Thomas Bieker

KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt

Am Marktplatz 2

85072 Eichstätt

Thomas Bieker is a PhD candidate with the DFG-funded research group “Practicing Place: Socio-Cultural Practices and Epistemic Configurations” at the Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Before pursuing his PhD, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Literature, Intercultural Communication and Art History at the University of Heidelberg. During his bachelor’s degree, he completed two internships in Paris, in the cultural department of the Goethe-Institut and at the German Historical Institute of the Max Weber Foundation and took part in a summer school in Mykolajiw and Odessa in Ukraine. He also worked as a teaching assistant, teaching German as a foreign language at Illinois College in the United States as well as at Vytautas-Magnus University in Kaunas/ Lithuania via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He took part in conferences at the Marsilius-Kolleg Heidelberg, Wesleyan University in Illinois and Vilnius University.

After his bachelor’s degree, he completed a German-French double master’s degree between Heidelberg University and Sorbonne Université in German Studies with a focus on cultural studies and history of ideas. Prior to starting his doctoral project in Eichstätt, he worked as an intern in international project management in Anglophone and Francophone regions of Africa at the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) in Eschborn. Thomas is also undergoing further training to become a systemic consultant at the International Society for Systemic Counseling and Therapy in Heidelberg, which he will complete at the end of 2024.

Resonance spaces in artistic testimonies between Romanticism and the present

My doctoral project deals with the following artistic testimonies: Caspar David Friedrich’s “Monk by the Sea” (1810), Mark Rothko’s “Rotho Chapel” (1971) and selected light installations by James Turrell, including “Open Sky” (2004). The aim is to examine how these works, understood as affective reference systems, invite the viewer to enter into a relationship of response and thus into a new relationship with the world. Despite the different discourses attached to the selected works and equally different aesthetic strategies, all these works create open-ended offers of contemplation for the viewer and, according to my thesis, their own space of resonance and experience, which enables new modes of viewing social and discursive practices. I am particularly interested in the significance of spatial constructions and spatial experiences in resonance relationships, which represents a particular research desideratum, when looking at the selected artistic testimonies, which in turn (performatively) reconstitute the pictorial or installation space. A reduced formal language and a moment of the absent (unavailable) ensure immersion and form the basis for a resonance experience for the viewer on a vertical level (see Hartmut Rosa, “Resonanz”, 2016). The selected examples in their aperspectival and immeasurable quality are an expression of a simultaneous presence and inaccessibility (cf. Belting, 2001) and thus invite the viewer, in line with Rosa’s theory, into an experience of resonance. The quasi-religious references, such as those evident in Rothko’s choice of triptych, can be read as a way of taking account of the religious feelings of a secularized postmodern society and also of giving expression to a visual world that is less and less determined by Christian iconography. The transcendental experience already hinted at in Friedrich’s work, an “aura of mystery that seems to point to otherworldly realms”, can be seen in a new form in Mark Rothko’s “non-denominational church” (1971) in Houston, Texas. According to Robert Rosenblum, the visitor is affected by several color panels arranged into triptychs; these are intended to invite the kind of meditation that conventional religious images and rites are producing less and less in the 20th century. In this sense, the material-physical and the symbolic-semiotic dimensions of practicing place are considered together and their preliminary distinctions undermined. The choice (and variation) of the triptych (see Rimmele, Das Triptychon als Metapher, Körper und Ort) as well as the name “Rothko Church” for the building refer to the strong significance of transcendence; he derives the “archetypes of his abstractions – those floating blocks of dense atmospheric color or darkness” from mythical and cosmological landscape motifs. This leads to an “evocation of mystical contents that are not precisely delineated”; the viewer finds himself, comparable to Friedrich’s “Monk by the Sea”, “on the threshold of a vibrating void” and thus, confronted with a moment of the unavailable, in a disposition sensitive to resonance. The light artist James Turrell radicalizes this tendency; in his spatial installations, he aims to make light physically tangible. Visitors to his light installations should connect with the space and merge with it. Turrell describes his art as “non-vicarious art”, it must be experienced physically.  “From the very beginning, the subject of his investigations was light, which he gave a form in space with the aim of increasing, changing and revealing people’s ability to perceive and experience.” The diaphanous and auratic dimensions identify his installations as practicing places. The direct “entry” into a pictorial space (an example is his project “Open Sky” in the Chichu Art Muesum Naoshina from 2004) is realized through his spatial installations; “it’s like stepping into an image”, according to the artist. At the same time, as in the example of C.D. Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea, there is a “topological uncertainty” that creates a borderline experience: the (accessible) pictorial space appears diffuse and unavailable. His light spaces do not claim to restitute sacred cultural rites; rather, they enable sacralized “rituals of contemplation”, inviting the viewer to make transformative contact with themselves and forming their own production practice of place(s). His works are “aimed at one’s own seeing”.