the material and aesthetic qualities of collaborative wood sculptures such as Marriage Sculpture (Ehe-Plastik) (1937) and Guidepost (Wegweiser) (1938), and works like Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s Untitled (1937), a head of turned wood. Mahn’s overarching goal is to demonstrate the mutual influence these collaborative works had on the individual artists.



Lecturer in Fine Art, Glasgow School of Art, Scotland

Pencil to Paper

My recent and current work investigates the influence of textiles on early twentieth-century visual art, in particular abstract painting and the development of the modernist textile.
In this project a practice-led methodology of engagement with Sophie Taeuber Arp’s text “Bemerkungen über den Unterricht im ornamentalen Entwerfen” from 1922 will be employed, treating the text for developing design for textiles by Sophie Taeuber Arp as a set of systematic rules. The text will form the foundation for a series of drawings on paper using pencil, gouache and ink, following the rules in the order Sophie Taeuber-Arp set them out in the text. The rules can be divided into two groups. Firstly, eight rules explore form: square, circle and line. Secondly, eight rules explore basic colour theory like complementary colour, neutrals, hue and tone.
I am interested to see if the deployment of interpretive responses to the instructions will produce new insights into the role of Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s practice across disciplines, whether textiles, works on paper, canvases, or objects. Insights gained from making this body of drawings will enable me to formulate new working strategies for practice-led research as well as new knowledge on the influence of Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s textiles on early twentieth-century visual art.
A second aspect is to explore the potential to produce a publication. The book would include a section with the suggestions/rules from the text and a translation. By creating this book, I would set out possibilities for artists, students and researchers in textile design to explore the cognitive labour gained from materials and practice in order to gain new insight into Sophie-Taeuber-Arp’s thought and practice. Equally important, by following the inherent playfulness in the text, its suggestions/rules can enable development of new ideas and patterns for tomorrow. This could be an interesting way for a new generation of students to engage with Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s practice on a new ground.

Report Susanne Nørregård Nielsen